Borehamwood: Hertfordshire's Hollywood
PUBLISHED: 16:59 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:03 20 February 2013
Borehamwood may be more than 5,000 miles away from the sunshine and glamour of Hollywood but it has been linked to the film industry for almost a century - Sue Armstrong relives some memories and finds out more
MY first visit to Borehamwood was as a star-struck teenager in the late 1960s. Arriving by train, I stood with a friend outside Elstree Studios in the hope of glimpsing Peter Wyngarde (alias Jason King) from the cult detective series Department S. This was just one of the popular television productions filmed here around that time along with The Avengers, The Saint and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
No doubt countless other fans have done the same over the years as the line-up of top TV shows has continued. Today, ITV's Dancing on Ice and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, plus Channel 4's Big Brother, are amongst the glittering parade.
Some of the world's most famous films have been produced at Elstree Studios. In recent years they have included Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan, Indiana Jones, The Shining, Superman - the list is endless.
There are many film studios and associated companies in Borehamwood but the first to open was the Neptune Film Company, in 1914. This was followed in the mid 1920s with a motion picture studio built by British film producer, Herbert Wilcox, and Hollywood producer, J D Williams. The attraction of the area was cheap land prices, close proximity to London, good road and rail access and the benefit of beautiful surrounding countryside for filming on location.
Over the years, the film industry here has been through many highs and lows. In the 1930s Elstree Studios suffered serious fire damage. Soon after, with the coming of the Second World War, film production stopped and the studios changed roles and were used as an ordnance depot and garrison theatre. The 1960s brought a slump in film making as cinema attendances declined, bringing a change of emphasis to television production. But in the 1990s, with a general recession taking hold, the doors were forced to close. The buildings remained empty for several years and began to get into disrepair. But Hertsmere Council came to the rescue and became the new owners of the premises. Since then, millions of pounds have been spent reequipping the studios, which were reopened by Prince Charles in 1999.
5 things to do while you're there
Borehamwood can be found in the south of Hertfordshire, between the M25 and M1 motorways. With Elstree & Borehamwood station conveniently placed in the centre of town, London is just a 20-minute journey away. The surrounding Green Belt countryside is very appealing and close by are the towns and villages of Elstree, Bushey, Radlett and Shenley.
The shopping streets have plenty to offer and a friendly market is held here twice a week. The modern Borehamwood Shopping Park, with numerous well known high street names, is open seven days a week and parking is free.
Local schools enjoy a good reputation and include the renowned Haberdashers' Aske's School for Boys.
Make a splash
The Venue leisure centre has come up with some great ideas to keep everyone fit. Let's start with the large swimming pool. Here you can choose to swim any day of the week but on Saturdays, both children and adults can forget their front crawl and walk on the water instead! The leisure centre has introduced Walter Walkerz, giant clear plastic balls which give a hamster's-eye view. You just get inside and propel yourself across the surface of the pool. This new form of exercise is proving really popular.
Then there's the Pedal X Suite with 16 shiny bikes lined up waiting to be pedalled through a high intensity aerobic workout. Motivating instructors set the pace to a background of inspiring music.
The Venue has also introduced an XerGaming fitness gym for 7 to 15 year olds. It's the first of its kind in the UK and is designed to make working out even more fun with computer games and dance mats.
There's plenty more to be discovered for all the family at The Venue as well as the Side Kicks Caf to refuel.
Stay a while
Whatever tickles your taste buds, the restaurants in Borehamwood offer flavours from around the world. In the evening you could find yourself relaxing in Bengiamino, a family run Italian restaurant. As you step inside, the high vaulted ceilings and large arched windows are striking and the warm lighting, soft piano music and attentive service all set the scene for a perfect evening. The difficult part will be choosing from the extensive menu - will it be Spaghetti Marie e Monte, Linguine Sorrento, a homemade Pizza Al Quatro Fromaggie or perhaps the fillet of Dover Sole? Whatever you decide on, the excellent customer reviews prove that these specialities are as delicious as they sound.
The Corus Hotel, in neighbouring Elstree, is a charming venue for an overnight stay. Set in ten acres of grounds, its Tudor exterior and character interior will make you want to stay longer. The sophisticated Cavendish Restaurant and Terrace Bar offer an imaginative choice of fine food and wine. And the relaxed Edgwarebury bar has stunning views across the hotel gardens and beyond to the skyline of London.
Take time out
Aberford Park provides a tranquil area in the middle of town with lakes, fountains and many varieties of water fowl and wildlife. Interestingly, the lake system functions by collecting all the surface water from the area.
Local school children have planted a V shaped avenue of trees here, with each tree representing a school in the town. There are plenty of play areas for youngsters to enjoy together with a skatepark and a multi-sports court marked out for street hockey and basketball.
Don't be surprised to see some well known faces in the park as it is often used as a backdrop for television programmes.
Visit the past
Originally, Borehamwood was a small rural hamlet but the construction of the Midland Railway and the opening of the station in 1868 led to its expansion. The town's population has now grown to over 30,000 people and the film industry has played a leading part in its development and economic growth.
The Elstree and Borehamwood Museum provides a further insight into the history here and has a changing programme of displays. The museum is run by volunteers from the Elstree and Borehamwood History Society who have come together to record, collect, and interpret the history and archaeology of the local area.
See for yourself
The Venue Leisure Centre
020 8386 9886
020 8953 1299
Barnet Lane, Elstree
0870 609 6151
Elstree and Borehamwood Museum
020 8953 1258