On the 15th December 2017, the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga- Episode VIII The Last Jedi will finally hit cinemas.
Despite being set “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” this much loved series of films has a surprising number of connections in and around London.
Here are 11 of them…
Located in Hertfordshire on the north-west outskirts of the capital, Elstree has been associated with filmmaking since 1914 when the ‘Neptune Film Company’ established themselves in the area.
It was in July 1976 that director, George Lucas arrived in Elstree- which then boasted a collection of huge sound stages- to begin filming the interior shots for the very first Star Wars film; the instalment which would later become known as Episode IV: A New Hope; an original 70s cinema trailer for which can be viewed below:
Production returned to Elstree for the next two films in the original trilogy; The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).
Sadly the studios in which the these films were shot were demolished in the early 90s and are now occupied by a large Tesco supermarket.
Despite this loss, Elstree still maintains a large studio complex on Shenley Road where filming on the 2016 Star Wars story, Rogue One was carried out.
Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire
Opened in 1936, Pinewood Studios– which are situated between London and Windsor- are most famously associated with the James Bond franchise.
In recent years they have been used for the latest Star Wars movies; The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017)
Canary Wharf station
Not all Star Wars production around London has been studio-based. In 2016, some on-location filming for Rogue One was carried out at Canary Wharf, with the futuristic looking Jubilee line station being used to represent the interior of the murderous ‘Death Star‘.
Anvil Studios, Denham
Denham on the western outskirt of London was once home to Anvil Studios and it was here that composer, John Williams recorded his sublime scores for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back with the London Symphony Orchestra both of which can be listened to below:
Sadly, Anvil Studios were demolished in the early 80s, just months after the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack was completed.
Abbey Road Studios
Following the loss of Anvil, John Williams headed to the world famous Abbey Road Studios to record music for 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
The soundtracks to the prequel films- The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) were also made at Abbey Road.
This bustling square in London’s West End is synonymous with cinema, and it’s here that every Star Wars movie has had its UK premiere.
Click below to hear a vintage radio advert announcing showings of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ at The Odeon, Leicester Square in May 1980:
On the 2nd April 1914 at Maida Vale’s Lauderdale Mansions South, the legendary actor, Sir Alec Guinness was born.
Sir Alec Guinness appeared in many celebrated roles during his life, including The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Ladykillers (1955) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
In Star Wars of course, he played the wise old Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi who confronts his former pupil, Anakin Skywalker- now twisted, and corrupted as the treacherous Darth Vader- in a final lightsaber duel aboard The Death Star (please click below to view):
As seen above, the villain of the original Star Wars trilogy was the ominous Darth Vader.
This mighty baddie was portrayed by Dave Prowse (although his voice was provided by the deep tones of the incredible James Earl Jones), a bodybuilding and weightlifting champ who was born and bred in Bristol.
For many years, Dave Prowse ran a gym on Southwark’s Marshalsea Road which was popular with many celebrities- including the late Christoper Reeve who he helped to bulk up for his role in Superman (1978).
It was in Barnes, south-west London that the 7ft 3. Peter Mayhew was born and raised. He would go on to play the huge, furry Chewbacca; Han Solo’s trusty copilot onboard the Millennium Falcon.
At the time he was offered the role, Peter Mayhew was working as a porter at King’s College Hospital, Brixton.
John Boyega– who plays reformed storm trooper Finn– is one of the biggest names in the recent Force Awakens and The Last Jedi movies.
John was born in Peckham in 1992 and attended Oliver Goldsmith primary school on Peckham Road where, at the age of 9, he had his first taste of acting. He then went on to attend Westminster City school, South Thames College and the University of Greenwich, before going on to study acting at the Identity School of Acting in Hackney.
As well as film appearances- including 2011’s Attack the Block which was filmed on the former Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle, John has appeared on stage both at the National Theatre and Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre.
Bushey, which can be found between Stanmore and Watford, was home to both Kenny Baker (born in Birmingham) and Jack Purvis (born in London) who’d been friends since the early 1960s after forming a double-act called The Minitones in which they’d performed in night-clubs across Britain.
In 1976 Kenny Baker was offered the opportunity to play the loveable little droid, R2D2.
He accepted- but only on the condition that his pal, Jack be given a role too. Consequently Jack went on to portray numerous droids and creatures throughout the original Star Wars trilogy.
Jack and Kenny also had prominent roles in the 1981 Terry Gillingham film, Time Bandits.
Tragically Jack Purvis was later paralysed in an accident at his Bushy home and died a few years later in 1997.
Kenny Baker passed away in 2016; the same year in which Carrie Fisher (who played Princess Leia) also died.
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Released in 1971 and directed by Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange was by far one of the 20th century’s most controversial films.
Based on Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel of the same name (the title being inspired by the old Cockney phrase “as queer as a clockwork orange’), the story is set in a dystopian London of the near future and centres on Alex DeLarge–a sadistic youth with a passion for Beethoven- who leads his gang of ‘droogs’ through the city on nightly sprees of ultra-violent mischief.
After committing murder, Alex is finally locked up… but is soon offered a quick way out when he agrees to act as a guinea pig for the Ludovico Technique; a controversial brain-washing programme designed to suppresses the desire for violence (and something which caused actor Malcolm McDowell great pain and discomfort when it came to portraying these disturbing scenes).
In Britain, thanks to high levels of upset whipped up in the press, the film version of A Clockwork Orange gained such an intense notoriety that Stanley Kubrick himself withdrew his work from circulation; a self-imposed ban which remained right up until 2000.
So strict was this embargo that, in 1993 when the Scala Cinema in Kings Cross attempted to screen the film, Warner Brothers took the owners to court; an action which led to the cinema going bust thanks to the immense legal costs involved.
Considering A Clockwork Orange was filmed entirely around London and the Home Counties (including areas such as Borehamwood, Kingston-Upon-Thames, Elstree, Radlett, Brunel University, Bricket Wood and Wandsworth prison) it’s rather ironic that British audiences were forbidden from viewing Kubrick’s film for so many years.
Here are some of the film’s most prominent London-based scenes:
The Chelsea Drugstore
Whilst Alex’s nights are spent committing all manner of horrific acts whilst tanked up on drug-laced milk, his days are rather more civil… devoted to indulging his love of classical music; especially that of the “lovely, lovely Ludwig Van” Beethoven.
In one of the film’s scenes, we follow Alex, decked out in his dandiest threads as he peruses his favourite record shop (click below to view):
This scene was filmed in the basement of the Chelsea Drugstore; a modern building fashioned from glass and aluminium which opened on the King’s Road in 1968.
Open 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, the Chelsea Drugstore was an avant-garde, mini shopping mall, its three floors boasting eateries, boutiques, a record shop, bar, newsagent and chemist.
It also boasted its own ‘Flying Squad’… an exclusive team of women clad in purple castsuits who were employed to make unconventional home deliveries on their fleet of motorbikes. Groovy!
The Chelsea Drugstore was also name checked in The Rolling Stone’s 1968 hit, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” (Speaking of The Stones, Mick Jagger was once earmarked to play Alex DeLarge in an earlier proposed adaptation of Burgess’ novel which never came to fruition…)
Although the Chelsea Drugstore ceased trading in 1971, the shops in the basement (as featured in A Clockwork Orange) remained in place until the late 1980s whilst the rest of the building became a wine bar.
Today, the building is occupied by the Chelsea branch of McDonalds.
Despite the inclusion of the psychedelic Chelsea Drugstore, A Clockwork Orange is mostly set against a cold, dystopian backdrop; a precedent set in Burgess’ original novel as the following excerpt, in which Alex and his gang are evading the police, atmospherically illustrates:
“Just round the next turning was an alley, dark and empty at both ends, and we rested there, panting fast then slower, then breathing like normal. It was like resting between the feet of two terrific and very enormous mountains, these being flatblocks, and in the windows of all the flats you could viddy like blue dancing light. This would be the telly. Tonight was what they called a worldcast, meaning that the same programme was being viddied by everyone in the world that wanted to… and it was all being bounced off the special telly satellites in outer space.”
In order to realise Burgess’ bleak, futuristic vision Stanley Kubrick turned to the modern, Brutalist architecture which was sprouting across London during the era in which the book and film were created; architecture which, as early as 1962, Anthony Burgess was already predicting would provide fertile ground for many unforeseen social ills.
In Burgess’ novel, Alex lives in “Municipal Flatblock 18a”, a block daubed in obscene graffiti and plagued by vandalism.
To represent this domestic seediness, Kubrick took his film crew to the newly built Thamesmead Estate; a vast, sprawling development near Woolwich in South East London.
Built on a former military site, the Thamesmead Estate, which was optimistically promoted as being the “town of the twenty-first century”, was built piecemeal between the 1960s and 1980s.
One of the film’s most famous sequences takes place on Thamesmead’s Binsey Walk.
Walking alongside the man-made Southmere Lake Alex, whose leadership has just been challenged, decides to show his droogs whose really in charge (click below to view):
In recent years, the Thamesmead Estate has been used as a set for the E4 comedy, ‘Misfits‘.
York Road Roundabout, Wandsworth
One of the most notorious scenes in Kubrick’s adaptation takes place at the very beginning of the film and involves a vicious assault on a hapless down and out as he lies drunkenly in a grimy, pedestrian subway.
The scene was filmed in the warren of walkways beneath York Road roundabout, which sits at the southern foot of Wandsworth Bridge.
Typical of the architecture of the time, York Road roundabout was laid out in 1969 and was pretty much brand new when Stanley Kubrick set up his cameras.
Today, the labyrinth beneath the roundabout is just as bleak and unwelcoming as it was some 40 years ago…
More recently, a large atom-esque sculpture of sorts has been plonked down on the roundabout, becoming something of a local landmark.
Apparently inspired by the 1950’s Atomium sculpture in Brussels, but kitted out with a bulky and intrusive advertising gantry, the tangle of metal doesn’t really do much to beautify the 1960s concrete…
As for the unfortunate tramp who was attacked by Alex and his droogs below Wandsworth’s grimy roundabout… don’t worry, he gets his own back…
After recognising the recently released (and now, thanks to his treatment, defenceless) Alex DeLarge glumly contemplating a view of the Thames, the tramp leads his own rabble in a revenge attack on the former and now defenceless yob, right beneath Albert Bridge; one of London’s most beautiful river crossings (click below to view):
Want more on Stanley Kubrick’s London? Then check out this post: A Monolith in St Katherine Docks…