Carry on filming

PUBLISHED: 20:29 06 September 2007 | UPDATED: 14:50 20 February 2013



From Bond to Batman, Pinewood Studios celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Nick Channer goes to the movies...

From Bond to Batman, Pinewood Studios celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Nick Channer goes to the movies.

Pass through the main gate at Pinewood Studios and instantly you leave reality behind to enter a world of magic and make-believe. Here, amid a tightly knit collection of post-production theatres, back lots and vast stages, many of cinema's most successful films are made, creating some of the greatest and most memorable images in the history of movie-making.

It was thanks to three influential figures that Pinewood was born. The Sheffield building tycoon Sir Charles Boot, the eccentric jute heiress Lady Jule and the flour magnate J Arthur Rank came up with the idea of turning a Buckinghamshire estate into one of Britain's foremost, state-of-the-art film studios. Less than 20 miles from London, Pinewood was a plum site for film-making and within a year of construction work starting, the first films had begun shooting.

This year is especially significant for Pinewood - the Studios are celebrating 70 years of film production as well as the publication of a major new book which chronicles seven decades of movies made in this leafy corner of the Home Counties.

Many of the films made at Pinewood are Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) winners and the Academy, which is also celebrating a landmark birthday this year - its 60th - is contributing to the party atmosphere. BBC-2 joined in the celebrations, too, with a season of classic home-grown movies and a major documentary series about British films.

Back in the summer 2,000 well-wishers gathered at Pinewood for a glamorous garden party during which film stars and production staff alike recalled a host of happy memories and swapped countless anecdotes. That's the great thing about the Studios and those who work there - so many people have so many stories to tell, and along virtually every corridor there are numerous portrait photographs of generations of movie icons as well as long lines of posters advertising legendary, much-loved pictures from the 1940s to the present day:films many of us recall from our childhood and which are still regularly shown on television today.

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In his autobiography, Michael Caine describes his early years as a struggling actor, travelling by bus from London out to Pinewood where he played a number of minor roles. Often his journey would be made in winter, in the gloom early morning. Caine returned to Pinewood years later to make 'Sleuth' opposite Laurence Olivier. Arriving at the Studios in his chauffeur-driven limousine, Caine, by now an international movie star, was greeted by Tom, the doorman, who opened the car door and saluted. 'It was a sure sign I had arrived,' writes Caine.

Olivier, an actor who surely epitomizes movie glamour and greatness during the middle years of the 20th century, is another of the more prominent stars included in Pinewood's illustrious hall of fame. In 1956 he and Marilyn Monroe worked together at the Studios on the big film for that year 'The Prince and the Showgirl.' It was not a happy experience for either of them.

Monroe's chronic inability to learn even the simplest dialogue resulted in one scene having to be shot 29 times. Olivier became increasingly frustrated by Monroe's lack of professionalism and the film, based on Terence Rattigan's play, was hardly the big hit everyone had predicted.

About the same time Marilyn Monroe was making her only British film at Pinewood, comedy actor Norman Wisdom was busy establishing his reputation as a likeable clown in films such as 'Trouble in Store' and 'Up in the World'. Wisdom and Monroe had never met but one day she came on to the set of his film 'Just My Luck' and watched him at work. Within minutes Monroe was screaming with laughter at Wisdom's antics.

These comedies were real money-spinners and during the same period Pinewood was notching up another success with the fondly remembered 'Doctor' films. One of the series' regulars was the much-loved veteran actor Leslie Phillips who attended Pinewood's lavish birthday party and helped cut the cake. The Doctor' comedies ran in tandem with the 'Carry On' series and though the likes of Dirk Bogarde, James Robertson Justice, Kenneth Williams, and Hattie Jacques are long gone, their spirit lives on at Pinewood.

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Curiously, there is a link between the 'Carry On' films and a costly Pinewood epic that was doomed almost from the start. Back in the autumn of 1960 'Cleopatra' was scheduled to be made at the Studios with a budget of 44 million dollars - equal today to 270 million dollars. Soon after shooting began, one of the film's stars, Elizabeth Taylor, became unwell, the weather deteriorated, lead actor Peter Finch resigned to be replaced by Richard Burton and the director finally quit. The set and the Pinewood footage were scrapped by Twentieth Century Fox and the production eventually moved to Rome. But not all was lost. The Carry On team managed to make good use of the redundant set by shooting 'Carry On Cleo'.

Scores of expensively produced films have emerged from the Pinewood stable over the years - 'Batman'(with Gotham City, at the time, the biggest set to be built on Pinewood's back lot since 'Cleopatra'), 'Superman' and 'Mission Impossible' among them. Stanley Kubrick shot his last film 'Eyes Wide Shut' at Pinewood, the movie gaining at reputation as the longest and most secretive film ever shot at the Studios. Fearful of flying, Kubrick insisted on creating in minute detail several New York blocks on the Pinewood back lot to avoid having to travel to Hollywood. He died five days after the film was finished.

More than 650 films have been made at Pinewood over the years - a great many of them memorable productions; some, it has to be said, instantly forgettable. The enduring success of the Studios, however, is, in part, down to the exploits of one iconic individual. His name? Bond, James Bond. For the past five decades many of the 007 spy capers have been made at Pinewood and now comes the news that the 22nd Bond picture will be made on the legendary sound stage.

The opening scene of 'From Russia with Love', one of the early 007 pictures, features historic Heatherden Hall and its glorious garden as a striking backdrop. This grand country house - setting for the signing of the Irish Free State Treaty in 1921 - lies at the heart of the studio complex and its elegant facade has graced countless films over the years. 'The Great Gatsby', starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, includes Heatherden Hall and the garden was also used in 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' and 'Carry on Camping'.

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Today, the house and gardens double as a venue for conferences, banquets, weddings, civil ceremonies and themed events. But it is as a film studio that Pinewood is best known and best loved. Here's to the next 70 years as movie-making tackles the challenges and innovations of the future. Happy birthday, Pinewood - one of Britain's greatest cinematic institutions.

*For more information about arranging events at Pinewood contact:

Missing Ingredients Ltd, Pinewood Studios, Iver, Buckinghamshire SL0 0NH 01753 651126

Pinewood Studios - 70 years of Fabulous Film-making by Morris Bright and published by Carroll and Brown is available to buy at £40.00 or online at for £23.99.
Copies bought online are embossed with the Pinewood Studios Group logo.

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