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A long time ago at a youth club not far away, Mark Hamil stayed for hours to meet 300 children

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Hello again my fellow travellers down Memory Lane. Days are drawing in and I will certainly miss sitting in my garden with a good book. Talking of good books, I thoroughly recommend my old friend Hayley Mills’ great autobiography Forever Young, which has just been published. It is an excellent and honest book, which I want from any autobiography. Hayley is such a lovely lady and is fondly remembered for the films she made for Disney in the 1960s. Hayley even got an Oscar and her hand prints in the forecourt along with the Hollywood elite at the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. I also had the pleasure to know her father, the late Sir John Mills, who was a wonderful gentleman. I recommend you read this book.

I am sorry to hear that the legendary Spurs player Jimmy Greaves has died, albeit he has not enjoyed good health in recent years. I once shared a green room at television breakfast television programme TV-am with him, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Jimmy Edwards in 1984. Alas, they have all gone now but our hosts Anne and Nick are still going strong. I was there to plug 70 years of film production in Borehamwood.

Back in the beginning of the 1980s I decided to boost flagging attendances at our local youth club. I came up with the idea of ‘meet a star’ evenings to attract youngsters. 40 years ago life was so much simpler than today when celebrities can command huge sums to make an appearance. £60,000 for an after dinner speech would not raise an eyebrow today, but that was never my scene. I never paid and luckily people would support me. I would have no chance today.

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I came up with a list and they all turned up. There were two footballers, in the shape of Glenn Hoddle and Graham Rix, representing the two London clubs most supported by local kids. Both lovely gents. From the boxing world I invited the late Alan Minter, and from television’s Blue Peter the one and only Peter Duncan. Another favourite from television, the then Doctor Who Peter Davison, agreed to attend.

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Finally I visited the producer of Return Of The Jedi at Elstree Studios . He asked if I would prefer Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill. I thought the latter would have more appeal to the youngsters. So I picked up Mark after he had spent a long day light sabre duelling and promised him it would be a quick visit. It was a full house of 300 youngsters and after a question and answer session he insisted on staying on to sign autographs and meet the kids. He was a true gentleman but I felt guilty having kept him up late. A couple of days later I received a lovely handwritten letter from Mark explaining how much he had enjoyed the evening. I guess those kids are now in their 50s but I suspect they remember that evening.

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In those days I was able to phone England manager Ron Greenwood, who let competition winners of something I ran in the Borehamwood Times meet the 1982 World Cup squad relaxing at their hotel. The Arsenal manager also allowed me to take kids to meet their squad and the training ground at London Colney. For those kids it was a lifetime memory. I have never been starstruck but creating memories for others is an honour and pleasure. Until next time please take care so I can enjoy your company once again.

  • Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree Studios

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