Well here we are in September already and the summer is melting away at a rate of knots. Is it my imagination that when you were a kid school holidays lasted ages but when you become old time flies away? Anyway no doubt Christmas produce will soon be on the shop shelves, such is life.
Today my column is a bit of a pot pourri, which is another way of saying I just could not make my mind up. It is not easy coming up with a new article every week for 44 years but I am always encouraged by the feedback I get from readers online and in person. If anything it proves nostalgia never dies.
If you live anywhere near All Saints Churchyard in Harrow Weald have you ever visited the grave of a once famous movie star and the first British actor to win an Oscar. Nobody remembers him today but George Arliss took Hollywood by storm at the start of the talkies which is amazing for a then-elderly London stage actor. His signature role was playing Disraeli, which won him the Academy Award. He was signed up by Warner Brothers to add to their roster of upcoming stars like Edward G Robinson and James Cagney.
The legendary actress Bette Davis always credited George for giving her a break into films and bolstering her career at Warner Brothers. Incidentally, Bette made two films at Elstree Studios called The Nanny and The Anniversary in the 1960s and stayed at a house in nearby Barnet Lane. One of her co-stars in the latter was Christian Roberts who tells me she got the first director fired and would have some of his lines cut. Christian got his break into movies supporting Sidney Poitier in the classic To Sir With Love, about a tough East End school in the 1960s. Lulu had a hit with the theme song and also appeared in it.
A lot of famous names once lived or stayed in Barnet Lane in Elstree during the 1960s. Stanley Kubrick had a large house there and once asked me not to give out his address as odd film fans tended to turn up. Sophia Loren had her jewels stolen from the long gone Norweigian Barn property whilst making The Millionairess at MGM in Borehamwood. Decades later a national newspaper ran an article by the man who claimed to have done the robbery. That so angered the apparent real burglar that he came to Borehamwood police station and admitted the crime but no action was taken as it had been so long ago. I met him at the station and he seemed a nice chap.
In those days I used to help out the police as an appropriate adult and a lay visitor and with role playing at their Hendon training college. The latter was fun as I portrayed a pub brawler, a prison warder handcuffed to a prisoner and held hostage on top of a double decker bus and a drunk driver, not to mention a High Court Judge. Having been brought up on television series like No Hiding Place, Dixon Of Dock Green and Z Cars, all of which had memorable theme tunes unlike crime dramas of today, it was very easy. As the Judge I sat in their mock up court in front of the cadets and had to listen to an imagined court case about a burglary. The trainers expected me to find the person innocent or give a light sentence, but instead I produced a black hankie and sentenced the cadet to death with the appropriate words I remembered from those old films. The cadets who were all watching cheered and applauded and I was not invited back, except to their passing out parade. That was well over 30 years ago so I guess they are now all retired.
As autumn approaches I shall settle down and watch those old black and white television series and wait for a call from the Hendon Police College if they need me to resume role playing, perhaps now as a rampaging pensioner or as an elderly judge so once again I can say “you will be taken from this place and put in stocks where the general public will pelt you with rotten eggs and see what your street cred looks like after that”. Until next time, as Shaw Taylor used to say in Police Five, ‘ keep your eyes peeled’ and if you remember that then I salute you just like the RAC and AA patrol motorbikers would do if you had their badge on your car.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree Studios