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 .
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.