Paul Welsh is a man with a lot of memories of Elstree Studios. I’m trying to decide which one to use to open this article with but there are so many to choose from I’m at a loss where to start. There’s the one where Paul tells George Lucas to his face that Star Wars is going to be a flop. Or there’s the time he rescued Tom Cruise from an abandoned film lot. I’m quite drawn to the one of him sacking Simon Cowell from his first job as a runner on Return of the Saint because he wasn’t any good. And then you’ve got meeting Paul and Linda McCartney, organising a reunion party for Roger Moore, telling Peter Jackson he’d never make it as a director if he stayed in New Zealand...
Luckily, Paul has got them all down in a book, Elstree Confidential: 50 Years of Studio Memories, so you’ll be able to decide for yourself which one you like best. And, at nearly 200 pages and containing almost 300 photographs, there’s plenty to choose from.
“It’s something you can dip in and out of,” says Paul, 59, who has lived in Borehamwood all his life. “Last summer I was chatting to some local volunteers from the Elstree and Borehamwood Museum and I was coming out with various anecdotes about film stars and memories and they said I should write it all down.”
Having been entertainment officer for Borehamwood and Elstree Council for 32 years, Elstree Studios’ historian since the early 1970s and also chairman of Elstree Screen Heritage, compiling the book of memories, letters and photographs didn’t require any research.
“It was all done from memory,” says Paul. “It’s called Elstree Confidential because it’s my own personal memories of interviewing stars, and letters I’ve received from people like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Elizabeth Taylor. It’s a behind-the-scenes trip down memory lane, a series of anecdotes about the stars who came to work here, from David Niven all the way through to Simon Cowell and Robbie Williams. It’s been good fun.”
Most definitely not a history book, Elstree Confidential starts in 1960 with Paul collecting his very first autograph – from an ageing Gary Cooper - and really takes off in the 1970s when Paul became adviser to managing director Andrew Mitchell for publicity, special events and royal visits.
The photographs in the book, many of them behind-the-scenes shots, are from Paul’s private albums and from other people who were on the scene at the time. “The Beatles came here in 1963,” remembers Paul, “and I hadn’t taken a picture but a photo veteran got in touch and said ‘I’ve got some snaps’ so he sent those over.”
Paul has met so many stars it’s hard to pin him down on who’s been his favourite, or his biggest.
“There have been too many,” he laughs, “I’m spoilt for choice. I’ve spent 50 years meeting hundreds of them and they’ve all been nice to meet. They all stand out individually for different reasons.
“But the older stars I grew up watching on TV, like Sophia Loren, Charlton Heston and David Niven, I was lucky to meet them, they had 40 or 50-year careers behind them and they impressed me with the sheer body of work they’d turned out. But they were just another interesting person – I just chatted to them like they were any other person.”
All proceeds from sales of the book will go to Elstree Screen Heritage and Elstree and Borehamwood Museum and their work preserving the towns’ rich film heritage.
Elstree Confidential: 50 Years of Studio Memories is available to buy from Elstree and Borehamwood Museum, Drayton Road, Borehamwood, open 11am-3pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, or from the Elstree Screen Heritage website www.elstreescreenheritage.org