Well here we are again and thank you for joining me on a ramble down Memory Lane. I must start by explaining why I so often refer to films and television made in Elstree and Borehamwood rather than at Pinewood, Shepperton or Leavesden for instance. It is because when I started writing this column 44 years ago it was for the Borehamwood Times and thus a local readership. I am told these articles now appear in several papers but as a historian of Elstree Studios I tend to lean towards made there and other Borehamwood studios.

This week I salute a connection between the most famous Hollywood movie ever, Gone With The Wind, and Borehamwood, which sounds like a giant leap. My excuse is that all but one of the main cast filmed in Borehamwood before and after that landmark film.

Leslie Howard was the first as he starred in several films in the early 1930s at the British & Dominions Studio that stood next to Elstree Studios and burnt down in 1936. Rather than rebuild they invested in the new Pinewood Studios, so that famous facility has a link to Borehamwood. Leslie was considered by Hollywood as the perfect English gentleman, although his father was actually Hungarian. His most successful Borehamwood film was The Scarlet Pimpernel, which cost £81,000 to make and grossed £420,000 which is 1934 money. Sadly Leslie died in the war when his civilian plane was shot down at sea.

Vivien Leigh also made several films at Elstree Studios in the 1930s before departing for Hollywood. She was considered a great beauty and a talented actress but suffered from mental illness. She returned to Elstree in the 1960s to star with a newcomer named Warren Beatty in The Roman Spring Of Mrs Stone but was to sadly die from tuberculosis .

When I arranged a plaque unveiling at Elstree Studios in 1998 to honour Vivien, her Gone With The Wind co-star, Oscar winning Olivia deHavilland, agreed to fly over from her home in Paris to do the honours. Olivia had made a couple of films at the old MGM Studios in Borehamwood.

Clark Gable made three films at MGM in Borehamwood, including one of his best since Gone With The Wind, called Mogambo, co-starring Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, who had a fling with him as she liked to do with her male co-stars. She was quite a gal before she became a princess.

Thomas Mitchell is a forgotten name today but he played the father in Gone With The Wind and featured in several Hollywood classics like StageCoach and It's A Wonderful Life. Towards the end of his life he starred in an Elstree made television series called Glencannon, which alas I don't think is available to see now.

The one star who did not film in Borehamwood was the Black actress Hattie McDaniel who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the maid. She was the first African American to win an Oscar, albeit for a role that would be totally unacceptable today. When she was dying in 1952 after getting very few roles, she asked to be buried in a famous Hollywood cemetery but the owners would not allow it due to her colour. Believe me, if the standards of today were applied to Hollywood of yesteryear nearly all the studio bosses would be serving prison sentences. Thankfully the present day owners of that cemetery have erected a memorial in her honour and I salute that action. Until next time take care and act sensibly with the virus as I treasure all my readers.

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