Shepperton Film Studios – Bonnie Prince Charlie and The Fallen Idol 1947 -48


In 1948, the book, A Film Star in Belgrave Square, was released. It was written by Bobby Henrey’s mother, Madeleine, under her husband’s name and documented the making of The Fallen Idol and Bobby’s role in it. The book contained many marvellous photographss taken during the production of the film and lots of information of great interest to anyone who was a fan of the film and wanted to know how it had been made.

One interesting snippet of information among many was that Bobby became great friends with actor David Niven, who was then making the Technicolor film Bonnie Prince Charlie on an adjoining sound stage at Shepperton Studios and, on the rare occasions when he wasn’t needed on the set of The Fallen Idol, Bobby would go across to watch David making his film.

This information has been given to me in a comment from a regular contributor David Raynor who is something of an expert on the film The Fallen Idol and particularly Bobby Henrey.   David gave me some fascinating information on his  meeting with Robert ‘Bobby’ Henrey at a re-showing of the film in Tenbury Wells a few years ago.

David was actually photographed with him and spent  a long time in conversation with him – David had supplied a lot of information to Robert at the time he was writing a book about his film making experiences.

The Film Director on The Fallen Idol was Carol Reed who was described by ace film cameraman Freddie Francis a a wonderful, kind and generous soul who seemed to convey the idea that he was day dreaming or not quite with it at times – but in fact, as Freddie said he was then working out any changes in scenes or how they would play in the film –  he had a very fluid and open mind and was able to adapt.

Carol Reed himself said that he had in mind in certain scenes how he wanted Bobby to act and what to do – but as he observed him over a few days, he noticed his natural movements and how he stood and other little quirks, so he changed the scene so that they were able to take full advantage of his naturalness.

Only once on the film did he become annoyed – this was when Bobby had completed much of a scene which finished with him running up the stairs and that was done to Carol Reed’s satisfaction but they had not quite completed the action.  Bobby’s Mother later that day, when  they had finished, took her son off to the barbers where he had a haircut.   Next day on set Carol Reed was taken aback and very annoyed that it was impossible to complete the scene because as he said you could not have Bobby running upstairs and then appearing in close up at the top with his hair suddenly cut back. It was going to cost thousands and maybe did but they had to move to other things until his hair had grown back to what it was.


Bobby Henrey wih Ralph Richardson


ABOVE – Bobby Henrey drawing with Ralph Richardson


Carol Reedwith Bobby Henrey


ABOVE Carol Reed with Bobby Henrey


Here is a small article by Bobby Henrey on his making the film :-

I was the child in the film The Fallen Idol, directed by Carol Reed and starring Ralph Richardson. It was a dark film, based on a Graham Greene story, and when it was released in 1948, it was an instant box-office success. This is a picture of me as an eight-year-old boy with Ralph, who was about 45; he’s signing autographs on set – at the spot on the steps where he pushes his wife to her death – and I’m looking at what he’s doing with intense curiosity.

I was chosen for the film when Carol Reed saw my photograph in a book my parents, who were writers, had published about our lives in France. I wasn’t an actor – but my parents thought it would be an interesting experience so they agreed. We started filming in September and it continued to the following March – so quite a long time. My memory was that it was a very professional activity – you turned up on time, dealt with everyone very civilly and then left when you were told to go home at the end of the day. So when people ask me what Ralph Richardson or Carol Reed were like and if they were nice to me, well yes they were, but they were cordial to everyone and that was it. There was quite a lot of downtime on set while they positioned cameras or changed lighting, and in that time I had a governess who would teach me. My parents didn’t think she was very good, and whether I learnt anything during that time is debatable.


David Niven Bonnie Prince Charlie 2


ABOVE – David Niven chats with Anthony Kimmins the film director.  He had mainly done comedies before this – and many were the highly successful George Formby films.


Now moving on the David Niven and ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ – it was while filming at Shepperton that a young lady came in to view proceedings and knowing nothing of film studios or how they worked, proceeded to sit in David Niven’s chair. He was not initially well pleased but soon changed his tune when he looked and saw this very beautiful girl – who later became is wife – Hjordis.

They married quite quickly in January of 1948 but it did not prove to be a good marriage – they did eventually separated in 1959 although they never divorced

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have Comments (3)

3 Responses to “Shepperton Film Studios – Bonnie Prince Charlie and The Fallen Idol 1947 -48”

  1. David Rayner says:

    Although it’s known that Bobby Henrey was chosen to play Phillipe in THE FALLEN IDOL on the strength of a photo of him on the cover of and inside his mother’s book ‘A Village in Piccadilly’, what I never see mentioned is that the book was actually published in 1942 and showed Bobby as a three year old. So when Carol Reed eventually met him in 1947, he was eight years old and therefore five years older than on the photo. Nevertheless, when Carol met him, he liked the boy at once, especially his liquid French accent, which the part called for. He sat down for a long talk with Bobby and never saw another child. As far as he was concerned, he had found his Phillipe.

    It’s a mystery to me why BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE was not successful, as I thought it was a good film and Margaret Leighton was particularly excellent in it, as she was in her next film THE WINSLOW BOY,

    • Movieman says:

      David. Thanks for your comments on Bobby Henrey and ‘The Fallen Idol’ It is clear that you know far more about this subject than I do and I suspect many of the readers of this Blog – so these snippets of information are all the more fascinating. As regards the success – or lack of it – of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ my own thoughts are that it was the casting of David Niven in the role that was the problem. Also a couple of years later, and again when he starred as ‘The Elusive Pimpernel’ – it did not prove at all good. I do remember seeing the Elusive Pimpernel as a small boy with my Mother and Father and brothers. If you look back at David Niven’s career, he never seemed to fair well as a lead actor – before the War he had mainly been third or fourth billed. Years later as a raconteur and an Author he did extremely well. He could certainly tell the tales of Hollywood and the stars during the Golden era. Thanks again. Neil

  2. David Rayner says:

    Another interesting anecdote, I have a British Photoplay magazine dated May, 1950 (published April 15th of that year) containing a three page feature on Bobby Henrey, entitled “Great Little Bobby”, with some good photos. At this time, he had just finished making “The Wonder Kid” for Sir Alexander Korda and the article says that his next part will be playing the Prince Imperial, the only son of Emperor Napoleon III of France, when he was a boy. The Prince had a very spectacular life and died a gallant death at the age of 23 in 1879 fighting the Zulus in Natal during the Zulu wars, so this would have been some epic, but I could find no record of it ever being made. I sent scans of the article to Bobby and asked him if he remembered anything about this, but he had no memory of it at all. I even bought Charles Drazin’s biography of Sir Alexander Korda to see if there was anything in there about it, but there wasn’t (Bobby was still under contract to Korda in early 1950). I even emailed Drazin about this, but got no reply. But it seems that just before Bobby was due to start work on the film, his parents chose that most inopportune moment to send him off to school for the first time, to a boarding school in Kent and Korda must have abandoned the project. However, as pre-production on the film would already have happened, Bobby would almost certainly have attended Shepperton Studios for a wardrobe test. So somewhere out there, there may well be photos of him in his Prince Imperial costume. He told the Photoplay reporter that he was looking forward to making his first costume picture.

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