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The 25th anniversary of the Elstree Studios backup UK News

I KNOW time flies, or as they say in Borehamwood tempus fugit but I can’t believe this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Elstree Studios save. In 1996, Hertsmere Council stepped in and bought the studio’s remaining 15 acres for less than £ 2million, while a few years earlier Tesco had bought 12 acres of the site for £ 19million.

The original intention of owners Brent Walker was to sell the entire studio for retail on the front area and housing on the back lot. I had the privilege of chairing the eight-year campaign to save Elstree Studios, which was a bit longer than I imagined when we started. In fact, the campaign was in two parts, with the first being against sale by Cannon Films, but it had come out of the pan in the fire when she found herself with Brent Walker.

At first we had the support of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, for whom it was a second home since the mid-1970s with the Indiana Jones and Star wars trilogies, but they weren’t interested in buying the site. However, when we did finally win, they both sent me lovely congratulatory letters, which will either end up in a local yet-to-be-built movie museum or go up for sale on eBay when I kick the bucket.

Elstree Studios

Elstree Studios

When Hertsmere took over the studio in 1996, I was appointed president of the Elstree Studio partner company and we were tasked with renovating, rebuilding and relaunching the facility, which had been closed for over two years. Meanwhile, Brent Walker had removed all copper wiring, generators, stage equipment, furniture, and even kitchen sinks.

We inherited changing rooms where fungi grew due to water leaks, no heating, a partially flooded underground car park and an asbestos-contaminated backlot. It took a giant leap and £ 10million to complete the renovation and build the two giant new soundstages, which were opened by Prince Charles in 1999.

I should write a book about the countryside and all the intrigues, twists and turns. How I was against Stanley Kubrick reopening the studio with the filming of Eyes wide closed and the visit of Mohammed Al Fyed and his son Dodie, later tragically killed in this car accident with Princess Diana. My meeting with George Walker and how I bought only ten shares of their company so that I could attend their AGM in London and harangue their shares. My clash with Michael Winner on live TV when he described Elstree as “just a bogus streak of the A1”. I called him rent a quote, but then he sent me £ 200 for campaign funds.

We organized a public rally of 700 people in the old Venue Theater and collected 15,000 signatures in a matter of weeks, including Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, the EastEnders and Emmerdale casts, and many more.

There have been dark days on the way, but as my mom used to say, “If you start a fight, stay until you win or lose”, or as they say in Borehamwood: carpe diem. The costumes in London didn’t know you weren’t kidding with a kid from the City Council in the Woods. We have received very good letters of support from stars and I have had to do about a hundred interviews on radio, television and in the press with media all over the world.

Today, Elstree Studios is booming, home to large and expanding productions. This is a far cry from 21 years ago, when we were faced with a semi-abandoned site. I am not part of the present but I am proud to have been part of the past. So until next time goodbye, ciao and auf weidersehen, darling.

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

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This notice was published: 2021-05-07 14:55:00