Elstree Exhibition

Elstree: Behind the Scenes of the British Hollywood

Muriel Box by unknown photographer, 1954,

The film and TV studios of Elstree and Borehamwood are known worldwide for glamorous actors, superstar directors and a legacy of TV and film hits – from Star Wars to The Crown. These names are prominent in the National Portrait Gallery Collection and form the basis of The Elstree Project – an oral history archive, at the University of Hertfordshire. Working with this archive, artist Marysa Dowling and students from Elstree Screen Arts Academy have built on this collection of stories to tell the experiences of those who worked in front of the camera and behind the scenes to make the industry a success.


As the project took shape we focused on 3 key areas

  • In front of the camera
  • Behind the camera
  • Making the set

We also looked at the different ways people used their hands on set and within their roles

  • Performing
  • Gesturing
  • Making

Young people from Elstree Screen Arts Academy worked in groups to explore the stories of several people connected to Elstree and had the opportunity to speak with some of them about their lived experiences.

Muriel box collage


Students explored different ways of storytelling and how to capture and creatively represent the people connected to Elstree.


Elstree Screen Arts specialises in TV, film and theatre production and the students had access to filmmaking equipment to record interviews with the sitters invited to take part.

Oral history

Working with Howard Berry from The Elstree Project, the students developed questions for their sitters and learnt how to create a comfortable environment to share personal stories.


Students edited their interviews into short films that form part of the display and feature on the National Portrait Gallery website.

Creative artwork

Each group created new works of art that responded to their sitters – expanded portraits based on the sitter’s experiences in their jobs at Elstree. Artist Marysa Dowling supported the students to develop their projects using model making, photography, collage and installation.

Simon Pegg, by Jillian Edelstein, 5 February 2007

Simon Pegg © Jillian Edelstein / Camera Press


We looked at 7 people connected to Elstree Studios who fitted the 3 key areas of in front of the camera, behind the camera and making the set. In groups the young people produced filmed interviews and created new work in response to their sitters. Students wrote their own labels to explain the Elstree connection:

Theo, Luca and Phillip

Simon Pegg label
Marcus Bentley label

Sophie, Jaeden and Daniel

Muriel Box label
Jenny Hanley label
Sue Harper label

Tamzin, Ella and Lee

Louise Gold label
Andy Miller label

Young people – filmed interviews

Louise Gold


Andy Miller


Sue Harper


Jenny Hanley


Marcus Bentley


Simon Pegg animation


(featuring narration by Marcus Bentley)

Artist – Marysa Dowling's portraits

This series of 3 sets of portraits are a celebration of those who are behind the-scenes and in front of the camera. They include large-format portraits of the subjects in connection to their work at Elstree, and a closer looks at their making, creating, gesturing and performing hands. It also features the student's hands in the act of making work for this display.

Taking cues from Elstree productions such as Hammer Horror and The Muppet Show, portraits were taken against a red velvet backdrop. Another set of portraits include props, settings and clues that help tell the story of the work each person did in their roles, such as tools and film locations. Our hands are remarkable and vital to how we communicate, make, create, craft, share, work and perform. Marysa's work often focuses on how we use our hands to communicate so being able to look closely, and talk with each person about the subtlety of their hand movements and gestures was important.

Red Curtain portraits

Images © Marysa Dowling 2022

Andy Miller in front of red curtain
Jenny Hanley in front of red curtain
Louise Gold in front of red curtain
Marcus Bentley in front of red curtain
Sue Harper in front of red curtain
Andy Miller at work
Jenny Hanley at work
Louise Gold at work
Marcus Bentley at work
Sue Harper at work

Hand series

Images © Marysa Dowling 2022

Andy hands flattened
Louise hands flattened
Marcus hands flattened
Sophie's group hands flattened
Sue hands flattened
Tamzin group hands flattened
Theo group hands flattened
Jenny hands flattened

Primary Schools

Artist Jessica McDermott developed a schools workshop for Key Stage 2 focused on the people connected to Elstree Studios. The session looks at job roles in the TV and film industry and takes the students on a journey as silent film actors, editors, directors and puppeteers. They are encouraged to use portraits to create new stories and students are asked to look for clues in the portraits to help understand who the sitter is and what their job might be.

Funded by The National Heritage Lottery Fund and Art Fund

Made possible with Heritage Fund logo

Art Fund logo