This week I pay tribute to the wonderful ATV studios that existed in Borehamwood from 1960 to 1983. Before that it was a movie studio dating back to 1914 and today it is the BBC Elstree Center. It has therefore been a production center for over 100 years.
It was created by the one and only Lew Grade, who, upon becoming Lord, assumed the title of Baron of Elstree. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and he was certainly the last of the TV and film moguls to make deals with just a handshake. Today they rely on committees and we all know that the camel is a horse conceived by this process.
I first visited ATV in the 1960s to watch recordings of shows such as George and the dragon, with Sid James and Peggy Mount. Sadly, I never met Sid, but decades later I invited Peggy to come back to one of my studio events. I have lost track of how many programs I have seen recorded as part of the studio audience. I remember a New faces finale with Victoria Wood and Lennie Henry, Frankie Howerd dying as a guest on a variety show and Family fortunes with Max Bygraves. On one occasion, a competitor froze and answered all questions with the words “a chicken,” including what you would take to the beach. Another episode was never screened as the contestant replied “a condom” when asked to name something rubber. They were more innocent times.
Bob Monkhouse hosted The Tir d’Or after that Celebrity places. I have to admit Bob was a bit like Marmite but I really admired his talent. This latest show gave me the opportunity to interview old stars in their locker rooms while waiting to appear for I think a fee of £ 200 each. They included names like Arthur Askey, who was a lovely guy, and Margaret Lockwood, who told me that she had her eyebrows shaved at Elstree Studios for a screen test in the 1930s and that they never came back.
Then there was the chance to say hello to David McCullum, who starred in Sapphire and steel, interviewing Simon Ward in the bar and having a pint with big character actor Bernard Lee, better known as M in the early Bond films. I remember meeting a young Michael Kitchen, who decades later has his own hit series Foyle’s War, and attend the press launch of Muppet show.
In the 1960s, the studio was producing Emergency service 10, which lasted 10 years. At that time, they were only allowed to kill five patients each season. I visited his replacement in the 1970s called General hospital and three years ago visited the set of Holby city filming on the same site but using old offices in the office building from the 1960s.
So many famous names have worked at the Studio from Bob Hope to John Wayne and Julie Andrews to Barbara Striesand. ATV, later called Central, was forced to move to Birmingham and the studio closed. Fortunately, the BBC were looking for a new facility with a backlot for their new soap opera EastEnders and bought the site. I salute the production of ATV and the enormous legacy it left in the history of television and I deplore the passing of this era.
Until next time, enjoy your newfound freedom, but still be careful.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a writer and historian from Borehamwood of Elstree Studios
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This notice was published: 2021-05-30 17:00:00