Babe greets the Prince

Prince Charles’ visit to Elstree Studios on Friday is being hailed as a success by studios bosses.

His Royal Highness officially opened the new sound stages at Elstree, the tallest in Europe, after an hour-long tour of the facility, including a visit to the base of a recent addition to the studios family, Neal Scanlan Studio, creator of the Animatronic special effects for the Babe films.

Many television news reports on Friday featured the mechanical pig’s head voicing the words: “Hello, Your Royal Highness, I’m delighted to meet you.”

But it was a greeting which nearly did not happen, because as late as Thursday, permission was still being sought from Babe producers — keen the amazing creation was not referred to as Babe, but a pig “like the one used in Babe”.

In his speech in the new sound stages, the Prince apologised to 250 guests for over-running his tour by 20 minutes. He said: “I could not be more delighted to have had a brief opportunity to tour the studios. I bumped into so many fascinating people, I took too long to get round!”

Before entering the new stages, where potential studios customers, the producers and directors, mixed with existing tenants and borough-based supporters, the Prince visited the set of a Carlton TV series, Easy Listening, and the workshop of film industry sculptor, Brian Muir.

Once inside the new stages, the Prince chatted with veteran cameramen before pausing for a word with a Judge Dredd black guard and Darth Vader, part of an impressive exhibition which brought together displays of the studios’ heritage and current talent.

He said: “I’m thrilled to see Elstree thriving again. It is a name famous to film-goers all around the world.” It was testimony to the importance of the studios to the community, he said, that it had managed, through “pioneering, unorthodox” methods, to ensure their survival.

The 70ft high stages, which will allow Elstree to once again accommodate medium-sized productions, represent around half of Hertsmere Borough Council’s œ10million investment in the facility since February 1996.

Recalling an earlier visit to the studios, to the set of Murder on the Orient Express in 1974, His Royal Highness paid tribute to the “unsung heroes” of the film industry, the “remarkable craftsmen and technicians” working behind the scenes, some of whom contributed to Britain’s reputation as a world centre for special effects.

Before unveiling a plaque to mark the opening of a new chapter in the studios’ story, he added: “These sound stages are visible evidence of Elstree’s success. I look forward to seeing some of the many exciting films that will be made here before long.”

Welcoming the Prince on Friday, Hertsmere Borough Council leader Bryan Stanley said the new stages were a “valuable addition to the British film making industry.”

He added: “These famous Elstree Studios are, once again, becoming a centre of film making excellence of which all residents of the borough can be proud. New jobs are being created and new talent is being trained. Let the word go out that Elstree Studios are thriving.”

Borough Mayor David Banks said it was a “wonderful day for Hertsmere” and a highlight of his term in office. The studios will pass into the control of two privates companies, set up by the council, on April 1.

This week, studios head Neville Reid, who accompanied the Prince on his tour, said the visiting Royal had been genuinely interested in everything he had seen, and had no intention of being rushed around.

And Mr Reid revealed that Mike Figgis, director of the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas, would be filming his new feature, Miss Julie, at one of the new stages from Monday, and producers of a BBC drama, Wives and Daughters, were set to occupy the other stage next month.

He said the increased capacity the new sound stages will boost business, which is bound to have a knock-on effect for the economy of Borehamwood, and on Monday morning guests had been ringing him to say how much they enjoyed the event, and to say how well-organised it had been.