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Elstree Studios.

Byline: By SALLY WILLIAMS Western Mail

Elstree Film Studios has a long and colourful history - and we love to look back on it. The present facilities are built on land originally purchased in 1925 to locate a 'silent' studio, constructed one year later. At that time, Alfred Hitchcock was staff director and was responsible for a number of films, including the first British talkie, Blackmail. During the pre-war years, the studios at Borehamwood in Hertfordshire undertook pioneering work in colour films and produced the first French talkie and the first multi-lingual film.

It launched a number of pre-war movie acting careers including those of Charles Laughton, Ray Milland, Stewart Granger, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Maureen O'Hara.

During 1939, the original studio closed and was commandeered for 'wartime purposes'. A few years later, Warner Bros purchased a share and the studio was largely rebuilt before re-opening in 1948.

The first major post-war movies were Stage Fright with Marlene Dietrich and The Hasty Retreat starring the future US president, Ronald Reagan no less.

Post-war careers launched at Elstree include the greats Richard Harris and Audrey Hepburn.

Gary Cooper made his last movies at Elstree. The 1950s and 1960s saw productions such as Moby Dick, The Dam Busters - parts of which were filmed in the dams of Mid Wales I am told, the kitchen sink drama Look Back In Anger with a fantastic performance by Richard Burton and cult TV series such as The Avengers and The Saint.

Between 1959 and 1975, Hammer Films produced 39 films at Elstree. And other horrors include The Horror of Frankenstein, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb and The Vampire Lovers.

Comedy romps included the fantastic On The Buses that brought us the unbeatable characters of Olive and Blakey and Man About The House.

Elstree was busy throughout the 1970s and 80s with productions such as Murder On The Orient Express, Never Say Never Again, the awesome Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies plus Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was pretty good too.

The post-production facilities were used on a wide range of movies, including Chariots of Fire, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Last Emperor.

The complex was purchased by Brent Walker who agreed with the planning authority to retain 15.5 acres as a film studio, in return for permission to sell 12 acres of land for a Tesco Superstore for pounds 19m. The agreement involved rebuilding the facility and its leisure amenities, and maintaining them for 25 years.

From 1988 onwards, a successful voluntary 'Save Our Studios' campaign was mounted, which resulted in nearly 30,000 petition signatures.

It was successful in enlisting the support of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Richard Attenborough and a host of stars including Peter Cushing who offered to lie down in front of the bulldozers!

Elstree has also attracted numerous television productions. such as a 90-minute film of Jane Eyre for LWT, interiors for the long-running Last of The Summer Wine, Wuthering Heights, Big Women, The Fast Show and The Judas Tree ballet for Channel 4. Major television series to use Elstree's sound stages include Kavanagh QC and Playing The Field and big TV productions include the BBC's Tom Jones and Coming Home starring Joanna Lumley and Peter O'Toole.

More recently Elstree has been host to feature films including Closer, Proof, Derailed, and Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. On the TV front it hosts Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, The Tweenies for the kids and Big Brother for the big kids. The studio provides six sound stages and one silent stage comprising of over 60,000sq ft of space. Its largest stages are the tallest in the UK with a height of 50 feet and 15,770 sq ft each. Elstree also boasts the most exquisite star dressing rooms designed by famous interior designers, that aim to make the stars feel relaxed and well looked after in between shoots. Sally Williams: Britain's Hollywood:Elstree is like our Hollywood. The studios were first established at Elstree in 1926 and since then have attracted some of the biggest directors in cinema history: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas to name but a few.
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 25, 2006
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