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Remembering one of British cinema’s unsung Bond heroes at Pinewood


Well, I managed to survive that very hot day last week, which can be a challenge due to certain medical conditions, but never complain as by the time you read this we may have already past the longest day! I know everybody says it but I remain amazed how quickly time passes even when you are not busy like me. I am sure school holidays in the 1950s and 60s seemed to last forever.

Last week I was invited to Pinewood Studios for the first time in nearly five years. When last there I attended a memorial event to honour Sir Roger Moore so ably organised by my old mate Gareth Owen, who was Roger’s right hand man. Gareth also organised this memorial event to honour another old friend, Alan Tomkins, who was one of life’s real gents. Unlike Roger you probably have never heard of him, but he was a highly respected art director on several Bond movies plus other great movies like Saving Private Ryan, The Empire Strikes Back, Memphis Belle and many others until his retirement. Alan started his career at Elstree Studios as an apprentice in the late 1950s earning £3 a week before he went freelance until he retired in 2005 after Casino Royale.

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To be honest I am not a great fan of Pinewood these days. I feel like I am visiting a high security prison but not sure whether they are keeping in a lot of highly paid people or the the public out. I first visited in the 1970s to watch the filming of a television series called Space 1999, which had been scheduled in at Elstree Studios but they decamped as Elstree was under threat of closure. In those days at Pinewood you drove through a sort of ‘mock Tudor ‘ gatehouse and were saluted by a uniformed security officer who called you sir or madam depending I guess on what outfit you were wearing. Remember we are talking about showbiz before the business started to take itself so seriously.

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This time we had a lovely buffet in the old dining room, which is oak panelled and has chandeliers. In the old days it was frequented by the likes of Kenneth More, Marilyn Monroe, Dirk Bogarde, Bob Hope and of course the Carry On cast. Alas today it only used for such events as I was attending as the stars presumably eat in their giant caravans cooked by gourmet chefs. I am sorry, I must not mock – as Frankie Howerd used to say – but I could tell you some tales about the wants of certain stars even today when us simple folk who buy cinema tickets may struggle regarding what we can afford to eat. Of course I must eat my own words as the buffet was great and I rather hogged a bottle of red wine. I sat next to a wonderful 83-year-old lady who started her film career behind the scenes at Bray Studios for Hammer in the 1950s and lived for several decades in Hollywood working on such films as Back To The Future. It was the first time we had met but we shared mutual friends in the biz so we had a lovely chat. By contrast the lady sitting on my other side was in charge of a crematorium and equally found our chat about what happens behind the scenes fascinating. I will not mention names as that is unfair when not actually interviewing somebody. Personally, I have already bought my grave in Elstree as I suspect the worms will enjoy a taste of vodka and that is showbiz.

  • Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree Studios




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