The lighting of the Harlequin Shopping Centre's Christmas decorations was given some extra magic thanks to the stars of the Harry Potter films.

This year the big button to turn on the illuminations was pressed by James and Oliver Phelps, who played Fred and George Weasley in the enormously popular Harry Potter film adaptations, inexorably linked to the nearby Leavesden Studios.

The brothers were then on hand to sign postcards for a legion of dedicated Potter fans, and explained to the Watford Observer how two boys from a secondary school in Birmingham subrub came to star in the biggest grossing film series of all time.

James Phelps, 25, said: “It was an open audition for Potter, and getting in a film for us meant a day off school.

“When we were filming we were based in St Albans or at the Grove hotel down the road so we have a lot of good friends in Kings Langley and Watford.”

Oliver Phelps added: “It's funny being here to turn on the lights because Watford is like our second home.

“I remember quite a few nights out in the town, the foam parties at Destiny were attended by lots of cast and crew.”

The lighting of the Christmas decorations was accompanied by a salvo of fireworks, following a countdown by a crowd which lined the streets outside the Harlequin.

Mayor of Watford Dorothy Thornhill said: “The light switch on is a fixture in the Watford calendar, it's all about the town's prosperity, we have to compete and keep us on the map.

“Our position in the market is like our football club, we're not premier league but we aspire to be, and we've got to pull out all the stops to compete.”

For those who stare with dismay at the prospect of Christmas decorations so early in the year, the issue is apparently an environmental illusion rather than Christmas consumerism.

Michael Stevens, general manager of the Harlequin, said: “For 20 years we have turned the lights on on the first Thursday in November and it's become a tradition.

“The problem is the temperature is 16 degrees when it should be six, during half term when we pray for it to be cold and nasty I was outside mowing my lawn, and that's slightly queered our pitch.

“Oxford Street has already beaten me to it and Westfield will be this weekend. It's about hoisting our flag and saying we're ready for Christmas.”