Over the years, I wish I had kept movie props and scripts thrown away when I visited various movie studios as they can be very valuable today. I bought the begging bowl from the 1960s movie Oliver when I attended a film auction in Shepperton in the 1970s, but was discarded Star wars stuff around the same time. I note that one of the many axes made for The brilliant is on sale at £ 75,000 and I’ll be interested to see what the personal script of The empire strikes back, owned by my old friend the late Dave Prowse, is up for auction shortly. Dave has had a great life for decades appearing at Star wars conventions around the world, although he was unrecognizable when he played the role of Darth Vader in this famous costume and with the voice of another actor.
I first met Harrison Ford at Elstree Studios about 40 years ago on a horrible movie called Hanover Street. The best thing about it was the huge set of streets built on the backlot. One very cold night they rigged it up with explosives to look like an air raid during the Blitz and I was invited to witness it. Preparation took several hours and my back was failing. The very kind Mr. Ford offered me his chair, knowing of course that no one would take me for him.
Today, the Elstree backlot hosts the outdoor sets for the hit TV series The crown, which I must admit never having watched. However, over the decades it has been used by many film productions. I still remember the castle built for willow and the victorian street for Young Sherlock Holmes, not to mention the snowy exterior of the hotel The brilliant. I regret that I never bothered to take pictures of these beautiful settings.
Star Wars props now sell for thousands of pounds. Photo: Pixabay
One of the biggest outdoor sets I have visited was built in Hatfield for the box office success Save Private Ryan. It was from a French village where the final takes place. I still have somewhere in the loft a 10 x 8 photo signed by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon and one of the replica guns made for the film. In 2005 we were celebrating the end of WWII in the Borehamwood Carnival Parade and dressing up as a Home Guard officer when I looked like someone from Daddy’s army. I carried the rifle with a letter of authorization from the police, but obviously that would not be allowed today.
There was a small street standing on the backlot of Elstree Studios in the 1960s that was used in several television series from that era. Roger Moore told me once he appeared in several episodes of The Saint to save filming costs on site. He recalled that “if we were to be in France, they would change the name of the storefront, park a Citroën car and spend an extra cycle wearing a beret and a string of onions. If that was supposed to be the Bermuda they would erect a couple of palm trees and go for an extra walk wearing a panama hat. “Notice, if you consider how great an episode of The Saint or The Avengers cost compared to The crown, it may be forgivable.
The old MGM studios in Borehamwood had magnificent backlot sets that lasted for years, like the 1950s Ivanhoe Castle which has become a local landmark. I also enjoyed visiting the various backlots remaining in Hollywood in the 1980s, but several had been sold for accommodation. Again, I never took any photos of my tours which is a shame, but the images remain in my memory.
They still build great indoor and outdoor sets for movies and TV, which seems surprising in these days when you can create so much through computer technology, but it can never be so good for actors. I personally greet all these craftsmen, past and present, generally unknown, who have added so much to our pleasure. Well, it’s time to go soak up the sun in my garden. Until next time, keep well.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a writer and historian from Borehamwood of Elstree Studios
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This notice was published: 2021-05-02 18:00:00