An incomplete history

of London's television studios

 

I am a relatively busy freelance television lighting director, working mostly in London's television studios.  I became interested in the history of some of those studios almost as soon as I left the BBC to become freelance in the summer of 2002.  I found myself working in places with backgrounds that in several cases went beyond the old ITV company days to the early years of cinema.

In the spring of 2005 I began to ask a few colleagues with many years' experience what they remembered of the good old times and found some fascinating stories.  For my own benefit really, I started to note some of these down and explore further using the Internet and a number of out of print publications.  (I have slightly disturbingly now read over 100 old and new books on the subject - see the bibliography for details.)

The resulting article was posted on my website, which I use as an on-line CV.  This was not the best place for it but nevertheless it was discovered by a surprising number of people. Several of them wrote to me with corrections and more information.  Thanks to them the article grew considerably and became more accurate by the week.

After a year I decided to give it a home of its own and create this website.  It went live in April 2006.  There are still gaps and no doubt a number of errors - although hopefully these will be relatively minor by now.  I am still very much welcoming any comments and, of course, corrections and additions.  Around 200 people have contributed so far and I am very much in their debt for taking the trouble to write or talk to me.  In fact, I have received well over 2,500 email messages in total - some with corrections or additional information, others simply saying thanks.

If you send me any photos I will assume that you consent to them being published here.  Please go to the 'bibliography and links' page for a list of some of those who have provided information.

 

In January 2014 I went through the whole site making corrections and reformatting some sections.  The font size is now larger in parts making it easier to read on an iPad - which is possibly the best way to view this website.  When I began it in 2006 such things were the stuff of science fiction - it was designed then to be viewed on a small 4x3 CRT monitor using a dial-up Internet connection.  You can of course look at it on a large widescreen monitor - the text will expand to fill the screen but the images will appear smaller.

Incidentally, should you prefer to print it off and take it on holiday to read on the beach - (it takes all sorts) - the pages are formatted to print on A4 sheets.  Simply right click and select 'print.'  Warning - you will need a lot of paper!

I am constantly adding studios and updating existing entries - sometimes even on the same day that news affecting them is reported.  Do return for another look from time to time as things may have changed.  And please tell your friends about the site!  I don't do it for money so it's nice to know that people are actually reading it.

 

 

As to why on Earth I would want to spend so much time researching and writing all this stuff...that's quite another matter.  Believe it or not, I do have a social life - of sorts.  Mind you, it is a few years since I wore an anorak but perhaps I should pop down to Millett's now.  (Do Millett's still exist?) 

When I first published the site I wondered who could possibly be interested in reading it.  It seems that there are more sad old gits like me out there than I realised, since it has had over 50,000 individual visitors, some of whom I gather have returned on more than one occasion.  From the emails I receive, these naturally include many people who have retired from the industry and are glad that their experience is in some small way being recorded but I'm pleased to say that many people currently busy making television have also written and made contributions.  Thanks to you all.

Martin Kempton

 

 

Important copyright information...

A little word of warning to students:  the written material on this site is copyright.  You may not copy it and use it as your own work!  Please - if you are wishing to use any written material for publication in a book, TV or radio programme or on-line, feel free to ask and I shall try to be as helpful as possible.

Do not assume that any images are free to be copied or used elsewhere.   Most have been sent to me with the intention of being used only on this website and I can't say it is OK to use them anywhere else.  Some are personal photographs, others may have been copied from publications without my knowledge. 

Please don't write to me asking for permission to use the images.  That permission is not mine to give.  If you believe that you own the copyright to any image displayed here and wish it to be removed - or just perhaps given a credit if one is missing - I will of course be happy to oblige.  Many of the illustrations are copyrighted by their respective copyright holders according to the original copyright or publication date as printed on the artwork or publication and are reproduced here simply for historical reference, educational and research purposes.

 

Do contact me if you have any snippets of information to add.  If you read something here you're sure isn't correct - PLEASE let me know!  In my defence I would say that I have found many examples of contradictory information, dates etc but I have done my best to establish the most likely correct ones.

I would love to receive more info on the Disney Studios in Chiswick, the Princess Studio, the post LWT years at Wembley, the post BBC years at the Greenwood and especially the BSB studios at Marco Polo - but anything would be useful.  I shall add your name to the list of credits - unless you wish to remain anonymous.

Please feel free to contact me on mkempton@btinternet.com

 

 

Definitions:

There is understandable confusion about the difference between a studio and a stage.  In the movie world a 'studio' can mean a company that makes features (Universal, Disney etc.) or it can mean a site with a number of large rooms in which films are made.  The site is usually referred to in the plural - thus 'Pinewood Studios.'  However, each large room is not commonly referred to as a studio but is called a 'stage' and if it is soundproofed it is more accurately called a 'sound stage'.  Confusingly, in the television world a studio is what the large room itself is called. 

A site containing several television studios is, I suppose, referred to as a 'studio centre'.  Thus BBC Television Centre had eight main 'studios' but Shepperton Studios has fifteen 'sound stages'.  Even more bafflingly, ITV Productions changed its name to 'ITV Studios' a few years ago.  Thus a programme with the credit 'ITV Studios' at the end may well have been made in a studio owned by another company entirely - it does not refer to the studio in which it was made.  Confused?  I've hardly started.

 

I have defined a television studio as one with a flat lino or resin floor upon which camera dollies can move freely without using tracks.  It will also have a control gallery suite with all the necessary electronics and communications but not necessarily its own cameras.  One or two studios prefer to hire these in on a day to day basis. 

The studio will in most cases have a lighting grid with monopoles or motorised bars enabling fast pre-rigging and easy changes to the rig on the day.

 

A great deal of television drama is shot using a single digital video camera and interiors are frequently shot on film stages.  Within the remit of this website, this does not make such stages 'television studios' - they still remain film stages.  I hope this makes some sort of sense as a film sound stage is a far more basic and simple space than a television studio.  A sound stage is in essence a soundproofed black box with a power supply available for lighting and a simple but very strong overhead grid - usually steel 'runway' beams several feet apart.  The floor may be wooden or concrete but certainly not smooth enough to run a camera dolly along without tracks.

 

Incidentally - I do on occasions refer to an OB 'scanner'.  This is industry jargon for an outside broadcast control vehicle, which contains production control, sound control and vision control for several cameras.

 

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