Sunday 28 August 2016

Carry On Blogging Interview: Morris Bright (Part 1)


The hottest day of the year so far saw me travel up to Borehamwood in sunny Hertfordshire to meet Mr Morris Bright, Chairman of the legendary Elstree Film Studios. I have known of Morris for some time due to his involvement with all things Carry On for many years. Not only is Morris Chairman, he is also leader of Hertsmere Council, a member of BAFTA, a writer and a broadcaster. Above all else though, he is a fan of the greats of British comedy.
I was therefore thrilled that not only had he read my blog but also that he was happy to take part in an interview. It was an absolute joy to visit Elstree Studios and learn more about Morris’ work there, his views on the Carry On phenomenon and his memories of some of our favourite film comedy actors. I also got the chance to come face to face with a genuine, fabulous piece of Sid James memorabilia! 
In part one of my interview, I asked Morris about his role at Elstree Studios, how he became involved in the entertainment business and enjoy one or two stories about Jim Dale, Dirk Bogarde and Terry Scott….


What is it like to be Chairman of Elstree Studios and what does that role involve?
I am first and foremost a fan so it’s a real pleasure to be the Chairman of Elstree and I’m very fortunate to have the role. Elstree Studios is actually owned by the local council (Hertsmere) and it’s a real going concern and very successful, particularly in the last five years or so. A successful Elstree Studios is also very good for the local area. I am also leader of Hertsmere Council but I didn’t get the Chairman role just because I lead the council – it was really because it was felt by background in the entertainment business would help in the role. 
Elstree is a small studio with really only 12 people overseeing the running of the site. We provide facilities for a wide range of film and television productions and offer something really unique because we are a small studio and we really are like a family. I am very much of the belief that we should celebrate the rich history of Elstree and all it has achieved in the past while always looking forward towards the latest opportunities and developments. Nostalgia is very popular these days and we celebrate that with frequent events looking back at Elstree’s achievements however I also believe that as a business, Elstree Studios must always look to the future. 


What was it like to be involved with the 90th anniversary of Elstree Studios book?
It really came about because we realised there hadn’t been a book celebrating all that Elstree had achieved over the years. There is so much history in the place and it was very much about celebrating that but also celebrating more recent successes and the rejuvenation of the studios over the last few years. It was also about remembering how close the studios came to disappearing in the 1990s. I love the process of research a book like that and it’s the pictures that tell the story, they are the most important part of any of the books I’ve written. Having access to the archives at Elstree and Pinewood is like a dream come true for me, as a fan. I love discovering different parts of the archive and sharing these wonderful images. 
It’s such a shame that the off cuts from the Carry Ons were destroyed.
Yes I actually met the man who was responsible for destroying all the outtakes and footage that didn’t make the final cut. When the decision was taken it was genuinely believed there would be no interest in that stuff. The Carry Ons were out of fashion for a long time and nobody believed anyone would want to see the outtakes. I remember finding filling cabinets in the archive while researching for one of my books and these cabinets were stuck shut as nobody had touched them for decades. Extraordinary. We included some previously unseen footage in the What’s a Carry On? documentary of Phil Silvers being interviewed on the beach at Camber while they were making Follow That Camel. That footage was in a small, rusty old tin that I found on the floor in the corner of an archive room. It was amazing to be able to share it again after all those years. I also love the photos of Terry Scott and Charles Hawtrey larking about on the set of Up The Khyber and these were other photos that had long since disappeared into the depths of the archive. I enjoy sharing as many of them as possible on Twitter as everyone loves seeing them. 
What’s going on at Elstree at the moment?
There is lots going on at the moment. There is a brand new series for Netflix called The Crown, a biographical drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. We also have Big Brother being filmed here at the moment and preparations for the new series of Strictly Come Dancing for the BBC. 

You have been involved in organising many events at both Pinewood and Elstree over the years?
Yes, I remember one of the earliest events was back in the mid-1990s to celebrate the Doctor series of films and their producer, Betty Box. Lots of stars of the films were due to attend and Betty and her director Ralph Thomas were going to be there. I was told that Dirk Bogarde had agreed to come over (he lived in France at the time) for the event although as it transpired he didn’t know it was about the Doctor films – he hadn’t really talked about them since his last, Doctor in Distress in 1963. He was quite a formidable character and nobody knew how he would react. When he arrived he was an absolute gentleman and actually stayed for several hours. He seemed really pleased to be there and taking part. He was a hero of mine and I remember watching the footage of the event afterwards and I kept seeing someone lean into shot to take photos. It turned out to be Jim Dale who was a big fan of Bogarde. It struck me that it was ok for your heroes to have heroes too. It was great. 
I saw Jim perform his one man show in London last year and it was hard to believe he was nearly 80 at the time!
Jim celebrated his 81st birthday recently and he’s extraordinary. He has such energy, keeps himself in shape and just keeps going. He told me that the show (Just Jim Dale) was exhausting but the love of performing and the reaction from the audience kept him going for eight shows a week. I think many performers are like that though. I remember seeing one of those end of the pier summer revues back in the early 1990s and the stars were Terry Scott and Jacki Piper. Before the show I’d seen an elderly man struggling along the pier and I suddenly realised it was Terry! Terry suffered from various health problems towards the end of his life but carried on acting. He went on to give an energetic and thoroughly professional performance that afternoon and it was amazing how he managed to transform himself for the show. That reminds me of a story from when I attended Terry’s funeral in 1994…

Go on…
I remember being in the church and Terry’s wife and daughters were all in the front row with June Whitfield and her husband Tim sitting behind them. Despite the fact that the congregation were all peers or friends of Terry, lots of people actually came up to June to offer their condolences instead of or before going to Terry’s real wife! Extraordinary how powerful television can be as obviously many people really did think Terry and June were married in real life. 

I hope you have enjoyed the first part of my interview with Morris. Stay tuned for Part Two coming up tomorrow! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also Facebook

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