Like so many others, growing up I read all of the Harry Potter books a hundred times over, spent hours listening to the wonderfully read audio books by Stephen Fry, queued up for the later instalments dressed in full wizarding garb, and have played every Harry Potter related game going – from collecting chocolate frog cards to creating my very own wand on Pottermore. I’d go so far to say that Harry Potter and his magical world became a formative part of my teenage years - and as an adult! But living in Hertfordshire, in close proximity to the studios where the films were made, meant that Harry Potter trickled into many other aspects of life too.
Several of my friends in the local drama group became extras for the first few Harry Potter films, and so scenes in the Great Hall and Potions Class contained more than a few familiar faces. One of my aunties worked in the canteen on set and would regale us with tales of what the actors had for their tea and the lavish feasts that were prepared for the Great Hall scenes. And local craftsmen too were heavily involved in the making of Harry Potter.
So I was of course eager to see behind the scenes and discover The Making of Harry Potter, and booked up tickets to the studio tour at the first opportunity. And I’m in good company, because after recently celebrating their one year anniversary Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter has welcomed hoards of visitors through the doors. Even their Royal Highnesses William, Kate and Harry have had a tour of Hogwarts and cast a few spells along the way too. So I thoroughly recommend a trip if you haven’t already been and a return trip even if you have!
I will say now – SPOILER ALERT – if you are intending to go to the studio tour and would like your visit to be full of magical surprises then stop reading now! (And come back to this post after your visit!) The first thing to note about the tour is the sheer scale of it! I was there for five hours and still didn’t manage to see everything. There is just so much to look at including never-before-seen film footage on the walls, information plaques, sets, iconic props and costumes. To add to all of this you can also hire out an amazing audio pod which provides an extremely well documented tour of the studio along with fascinating facts and video content which include gems such as Daniel Radcliffe’s first audition. The most breath-taking moment for me was walking through the doors to the actual Great Hall. Seeing the proportion of the hall conjured up so many of my favourite Harry Potter moments and walking on the actual solid York stone floor really brought home the expense of these sets.
The Great Hall then leads onto some of the largest and most detailed sets every produced in the UK. Seeing the pensive and sorting hat right there in Dumbledore’s office is quite something! The Gryffindor boys’ dormitory and common room look exactly as I had imagined them to be, complete with a patchwork bed spread on Ron’s four poster bed and a cosy fire in the common room.
One thing that stood out across the whole tour was the amount of intricate detail that went into making these sets. A whole host of craftsmen worked on these sets from plasterers to carpenters.
Snape’s potions classroom is incredible (below), and all the weird and wonderful objects in the glass jars and hanging from the ceilings were lovingly sourced in the most creative ways. There really were no flimsy cardboard cut-outs involved in the making of these movies. The authenticity of the atmosphere and setting, of Hogwarts especially, owes a lot to the detail that went into all of the props. There is a vast amount of iconic props on display at the studio tour. But this isn’t even the half of it! There are nine warehouses fit to bursting with other props from the film too!
Just in case you are reading this and haven’t already been to the tour, I won’t reveal the ins and outs of the whole tour. Also because this might turn into a very long essay otherwise because there is so much to cover! But other highlights included:
- Watching carrots being magically chopped in the Weasley’s vast kitchen.
- Discovering the use of green screen technology in the film and flying an actual broom as a result of this!
- Tasting the sweet and deliciously yummy butterbeer.
- Walking down Diagon Alley, featuring the shop fronts of Ollivanders wand shop, Flourish and Blotts, the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Eeylops Owl Emporium.
- Discovering the spectacular detail and imagination behind the Creature Effects Workshop, showcasing the animatronics, exquisite make-up designs and iconic creatures from the films.
- Seeing Umbridge’s sickly sweet, pink office.
- Climbing aboard the Knight bus.
- Having a picture outside number 4 Privet Drive, where the story all started.
To end the tour you can immerse yourself in the well-stocked gift shop – but beware of the prices! On a side note, our very own Kings Cross station now has a Harry Potter shop called Platform 9 & ¾ where you can also buy a vast array of Harry Potter merchandise – and have your picture running with a trolley through Platform 9 & ¾.
The Making of Harry Potter studio tour certainly goes to show just where the imagination can take you. It is truly incredible to see the love, time and effort that went into making the sets, costumes, special effects and props to transform the Harry Potter story to screen. This is not only a tribute to the British film industry but also to anyone involved in the book business – publishers and authors alike – because its stories like these which transform the minds of both adults and children and become an integral part of the fabric of our society. This is the pinnacle of how far-reaching a story can become.