Well, Spring has sprung and I have enjoyed meeting my first bee and butterfly in my garden. I once used to get excited about attending a Royal film premiere in Leicester Square but today give me sitting out in my garden anytime. In fact the last premiere I attended was actually at the Royal Albert Hall for an anniversary James Bond film I can no longer remember. On leaving the event I remember bumping into Roger Moore and an American actor who was a giant with big teeth who had been invited as guests. The giant had been a Bond villain but frankly after Sean Connery left the role I lost interest. I think Madonna sang at the event and Daniel Craig was the star.

Ironically, the Bond films are associated with Pinewood but originally they were destined for the MGM Studios in Borehamwood, only the studio manager hated the director of Dr No so it did not happen. Not a lot of people know that. I wonder who has said that before me?

This time I reflect on the darker side of the film business back in the day, although who knows what still happens behind closed doors. It was called the casting couch and considered acceptable as a way into the business. Even back in the 1920s and 1930s future stars like Joan Crawford and Clark Gable used the method to their advantage. Luckily the head of 20th Century Fox Darryl F Zanuck is long dead, but he used to put time aside most days to 'audition' young ladies in a bedroom adjoining his office. In fact most of the studio heads of the 'golden era' indulged and by today's standards they would all now be serving long prison sentences. Even agents exploited people and Tab Hunter told me his agent was famous for 'bedding' his male discoveries, which included the likes of Rock Hudson. Tab was gay and had to go along with it otherwise his career as a teenage heartthrob would would be finished.

Elstree Studios was not immune to such happenings. Take the case of young actress Carole Lesley, who dreamed of becoming a star in the 1950s. Due to a 'friend' on the Studio board she was signed to a seven-year contract and was cast in several films. She was even sent on a seven-day trip to Cannes to fly the flag, albeit one leading film magazine said after one day she outstayed any possible value. Carole was described as a 'sexy bottle blonde' but can you imagine giving a young actress such a title today? By 1962 the Studio or the Board member had lost interest so her contract was cancelled. In 1974, aged just 38, she ended her life with a drug overdose at her home in Barnet.

There is an underside to the biz we call show and I was taught 50 years ago do not tell the public things you find out as your task is to make it a glamorous biz. Thus I can't tell you about a Hollywood star who once asked me whether I could recommend any ladies of the night he could invite to his dressing room at Elstree Studios. That goes with me to the grave out of respect to his memory. Personally I find exploiting young people in that way awful but knowing human beings I am sure behind closed doors it has not gone away. Alas, Matron has just arrived with a cup of Bovril or something so until next time take care and be happy, plus sterilise your throat with vodka as Covid is still with us.

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