I KNOW time flies, or as we say in Borehamwood tempus fugit but I cannot believe this year marks the 25th anniversary of the saving of Elstree Studios. In 1996 Hertsmere Council stepped in and purchased the remaining 15 acres of the studio for less than £2 million, whereas a few years before Tesco had bought 12 acres of the site for £19 million.

The original intent of the owners Brent Walker was to sell the whole studio for retail on the front area and housing on the backlot. I was privileged to chair the eight-year campaign to save Elstree Studios, which was somewhat longer than I imagined when we started. In fact the campaign was in two parts, the first being against the sale by Cannon Films, but it was out of the frying pan into the fire when it ended up with Brent Walker.

In the beginning we had the support of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, for whom it had been a second home since the mid 1970s with the Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies, but they were not interested in buying the site. However, when we eventually won they both sent me nice letters of congratulations, which will either end up in a yet-to-be-built local film museum or go for sale on eBay when I kick the bucket.

Elstree Studios

Elstree Studios

When Hertsmere took over the studio in 1996, I was appointed chairman of Elstree Studio partnership company and we were tasked to refurbish, rebuild and relaunch the facility, which had been closed for more than two years. During that time Brent Walker had removed all the copper wiring, the generators, stage equipment, furniture and even kitchen sinks.

We inherited dressing rooms that had fungus growing due to water leaks, no heating, an underground car park that was partly flooded and an asbestos-contaminated backlot. It took a giant leap of faith and £10 million to carry out the refurbishment and build the two giant new sound stages, which were opened by Prince Charles in 1999.

I should write a book about the campaign and all the intrigues, twists and turns. How I was against Stanley Kubrick reopening the studio with the filming of Eyes Wide Shut and the visit from Mohammed Al Fyed and his son Dodie, later tragically killed in that car crash with Princess Diana. My meeting with George Walker and how I bought just ten shares in their company so I could attend their AGM in London and harangue their actions. My clash with Michael Winner on live television when he described Elstree as "just a series of tin sheds off the A1". I called him rent-a-quote but he later sent me £200 towards the campaign funds.

We held a public rally of 700 in the old Venue theatre and gathered 15,000 signatures in a few weeks, including the likes of Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, the casts of EastEnders and Emmerdale, and many others.

There were some dark days along the way, but as my Mum used to say: "If you start a fight, stay in until you win or lose," or as we say in Borehamwood: carpe diem. The suits in London did not realise you don't mess with a council house kid from the 'Wood. We had some great letters of support from stars and I must have done about a hundred radio, television and press interviews with media around the world.

Today Elstree Studios is thriving, home to great productions and expanding. It is a long way from 21 years ago when we were faced with a semi derelict site. I am not part of the present but I am proud to have been part of the past. So until next time au revoir, ciao and auf weidersehen, pet.

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