"A Merton Park Memoir"
My introduction to the legendary Merton Park
Studios came in 1960 when I was cast as Sergeant Anson in the Edgar Wallace
story ‘Clue Of The Twisted Candle’.
Driving along Kingston Road,
anticipating a rather grandiose entrance along the lines of Shepperton
Studios, I was more than bothered and bewildered when I failed to find any
entrance at all! I’d been told that the studios were ‘next to The Leather
Bottle pub’, and with the help of this prominent Merton landmark I finally
located the studios. I’ve recently learned that the studios were known as
‘Hollywood’s little cousin’, and I can certainly vouch for the ‘little’. From
the street, Long Lodge, once owned by the Brocklesby family, appeared to be no
more than a modest-size family house.
Merton Park Studios Entrance Gates
adage ‘big things can come in small parcels’ undoubtedly applied to MPS. The
production rate was phenomenal. From 1939 to 1967 some 130 second feature
films – B-movies – were made there, mostly crime-based, and I was most
privileged to appear in eight of them.
Why ‘privileged’? Well, apart
from the obvious advantage of earning money (minimal, though it was! I think I
received £10 per diem for ‘Candle’, a daily rate which may have increased to
£20 by 1963, if memory serves accurately), I was given the opportunity to
work with many of the current stalwarts of British acting, in an environment
of incomparable studio friendliness and warmth.
After ‘Candle’, there
followed in 1961 ‘Silver Key’, ‘Silent Weapon’, ‘Partners In Crime’ and
‘Square Mile Murder’; in 1962 ‘Never Back Losers’ and ‘ The Share Out’, and in
1963 ‘The Invisible Asset’.
Though the names of fellow-Thespians with
whom I worked at MPS are too numerous to list in total, I would mention: David
Knight, Frances de Wolfe, Gladys Henson, Richard Vernon, Finlay Currie,
Patrick Cargill, Geoffrey Keen, Moira Redmond, John Welsh, Jack Hedley,
Patrick Magee, Alexander Knox and perhaps most prominently Bernard Lee,
who played my ‘boss’ in four of the productions, who went on to become ‘M’ in
several James Bond films, and who was instrumental in my being cast as the
Casino Concierge in the first Bond film DR NO.
No memoir about
Merton Park Studios would be complete without mention of producer Jack
Jack was a master at managing the short schedule and the
tight budget. Up to fourteen camera set-ups a day on a budget that
nowadays wouldn’t cover Brad Pitt’s T-shirt allowance. And Jack accomplished
this by seating himself at the side of the set, sustained by a sandwich and
a pint of milk, and chivvying us to greater speed, albeit while always
maintaining quality of performance and production.
He would grimace if
the director begged ‘One more take, Jack’, scowl at the words ‘Hair in the
gate!’ signifying another take, and wax apoplectic if, at the end of a day’s
shoot, he couldn’t break the set and prepare for the next day’s first
On ‘The Clue Of The Silver Key’ I did the unforgivable. In the
final scene of the day, acting with Patrick Cargill, as the clock hand reached
the time to end shooting, to break the set and change the complex camera
tracks for the following day, I BLEW MY LINE.
Jack looked as
though he had bitten into a spider sandwich. He stared, open-mouthed, said
nothing, just turned and stalked off the set.
The fact that the scene
was wrapped up in one take the next day must have reinstated me in Jack’s good
books, because I did six more films at MPS after that.
Studios was iconic, a creature of its time. There will never be anything like
it again, and I feel truly honoured to have been a small contributor to its
All praise to archivists like Linda Perkins who are not only
keeping the memory of Merton alive, but are spreading knowledge of it to those
hitherto unfamiliar with its existence.
For further details of my own
participation, with some front-of-house posters generously provided by Linda
Perkins, may I invite a viewing of my own website at http://www.stanleymorgan.co.uk/
, logging on to FILMS, and then on to individual
© Copyright My Collections