Well, readers, last week I stepped back almost four decades in my personal memory. 37 years ago I was invited to visit the newly built EastEnders outer street by the new director of the BBC Elstree Centre, who had taken over the site from ATV, as I prefer to call it. My host then was Keith Clement, who received what would today require a small army, but he literally only had a handful of people to revamp and relaunch the site as a functioning studio. It was a challenge, although he admits they still had time for pancake runs during lunch breaks.
Keith is now the fittest 90 year old man I know and unfortunately our hosts on the tour assumed I was the same age, although I stopped counting at 65. I must thank these people, who were so kind to allow us to visit the wonderful new EastEnders outdoor complex. We even got a glimpse inside the Queen Vic. I hadn’t seen this since around 1987, when I was escorting Douglas Fairbanks Jr to tour the Center to give the oldest building its name because he ran the studios for part of the 1950s. At the time, I remember two of the Eastenders stars, Nick Berry and Gillian Taylforth, asking Doug for his autograph.
Photo: Andrew Stuart/PA
Almost the entire site is now devoted to the production of EastEnders, which is a big investment considering the ratings today. The old ATV stage with fixed seats is available for any outside production to rent, which helps. I was in the audience for many shows filmed there in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1988 I was the program consultant for a two-part BBC documentary on Borehamwood’s history as a film town. We had David Puttnam as our on-screen narrator and we borrowed a bike from EastEnders, where his intro started, and rode him down to the front of Elstree Studios, which was torn down shortly after . We also shot scenes in the long-demolished Gate Studios. We had to wrap up the story in the early 1970s because the BBC couldn’t afford to buy clips of star warsetc., which cost ridiculous money.
At the end of the tour, Keith and I had a meal and a drink in the old BBC Elstree Center bar. It also brought back memories in that I used to interview mountain bike stars there in the 1970s. We met a star from EastEnders and had a good chat, but I can’t give any names as it was a private conversation.
Alas, the BBC is looking into the future of the site, which I’m told is valued at £70million. In the past, they have tried to shut it down, but after spending so much money on the site, such a move would be madness. I suspect they might sell the site but lease the area used by EastEnders. Watch this space over the next few months. With film and TV space at such a premium now, I think it would be a disaster not to keep the whole site under any ownership as a TV production hub. Alas, the BBC’s top brass today seem out of touch with reality and are enjoying the final days aboard the Titanic.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree studios
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This notice was published: 2022-03-06 18:00:00