Memories of Bray

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Matt Gemmell's picture
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So , when I got the chance to be one of the lucky few to attend a reunion at Bray in May 1999 I could'nt believe my luck . The man mainly responsible was Donald Fearney who is Hammers archivist and probably number one fan . He had arranged an open day at the studios and invited numerous guests from Hammers history both in front and behind the camera . Christopher Lee was unable to attend , unfortunately , due to prior commitments and whilst this was a dissapointment , what happened that day certainly made up for the great mans absence.

Now , for a grown man with a family I must confess . On the eve of the big day I was as excited as a ten year old waiting for Santa , I just could'nt wait . So I kissed the wife and kids goodbye and started on my long journey south accompanied by my best friend and felow Hammer fan , Brian. About seven hours later I arrived near Bray itself . Well that's what it said on the map. As i said it's a small place and I drove into a few stately looking homesteads before finding the village of Bray. On arrival I asked an elderly woman with a slight German accent how to get to Bray studios. " Oh you must be a horror fan ". Apparently I was'nt the only one to get lost . " We used to see Mr. Lee and Mr. Cushing quite a lot years ago " and she pointed us in the right direction . Then we saw the sign Bray Studios . Heart racing , I turned my car up the country road and stopped at a gatepost . Great , now that I knew where to go we could head into London for some refreshments and return in the morning when the event was to start . As I drove away Brian shouted "Look over there ". To my left just above the trees I could see a building which I instantly recognised . " It's the Castle Meinster from The Brides Of Dracula " So a detour was in order .

Oakley court stood there in all its glory as one of the most exclusive hotels in the area . We , however , know it as Hammers second house and location for " The Reptile" , " Plague Of The Zombies" and many others . After many photo oppertunities it was onto central London for some much needed food and drink. When we awoke in our hotel the following morning ( at 6 o.clock , due to the excitement .) we were greated by glorius sunshine and clear blue skies . This , I might add , is a very strange sight to two Scots . We returned to Bray and this time the gatepost was open as the car park filled with guests . We chatted to fans and organisers and continued onto Down Place which was Hammers original studio home . It suddenly looked very familiar and I soon realised that I was standing in the very courtyard where Christopher Lee had carried Susan Farmer in Dracula Prince Of Darkness. We walked inside and immediatley started spending money at the memorabilia stalls . Then , as we walked into the main room , another feeling of deja-vu . We were in Peter Cushings study from The Mummy and I was looking at the large bay windows that Christopher Lee as Kharis crashed through , this was great .

More stalls with even more memorabillia , could my bank account hold out ?....who cares? Then I looked to my right and saw Countess Dracula herself Ingrid Pitt followed by the lovely Suzanah Leigh . The stars were beginning to arrive . Before you could say " pass the garlic " the house and grounds were filled with faces from Hammers past , it soon became sensory overload . Caroline Munro appeared and was only too pleased to pose for photos . I must admit I could'nt resist a kiss and cuddle , she was brilliant .Freddie Francis strolled by , Mr Lee's stunt double Eddie Powell was holding court on the lawn and the beautiful Veronica Carlson was signing dozens of autographs . I could'nt believe it , here I was walking around Down Place , having a drink beside the Thames and mingling with people responsible for many a happy memory .

As we returned to the front courtyard a man arrived who really made the day . I know that Mr Lee himself will agree when I say that besides him and Mr. Cushing ,one other man was the most recognisible face of Hammer . The late great Michael Ripper . As we later learned , Michaels health was not at its best but you would'nt have known . As I shook his hand I told him of the fondness we all had for him . He described Peter Cushing as " A lovely man " and when I mentioned the name Christopher Lee he beamed and said " Yes , a great friend ". I would have loved to have talked to Michael longer but the queue was huge with eager fans desperate for a chat and an autograph .
[BREAK]
Francis Matthews arrived , walking along the same cobbles he had pursued Dracula some 30 years earlier . Anthony Valentine of " To The Devil A Daughter ", began to joke around with fans and the lovely Janina Fay from Dracula cheerily chatted to the admiring masses . Looking at Down Place and , not counting the sound stages that were added later , it's hard to believe that so many top quality movies were made there . It's no bigger than any other grand house in the area and it brought to mind Christopher Lee's comments that the real stars of hammer were the art department , particularly Bernard Robinson . It's a tribute to him and the " Hammer family " that the films look so lavish . It was great fun spotting locations and recognising parts of the house from my favourite films. The day was extremely informal with guests and fans milling about together creating a wonderful ambience . As the day continued and the temparature soared into the 80's I realised that I had been on my feet for about 6 hours with nothing to eat . So I grabbed a quick bite , something to drink and sat on the lawn where Mr Lee had fought many a duel in his pirate days .

I closed my eyes for a few minutes and when I opened them I saw my mate Brian dozing on the grass . I still see the rather bizarre image of my best friend snoozing beneath Frankensteins laborotary window as Edward De Souza ( Kiss Of The Vampire ) enjoyed a glass of red wine , Ray Harryhaussen laughed at something Ian Scoones ( Hammer SPFX ) had said and Caroline Munro stepped over his legs on her way to the bar . ( Does'nt happen everyday does it ? )

The last event of the day was an auction of memorabilia in aid of the Ralph Bates pancreatic cancer fund. Veronica Carlson had painted a portrait of Ralph from " Dr. Jekyl And Sister Hyde " . Virginia Wetheral ( Ralphs widow ) was present to see it sold and I was lucky enough to be holding Veronica's hand as the bidding went up and up . She squeezed my hand tightly and I could see that her eyes were filling up along with Virginias . It was an emotianal moment .I could go on forever about that day , and have done many times over the past three years , but I would begin to ramble . The memories , memorabilia , autographs and photos I now have are priceless to me and I know everyone who attended feels the same. The celebrities could not have been more charming or accomodating and i've only mentioned a few . To do more would be to turn this short feature into a who's who. As the day drew to a close suddenly a storm of thunder and lightning descended on Bray . It was fantastic , straight out of a Hammer film .

I would like to take this oppertunity to thank Donald Fearney and all those who made dreams come true that day . As we walked to my car it was easy to see Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee strolling nearby in full costume , I really got caught up in the atmosphere . In closing , I would also like to thank Mr. Lee for the legacy he left at Bray all those years ago and for the work yet to come.

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Isabel Alves's picture
  • Online Status: Offline
  • Joined: 27 Mar 2006
  • Post Number: #1
Re: Memories of Bray

Without a doubt it must have been a great emotion for being at the place where so many and so many times Christopher Lee was present. Not only him, but other so many and the " precious"
Peter Cushing.
Only of reading what you wrote me I saw transported to the place and a great emotion played me. The imagination travels in those real histories that some people tell us. With the imagination, our heart feels as if we were could also appreciate all this.
I think: to see, to play, to be at the place where Mr. Lee stepped, where he was working,
laughing, having fun.... that everything is so magic!

Congratulations for the opportunity that you had, even without Christopher Lee's presence on that moment.

__________________

Isabel Cristina Forlin Alves



Isabel Alves's picture
  • Online Status: Offline
  • Joined: 27 Mar 2006
  • Post Number: #2
Re: Memories of Bray

Without a doubt it must have been a great emotion for being at the place where so many and so many times Christopher Lee was present. Not only him, but other so many and the " precious"
Peter Cushing.
Only of reading what you wrote me I saw transported to the place and a great emotion played me. The imagination travels in those real histories that some people tell us. With the imagination, our heart feels as if we were could also appreciate all this.

I think: to see, to play, to be at the place where Mr. Lee stepped, where he was working,
laughing, having fun.... that everything is so magic!

Congratulations for the opportunity that you had, even without Christopher Lee's presence on that moment.

__________________

Isabel Cristina Forlin Alves

www.christopherleeweb.com

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