Well readers, last week I walked back almost four decades down my personal memory lane. 37 years ago I was invited to visit the newly built EastEnders exterior street set by the new Head of BBC Elstree Centre, which had taken over the site from ATV, as I prefer to call it. My host then was Keith Clement, who was given what today would require a small army but he had literally just a handful of people to revamp and relaunch the site as a functioning studio. It was a challenge, although he admits they still had time to have pancake races during lunch breaks.

Keith is now the fittest 90-year-old I know and sadly our hosts on the visit assumed I was the same age, albeit I stopped counting at 65. I must thank these people, who were so kind in allowing us to visit the wonderful new EastEnders exterior set. We even got a glimpse of the interior set of the Queen Vic. I had not seen that since about 1987 when I escorted Douglas Fairbanks Jr to visit the Centre to name the oldest building after him because he ran the studios for part of the 1950s. At the time I recall two of Eastenders' then stars, Nick Berry and Gillian Taylforth, asking Doug for his autograph.

Borehamwood Times:

Photo: Andrew Stuart/PA

Almost all of the site today is devoted to the EastEnders production, which is a big investment considering the ratings today. The old ATV stage with fixed seating is available for any outside production to hire, which helps. I was a member of the audience for many shows filmed there in the 1960s and 1970s.

Back in 1988 I was the programme consultant on a two-part BBC documentary on the history of Borehamwood as a film town. We had David Puttnam as the on-screen narrator and we borrowed a bicycle from EastEnders, where his intro started, and had him cycle down to the then frontage of Elstree Studios, which was demolished soon afterwards. We also shot scenes at the long since demolished Gate Studios. We had to conclude the story in the early 1970s as the BBC could not afford clips from Star Wars, etc, which cost silly money.

Borehamwood Times:

Photo: PA

At the end of the visit Keith and myself had a meal and drink in the old bar at the BBC Elstree Centre. That also brought back memories for me in that I used to interview ATV stars there in the 1970s. We met an EastEnders star and had a nice chat, but I can give no names as it was a private conversation.

Alas, the BBC are reviewing the future of the site, which I am told is valued at £70 million. In the past they have tried to close it down but having spent such a huge amount on the site such a decision would be madness. I suspect they might sell the site but lease back the area used by EastEnders. Watch this space over the next few months. With film and television space at such a premium now I think it would be a disaster to not keep the whole site under whatever owner as a television production hub. Alas, the top brass at the BBC nowadays seem out of touch with reality and are enjoying the last days aboard the Titanic.

  • Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree Studios