Continuing on from yesterday, I'm sharing the small part I served in the 20th century.
The studio produced more than 200 films before operations were shut down during the Second World War.
Attracted by the growing reputation of film production in the area, many companies set up on new ground.
Giant of the screen, Charles Laughton, won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII, filmed at Imperial. Paramount, Columbia and United Artists all made movies at Elstree in the ‘30s, until the stages were destroyed in a huge fire in 1936. That year, Amalgamated Studio (later renamed MGM British) became one of the largest film facilities in Europe.
After the Second World War, Warner Bros invested heavily in Associated British Picture Corporation (previously British International Pictures), and after much rebuilding and expanding, the facility reopened in 1947. Here, Gregory Peck starred in Captain Horatio Hornblower in 1951. He returned for an iconic adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick featuring a newly-built giant outdoor water tank, also used in The Dam Busters.
Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks Jr rented National Studios, producing 160 made-for-television films in the 1950s.
During the same decade, MGM sent one of its most versatile actors, Spencer Tracy, to its Hertfordshire studio to star in Edward My Son with leading lady Deborah Kerr. Although married, Katherine Hepburn accompanied him to Elstree. The ‘50s also saw some of the biggest acting names of the era filming at MGM including Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Grace Kelly, Robert Taylor and Gene Kelly.
Young Audrey Hepburn got her screen break in Hertfordshire in Young Wives Tale (1951), before going on to international fame in Roman Holiday (1953) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
The 1960s saw a boom in TV series, along with the filming of Summer Holiday and a clutch of Hammer Horror films. Director Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was one of the last films to be produced by MGM (he had previously filmed Lolita and Clockwork Orange in the area). The film was a slow-burning success. Extensive sets for this and other films (In 1952 the studio had built a life-size castle for Ivanhoe starring Liz Taylor) made it popular. Swollen budgets added to increasing financial troubles of the parent MGM company. In 1970, MGM closed its British Branch.
The situation at Elstree Studios changed for the better in 1976 when George Lucas produced the technically advanced Star Wars at the studio. After the film's success, his friend and acclaimed director Steven Spielberg came to the county to make the Indiana Jones trilogy at EMI Elstree.
During the late 1970s you could see famous actors walking around Borehamwood and the ‘80s was no different.
The heights reached by Thorn EMI in Hertfordshire in the ‘80s did not guarantee a secure future. Studios closed and were sold off. A large supermarket bought most of the grounds of the Elstree Film Studio where I worked.
Today, Elstree Studios is a leading UK studio, producing the hugely popular TV series Strictly Come Dancing, The Voice and Big Brother. It has also been home to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech. See the full list of productions made in Elstree at Wikipedia.
At the end of the century, the film and television industry in England suffered a crisis, along with the businesses as a whole.
My role as hostess to a children's puppet movie series, the Hoobs, took a downturn, leaving me with choices. Find something more suitable, or remain under new management with the catering section of Elstree Film Studios.
The first option was not viable, so I remained and worked behind the counter in the cafeteria to serve all the staff who required food. Sometimes, I left home in the dark, caught a bus, and arrived in time to set up breakfast. I'd lay out a display of fruit, dishes of prunes, and packets of cereal, before the chefs arrived for the day. Then along with Head Waiter Jose (a former Colombian), we'd take orders for hot food, sometimes slipping behind into the kitchen to prepare a poached egg if the cook was busy. Perhaps a hundred people would turn up. In the hectic chaos, Jose remained calm. I couldn't say the same for me while I wrote orders and ran plates of food to tables full of shouting, laughing staff.
Business slowed and productions left at the turn of the century. New management cut costs and sacked staff. I took a few orders for food at the bar instead of the cafeteria and ran the order slips back to the kitchen. I wasn't supposed to serve alcohol, but some men insisted on purchasing cans of Red Rum. Management deemed that all right.
Finally, my employers went into liquidation. Jose and I, along with a few others, elected to work without pay for a month until finances were stabilized. At least the dwindling staff could eat. We never received recompense for that period on the grounds that all the money had been swallowed up.
At 58 years, I suffered back problems lifting, from floor level, and carrying heavy equipment. Management deemed me dispensable. And that was the end of my service in the film industry. Much later, diagnosed with osteoporosis when my femur shattered during a hip replacement, I could no longer work.
Every single person working to create something great has immense value, no matter how small their role. The same applies to you. Tell me what part you play in the great stage of life.