I had occasion to go to Elstree recently. As you come out of the railway station, which is called Elstree and Borehamwood, and walk up to the High Street there are a few big stars embedded in the pavement a la the Hollywood Walk of Fame: Reg Varney (comedy actor from “On the Buses”, Peter Sellers (we all know Peter Sellers don’t we?), Gregory Peck and Jack Nicholson.
A little further on there are plaques to celebrate Sir Cliff Richard (50 years a music legend) and another for Dame Barbara Windsor.
Elstree itself is still a village, or a small town, at any rate, with a few pubs and a couple of nice coffee shops. There is also an enterprise park there, with a Frankie and Benny’s, Debenhams, Boots and other shops. Quite nice but fairly unremarkable. So why all the film star rush… Because Elstree film studios are located there.
In fact, there is only one studio at Elstree, the other studios are at nearby Borehamwood, and even more at other nearby locations such as Leavesdon. North and West London had a fair few film studios at one time.
When the studio was first established in 1914, Elstree was a bigger town/village than Borehamwood. Nowadays it’s the other way round, with Borehamwood being the bigger of the two, but the Elstree name stuck and encompasses both Elstree and Borehamwood.
There is a whole world of history here, if you are interested in film and TV. The first film to be made here was a silent film, Madame Pompadour, which starred the silent film actress Dorothy Gish. The first British “talkie,” Blackmail, was made here by Alfred Hitchcock in 1929.
In the 1930s, a number of actors who went onto become famous, household names in their day, started their careers here: Stewart Granger (King Solomon’s Mines, The Prisoner of Zenda), Ray Milland (at one time, Paramount Pictures’ highest paid actor), Laurence Olivier (four academy awards) and Anna Neagle (Odette, Nurse Edith Cavell) to name but a few. Charlie Chaplin called it the “home of the British film industry.”
The 1950s saw the arrival of a host of Hollywood stars such as Gregory Peck, William Holden, David Niven and Errol Flynn, as well as famous British actors of the day.
By the 1960s, the studio had decided to move in to comedies and musicals – Summer Holiday and The Young Ones starring Cliff Richard were made here. The studios also became the home of ABC television – cult TV series such as The Saint (Roger Moore) and The Avengers (Patrick McNee and Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg) were made here.
In the mid 1980s the studios hit tough times and much of the area was sold off to a leading supermarket brand who built a superstore there, provided that they built state of the art TV studios on the site. The studios were later completely restored and (re)opened by Prince Charles in 1999. Fortunately, they are now highly profitable and as well as films, the BBC makes programmes such as Strictly, Room 101, Never mind the Buzzcock here.
Star Wars was made here in the 1970s, the Indiana Jones films in the 1980s and more recently, The King’s Speech, Suffragettes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Something for me to think about next time I go to Elstree.
© Susan Shirley 2016