I have been lucky enough to have worked in the film, television and theatre industries, on and off, since the early 1980s. Until recently, I was only 20 minutes away from the West End and a five-minute walk across the field to the back lot of Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden. This allowed me to pursue my love of and involvement in these industries, as well as working with many of the creative and talented people who are involved in their creation.

The “moving pictures” industry started in England, with the world’s first moving picture being shot in Leeds in 1888 and Elstree Studios being established in 1902, which makes it the world’s oldest working filmmaking facility.

Hertfordshire is a well-known and sought-after destination by London and internationally-based film production companies as it offers an extensive collection of historically accurate and easily accessible unique filming locations such as Hatfield House, where some scenes from the popular Netflix programme The Crown were filmed, and Knebworth House, for which the exterior of the grand estate and house appeared as Wayne Manor in the 1989 film Batman. Of course, it helps a great deal to have such picturesque and very English settings near major studios such as Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden and Elstree.

Watford Observer:

The interior of Hatfield House. Picture: Hatfield House

The opening scene of the historical connection of the film industry to the local area starts with the bringing down of the curtain on the final act of the Leavesden Aerodrome and Rolls Royce plant in 1994.

Around the same time, EON Productions were looking for a studio to film their latest production, the James Bond film GoldenEye, but were not having much luck as all the major film studios such as Shepperton and Pinewood were booked up. So they hired space at Leavesden and the rest, as they say, is history.

In November 1995, the site was purchased by the Millennium Group for a reputed £42.5 million and made its grand entrance into the film business as Leavesden Film Studios.

In 2010, after the success of their Harry Potter film franchise, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. purchased the studios they had occupied for over ten years and renamed it, Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden. Just of note, this is its official, legal name, not Warner Bros. Studios London or Watford. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. is the only Hollywood film studio with a permanent base in the UK. And that base is Leavesden.

Watford Observer:

Leavesden Country Park Zoetrope. Picture: Martin T Brooks

The history and heritage of motion pictures is recognised in three sculptures that make up part of the Heritage Trail located in the north and south sides of Leavesden Country Park.

The first of these tributes to the movies is called a Zoetrope (zow·ee·trowp) which comes from the Greek words zoe- (life) and tropos (turning) or “wheel of life”.

British mathematician William George Horner thought up the idea for a horizontal version of a Zoetrope in January 1834. Horner’s original, small revolving drum consisted of a wooden cylinder with vertically cuts in the sides. On the inner surface of the cylinder are placed individual images from a number of sequenced drawings or photographs. As the cylinder spins, the viewer looks through the cuts at the images passing in front of their eyes. The scanning of the slits keeps the images from blurring together, and the viewer sees a rapid succession of the images producing the illusion of motion. The images on the stone Zoetrope in the park are from the 1929 Charlie Chaplin film The Circus.

Watford Observer:

Inside the Leavesden Country Park Zoetrope. Picture: Martin T Brooks

If you would like to see the other two sculptures that recognise the local film industry, I encourage you to visit the park and have a look.

Making movies locally isn’t just for the big time Hollywood film makers and more than a few local, independent film makers have pointed their lenses at the local area.

Ian Port, managing partner of Think About It Films is based in Abbots Langley and knows the benefits of filming in his back yard,

He said: “Watford and the surrounding areas are great places to make films. We live in a very vibrant, diverse and exciting part of Hertfordshire where we have a mixture of film-friendly urban, suburban and countryside locations all on our doorstep.

“For me, imagination is the key to success in filmmaking. The imagination of the people, the businesses and the local government who understand the power of local filmmaking and support it. What better way to tell your story, to bring it to life than to work with local talent in identifiable locations?”