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
But the 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 Greenwood.
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 set-up.
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.
Merton Park 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 history.
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 www.stanleymorgan.co.uk , logging on to FILMS, and then on to individual titles.