Monday 25 September 2017

A Celebration of Iconic 1960s & 1970s Television at Elstree Studios


Last night my Dad and I travelled to Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire for a very special, nostalgic evening. As a culmination of Elstree's 90th anniversary celebrations, the studios were raising a glass to some of the most iconic television series ever made in this country - all produced at Elstree. The 1960s and 1970s were a high point in British telly and everything from The Avengers and The Saint to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Jason King was made at those fabulous studios in Borehamwood.

The evening out was a treat for my Dad who has recently celebrated his birthday. I joked that it was all for him as he was the one old enough to talk fondly of watching John Gregson in Gideon's Way but as it turned out I knew as much about the series being celebrated as he did. As we took our seats in Stage 9, home to many a classic Elstree production, the 400 strong audience was treated to the sight of the original Volvo driven by the late, great Sir Roger Moore in The Saint. The stuff of boyhood dreams! 

Giles Watling, Valerie Leon, William Gaunt & Morris Bright
Our host for the evening was the wonderful Elstree chairman and friend to this blog, Morris Bright. Morris began by introducing a superb montage of clips from some of the very best shows made at the studios before he talked a little about each of the very special guests joining us for the evening. As each actor took their moment in the spotlight I got goosebumps as each and every one of them has played an important part in all our lives over the years. We were joined by the likes of Norman Eshley, William Gaunt, Aimi MacDonald, Derek Fowlds, Peggy Cummins, Derren Nesbitt, Jack Smethurst and Dave Prowse. Flying the Carry On flag were two of my favourites - the lovely Valerie Leon and Angela Douglas. Both Valerie and Angela appeared in many classic series made at Elstree over the years and it was fantastic to hear from them. And guest of honour was one of my all time favourite actresses, Mrs Emma Peel herself, Dame Diana Rigg.

Derren Nesbitt, Angela Douglas, Norman Eshley & Morris Bright
We were treated to two panel discussions, both led by Morris and featuring comments from Valerie, Angela, Derren Nesbitt, William Gaunt, Giles Watling and Norman Eshley. Valerie delighted the audience by producing her contracts from various shows made at Elstree to prove how little actors were paid when they guested on shows back in the 1960s! It was lovely to hear these great actors reminisce about life as an actor in those heady days and how much working at Elstree had meant to them. We were then treated to a special interview Sir Roger Moore gave before he very sadly passed away earlier this year. It had never been screened before and it was a joy to hear him once again. It was obvious, both from the interview and comments from those present, just how fond Roger was of Elstree Studios and all the people who worked there over the years. 

Famous faces on the stage and in the audience shared their memories of working with Sir Roger and some (particularly those from Derren Nesbitt and Jack Smethurst) were absolutely hilarious and perhaps unprintable! What came across though was how genuine the affection was for Roger and what a lovely, kind man he had been, regardless of his fame and success. 

Guest of honour Dame Diana Rigg with Morris Bright
Morris then introduced a montage of clips showing Emma Peel at her very best in The Avengers before ushering the evening's guest of honour, Dame Diana Rigg, onto the stage. Dame Diana was everything you could have wished for. Warm, witty and razor sharp with her memories of working at Elstree on The Avengers. Most touching was her fondness and gratitude for her late co-star Patrick Macnee. The two actors had delicious chemistry together as Steed and Emma and it was lovely to hear they got on so well off screen as well as on. 

Despite her huge success on stage and screen since The Avengers first catapulted her to world-wide fame, Diana was still humble and extremely grateful for the chances working on The Avengers provided and the people it enabled her to work with. She quite rightly said that Britain has the best television in the world and the best character actors in the world and I completely agree with her. A rare public appearance for one of our finest living actors and I'm so glad she came as she seemed really touched when Morris presented her with a special edition of the book on the history of Elstree Studios. The evening was given extra significance when it was revealed that some of The Avengers was actually shot on Stage 9 where we so enjoyed the evening.

The BBC Elstree Concert Band give us the theme from The Avengers

After a brief intermission, the BBC Elstree Concert Band took to the stage to entertain us with renditions of themes from some classic Elstree productions. Each piece was introduced by Elstree's historian, Paul Welsh MBE who proved to be one of the highlights of the evening. His comments throughout were hilarious and at times outrageous!! The band played themes from The Pathfinders, On the Buses, The Third Man (the television series was made at Elstree), The Muppets, Superman, The Saint and my own two favourites of the night - The Avengers and the 1974 film of Murder On The Orient Express. Paul revealed that he had met Agatha Christie around the time the film was made and that the famous author had thought long and hard about giving the go ahead for the film to be made. Apparently she had been less than keen on the previous adaptations filmed with Dame Margaret Rutherford!

We had the best time at Elstree last night. It was an evening put together with care and affection and was full of nostalgia. We were hugely entertained for three hours by some of our heroes from the very best of British television and film and the memories will stay with us for a long time to come. Many thanks to everyone at Elstree for organising such a smashing event and special thanks to both Morris Bright and Paul Welsh for being such terrific, welcoming hosts. 


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