Hello Wordpretzels. I believe that a little while ago I promised to tell you all about Studio 70, the illustrious cinema in my home town of Borehamwood. For those of you that don’t know Borehamwood, it’s a town just north of London.
Borehamwood is in fact a very famous place, being home to Elstree film studios. Let me point out that Borehamwood is next to a posh place called Elstree, so naturally ‘The Wood’ missed out on the billing.
Borehamwood has been described as the ‘British Hollywood’, but having spent the first 18 years of my life there, it didn’t really feel like it. It was quite a strange place to grow up in anyway; remember this was the 60s and 70s when casual violence was de rigeur. But living in a film town had its advantages.
There was a man called Roger Harris who lived across the road from us. Roger was a wheelchair user and worked as a graphic designer at Elstree. One day, Mrs Harris (these were the days when teenagers didn’t use an adult’s first name) asked if I’d like to come and see Roger’s drawings. I must have been about 15 at the time.
Roger had a massive drawing board with pictures of amazing space ships on them – a huge one that looked a bit like the headquarters of ‘Spectrum’ – the big ship in the sky on Captain Scarlet. Another one was cylindrical with two stubby wings which I doubted would ever fly if it were real. Roger pushed his heavy rimmed spectacles up onto the bridge of his nose and grinned.
“Do you like them?” he asked.
“They’re amazing,” I replied honestly.
“Thank you. They’re going to be made into models and used in a film,” he explained, “this one,” he said, pointing to the cylindrical stubby winged spaceship, “is called a tie fighter.”
Little did I know at the time, but I was looking at the prototype craft designs for the Star Wars franchise.
But then, being from a film town, it just seemed normal. I’d seen chimpanzees walking along Shenley Road eating chips when they made Planet of the Apes. My mother bumped into Roger Moore in our street one day. Our neighbour was his chauffeur.
East Enders, the soap opera, is made at Elstree. For those of you that know them, I came face to face with the Mitchell brothers in the drinks aisle at Tesco during a visit home. The kids from Grange Hill walked the same route home as I did from school. The gymnasium scene from Scum was filmed at my school and we got to meet Ray Winstone, who lived up the road in Enfield.
Better still, when word got around that they were filming one of the soft porn ‘Confessions’ films, schoolboys from all over the estate would turn up to watch a scene being filmed on location, invariably involving scantily clad young women having to have their clothes ripped off time after time in numerous takes.
“Get rid of those bloody schoolboys!” was the regulation shout from the director.
When I was 18, my dad took me to The Red Lion pub opposite the studios (it’s a McDonald’s now) saying that they had just finished filming the TV series ‘The Winds of War’. Almost on cue, Robert Mitchum entered and the bar fell silent. Mitchum looked around the room.
“Thank fuck that’s over,” he growled, “now, barman, get drinks for all these people…”
My dad returned to The Red Lion when Spielberg completed his latest film, but he was too tight to buy us drinks all night, my dad explained.
So, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous wasn’t unusual in Borehamwood. In fact, we had a few home grown ones of our own: Damon Hill, Vanessa Feltz and … oh dear … Simon Cowell.
You would think that this meant we would have a plush cinema to watch all these films in. What we had was Studio 70, a detached building decorated with enormous concrete tiles which I think intended it to look futuristic, except a few of them had fallen off. It was where my sister Janet took me to the pictures for the first time: Mary Poppins.
School holidays usually meant a showing of ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines’ with ‘Monte Carlo or Bust’ on a double bill. These films would be on a loop, which meant you could enter the auditorium half way through, see the end of the film and then watch the bit you didn’t see at the beginning. You could also watch the films more than once. My cousin John and I would spend most of our day watching the films at least twice. I suppose that’s how kids of my age made up for video not being invented yet.
Studio 70 also sold boxes of Maltesers and Fruit Gums, the staple diet of film watching children in the 60s and 70s. My naughtier mates (not me, of course) realised that if one of you paid to get in, they could open the fire door at the side to let the rest of us I mean them in. This had to be quick, because when the door opened, natural light flooded in and alerted the ushers, who would come running from all directions to thwart the invasion. Borehamwood kids, at the time the product of cunning East Enders who had moved onto the estates after the war, had an innate skill in dispersing quickly and quietly into the stalls, mingling with other legitimate film goers.
It was the cinema where I saw ‘Jaws’ and realised the absolute joy of watching a film whilst sitting next to nervous girls from school. I had Melanie North one side of me and Elaine Perkins the other: both 16 year old sirens with flicked back hair solidified into place with lacquer and a heady aroma of Charlie perfume and JPS Specials, which they puffed on throughout the drama. Occasionally, they would lean over and place their cigarette in my mouth. The taste of lipstick and ashtrays combined with their attention was surprisingly arousing. Even better, during the scary scenes, they would cuddle up to me for comfort. When the head falls out of the hole in the boat, I had two of the most desirable girls in the 5th form sitting in my lap. It was at this point I decided I needed to go more often to the pictures with this group of school friends, especially to see anything that made girls jump.
I think the last film I ever saw there was ‘Flash Gordon’ with my girlfriend Jane, who refused to wait for my niece to arrive with her dad and hence denying me the pleasure of her company during the screening. Not long after this, Studio 70 closed down.
For a while, rather ironically, Borehamwood didn’t have a cinema. It made lots of films but couldn’t show them.
These days, of course, we are spoilt rotten when it comes to being able to see a film, what with multiplex screens and eye wateringly expensive sweets.
The thing is, can you still get in through the fire doors without being arrested?