In 1959 a crime drama set in Cardiff’s docklands thrilled cinemagoers around the world.
Tiger Bay marked the acting debut of a young Hayley Mills, who has returned to the locations where she filmed 60 years ago for a special programme on ITV Cymru Wales.
In Movie Memories: The Making of Tiger Bay, Hayley returns to the Welsh capital to share her memories of the film that launched her career.
“It’s a spiritual home because this is where my life began as an actress,” she says.
“It was a very significant experience and time in my life. To come back and visit places where I was as a child is wonderful.”
“It’s an extraordinary experience of being in the here and now and being back when I was 12.”
Much of the movie was shot in real life locations, including the streets, houses and pubs of Cardiff’s old Tiger Bay neighbourhood. The programme hears from local residents who appeared in the film and who still recall the thrill of seeing movie crews on their doorstep.
“It was brilliant. I remember it well – the excitement of it all,” says Gaynor Legall, who was a child at the time.
“They used local people as extras, so everybody was looking for a part. I was a bridesmaid in the wedding scene and I remember I dripped gravy on this lovely bridesmaid’s dress that they had. I was mortified – I thought I’d get into trouble!”
David Pine also appeared in the film as a young chorister singing alongside Hayley Mills.
“The pay was about ten shillings a day which was a lot of money at the time. I never saw it though. My mother took it off me!”
Tiger Bay was Hayley Mills’ first starring role. She shared many scenes with her father, John Mills, who played the police superintendent on the trail of a killer.
“Acting with my father was the most natural thing in the world,” Hayley recalls.
“We played the parts – we were those people. And then, when the scene was over, we just sort of went, ‘Oh okay,’ and went back to being ourselves again.”
Hayley’s performance in the film earned her a BAFTA award. It also got the attention of Walt Disney, who signed her up for six films during the 1960s, including The Parent Trap and Pollyanna, for which she won an Academy Award.
“I’m very lucky that the first thing I ever did was Tiger Bay,” says Hayley.
“It was so well made, so well written. It was a perfect part for me and they don’t come along very often.”
As Hayley Mills retraces her steps, she reflects on the Tiger Bay landmarks that are now lost. Shortly after the film’s release, bulldozers began demolishing huge swathes of the docklands.
“Part of me mourns what’s gone,” she says.
“But docks always have a special quality and Cardiff’s still got that.
“Coming back here now is a real completion of a circle. And we don’t often get a chance to do that in life.”
Movie Memories: The Making of Tiger Bay is presented by Adeola Dewis, who explored the history of Cardiff’s seafaring communities for last year’s Dock of the Bay series on ITV Cymru Wales.
“I have a special place in my heart for Cardiff’s docklands,” says Adeola.
“The stories coming out of this culturally rich place are like little gems of history. The making of this programme allowed me to experience even more of those moments that reinforce the beauty of this place.
“Meeting Hayley Mills was another gem. On-screen she was a big part of my childhood. Face-to-face, she was down-to-earth, funny and just a really lovely person.”
The programme’s producer, Carwyn Jones, believes the movie’s enduring appeal owes a lot to its evocation of a time and place.
“Watching Tiger Bay now is like opening a time capsule,” he says. “It rekindles a period in our past that’s sadly disappeared. But thanks to this movie the vibrancy of Cardiff’s docklands has been perfectly preserved for future generations to enjoy.”
Movie Memories: The Making of Tiger Bay is on ITV Cymru Wales on Wednesday 15th May at 8pm. It will then be available online on itv.com/walesprogrammes.