A Visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
I’m one of those Harry Potter fans who started with the films, and even though I’d seen people reading the books, especially on the train, I’d never felt compelled to read them myself. As someone who likes to read books before films generally, I felt I’d missed the boat on that one and the films would suffice for me. That was until I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, and on returning from the cinema my then 10 year old brother insisted I read the book, and the subsequent ones thereafter. That’s right, a 31 year old me was schooled by his sibling who wasn’t even at big school yet. So I followed his instruction, read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and yes, it did go into way more detail about the Quidditch World Cup as he’d promised, and so much more besides. I went back to read the first 3 books and became a release day fan of the books from then on, and the films too.
Fast forward 11 years and over a decade of being a huge Harry Potter fan, and we as a family finally decided to visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. We live less than 30 miles away, so why did it take so long? Well in my mind it was expensive, further away than I realised, and I wanted my son Lucas to get the most of it, and at age 8 I decided that time was now. As for the cost, it was £97 for the three of us, and as someone who goes regularly to Disneyland Paris and has been to Legoland a few times, it’s comparable if not cheaper. A different experience entirely and hard to compare to those, but the Studio Tour would be a very unique experience, and for a family of Potterheads the cost shouldn’t have even come into equation. I did opt for the £3.95 postage option as it stated, and I quote Your tickets, or gift tickets will be posted in a ticket wallet. As someone who likes to collect all kinds of memorabilia, in my mind this could be a great memento of the day out and the associated memories. Plus it’s that piece of mind that actual physical tickets in your hand gives you, that a code or email most certainly doesn’t.
The tickets and wallet didn’t disappoint, and if all goes to plan they will become part of a framed montage of photos and other bits. I say planned because lots of things like this are still in the planning stage, most going back many years.
Just having these themed tickets and the wallet that contained them was enough to turn the excitement levels up a notch, and also a reminder that the Hogwarts Express was now a part of the experience, so we’d be getting a look at The Making of Harry Potter, better than it’s ever been.
Our tickets gave us an entry slot of 2.00 – 2.30pm, but me being me, insisted we leave early and so we were in the car park by 1.15pm, after being guided to an area with spaces. That in itself was a nice touch and guaranteed our visit started off in the most hassle free way possible. Give me free reign in a car park and I could quite easily lose a good chunk of the afternoon, much to the frustration of my family. You can’t miss the place, it’s well sign posted and as you draw near the huge Harry Potter posters, depicting scenes from the films can be seen, as well as three chess giant pieces from the first film, which made me quite giddy on seeing them. After the obligatory photos outside it was time to go in, or at least attempt to get in 30 minutes ahead of our ticket time.
Just through the doors and already there is almost overwhelming number of things that my eyes darted between. The huge character posters on the walls were great, but then so were the props and costumes for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and then what’s that to the side of the main queue? Bear in mind that at this point I was only in the foyer, and already my geek radar was off the charts – it got overloaded not too long after. It turns out we could go in early and I got to see what it was that people were looking at in the queue – Harry Potter’s under the stairs dwelling from 4 Privet Drive. Inside were so many details and props, it was exactly like the films! It’s at that point the lightbulb went off and I had to remind myself, not like the films actually from the films themselves. One of the the staff members… hang on, in Disneyland Paris we call them Cast Members, which seems a lot warmer and friendly, so I’m going to use that term going forwards. So, one of the Cast Members made sure my son Lucas had spotted everything, including Harry’s glasses sitting on a shelf. I should point out that Lucas went dressed as Draco Malfoy, complete with slicked back hair and grey jumper that my wife had sewn a Slytherin patch on that we’d bought from the Platform 9 3/4 shop in King’s Cross, London.
We were let in pretty quickly, into a waiting area with lots of poster shaped screens on the walls, which showed Harry Potter film posters from all over the world. When the allotted number of people were through the doors, they closed, the lights dimmed and those screens now gave us a short introduction to the Studios Tour. Through another set of doors and we took our seats in a small theatre, where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint came on screen to tell us a bit more. The Cast Member who introduced the show and addressed us afterwards was very animated, well spoken and helped create an exciting atmosphere. At this point I can say nothing more…magic happens 😉
Walking into The Great Hall was the first of many goosebump moments, and being in such an iconic room was pretty awe inspiring, especially when you looked around and saw everything that you see in the films. The big long tables, 2 instead of 4 so that we had enough room, the light fittings on the walls representing the 4 houses, the teachers table at the top, and even the house point counting system. The teachers table had the costumes of the likes of Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall and more, all on mannequins that with the wigs added and they way they were positioned – let’s just say it felt very realistic. This was the last part of the tour where there was a time constraint, and we were ushered through to the next area before I’d like to have left, but realistically they can’t have everyone stay there without it becoming overcrowded and unsafe.
Next came the main hall, in which sat scenes that were instantly recognisable and I defy any Potterhead to not feel quite emotional looking at them. Being the actual sets from the Harry Potter films they were of course accurate, but that didn’t stop me saying “it’s exactly like in the films” or “look, there’s that from that scene” many many times. It’s pinch yourself territory as you gaze upon the Gryffindor Common Room with the staircase leading up to the bedrooms. Inside the boys dormitory are so many props, and as a West Ham fan I was delighted to see Dean Thomas’ football scarf hung up near his bed, complete with West ham bedspread. Dumbledore’s Office is somewhere I could have stayed a lot longer, and will do next time I visit. There are so many props and items from the films, and every one tells a story. I’ll hold my hand up and admit to getting very excited on seeing the pensieve, the very one that Harry used to see the courtroom where his future was being determined.
It was very surreal walking around looking at these sets, because although it was my first visit, it felt like coming home, such was the familiarity with everything I was seeing from multiple viewings of the films. It felt very comforting, being in that home that I’d never been in but knew every intimate detail of. Areas like Borgin and Burkes offered so many trinkets to look at and the scene at the table in Malfoy Mansion was terrifying, with Nagini looking every bit as life like as he did in the film. Nearby is the Ministry of Magic and every fibre of my being wished I had some floo powder, but alas I was left to take in the sheer scale of this set and marvel at everything around me.
Not everything was just look and don’t touch, as the green screen experiences allowed us to fly around the Harry Potter universe, on a broom and dressed in a Gryffindor cloak, or other houses, like Slytherin as Lucas requested. This was a lot of fun, with directions given by the Cast Member so as to look as natural as possible in the video. Speaking of which, photos and videos are available to buy at a cost of £14 for the first photo and £7 for each one thereafter. The video could be bought on a DVD or USB, I chose the latter, paying £5 extra to have it in a special old school video film tin. We came away with 3 photos and two videos, and there would have been more had I not knocked the camera when I got off my broom, and ruined my wife’s photos – sorry Denise! 2 of those photos were Lucas and I on brooms, the 3rd was the 3 of us in the Weasley flying Ford Anglia car – the first green screen photo opportunity before getting to the multiple broom booths.
Now I’ve been to the real King’s Cross Station countless times as it’s the station I go into from my home town, but seeing the film set of Platform 9 3/4 was way better. Of course the one in London doesn’t have the Hogwarts Express, and suffers from only 1 trolley through the wall photo location, and that one is always mega busy. Walking through the carriages which change for each film was very cool – seeing the different props left in the carriages, from sweets and books to clothing. Stepping off was another green screen experience – this time in several booths that were set up to look like Hogwarts Express carriages. Just photos and no videos to buy this time, but we got to play Hogwarts’s students and react to the images appearing on the green screen windows. My wife told me off for being silly when I grabbed her arm and cowered behind her when a dementor appeared at the window. Hey, when they shout action I’m all in character – an Oscar awaits.
Around the corner from the train station is the cafeteria which served some great chicken goujons according to Lucas, but for me it was all about the drinks, and one drink specifically – Butterbeer! I selected the souvenir stein as I’m a sucker for memorabilia of all kinds, and imagined it sitting on display in my lounge where in fact it does now reside. I’d been told by friends that the Butterbeer was really sweet and as someone who doesn’t overly sweet things I braced myself, ready to be hit by a sugar overdose. I loved it, absolutely loved it! The official website describes it as reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch, and the butterscotch was the overriding taste experience for me. The froth on top not only gives it that beer look, but tastes delicious too. Aside from the sip I allowed Denise, I unexpectedly drunk the whole lot, taking time only to tweet @wbtourlondon a photo of my Butterbeer Moustache, which is apparently a thing. While on the topic of their Twitter, I had great interaction with them before, during and after my visit, made a lot easier on the day by free Wi-Fi that actually works, and with decent speeds. A tourist attraction boasting and fulfilling usable free Wi-Fi is somewhat of a rarity, so hats off to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London for that.
The Knight Bus is parked outside number 4 Privet Drive, so you can get photos with both, though not inside. Well, you can stand at the bottom of the stairs of the Knight Bus, but you can’t enter Privet Drive at all. My guess is that just a facade and not an actual house. The best part of this outside collection of sets though is the bridge to Hogwarts, and being walk along that, admiring all the detail and reenacting Neville’s scene from Deathly Hallows Part 2, should you so desire. The next few rooms we went through in a bit of a rush as we had to get Lucas back for his pantomime rehearsal, but what we did see of the Creature workshop looked amazing, with the Basilisk and Aragog really standing out. The latter was hanging from the ceiling and startled me as I turned the corner – that’s one big spider!
From Aragog to Diagon Alley, and once again I had that giddy childlike feeling, as I walked along looking at shops that I knew so well, from Ollivanders to Gringotts, and the Daily Prophett to Weasley’s Wiazard Wheezes. Because this is a set that spans the whole length of the hall, with building fronts on both sides, it’s self contained and it felt so real that I almost expected Harry and Hagrid to come around the corner at any moment. It was so hard being on tight schedule and having to leave Diagon Alley without giving it the attention it deserved, but that’s something else for next time.
The paper models of the sets were fantastic, and so detailed, but what came next blew my mind, possibly more than anything I’d seen up to that point, and that’s saying a lot. The last part, before the shop, of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts and all the surrounding grounds. Words and photos will never do this masterpiece justice and you absolutely have to see it for yourself – I was speechless in awe, managing eventually to utter “this is amazing”. I could have spent hours walking around, seeing in intricate detail so many familiar settings from the 8 films, that have been crafted by people with more skill than I can imagine. It was a humbling experience, being in that room with that model, and was the perfect way to end the tour.
I say end, but there was the wand room with walls of wands from floor to ceiling, before entering the shop, which sold more Harry Potter merchandise than you could ever dream of. Having bought a total of 5 photos and 2 videos, combined with being short on time, we must have been the only family not to spend money in the shop that day, but that’s not because I didn’t want to. I have my eyes on that Gryffindor Quidditch jumper, a few wands, the Triwizard cup, the game….you get the point. If you are a Harry Potter fan then that shop could quite easily render you bankrupt in mere minutes, and I didn’t even mention all the sweets and chocolate frogs that are boxed exactly like they are in the films, with 3D cards included inside.
I’m not sure what I was expecting going through the doors that day, but I got so much more than I could have ever imagined. To be able to walk around the world of a film and book series I love so much, and be so close to the actual sets and scenes I’ve seen on screen was incredibly special. The atmosphere was truly magical and I had a feeling of pure joy the whole way round, as each part offered me something new to stare in wonder and soak in. Inanimate objects for the most part, but I could the feel life and adventures oozing from between each brick and pouring from every prop. I would say that visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but although it felt that special, I can return, as many times as my bank balance and schedule will allow. The Cast Members were all wonderful – happy, fun, helpful and obviously relishing the opportunity to share their love of Harry Potter with the every person who visited. On returning I have since found out there is a season called Hogwarts in the Snow, and so on November 21st Denise I will be returning to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London to experience a combination of Harry Potter and Christmas, and I cant think of anything better. I might very well have found a new favourite place to be.