The magic begins upon arrival at the studios, handily located just off the M25 and within easy reach of public transport. There’s a large level car park with flat access into the studios making it very easy for visitors of every age. Huge chess figures are outside the building as well as full scale pictures of the cast. A welcoming reception area, large café and tempting gift shop make an excellent first impression, and an important point for those who don’t enjoy standing around is that queuing is avoided by timed tickets for the first part of the tour which is guided. Children can pick up a “passport” for collecting stamps and counting snitches. A nice touch while waiting for the tour to start is standing by Harry’s bedroom under the stairs where of course the whole Potter adventure began.
An introduction from an enthusiastic member of the staff sets the tone, and then the tour moves into a luxurious cinema area with lovely comfortable seating for a full screen presentation by Harry, Ron and Hermione who whet the appetite for what is in store. The Great Hall is next, and what a treat it is for Harry Potter fans – children, parents and grandparents who have enjoyed the books and films over the years. It is breath-taking and adorned with original props and surprises everywhere you look. After this first guided part of the tour, you are then free to explore for as long as you like.
If we are living in times of austerity, then this has not affected the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour. 17,000 wand boxes at Olivander’s shop, each one decorated by hand; 300 artists and set designers; 20,000 different products created for Weasleys Wizard Wheezes; 48 individual oil paintings of each of the headmasters of Hogwarts, 4,000 people on the roll of film credits. Every prop, costume, mask, wig, painting and wand is an individual work of art. And there are thousands, probably tens of thousands of them. Each tiny detail is critical within a massive creation where imaginations were allowed to run wild over 10 years of blockbuster film-making.
Here are just a few of the grandchildren’s favourites:
The Burrow where Mrs Beasley’s household tasks of ironing and chopping carrots can be remote controlled by visitors.
The Animatronic area where it is incredible to see how Hagrid was “built”, as well as the computerised Hippogriff with each one of its thousands of feathers individually affixed. The complex machinery involved in the animation of the mythical characters is of a technical level NASA would be impressed by.
A photo gallery of the animals used on each film including the extras who never made it onto the big screen. A fascinating detail offered by a member of staff was that dead mice were sewn to Mrs Dursley’s apron to make the owls look down.
The cobbled street that is Diagon Alley – almost meriting an exhibition in itself, so incredibly real with each shop meticulously created and filled with products.
Professor Umbridge’s dresses, each one a darker shade of pink as her powers grew.
The potions classroom filled with literally hundreds of mysterious bottles and a magical cauldron.
Hundreds of detailed and intricate line drawings – the very beginning of each idea which was then interpreted as cardboard cut-outs before being developed into scale models and eventually sets.
The outdoor area with the chance to take a photo aboard the Knight Bus, in the Ford Anglia, and astride the motorcycle and side car. There’s also No. 4 Privet Drive and a bar serving butterbeer!
Finally, Hogwarts itself – a breath-taking surprise at the very end of the tour. Never has the expression “saving the best” for last been more apt. Visitors old and young will leave feeling that this has been a truly magical experience.
Whilst this is an exhibition and tour for Harry Potter fans, anyone who has an interest in the art and science of movie making will enjoy it, and the more you have read the books and seen the movies, the more fascinating it will be.
The capacity is 5,000 visitors, and although I was assured that it never gets crowded, I wonder if the small refreshment kiosk in the outside area can cope with large volumes. And the interactive broomstick flying attraction will doubtless have long queues at peak times.
Also there are only hard benches, dotted around the exhibition for a welcome rest. It would be appreciated by the older visitors if there were a few more seats with cushions available. It’s a big exhibition which takes around three hours to complete, and that can be tiring. The cobbles of Diagnon Alley would be hard to navigate in a wheelchair but otherwise the whole exhibition is very manageable.
And finally a mention for the staff, all of whom were unfailingly polite, helpful and well –trained, each one brimming with knowledge and passion. As one of them remarked “ I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”
For more information please see the Warner Bros Studio Tour website.