We speak to Robert Laycock, who is helping to bring the UK’s leading movie studio to Marlow, about James Bond, English Farm and local favourites
What is the background story behind Marlow Studios?
Some of my earliest memories are of moviemaking. As a child, I was never happier than when I was watching the latest 007 movie being made right here in Buckinghamshire or helping my grandmother, Dame Celia Johnson, the Oscar-nominated star of Brief Encounter, learn her lines for her next big project.
All my life I’ve lived, breathed, and dreamt movies. To say that building a movie studio is a passion project is an understatement – it’s a lifelong dream, with roots in the careers of my family going back three generations.
What kind of projects do you tend to involve yourself with?
I’ve always been drawn to huge challenges that help my local community. About 15 years ago I became the sub-postmaster of my village and built a cafe to make sure that our lovely village kept its beating heart.
Since then, I’ve also become a regenerative organic farmer in the Chilterns, trying to pioneer a sustainable and ecological way of producing local food. But I’ve never stepped away from story-telling. For 20 years I’ve been one of the guardians of my great-uncle Ian Fleming’s James Bond legacy and have commissioned the Young Bondseries of novels by Charlie Higson and the sequels to Chitty Chitty Bang Bangby Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote them while creating the opening show for the 2012 Olympics.
In addition to my work at Marlow Studios, I’m in partnership with Sir Sam Mendes, producing an adaptation of the classic John Fowles novel The Magus.
When was the proposed Marlow Film Studio first mooted?
We’ve been working on this for nearly five years. These projects take forever to plan, but I knew that there wouldn’t be a better place in the world to create an exceptional film studio than here in Marlow. South Bucks has got to be bold if we are going to keep our place at the epicentre of global filmmaking!
Together with a stellar group of designers – from Stirling Prize-winning architects Wilkinson Eyre and Prior & Partners, led by the master planner of the London Olympics – we’re making a truly exceptional studio.As well as being a world-beating creative campus, Marlow Studios will create over 5,000 jobs, more than 2,000 of which will be directly in film-making. Creating this level of opportunity for coming generations is a big part of my personal mission.
Why is Marlow perfect for a studio like this?
Buckinghamshire is the world epicentre of film making – whether it’s Captain America, or Star Wars, or James Bond, the world’s biggest franchises are shot here. To make movies you need motivated people, highly-skilled crews and access to global talent. That means you need to be as close as possible to London and Heathrow – just as the other major studios like Pinewood and Shepperton are.
British filmmaking in this part of the world is a globally significant asset and Marlow falls right in the heart of this cluster of talent and opportunity. It’s no coincidence that George Clooney, Sam Mendes, Paul Greengrass and Andy Serkis all live close by. This is where the best in the world want to work.
What has the local reaction been like so far?
We’ve been blown away by how enthusiastically the community has engaged with our vision. Every day, people walk into the shop we’ve set up as our engagement HQ in Marlow – contributing their ideas, passions, and concerns. We are all about collaboration. We’ve been taking careful note of what matters to the residents of our community, and you’ll see when we publish our masterplan that we’ve been both challenged and inspired by what we’ve heard.
The day an elderly gentleman told me he was supporting our project so his grandson could benefit, I must confess to getting a bit emotional. Of course, there is an element of very British scepticism – mainly people who think that we are developers whose ultimate goal is building flats. That is not true at all. We are passionate about movie-making and about Marlow.
Marlow Studios aside, you also run English Farm. What can you tell us about that?
The climate and the natural world are at tipping points. We haveto work closely with the planet, restoring biodiversity and our landscape. That’s why English Farm is founded on holistic principals producing ethical, sustainable, and delicious food.
Our Longhorn cattle live a natural life, restoring soils and creating a wonderful balanced ecosystem. English Farm is a carbon sink, and a haven of biodiversity – so long as I, and the hundreds of people who visit each month, keep our dogs on the lead! My lurcher Speed is a monster…
It doesn’t sound like you do get much time off, but when you do where do you like to visit in Buckinghamshire?
Marlow Market. It’s a hidden gem that takes place on the first Saturday in every month. English Farm always takes a stall, so next time you’re in the neighbourhood come and say hello. You can try our beef and support other local producers at the same time.
If you had to pick three places, where would you head to?
I love that Shakespeare walked through 16th century Marlow to get to London, on his way to change our culture for good, which makes walking the Shakespeare Way along the magnificent Thames at Marlow is always so evocative. For a birthday dinner, The Mash Inn at Bennett End is such a special experience. Watching Cricket at Wormsley. One of the most magical places in this very beautiful county.
Do you have a Buckinghamshire secret you are willing to reveal?
The filming of Brief Encounter at Denham was stopped to send the cameras to film the VE celebrations in London, so my grandmother went instead to celebrate outside Buckingham Palace with the crowds. She said in her letters at the time: “We sat on the Victoria Memorial and sang and shouted, ‘We want the King’ and talked to one and all and cheered the King and Queen when they came out.”