Star Wars, Bond and The Shining crew and actors celebrate Elstree Studios book launch
- Credit: Debbie White
Bond film stars joined Star Wars crew members and actors from St Albans’ movie maestro Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining at the launch of a book chronicling a world famous studio.
The red carpet was out, and so were the stars, at a special event at Elstree Studios on Monday (19).
Morris Bright and Paul Burton, co-authors of “Elstree Studios: A Celebration of Film and Television” mingled with a multitude of celebrities, many of whom feature in their book, a tribute to 90 years of film and television production at the world-famous site.
Elstree Studios was - and still is - home to some of the successful films and television shows produced in the UK, from the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies to The King’s Speech, Paddington Bear and The Saint, to Strictly Come Dancing and Big Brother.
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Among the packed celebration was 84 year old David Eades, who spoke glowingly of the actors he mixed with while working in the lighting crew for the original Star Wars movies.
Shooting of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back started at Elstree Studios in 1979, and it was released in 1980.
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David said: “They were lovely people. No one thought at the time of the first movie that it would be such a big film; they were smashing people.”
While working on Star Wars, Dave Prowse, who played Darth Vadar, told David that he looked up to him as he had been a body builder who featured on the front of Health and Strength magazine.
A former electrician, David recalled working on British war film The Key with Sophia Loren, and while at another film set, upon being told his father had died, “Liz Taylor came over and gave me a cuddle, she was very sweet.”
David was impressed with the book launch, particularly as it took place “in the old canteen” at Elstree, where he used to work as assistant head of the electrical department.
Lisa and Louise Burns, who played the creepy Grady girls in The Shining, were also at the event, as Kubrick’s big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s novel started filming at the studio in 1978.
According to Bright and Burton’s book it took a year to film, with the filmmaker writing, producing and directing the movie which stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. Martin Scorsese later hailed it as “profoundly disturbing”.
Also: “What many people watching The Shining won’t realise is that music mogul Simon Cowell worked on the film as a runner, one of his first jobs in the industry.”
Bond girl Valerie Leon, who appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me with Roger Moore, and as ‘the lady in the Bahamas’ in Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery, praised the book as “fantastic” and said that some of her best memories stem from her time at Elstree.
In the very early stages of her acting career, she joined Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl in the West End, followed by appearances in The Saint, Carry On films and The Italian Job.
Valerie has also enjoyed making guest appearances at film conventions, and venues including St Albans’ Maltings Arts Theatre.
‘Allo ‘Allo! star Vicki Michelle, a regular visitor to St Albans, where she has performed in pantomime at the Arena, and attended a Polo for Heroes fundraiser at Chiswell Green, described Elstree Studios as “a great part of British history. There are people all over the world who have worked here.”
She is extremely keen to appear in the popular Strictly Come Dancing show.
Norman Eshley, who starred in a multitude of TV shows, from George and Mildred and Man About the House, to The Bill and The Sweeney, attended with his wife, Rachel.
He said: “It is the first time I’ve been back to the studios in 35 years.”
Since suffering severe injuries in a car crash in 1993, Norman has turned to writing, including plays.
But he recalled: “My first job was directed by Orson Welles. He was extraordinary!”
Norman said that upon being summoned to meet up with the legendary filmmaker, he was picked up in a limo and driven to Welles’s home, where his wife greeted him saying, “I’m sorry, but Orson can’t see you, as he has been thrown out of a restaurant for being drunk.
“I acted in The Immortal Story, and Orson was the greatest director. I always called him Mr Welles.”
But Norman admits that the “biggest mistake I ever made” was during his early 20s when he turned down the chance of moving to America for several years upon the request of Welles, who had offered him to teach him everything he knew about the film industry.
Norman was joined at the launch by fellow Man About the House star Aimi MacDonald - another star who has not been back to Elstree ‘in years’ – who took the chance to pose for photographers near a car she “did a scene with Roger Moore in The Saint”.
Former backing singer for Peter Andre and Sam Bailey, TV presenter Marina Berry, said: “It’s so nice to so many people from the same industry together. I feel really honoured to be here.”
Co-author Paul Burton, who worked with the son of Harpenden comedy legend Eric Morecambe, Gary, on television drama Dancing With Angels, described the book he wrote with Morris Bright, the chairman of Elstree Studios, as “my love letter to the studio.
“By trade I’m a producer and film and TV historian, and I love this studio.”