After a week off work achieving very little, the weekend has been a full-on sprint so far – filled with days out, nights out, and more days out. Somewhere along the way I have miraculously avoided a hangover, and I’m still not sure how – I’ll come to that in good time.
Yesterday morning we set off bright and early for Leavesden Studios on the outskirts of London. You may not have heard of them, but you will know the name of the series of movies that were filmed on stages “J” and “K” (there’s a hint in the stage names) – the Harry Potter movies. When the movies wrapped up, the bulk of the sets, costumes, and props were made available to the public through a “studio tour”. Huge emphasis was made by the various tour guides on the way in that everything we would see throughout the day was absolutely authentic – no replicas, no copies, no facsimilies. I smiled – it was obviously a shot across the bow of other Harry Potter “experiences” around the world.
Visitors are grouped into cohorts a few hundred strong, who are shepherded into a briefing room – setting out the “don’t touch” rules, and so on – and then to a lecture theatre where the original cast introduce you to the place they worked for the best part of a decade. Following that, the movie screen is winched into the ceiling, exposing the gates to Hogwarts Castle – the REAL gates, surrounded by the stone guards that came to life in The Deathly Hallows.
Here’s where the day really kicked every other “experience day” into touch – upon pushing the gates open, we all walked into the Great Hall. The real great hall. Because the movies used the set repeatedly, they built the entire damn thing, and did it properly – real york flagstones, real carvings of the house mascots high on the walls, and real suits of armour flanking the walls. It took everybody’s breath away. We stepped into Hogwarts, and it felt, very, very strange.
It’s hard to describe the sheer quantity of stuff we saw during the day – we kept moving at quite a pace, and even then it took us the better part of five hours. We visited 4 Privet Drive, sat on Hagrid’s motorbike, walked across the wooden bridge that Neville was memorably chased across, visited the Griffindor common room, the Headmaster’s office, and gazed in wonder at Snape’s classroom.
Everything was there. Absolutely everything. Thousands of costumes, tens of thousands of props, and so many original sets you lost count.
Perhaps my favourite part of the tour was the creature workshop – pulling the curtain back on how so many of the practical effects were achieved. We laughed at an animated Mandrake, and gazed open mouthed as Warwick Davies manipulated a number of robotic heads. A close second had to be Diagon Alley. Turning the corner towards it stunned most visitors into silence. Diagon Alley is real – they built the entire street. Walking past Olivanders, Flourish and Blotts, and Wiseacres Wizard Supplies was perhaps the strangest experience of my life.
I could go on and on. It was all wonderful. It’s hard to put much of it into words, because there was just so much of it. Needless to say, when we arrived home yesterday evening, the first thing we did was put some pop-corn on, and sit down to watch “The Goblet of Fire” together.