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Never on a Sunday

Historians are working to have The Gate Studios in Station Road, Borehamwood, listed to protect it from developers. Reporter LORNA McVICARS talked to two former employees about their days at one the of oldest surviving film studios

thisisoxfordshire: The cast and crew of the religious film Ruth at the Gate Studios in the late 1940s The cast and crew of the religious film Ruth at the Gate Studios in the late 1940s

Former cameraman at Borehamwood's Gate Studios Bill Vinten can remember having to stop filming when a train thundered through the nearby station.

This is is just one of the memories the former lighting cameraman has of the oldest surviving film studio buildings in the town.

Bill, 81, who worked for the Rank Organisation at the studio from 1947 to 1952, said: "When a big express train came thundering through, we did have to stop filming and wait for it to go through, before starting again."

Peter Bremmer, an assistant director on the film Odette, made at the studio, has recounted how he had to climb to the top of the building, armed with binoculars, and set off an alarm warning of approaching trains.

Bill, who was known as Paddy and now lives in Suffolk, also recalled making The Silver Darlings, at the studio, for which lots of dead fish had to be brought in, for the quay-side scenes of the film about herring fishing in Scotland.

He began work at the studio as an employee for GHW representing the names of its directors Gregory, Hake and Walker which was owned by Gate Studios' owner the Rank Organisation.

Rank's owner J Arthur Rank set up GHW to make films with a religious content. Mr Rank, a Methodist, had resisted opening his cinemas on Sundays, but when his managers persuaded him this was bad for competition, he agreed they could open if a second film, with a religious content, was shown.

Bill remembered Sunday Thoughts, made at the Gate, which were five to ten-minute long snippets of religious text, shown between the main and second films on Sundays.

Bill, who went on to design the television-camera mounting equipment seen in studios worldwide today, added of the Gate: "It did not have the glamour of Pinewood, Shepperton, or the others MGM was going strong up the road. But we had quite a lot of interesting things we had two experimental films.

"It was a small, cosy little unit, that did not cost much to run."

Under the Frozen Falls was a prototype film for using a back projection of a scene, to avoid the expense of taking actors on location.

Mr Marionette was the first film to be made by television cameras.

Bill, who lives in Bury St Edmonds, also worked on the 1950 film Odette, which starred Anna Neagle, Trevor Howard and Peter Ustinov.

He remembered how the "sleepy" studio would transform into a hive of activity when a film was being made, with the arrival of dressers, make-up artists and other crew and cast.

He recalled how days started at 8am and ended with drinks at the former Crown pub, in Shenley Road, adding: "They were a very good crowd a very happy crowd. It was a good place to be."

Madeline Kellock, nee Clark, has remained friends with Bill, whom she knew when she worked at the studios, as secretary to the studio manager FG Bangs, from 1946 to 1949.

Although her duties were secretarial, Madeline remembered more impromptu occasions.

"You would come back from lunch and say: 'I thought I had left my coat there.' And find they had taken it to dress the set. It was great, great fun.

"It was a wonderful time they were such a wonderful gang of people. In those days, film industry employees seemed to look after one another. In a small studio like the Gate, you got to know everybody."

Madeline, who lives in Frogmore, recalled people meeting in the studio's canteen, and famous actors who worked there, like Mai Zetterling, Maxwell Reed and Valarie Hobson.

While working at the studio, she met her late husband John Kellock, who ran the stores department, which bought the "nuts and bolts" items the studio needed.

Madeline remembered how, in the post-war era, permits from the Government's Board of Trade were needed to buy wood and scrim, a hessian-like material, for sets.

The people Bill and Madeline recall working with at the studio include: Jimmy Sloane, who ran the studio; Micky Anderson, head of the electrical department; props man Jimmy Jordan; Pat Heath, who ran the sound department; projectionist Ted Simmonds and Jim and Alice Jackson, in charge of the wardrobe.

Madeline, and the Borehamwood Times, would like anyone who remembers any of these people, or who used to work at the studio, to call the newsroom on 020 8953 3391.

The Gate was built, in 1928, during an investment boom in the film industry, although not by a well-known company, according to film historian Paul Welsh.

By 1962, it had been acquired by Andrew Smith Harkness, and the Harkness Hall Group still owns it today.

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