Appropriately, we arrive at the tiny cupboard under the stairs in 'Little Whinging,' where readers were first introduced to Harry Potter — a boy who went on to become the most famous character in modern literature. At this point I should declare that I am an unashamed fan, I devoured the books and rushed to watch the films. So if I'm honest, this studio tour in Leavesden (just 20 minutes outside north-west London) was never going to disappoint me.
Even as a fan, more impressive than coming face to face with the iconic sets, however, was gaining an understanding of the work of set and prop designers, special effects experts and artists who created the magic we see on screen.
Walking through the doors into The Great Hall set was thrilling, but so was learning that its beautiful arched ceiling actually never existed; except as a 1:8 scale model. Using a technique called 'camera matte', the shots of the full-scale room and tiny model were aligned perfectly and later combined with special effects in post production to create the roof's magical swirling clouds and twinkling lights. Seeing the Leaky Cauldron corridor for real — great — but appreciating the forced perspective technique, used to make what is in reality a short corridor, seem to extend for over 50-feet using optical trickery, was even better.
People on the tours (some dressed top-to-toe in Hogwarts' uniform) eagerly disseminate their newly found expertise, one minute you hear whispers of, "Did you know the Gryffindor dorm beds were only 5'9, and the boys actually outgrew them?" (Camera angles meant you never saw their feet hanging off the ends of the beds). The next, "Who knew the books in Dumbledore's study were all leather-covered phonebooks?"...
Seeing artists' impressions of characters, the attention to detail on sets and learning about camera trickery only adds another layer to the magic of Harry Potter. A visit here will truly make you appreciate the talent of the thousands of people who worked behind-the-scenes and, whether a fan or simply a film lover, you won't be disappointed.
Great photo opportunities — 4 Privet Drive, Diagon Alley, The Knight Bus, the list goes on...
Most of the tour is self-guided so doesn't feel rushed — you're on your own time.
Gain genuine insight into the film industry in an easily digestible format.
The not so good:
If you want to have a snap taken of yourself atop a broomstick, taking advantage of green-screen technology, expect a long queue.
Although entry price is similar to that of any major studio/theme park (from £21), add on the programmes (£10), audio guides (£4.95), sampling Butterbeer (£2.95) and pricey souvenirs in the gift shop (your kids will tell you they need an overpriced wand) and it swiftly adds up.
Magical and educational: kids and adults will love this fun, informative and interactive attraction.
Tickets (must be booked in advance) £21/£28 (children/adults; check the website for family ticket pricing). Warner Bros Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, Hertfordshire WD25 7GS (+448450 840 900, wbstudiotour.co.uk).
Did you know...
Harry Potter's magical world in the films was inspired by locations around Britain, including:
1) Hogwarts' twin towers were created with two similar towers, from Durham Cathedral, in mind.
2) Tom Riddle's gravestone was inspired by sculptures in London's historic Highgate Cemetery.
3) In the first film, Snape and Slughorn's potions classes were shot at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
4) The towers of the Ministry of Magic were based on a Victorian building on London's Tottenham Court Road.
5) Areas of the Scottish Highlands, including Glen Nevis, Glen Coe and Loch Shiel, inspired the landscapes surrounding Hogwarts.