“The wave of memory had submerged me for a whole minute, while I’d just sat staring and let it all come flooding back.” – Elizabeth Wein.
I read a few posts from over the lockdown period, by other writers, earlier today. They were bemoaning the fact that lockdown restrictions had prevented many aspects of accessing the world of leisure and entertainment. Quite a few mentioned concern at not having yet been able to watch the latest James Bond film. Talk of James Bond took me back to my childhood years.
I was so lucky to have been brought up in such a creative environment. On one occasion, I remember feeling excited. What little boy doesn’t like going to the office with his Dad and getting the chance to see where his Dad works? Well, I was no different. It was all very exciting yet, as we approached the gated entrance, everything looked austere, official and rather foreboding, to me. My Dad has a very important job, I recall thinking with a huge sense of pride. We arrived at the staffed gates in our brand new white car. I don’t recall the make, but I recall the fuss our neighbours had made of the fact that my Dad drove a brand new car. Back in 1977, we were one of just a handful of families in our street, that owned a car. I’m not a materialist, I assure you. These are just memories of what happened at the time. My Dad was excited about his brand new car and the neighbours all made a fuss.
For me, this was something else that the older kids at school would find, to bully me over. For me, good things happening would often be accompanied by a sense of dread. If it wasn’t a newspaper story heralding something wonderful about my Dad and his work, it would be that I was given the best trainers, the best jacket or the latest computer and this would cause some kids to bully me for being ‘spoilt’. When you are the son of a Stunt Man and Actor in the Movies, you feel proud. That said, you learn quickly that when there was work, the money flooded in but when there was no work, life was hard. I was always aware that riches one minute, would be replaced by poverty the next. That stopped me from being ‘spoilt’. I appreciated the good times and expected the tougher times. That’s just how life is in the world of film and television.
My Mum sat in the left side passenger seat, my Dad driving and six year old me sat in the back of the car with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. None of us used car seatbelts, back in 1977. It would be years later, in 1983, that the Law would finally enforce the use of car seatbelts. That was great; I could happily slide across the back seat of the car and sit on whichever side offered the best view in any given moment. I would often sit in the middle of the back seat and lean forward to talk with my Mum and Dad as we drove along. That gave me a clear view of the car windscreen. Sometimes, as my Dad turned a corner into another street, I would play act sliding from one side of the car to the other, as if pushed by the invisible force of a turn in a high speed car chase; my chance at play acting being a Stunt Man, like my Dad. We had arrived. My Dad smiled at the Security Guard at the gates and vigorously wound down the car window so that he could chat with him.
The Security Man had slightly greying hair and was somewhat portly in appearance. He clearly recognised my Dad and he waived my Dad’s attempt at offering identity papers. I slid across to sit behind my Dad, so that I could hear what was being said. The man in the booth was talking about who he had and had not let in and his officious nature was something I now think of as akin to the image one might have of an overly officious member of the Civil Defence Service, back in WWII. This man was very alert, very serious about his job but also incredibly friendly to my Dad. The Security Man had seen me and my Mum many times and he leant forward to make a very cheerful greeting, at which we both responded equally cheerily and with an abundance of waving. After several minutes of a polite and friendly exchange, during which the man had impressed the significance of his role in the security of the whole place, the gate began to open, my Dad thanked the man and we made our way forward into what, to me, was a magical world of wonder; Pinewood Studios.
We parked in our usual area and I wondered about what we would see today. Even by the tender age of six, I was accustomed to visiting Pinewood Studios and I was almost bursting with excitement at what strange new wonders I would face today. All I knew was that this was yet another fantastic James Bond film that my Dad was working on. What we found, however, was utterly spectacular. You see, over recent months we had seen a vast building gradually rising from the ground. My Dad led us to where my Mum and I had last seen scaffolding and building materials to where we now saw standing so high and proudly before us, the new ‘007 Stage’; said to be the biggest studio stage in the world. Back in 1977, this was nothing short of awe inspiring.
It was enormous. We dutifully followed my Dad down the edge of the building, so that he could emphasise the size of the place. You could see the excitement brimming from him as he hinted at the immense surprise awaiting us, inside. I assumed that it would be an immense open space and I wondered at how long it might take me to run from one end to the other.
Little did I know what was really awaiting, on the inside of the spectacular new ‘007 Stage’. We climbed the steps into the studio and my Mum was holding my hand as we turned and entered. To this day, the magnificence of what was laid out before me still sends a chill down my spine. Me. A little boy from West London who lived an otherwise normal life, suddenly faced with wonders beyond anything I had ever known….