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have been used to make TV)
is a film studio a television studio? Or vice versa? I
have separated out the 'film studios' onto this page as my
independent studios page was becoming far too large. However,
it's not all that simple in some cases deciding where each studio
should belong. Pinewood is arguably the UK's premier film
studio - but it also has two of the best equipped large TV studios on
its site. Nevertheless, its primary function is film so it's
here. Similarly, Elstree Studios now have several very well
equipped multicamera TV studios. But their history is in film -
so they are here too.
course, 'film' hardly exists any more as an originating medium -
more than half of all features shot in the UK use digital video
cameras - often the same cameras that are used to shoot TV
dramas. The lines are thus becoming even more blurred.
- by a 'film studio' I mean a site with several sound stages - most
of which are simple 4-wallers. These can be used to shoot
feature films or TV dramas, single camera TV comedies, ads, pop
promos, and so on. They can also be used to make multicamera TV
shows too - using a temporary flat floor and an OB unit for facilities.
if you can't find the studio you're looking for on this page it may
be on the Independent TV Studios page.
well as the major studios listed below, London also has a number of
other 'film and TV' studios dotted about that are available for
hire. Most of these are relatively small and almost all are a
conversion of an industrial building - usually with a smart client
room/green room and a few rooms for wardrobe/make-up. They
often have a simple scaffold grid, pre-lit semi permanent green
screens or white cycs and sometimes a local stock of lights or even a
camera or two for hire. Their stages provide a very useful
facility to people making commercials, pop promos or who need to
shoot a simple interview or talking head. Here are some examples:
Studio - 1 stage of 670 sq ft
Studios - 2 stages of 1,300
sq ft and 400 sq ft
Studios - 2 purpose built stages
sq ft and 1,500 sq ft with permanent white and green cycs.
Constructed after former studios in Euston were redeveloped.
Studios - a
single 2,500 sq ft stage with white cyc
Film Studios - (opened in 1955 for
the shooting of commercials) - 2 stages
of 3,600 sq ft (60 x 60ft) and 2,400 (60 x 40ft) sq ft with permanent cycs
Eye Studios - now
but used to have 4 or 5 stages up to about 2,500 sq ft. Perhaps
largest stage was used for an early series of The
Weakest Link using
an OB truck.
Pleasant Studio - a
single pre-lit stage of 1,270 sq ft.
Road studios - 4 stages
from 920 sq ft - 190 sq ft (an equipped TV production gallery was
also available plus SD cameras.) Closed
at the end of July 2014 but planning to open new studios elsewhere.
- 2 stages of 850sq
ft and 290
Film studios (opened in 1993) - 4 stages - 2,100 sq ft, 1,280
sq ft, 750 sq ft, 200
sq ft. The company that ran these - Spectrecom Films - now
operates the old Cactus TV studios in Kennington. Waterloo
Studios closed towards the end of 2014.
I am concentrating here on those film studios that have a history of
making network television programmes - drama, comedy or entertainment.
is also worth noting that due to the current shortage of suitable
stages, many TV dramas and even some features are being shot in old
deserted factories and leaky warehouses. These include places
like the Gillette Building in Isleworth where 24:
Live Another Day was made, the Peak
Freans factory in Bermondsey, where Spooks
were shot, the old Tate and Lyle building in Greenwich, where The
Smoke was filmed and Neasden Studios
(an ex-carpet warehouse) where Mr Selfridge
studios listed below in the order they originally opened:
Studios (Will Barker,
Ealing Studios, BBC, BBRK, NFTS, Ealing Studios)
(British National, BIP,
ABPC, EMI, EMI-MGM,Thorn-EMI, Cannon, Goldcrest, Elstree Film and TV,
(Sound City, British
Lion, Lion International, Lee International, Scott brothers,
Pinewood-Shepperton, Pinewood Studios Group) includes Lion Television
Mills Studios (Bow
Studios, 3 Mills Island, Edwin Shirley, Workspace, LDA, Olympic Park
Legacy Co., London Legacy Development Corporation)
Island / Duke's Island Studios
2000, Borehamwood (formerly
London Film Studios (formerly
HDS and Chak89 Studios)
- Film studios are almost always measured in feet, not metres.
They also hardly ever have footage markings on the studio walls.
That is because in the movie world a set is built on a stage in a
position that is convenient to the scene crew. When it is
finished, the DoP will look at the set and tell his gaffer where he
wants each lamp to be rigged. This will happen over the
following few hours or even days. In the TV world, the set is
designed and a plan is sent to the lighting director before it is
erected in the studio. He or she will then design the lighting
on paper or computer for that set, based on the designer's
drawings. This is called a lighting plot. Following the
LD's plot, the lights will be hung in specific positions in the
studio - either on bars or from monopoles. So the lights are
rigged BEFORE the set is built. It is essential therefore that
the set is erected within a few centimetres of where it was drawn on
the designer's plan or the lighting will not work. There will
be no time to re-rig and make adjustments if it is well off its
marks. This therefore never happens. Yeah - I wish.
Studios - film
studios with a huge influence on the early years of British television
I started this website I only included multicamera TV studios - and
the larger ones at that. I have since added film studios that
have made multicamera TV programmes on their stages and more
recently, film studios where single camera TV comedy and drama has
been made. However, back in 2006 I was persuaded to include
Walton Studios by Mitch Mitchell, an early contributor to this
site. He is a great fan of old TV dramas and in the nicest
possible way he put some pressure on me to include a reference to
Walton Studios. Since he did take the trouble to write to me
with huge amounts of useful info on all kinds of other studios - I
felt obliged to acquiesce....
studios were in Walton-on-Thames, not far from Shepperton.
They started life back in 1899, when Cecil Hepworth leased a house
called The Rosary in Hurst Grove for £36 a year and built an 18
x 15ft 'stage' in the back garden. Hepworth was an inventor of
exhibition and photographic equipment who had decided that he wanted
to try his hand at film making. He created a production company
- Hepwix - together with his cousin Monty Wicks and began by
making 'actualities', or local newsreels. He then moved on to
making films using trick photography in his tiny studio. By
1905 Hepworth had added a new larger stage - indoors at first floor
level but still utilising natural light - much of the walls and
ceiling were made of frosted glass. Thus Hepworth Studios
seems to have been a man full of imagination - as well as probably
filming the first slow-motion footage, he also devised a system of
mounting a camera dolly on a short length of railway-type track -
thus probably creating the first tracking shots in cinema.
other studios, production continued at the studio through the First
World War, both by making propaganda films and by renting to visiting companies.
films were made by the Hepworth company and several actors became
stars as a result. Perhaps the best remembered today is Ronald Colman.
following the Great War, British film companies were all struggling
to survive and in 1923, despite some critical successes, both Cecil
Hepworth and his film company were declared bankrupt. By then
there were two stages and the studios were very well equipped.
However, the receiver was a man who knew nothing of the value of all
this and it was all sold off at a pittance - the library of old films
made by Hepworth melted down to make dope for aircraft wings.
1926 the studios were purchased by Archibald Nettlefold, a
theatrical producer and recreational farmer who was part of a family
of industrialists from Birmingham. Now there's a
combination. (His surname was in fact the 'N' in the
engineering company 'GKN.')
newly renamed Nettlefold Studios made a few comedy silents
which were not hugely successful and were one of the last studios to
convert to sound in 1930. However, they quickly caught up and
in 1932 were the first studio in Britain with the new 'high fidelity'
sound system. Nettlefold acquired further land at the rear of
the studios and expanded Hepworth's original site, enjoying a
fruitful relationship with Butcher's Films.
next few years saw Nettlefold Studios concentrate on making quota
quickies. These were paid for by the big US film companies at
the rate of £1 per foot so they had to be made very cheaply and quickly.
most film studios around London, Nettlefold was commandeered by the
government for the duration of the Second World War. Initially
this was for storage but following a direct hit to their factory at
Kingston-upon-Thames only five miles away, the Vickers-Armstrong
aircraft company moved here and built two new 'hangars'.
is not clear what happened to Nettlefold himself but by 1947 the
studios were owned by Ernest G. Roy and had three stages, including
the two new aircraft hangers. A modest string of films was
produced but the studios lacked the driving force of Nettlefold.
However, one or two films have survived in popular memory - Tom
Brown's Schooldays ('51), Alastair Sim's version of Scrooge
('51) and The Pickwick Papers ('52). By the mid 1950s
they had succumbed to the overall decline that saw many studios go
under. However, rather than close - their saviour was the newly
emerging world of commercial television.
Studios in 1956. According to the British Film and Television
year book, in this year they had 'four large stages with further
extensions planned for 1957'. A couple of years earlier
(according to the Kinematograph Year Book) - in 1954 Nettlefold had
stage A (120 x 85ft), stage B (82 x 52ft) and stage C (110 x 60ft.)
New has contacted me. He began working at Walton as an
apprentice carpenter in 1958. He tells me that the large stage
in the centre of this photo is stage A. Stage B is to the top
right, stage C is to its left and the white stage is D, which was 123
x 56ft. There was also a small stage E, to the top right of the
A stage. This may have been part of the 'further extensions'
mentioned above. Also, in 1959/60 an RCA dubbing stage was
built to the left of the A stage. This was where the Robin Hood
castle had previously stood on the small back lot.
the studios closed in 1962, stage 4 was moved from here to
Shepperton, where it became the I stage. The new dubbing stage
is also said to have been moved to Shepperton.
are several reports in books and on the Internet that one of the
stages was moved from here to Bray in 1957 to become their stage
1. This makes little sense - none of the stages here is the
right size and the studios were going strong in 1957 so why sell a
stage? In fact, the confusion seems to have arisen because, as
John New informs me, the A stage at Walton was dismantled in 1962 and
sent to MGM Borehamwood where it became their stage 10. Later,
when those studios closed it moved again - this time to Bray, where
it replaced their stage 1, which may have been damaged by fire.
So Bray received not two stages but one, which had previously been
both at Walton and MGM.
saves the day...
1955 Sapphire Films began hiring studio space, eventually buying the
studios and renaming them Walton Studios. The company
was owned by the powerful American producer Hannah Weinstein.
order to avoid the anti-Communist persecution and hysteria of
McCarthyism sweeping the US in the early 1950s, Weinstein had moved
her family to Europe in 1950 and established her own production
company, Sapphire Films, in London in 1952. She pre-sold the
idea of a Robin Hood series to an American flour company with the
same name (they would sponsor the series in America) but because her
politics were known to be left-wing she was unable to make the series
in the US.
was no problem of course and since the series was made here she also
did a deal with Lew Grade's ITC company to sell initially 39 half
hour episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood. Over the
following four years no less than 143 episodes were made on 35mm
film. The series made a star of Richard Greene, and the opening
musical sting and theme tune were sung by small boys in playgrounds
all over the country for many years. Dozens of well-known
English actors performed in the programme - some playing more than
one part over the years.
scripts were of an unusually high quality because Weinstein made use
of McCarthy-era blacklisted American screen writers, some working
under assumed names. Naturally, none of these was actually a
member of the communist party, they just didn't agree with the
extreme right wing politics sweeping America at the time. Often
stories contained themes exploring social justice - the subject
matter was of course highly suited to that. Ironically, the
show became as popular in the US as it was in Britain, being shown on
the CBS network weekly from 1955 to 1958.
episode took only four and a half days to shoot. To make that
many episodes so quickly involved revolutionary film-making
techniques. The most original was that the scenery was made in
sections that could be re-arranged in any order and almost everything
was on wheels. It was said that they could change a set and be
ready to shoot in six minutes. The man responsible for devising
this technique was Peter Proud, an art director with 28 years of film experience.
and striking is normally very time-consuming but lighting a set can
take even longer. Proud's solution at Walton Studios was to
have a pre-lit area and simply move the set into the light. I
imagine there was a bit more to it than simply that but - 'stone'
walls, doorways, windows, pillars and a fireplace all mounted on
hidden castors instantly became different rooms or corridors within a
castle whilst bushes and lightweight canvas tree trunks were trucked
about to form various parts of the forest. There was one
enormous hollow tree that appeared in almost every episode in a
different place. Viewers must have assumed that Sherwood Forest
was riddled with hollow trees.
were sometimes a few exterior location shots and these were mostly
done on Wisley Common and the Foxwarren Park Estate near Cobham which
was owned by Hannah Weinstein. They were often shot by a second
unit, using stunt riders rather than the leads and rarely involving
any dialogue. The back lot at Walton Studios also had a castle
set and a village set that were used extensively in series 1 and
2. A larger castle set was later built in the grounds of
Weinstein's estate for series 3 and 4. This was also used for The
Adventures of Sir Lancelot.
Adventures of Robin Hood developed a visual style of its own and
was hugely popular. So much so that Lew Grade decided to make
something very similar himself. Thus at his newly acquired
National Film Studios in Elstree, ITP (the production arm of ITC)
began to make The Adventures of William Tell. The two
series were almost identical in style and were shown by ATV around
the same time. Most people would have assumed they were made by
the same company but no. Sapphire Films sold the Robin Hood
programmes to ITC which was a subsidiary of ATV and responsible for
the distribution of their programmes all over the world.
made several more series employing the same excellent screen writers:
The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956), The Buccaneers (1956),
Sword of Freedom (1957) and detective/spy series The Four
Just Men (1959). For many people of a certain generation
these dramas made by Sapphire at Walton-on-Thames epitomise some of
the best of British television from the late 50s/early '60s.
Incidentally, the last 14 episodes of Sir Lancelot were shot
in colour for the American market, making this the first British
colour TV series. (The next was Stingray, made in Slough
seven years later in 1963.)
TV dramas were also made at Walton around this time but not by
Sapphire. These included some or all episodes of Sailor of Fortune
starring Lorne Greene in 1955-56 and some episodes of The
Adventures of Aggie (others were made by HDF at Highbury) in 1956-57.
studios continued to be used to make features too. Popular
films of the day included I Was Monty's Double ('58) and The
Navy Lark ('59).
would have thought that the success of this work would have
guaranteed the longevity of the studios. However, several
things combined to bring it all to a close. Apparently,
Weinstein's new husband mortgaged the property and assets of the
studios for the promise of a fortune in Florida. The fortune
never came and he did a runner.
The Four Just Men was received with glowing reviews by
critics in Britain and America. However, the 39 episode series
was not deemed suitable by the US networks and was only syndicated by
local stations. The income from US sales was therefore much
less than had been anticipated. As distributors, ITC did their
best to sell it around the world and had some success. Not
enough to counter the lack of an American sponsor, however. At
the same time, ITC were said to be driving a very hard bargain with
regard to the amount they would pay Sapphire for any further shows
they might make. The sums would simply not add up and the bank foreclosed.
Monday 16th January, the studio staff arrived at work to be told
that Walton Studios had gone into liquidation. Much of the
equipment went to Shepperton including the dubbing stage that had
been built only a few years earlier. Shepperton also received
stage D from here which they called 'The Robin Hood Stage' and which
became their I stage. According to a report in the
Kinematograph Weekly - December 13 1962 - Shepperton were 'proud to
have received a stage from Walton' with the dimensions 125 x 55ft (or
123 x 56ft in another account).
studio lot was sold to the local Council and became Hepworth Way and
part of the 1960s Walton-on-Thames shopping centre (now itself
demolished.) The flats at Hepworth Way and the shopping centre
apparently feature in the film Psychomania. I am told
that it was also the location for Monty Python's 'Can housewives tell
the difference between...?' sketch.
1962 Weinstein returned to America, where she continued her
political concerns. The only remaining part of the studios is
the old power house, which was converted into a theatre some years
ago and is used by the local amateur drama group.
1902 Will Barker, a pioneer of British cinema, bought two houses on
Ealing Green and the land that went with them. He built his
first stage at Ealing in 1907 - like most of that period it was made
of glass in order to maximise the available light. Two more
glass stages were soon added along with workshops, prop stores and a
laboratory. He made many modestly successful films here which
included a version of Hamlet. This was particularly
notable as it was filmed all in one day. The sets were
apparently stacked in front of each other and as each scene was
completed the scenery was struck to reveal the next one. I
suppose they only had to pay the actors for one day's work. Extraordinary.
went into partnership with Bertie Samuelson to produce a film about
Queen Victoria which was so successful that the latter went and
established his own studios in Isleworth. However, it is said
that in later years he became so disillusioned with the job of
producing films that he advised his sons to concentrate on working in
the technical side of the industry - and indeed the name of Samuelson
became associated with camera and lighting hire for many years.
retired from the industry after the First World War and in 1920
Ealing Studios were sold to a company called General Film Renters
who, unsurprisingly, rented the studios to whoever wanted to use
them. By 1930 Basil Dean's company Associated Talking Pictures
had taken ownership and he decided to rebuild much of the site.
It is largely his redevelopment that still exists today. He
constructed 4 stages, opening in 1931 - the first in the UK built for
sound. Stages 2, 3A and 3B are still in use.
1 was converted to offices many years ago but was originally 58 x
34ft. Stage 2 is 125ft x 75ft wall to wall with a height to
grid of 34ft. Stages 3A and 3B are each 85 x 71ft with a height
of 32ft. There was also a 'model stage' which was 79 x 61ft.
1938 Michael Balcon joined the studios as Head of Production and the
golden age of Ealing began.
Studio became best known for its comedies such as The
Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, Passport to Pimlico and
Kind Hearts and Coronets. Some of
the stars who became associated with Ealing were Alec Guinness,
Alastair Sim, Peter Sellars, Gracie Fields and George Formby.
He made no less than 11 films here.
the studios began to have diminishing success around 1955 and were
in financial difficulties. This coincided with the realisation
at the BBC that they had run out of room at Lime Grove to keep the
film department working efficiently.
in the 1930s. The building with the curved roof is stage 2 and
the other alongside contains stages 3A and 3B. Although the
site all around is being updated and redeveloped, the three stages
remain today much as you see them here.
1955 film was used at the BBC mostly for news and current affairs,
with some location inserts for studio dramas and comedies.
Almost nothing was filmed on stages - as of course the BBC had no
dedicated film stages at that time: all their studios were being used
to make multicamera TV programmes. They had 10 film camera
crews and at Lime Grove there were 14 cutting rooms (editing suites
as we would now call them) along with viewing theatres and dubbing
suites but there simply was not enough space there. So the BBC
began looking for a suitable site for its rapidly expanding Film Department.
of buildings, some more suitable than others, were looked at such as
theatres, cinemas, even closed-down ice rinks. The Board of
Management set aside £240,000 to purchase suitable premises as
soon as something could be found. They then heard a rumour that
Ealing Studios were in financial trouble and began secret
negotiations to purchase the property and all its equipment. Of
course, the studios were far bigger and better facilities than they
were originally seeking but were in many ways ideal - not least being
only 20 minutes from Lime Grove and the proposed Television Centre in
15th September 1955 the Board of Governors gave the go-ahead and the
purchase was completed on 27th January 1956. Ealing Studios
thus became BBC Television Film Studios (TFS).
money set aside was insufficient and they actually paid £350,000
for the land and buildings. However, they also had to find
another £200,000 for the film library and all the technical
equipment. These were significant sums in those days.
There were serious concerns within the BBC at the huge costs involved
and it was made very clear by the DG of the day that the BBC would
not move in and refurb the whole site bringing it up to their normal
high technical standards. The intention at the time was not to
replace any existing equipment unless absolutely necessary. In
fact, it was anticipated that the stages would be used mostly for
storage and rehearsal space. There was clearly a worry that
money might be drained from programme making at Lime Grove,
Television Theatre and Riverside Studios into a world of movie-making
for television which might cost vastly more than shooting the
equivalent programme live in a TV studio.
Hamilton has written to me. He was an assistant cameraman and
worked with Peter Sargent to shoot some sequences for a drama called Jesus
of Nazareth around the middle of 1956. This was the first
time one of the Ealing stages had been used by the BBC - they filmed
on stage 3A. A small set was built and they lit it with what
was left of the old Ealing Studios kit. The camera was a huge,
heavy 35mm Vincent Visatone in an equally massive blimp. In
later years Fred went on to light the first series of Colditz
at Ealing - more on this later. In his autobiography 'Zoom In
When You See The Tears' Fred also mentions that the exterior set from The
Ladykillers was still on the back lot so they used it as a set
for some BBC dramas.
stages soon began to prove how useful they were for all sorts of
work that was impractical to do live in a typical multicamera
television studio. According to a BBC document published in
1960, stage 2 was used for large or complicated sets, stage 3A was
used for 'general filming' and stage 3B very simple filming such as
interviews or for rehearsals.
order to speed up lighting time on the stages the BBC installed
overhead gantries and used rolling towers with lights mounted on
them. Unfortunately, these did not last very long at a useful
height. Fred Hamilton's autobiography describes how when some
scenes for Quatermass and the Pit were filmed on stage 2 in
1958, the lighting gantries were raised to fit the set in.
Unfortunately, no money was made available to restore them to the
previous more useful height which he writes was a real problem in
future years. He also describes the difficulties he had
lighting some scenes for Dr Who. These were sets that
would have been impractical to build in the studio in Lime Grove
where most of the episode was recorded.
2. I confess I am not sure whether the overhead lighting
gantries shown here are at the 'pre or post' Quatermass
height. However, they look pretty high to me. Can you help?
only a few years earlier being determined not to spend any more
money here, according to the 1960 document they proposed installing a
complex system of catwalks over the stage floors at a relatively low
height (16ft). Some of these at one end of stage 2 would be
capable of being raised to 20ft giving extra height if a cyclorama
was in use. It seems unlikely that this relatively
sophisticated lighting system was ever installed.
Barlow has sent me a story that amused me. It seems that at
some point during his tenure as Head of Film, the Health and Safety
Executive were involved in a dispute between BBC TFS and their
neighbours. Apparently, the washing of various local residents
was becoming soiled when hung out to dry. John found that he
was in danger of something similar when it transpired that the soot
was coming from the studio's diesel generators. These were
ancient DC gennies and were based on old ship turbines. They
had not been replaced with modern AC generators due to the original
policy of spending as little as possible here. However,
replacement was clearly overdue. Unfortunately, the machines
were so old and heavy that in their removal the underground foul
drains were damaged, resulting in an even bigger bill to be
paid. John says he retained a nut as a memento. A nut?
fact, the stages here were not used to make dramas for a number of
years. At least, not entire dramas. They were however
used to film scenes that would have been too difficult to achieve in
a TV studio - involving special effects such as fire or water for
example. Stage 2 has a tank which proved very useful on several
occasions. As mentioned earlier, Quatermass and the Pit
used a stage for some scenes and Dr Who was a regular user of
Ealing for various scenes in the '60s and '70s although most of it
was of course recorded on multicamera video at Lime Grove, Riverside
or TV Centre.
1960 several big dramas included scenes shot here including Nelson
and A Tale of Two Cities with the stages being used to film
some interiors. In 1965 no drama was made completely on film
but by 1969 things had changed and nine plays were made on film (on
location and/or using the Ealing stages).
scene from an unknown drama being filmed during the BBC years.
Any idea which one??? Or on which stage?
the first all-film television play was made in 1966 when Jonathan
Miller made his acclaimed version of Alice In Wonderland, with
the huge courtroom set being constructed on stage 2. This was
the largest set built to date on that stage. Until Colditz
of the classic series shot at Ealing between 1972 and 1974 was
indeed Colditz. Most of the interiors were recorded on
videotape at TV Centre but the castle courtyard was built on stage 2
and scenes were shot on 16mm film. One of the largest sets ever
constructed here, it was extremely accurate and realistic - including
a cobbled floor. Filming in the actual courtyard in East
Germany was of course not practical but this set managed to convince
many viewers that it was the real thing.
the '70s and '80s the stages continued to be used for a mix of
comedy and drama inserts into shows that had most of their running
time recorded at TV Centre. Porridge was a typical
example between 1974 and 1977 - some of the larger prison sets were
built here. However, the number of dramas shot entirely on film
gradually increased until by the beginning of the 1990s almost all
drama was shot single camera - although some was now being shot using
lightweight video cameras.
dramas using these stages included Dennis Potter's Pennies From Heaven
('78) and The Singing Detective ('86). There was an
interesting difference between these two remarkable series. The
Singing Detective was shot entirely on film - on location and on
the stages at Ealing. However, most of the running time of
Pennies From Heaven was recorded in TC6 at TV Centre using the
new Link 110 cameras. These produced pictures that were
completely different from the 16mm film sequences. This
difference in image quality as well as the obvious difference in
shooting style between single camera and multicamera was something of
a distraction on this drama - as with many plays, series and comedies
of the period but it was accepted as being normal by most viewers.
1986 it had become the norm to shoot major drama series entirely on
film and to be honest I think The Singing Detective was all
the better for that. Mixing film and video within the same
programme for no artistic reason has always been a personal gripe of
mine - I think the same medium should be used throughout. I
should perhaps mention that I worked as a lowly camera assistant on
the TV Centre scenes of Pennies From Heaven. I thought
it looked absolutely superb but the film sequences jarred horribly
with the studio sequences. It should all have been shot one way
or the other.
was not surprising that most producers and directors preferred
working with film. There was the obvious glamour associated
with the medium but it also allowed for far more freedom in
locations, which of course writers loved. If sets were needed
they could be built on a stage at Ealing and the rest shot on real
locations. As well as major dramas like Fortunes of War
('87) and An Ungentlemanly Act ('92), Ealing was also used for
popular series like Shoestring ('79, '80).
film formats and single camera video used by the BBC
the BBC first started using Ealing, the most popular film format was
35mm. 16mm was seen as an amateur format and the image quality
was relatively poor - partly due to the quality of film emulsion in
the 1950s but also due to poor image stability and the lack of
suitable cameras and lenses. 16mm Auricon cameras were being
used by the news department but the image quality was not considered
good enough for drama. However, 35mm was expensive and the
equipment big and heavy so there was a desire to move to 16mm if at
too was an issue. However, by 1958 it was possible to use a
16mm Arriflex along with an EMI L2B tape recorder that at last
produced acceptable sound and pictures. Later popular cameras
included the Eclair NPR and Arri's answer to it - the BL. Forty
of these were purchased in the 1960s and each cameraman was given his
own camera rather than using a central pool. Overnight all the
previous issues of reliability and complaints about faults
disappeared as each cameraman treasured his own piece of invaluable kit.
the beginning of the 1980s the super-16 format began to take over
from standard 16mm. This uses the same width of film but it has
only one set of sprocket holes and the image fills all the available
space. This increases resolution and decreases grain producing
excellent results. These images have continued to improve with
the ever increasing sophistication of film stock. Indeed, the
format has been used until relatively recently on a few TV dramas
like Merlin and for some adverts but it is a dying medium.
fact, film is hardly used for TV production at all any more.
It has been replaced by digital video cameras using large CCD chips
and uncompressed data storage such as the Sony CineAlta, Red One and
Arri Alexa. These cameras produce images in many respects
superior to 35mm film (some might disagree with this!) but their
images are certainly better than the current HD television system can
handle or transmit so they are futureproof. They are the end of
a chain of video cameras that started back in the mid 1970s with the
Bosch Fernseh KCR-40 - a tubed lightweight camera that required a
separate video recorder but was a revolution in video camera design
compared with the huge studio cameras in use at the time.
real groundbreaker was the Ikegami HL-79. Released in 1979 it
produced excellent pictures for its day and was not only used as the
hand-held camera of choice in TV studios, it also began to be used as
a location drama camera - often linked to a small van or OB truck in
which might be a racks engineer with a 1 inch videotape
recorder. One of these vehicles was based at Ealing and was
called the 'Location Production Unit.' One of its successes was The
Mayor of Casterbridge. Interestingly, the BBC OB
department also built a similar vehicle. Somewhat
controversially, so did the BBC Studios department, which built two -
named 'Studio Insert Units'. The SIUs were used for EastEnders
and various sitcoms and were viewed in a somewhat hostile light by
both Ealing and BBC OBs, who considered this kind of work to be their remit!
cabled cameras and vans were replaced at Ealing by video cameras
with built-in recorders during the 1980s - although these were not
usually considered good enough for all dramas or comedy inserts which
often still used 16mm film. Six Ealing crews were issued with
portable single cameras (PSC) in 1983 and began to try out this new
(to them) medium. Its limitations, particularly in contrast
range compared with film were obvious but the cameramen involved soon
learnt how to light for video and the PSC cameras began to be used on
various programmes. Once CCD lightweight cameras became
available - particularly the Sony DVW-700 - then video was used far
more by Ealing cameramen - although rarely for major dramas.
film is hardly ever used in TV - the latest generation of digital
movie cameras producing far better pictures and with greater
flexibilty than 16mm film.
beginning of the 1990s saw many changes at the BBC brought about
under John Birt's infamous reign as Director General. Echoing
the current management, he decided that the BBC had to leave a number
of its properties and included in the list was Ealing. The
studios were sold in 1992 and the department moved to share the BBC's
outside broadcast base in Acton - where there were of course no
studios or stages. Before the move there were around 60 BBC
film dept. camera crews and dozens of scene crew, electricians and
back-up office staff. However, this arrangement did not last
long and a year or two later the entire film department was closed
down and everyone lost their jobs. All the camera crews became
freelance - and to be honest, most probably never looked back.
studios were acquired in 1992 by a company called BBRK - their
business was scenery, lighting and special effects. They tried
to revive the studios as a centre for film production.
Unfortunately, the enterprise collapsed in October 1994.
studios were purchased by the National Film and Television School,
which was based at the old Beaconsfield film studios. The
intention was to convert the studios into a film school and to leave
Beaconsfield. However, the Lottery Commission decided that it
would cost too much to convert Ealing and instead granted money to
upgrade Beaconsfield. The NFTS continued to own Ealing for a
while and hired the facilities to independent production companies
for film, TV and commercial work but this was an arrangement that
could not last. Nevertheless, some well-known films were made
such as An Ideal Husband and parts of Notting Hill.
March 1999 the studios were put on the market yet again.
2000 Ealing was bought by a consortium from Fragile Films, The
Manhattan Loft Corporation and author/producer John Kao. In
2001 they were granted planning permission to extensively redevelop
the site as a film studio and base for media companies. The
original stages have been preserved but most of all the other
buildings have been rebuilt or refurbished to very high quality.
first new film to be made under the 'Ealing Studios' name was The
Importance of Being Earnest ('02) and several other successful
features have been made here including Shaun of the Dead ('04),
Dorian Gray ('09), Burke and Hare ('10), About Time
('13) and commercially most successful of all - the St Trinian's
films ('07, '09).
stages continue to be used for TV production - I worked there myself
in 2003 lighting the 2 Pints of Lager musical special When
Janet Met Johnny. Most notably however, stages 3A and 3B
are used to film the 'downstairs' kitchen scenes in Downton Abbey
- there being no suitable locations available. Stage 2 has also
been used for Let's Dance For Comic Relief/Sport Relief from
2009 to 2011. It is to my knowledge the only show ever made at
Ealing using a multicamera OB unit.
Studios (St Margaret's)
Ralph Jupp owned a chain of cinemas during the 1900s which in later
years were bought up by Gaumont-British. Flushed with the
success of this enterprise, in 1912 he acquired a skating rink and
associated buildings in St. Margaret's, near Twickenham. He
turned the rink into what was at the time the biggest shooting stage
in the UK (165 x 75ft) with the intention of filming movies to be
shown in his cinemas. He called the site 'St Margaret's
Studios.' His first feature - The
House of Temperley -
was released in 1913. He had an eye for the American market
too so sent someone across to Hollywood to invite producers,
directors and actors to come to his new studio.
went swimmingly for the first couple of years until in 1914 two of
his key employees - John East and Percy Nash - set up their own
'Neptune' studio in the countryside near Elstree village in north
London. These were the studios that eventually became BBC Elstree
Centre. Twickenham suffered heavy losses in 1915-16.
Jupp's health suffered and the running of the studios was handed over
to his cousin.
Ideal Company then leased the one stage and made several reasonably
successful pictures here with some of the top actors of the
day. In 1920, a few months before he died, Jupp sold the
studios to the Alliance Company. This company spent £23,000
on new lighting equipment - a lot of cash in those days.
Sadly, 2 years later Alliance went bust.
studios around 1930
the following decades Twickenham changed hands several times.
By 1928 the site was owned by Julius Hagen and was renamed
'Twickenham Film Studios'. A second stage was opened in
September 1934. Sound equipment was introduced but due to the
proximity of the railway line, a look-out had to be posted to warn of
approaching trains before each take.
studios were very busy in the early 1930s - sometimes one film used
a stage during the day and another at night! Unfortunately,
disaster struck in 1935 when the main stage was destroyed by fire.
studio never fully recovered from this and the company went bust
again in 1937. During the war they received a direct hit from a
bomb which caused extensive damage.
1946 rebuilding work commenced when the studios were acquired by
Alliance Film Studios Ltd - who owned Southall, Hammersmith
(Riverside) and Twickenham. Probably because much of Twickenham
was still damaged, most of their work went to the other two studios.
the mid to late1950s the studios mostly made commercials, half-hour
shorts and filmed television dramas. Things changed when Guido
Coen took over as head of the studios in 1959. He built the
current stage 2 (50 x 40ft) and began to attract a new form of film
making. Several of the 'kitchen sink' gritty dramas such as Alfie
and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning were made here.
Most notably, Twickenham became The Beatles' favourite film studio
Hard Day's Night, Help! and
Let it Be
all filmed here. These were apparently shot on the present
commercial being filmed at Twickenham in 1958. This marvellous
photo was sent to me by Jules Hewitt via Dicky Howett. Jules'
family business specialised in the manufacture of film lighting
equipment. All the luminaires in this photo are 'Hewitt
the 1980s investment was made in new sound post facilities and many
famous features were partly or wholly shot on the stages including Reds,
Shirley Valentine, The French Lieutenants's Woman, American Werewolf
in London and
A Fish Called Wanda
whilst others such as Blade
Runner, Cry Freedom, Ghandi and Superman
used the excellent post production facilities.
TV dramas and features used the studios throughout the 1990s and
into the new millennium. Tragically two of the key personnel
who were running the studios died in very different circumstances in
2005 and 2006 and left Twickenham rudderless for a few years.
By the beginning of 2012 it looked as though they would very likely
be closed and redeveloped.
vociferous and enthusiastic campaign to save the studios was run by
Maria Walker. Many well-known actors and directors gave their
support. For several months it looked very likely indeed that
the studios had sadly been lost but suddenly success came in August
2012 when Twickenham was bought by Sunny Vohra. He is investing
heavily in the studios and modernising and re-equipping them.
There has also been a name change simply to Twickenham Studios -
possibly reflecting the importance of TV work done here. Nice
to hear a happy end to a story like this. Now if only Bray
could be saved too!
currently has three stages:
1 - 118 x 64ft (7,500sq ft) - includes a tank
2 - 50 x 40ft (2,000 sq ft)
3 - 93 x 60ft (5,551 sq ft)
- stages 2 and 3 are linked by a 15 x 12ft door, forming an L-shaped
stage if necessary. This can be very useful as work on building
or dressing a set can continue whilst shooting is continuing on the
other stage. The door can then be opened to allow equipment to
move from one stage to the other.
2 was built in 1959 and stage 3 possibly around the same time.
I have yet to establish when the current stage 1 was built but I
assume in 1946 following the war damage. Stages 1 and 3
certainly appear to have been built at different times. Can
you help to solve this puzzle??
movies shot here include The
Week With Marilyn
('11), The Iron Lady ('11), Before
I Go To Sleep
('14) but many more well known features have been dubbed and/or mixed here.
work includes: Poirot,
The Saint, Mother Love, Children of the North, Lipstick On Your
Collar, Cold Comfort Farm, Against All Odds, Cats' Eyes, Murder Most
Horrid, Our Friends in the North, Deacon Brodie, Talking Heads,
Microsoap, Spaced, Dirty Work, Man and Boy, Down To Earth, Tipping
the Velvet, The Commander, The Kindness of Strangers, Horrible
Histories, Sketchy, Primeval, The Hairy Bikers, Morgana,
Horrid Henry, Him and Her, A Young Doctor's Notebook, Mr Sloane.
has gone in just a few months from almost certain closure to being
one of the most successful studios in London. With the current
shortage of stages it is sure to be busy for the foreseeable future.
great producer/director GB Samuelson purchased an old aircraft
hangar in Gladstone Road, Southall in 1924 with the intention of
making silent films there. For whatever reason, the studio
appears to have been little used for the first few years but then
started making a number of quota quickies.
course, if there was a hangar, there must at one time have been an
airfield which is hard to imagine now in that very built-up area just
south of the railway line.)
the early 1930s ownership changed hands a few times.
Unfortunately the main stage was burned to the ground in 1936 but was
replaced with 3 stages of 75x50ft, 50x50ft and 50x25ft.
is likely that the stages were used for storage during the war, as
were many around London. In 1946 Southall became part of the
Alliance Film Studios group who also owned Twickenham and Hammersmith
(Riverside). Many films were made here at this time, starring
popular British actors of the period such as Richard Attenborough.
began to play an important part in the studios' history from as
early as 1952. Three pilot episodes of Colonel March of the Yard
were filmed starring Boris Karloff along with Joan Sims, Patricia
Owens and Dana Wynter. This is interesting - I wonder who was
the intended customer? The BBC made all its own programmes and
the first ITV companies would not be on the air until 1955.
However, people were talking about the new commercial television
for several years before then so maybe Southall made these
three episodes in order to create interest in prospective customers
as soon as they were awarded franchises. However, just in case,
the three episodes were also re-edited to form an 'anthology' feature
film called Colonel March Investigates so
the money spent on making them would not have been completely wasted.
1954 another 23 episodes were shot so they must have found a
customer by then. These included such names as Christopher Lee,
Anthony Newley, Alfred Burke and a very young Richard
O'Sullivan. The series was produced by Hannah Weinstein who
also created the very popular Adventures of Robin Hood at
Walton Studios. Both productions used very efficient shooting
techniques enabling a rapid turnaround of episodes.
TV dramas were also made here. However, there were still
features being shot. For instance, Hammer made Life With the Lyons
here in 1954. This is quite interesting as they already owned
Bray Studios by then so why use Southall? I have checked and in
1954 no less than 8 films were shot at Bray, which was a relatively
small studio. I can only assume that they couldn't fit that
movie in so it was made here. The Lyons Abroad was also
made at Southall in 1955 - probably for the same reason. These
films were spin-offs from the popular radio comedy show Life With
1956 the studios were listed as a television production centre.
Commercials became a regular source of work. Pearl and Dean
(yes, sing the tune now) made many ads here to be shown in cinemas.
final title made here in 1958 was The Trollenberg Terror -
aka The Crawling Eye. This was first filmed as a TV
series then remade as a horror movie. Directed by Quentin
Lawrence it starred Forrest Tucker, Janet Munro and, er, Warren
Mitchell (better known as Alf Garnett) as Professor Crevett.
IMDb describes it thus - 'A series of decapitations on a Swiss
mountainside appear to be connected to a mysterious radioactive
cloud.' Perhaps a small studio in Southall isn't the obvious
place a movie like this might be shot but the film was considered
pretty chilling at the time.
studios sadly closed after making this epic and were
demolished. The area is now an industrial estate.
Wood was, in the 1920s, an area of fields and woodland with a single
main road running through it. Near the station were a couple of
pubs, a few shops and a scattered collection of houses owned mostly
by commuters using the nearby Elstree railway station. The
station is actually not even close to Elstree village which is a mile
away at the top of a hill. It was, however, the nearest village
when the station was opened. Thus, Elstree railway station is
now in Borehamwood town centre. When the various studios were
opened here they took their name from the station - not the wood, and
so we had the various 'Elstree' studios which were actually in
Borehamwood. Borehamwood expanded over the years - largely
thanks to the film industry - and is now a large town whilst Elstree
has remained a small village. Is that any clearer? No, I
town of Borehamwood has over the years been home to six film studios
(seven if you include ELP's Millennium Studios) and has often been
dubbed the 'British Hollywood.' There is sometimes confusion
amongst those not well-informed as to which films and TV programmes
were made in which studio. By 'studio' I mean a site containing
several film stages. This chapter deals with the site that is
currently known simply as 'Elstree Studios'. (The only other
major studio still in operation in the town is the BBC Elstree Centre
where EastEnders and Holby City are made.)
was originally created in 1925 by a trio of entrepreneurs - J D
Williams, W Schlesinger and Herbert Wilcox and was called British
There was a stormy two years of operation which ended with the
company being taken over by John Maxwell, who had been called in to
help by the original three. He renamed the company British
produced dozens of films - many of them 'quota quickies' - in the
years leading up to the war. In 1928 Maxwell began to create a
cinema chain - Associated British Cinemas - which by 1930 had grown
to 120. By the end of the 1930s BIP had evolved into the
Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) and the studio became
known as ABPC
When war broke out in 1939 they were commandeered by the Royal
Ordnance Corps and used for storage. Maxwell died in 1940 and
control of ABPC passed to Warner Bros. According to the 1942
Kinematograph Year book, in 1942 the studios had 9 sound stages.
the war, the old stages were demolished and new ones built, along
with an impressive production block that faced the main road.
Four large stages were constructed (each 150 x 100ft) and Hitchcock
was one of the first directors to use the new studios with Stagefright.
Our subject is television and the history of film-making here is
well documented elsewhere. However - it is worth recording that
the '50s, '60s and some of the '70s were particularly busy and many
successful movies were made here ranging from Summer Holiday
to Star Wars.
four stages were joined by another - stage 5 - in the mid '50s.
It was 137 x 115ft. (Interesting somewhat random
dimensions!) This stage was not particularly well soundproofed
and apparently can be seen in the On The Buses films doubling
as the exterior of the bus garage. It was built over a water
tank that had been previously constructed. The tank was quite
large - 89 x 49ft and 3ft 6ins deep. (Why didn't they make it
90 x 50ft?)
the late '50s stage 1 was divided in two - thus creating stage
6. Some years later, following the construction of stages 7, 8
and 9 in 1966, this division was removed. In 1978 another stage
6 was constructed at the back of the site. This was huge -
30,000 sq ft in fact - and was built for The Empire Strikes Back.
- we are getting ahead of ourselves. ABPC was somewhat
reluctantly drawn into the new enterprise of commercial television in
1956. Its subsidiary, ABC Television, took over Warner Bros'
studios at Teddington to make television programmes on video but
there was plainly a market to make drama series on film too.
TV was of course owned by ABPC so these studios were immediately
available to the company to make TV programmes on film.
Between 1957 and 1962 ABC made a string of popular drama series here
including Dial 999,
The Flying Doctor, International Detective
and Tales From Dickens.
(I wonder how many viewers realised that The
Flying Doctor set in the Australian
outback was filmed a few miles north of London.)
1962 Lew Grade, who owned the media company ITC won the rights to
make The Saint.
Since 1960 he had been making Danger Man with
Patrick McGoohan in
the MGM studios just up the road in Borehamwood. Danger
Man had done well in Britain but less well
in the US. He saw The Saint
as a different sort of character and the stories as more likely to do
well in America. He was right. Despite ITC/ATV being
rivals to ABC he was welcomed at ABPC Elstree - or at least the work
was - and over the next decade ITC dramas occupied many of Elstree's
stages almost continuously. (The Prisoner,
Patrick McGoohan's follow-up to Danger Man
was made in the MGM studios - with the Village exteriors shot in Wales.)
Saint, which began filming in 1962, went
on until 1968 over several seasons. It proved to be very
popular in the US, which motivated a change to filming in colour in
1966. An impressive 115 episodes were made. Other popular
ITC series included
Gideon's Way ('64-'65), The
Baron ('65-'66), The
Champions ('67-'68), Randall
and Hopkirk (Deceased) ('68-'69),
Jason King ('70-'71)
and The Protectors ('71-'72).
ITC making most of the TV drama here, the owners of the studio,
ABPC, did have one huge success.
transferred from Teddington for its fourth series onward. From
this series it was shot on 35mm film and ran from 1964 - 1969 over
course, movies were also occupying the stages including in 1961
Cliff Richard's The Young Ones.
This film made use of a 'foreign town' set which was constructed on
the back lot. Unusually, this was left standing after the
filming and became an invaluable asset to the studios for about ten
years. It was used as various locations by
The Baron, The Saint, The Champions, Department S, Randall and
Hopkirk (Deceased) and
Chapman has informed me that...
very last on-screen appearance was in The
the one and only time it appeared in either of the two Protectors
series despite much of it being filmed at Elstree. Its
used for a getaway at the climax of the second-series episode
The Tiger And The Goat, which was shot during 1973 and
first aired on 25 January 1974.'
your DVD now!
in 1966 the studios were so busy with TV production on film that
they constructed three new stages - 7, 8 and 9. These were
equipped with telescope lighting grids, speeding up the time taken to
light sets. Unusually for film studios, between stages 8
and 9 a suite of TV control rooms was built with windows overlooking
each stage, although these were not equipped at the time.
Despite being planned with TV in mind, the floors were traditional
wood block rather than flat lino. In fact stages 8 and 9 were
even equipped with tanks. In 1967, The
was the first series to use the new studios.
7, 8 and 9 under construction in 1966.
proud gentleman posing for the camera is one Alan H Goatman, the
general manager of ABPC Elstree. I think he may have spotted a
rogue bit of Flemish bond brickwork in the corner. Actually,
he's probably looking the other way so he can pretend he hasn't seen
the scaffolder with no safety rail, no hard hat and probably wearing
a pair of flip-flops. Happy days.
is stage 8 early in 2013. It is having a 'TV floor' laid ready
for occupation by BBC Studios and Post Production. Note the
impressive tank (which has of course been sealed up for TV use).
Also, note the white doors at the top of frame that lead through to
the TV control rooms. The black door in the centre used to link
stages 8 and 9 but has now been bricked up. The rockwool walls
have now been faced with black fabric.
the floor that was laid turned out to be - well - let's just say not
quite up to spec. During the first show (Pointless)
it was soon obvious that it would have to be replaced. A
stop-gap chipboard floor was laid on top for the last ever episode of The
IT Crowd and
then in July it was all dug up again and a proper resin TV floor was
installed by specialist company Elgood. Very embarrassing for
BBC S&PP but to be fair to them, the company that laid the
original floor was allegedly specified by Elstree Studios, not by
them. My understanding is that the floor is part of the fabric
of the building, so is owned by Elstree, not S&PP. The new
floor in stage 9 was also dug up and replaced but fortunately before
any shows were made in it.
was an expectation around this time that filmed TV drama might be in
decline and that the future would see more made on multicamera
video. Thus these stages were built ready to become fully
equipped TV studios if necessary, as were J and K at Pinewood.
As we will see below, there was indeed a reduction in the amount of
filmed drama over the next few years but in fact, 8 and 9's control
rooms were not equipped for video production for many years.
it happened, against all expectations during the 1980s the industry
trend was reversed and drama on single camera film or video increased
- until by the early 1990s multicamera drama production had all but
ceased, apart from soaps. By coincidence, it was in fact in the
early 1990s that the galleries were at last fitted out - to provide
facilities to make sitcoms for independent production companies in
stage 9. This only lasted for a few years and the equipment was
then removed. It would not be until 2013 that they were fitted
out again - this time by BBC S&PP. But we are getting ahead
Elstree towards the end of the '60s. The new stages 7, 8 and 9
are on the left. Stage 5 is the large square stage on its own
upper right. The 'foreign town' set can be seen top left where
the George Lucas stage now stands. That is where the front of
the Overlook Hotel was built for The Shining
in 1978. At the time this photo was taken, stage 1 had been
divided into two, forming stages 1 and 6. (You can just make
out the line in the roof.) That is why the new stages began at
7. Later, the division was removed and a new stage 6 was built
behind stage 5. Stages 2 - 4 were 150 x 100ft each so a very
informs me that the long building just behind the main stage block
accommodated the sound department. The section in its centre
with the raised roof was the scoring stage where orchestral music for
soundtracks was recorded. Below is a photo showing what an
elegant space it was. That's Muir Matheson conducting.
The building also contained 2 re-recording theatres and a combined
Foley and looping theatre.
the end of the sixties things began to change. The film
industry was in decline and the 35mm glossy action dramas so popular
a few years before were less so now - particularly in the US.
In Britain the style of crime dramas was moving away from studio-based
stories and were now being shot in a more gritty style on location
using lightweight 16mm cameras. In 1968 ABC TV lost its ITV
franchise and its successor, Thames (as Euston Films), made The
Sweeney and proved that you didn't need
expensive film studios any longer.
1969 ABPC was taken over by EMI and the studios became EMI
Forbes was the new head - hoping to bring back the good old days of
British cinema. He was very enthusiastic but it seems not
universally liked by those working in the studios. His tenure
received some wider criticism but he did produce a handful of films
that have stood the test of time - The Railway Children, The Tales
of Beatrix Potter and The Go-Between.
long period of television drama was coming to an end at
Elstree. The Saint
had ended in 1968 and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
and The Avengers
finished shooting in 1969. This was partly compensated for when
kids' series Here Come The Double Deckers!
was filmed by 20th Century Fox in stage 5 in the same year.
Clearly aimed at the US market it portrayed an American idea of the
typical wacky adventures a bunch of British kids might get up
to. One of the episodes was directed by Charles Chrichton -
highly regarded director of several British comedy films. It
was very 'swinging 60s' and tried to catch the mood of the times but
was probably a couple of years late. Despite its obvious
American slant it was actually more popular here in Britain than its
intended market. Only one season of 17 episodes was made.
year later MGM sadly abandoned their own superb studios just down
the road and moved in to take a 50% stake in these studios.
There simply wasn't the work around to keep such a huge studio
complex going - and the US parent company was in severe financial
difficulties. The name thus changed again to EMI-MGM
people have wondered what would have happened if EMI had moved to
share the much bigger, newer and arguably better MGM studios.
The Brent-Walker saga would not have happened (or would it?) and we
might still have a big studio complex to rival Pinewood in
Borehamwood. Sadly, we can't re-write history.
few films were made in 1970 - including The
Railway Children and some of Kubrick's A
Clockwork Orange, but
times were tough in the industry. Jason
King and The Protectors
occupied a stage or two from 1970 - 1973 but there was very little
other television work. The Protectors was
produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (this was shortly after the
various 'Supermarionation' puppet series). They were offered it
by Lew Grade on a take it or leave it basis. They thought if
they turned it down he wouldn't offer them anything again - so they
took it. Most was shot on location all over Europe but the
production was based at Elstree and some interiors were shot on
wrapped early in 1973 no other television drama was made that year at
Elstree and only a handful of features were shot. By the end of
the year MGM withdrew from its part ownership. The permanent
studio staff went from 479 to 256. The name went back to EMI
Elstree Studios and the
situation was looking decidedly bleak for their future. Two
films mostly kept the studios alive during 1974 - Murder
on the Orient Express
and something of a contrast -
Confessions of a Window Cleaner.
No TV productions were made.
did at last pick up in 1975 when George Lucas decided to make the
first Star Wars
film at Elstree. Arguably, he saved Elstree from going
under. He provided invaluable business for the studios over the
next few years with the following two Star Wars
episodes and the Indiana Jones series.
film work was patchy and uneven and there was little TV production -
an exception being The Return of the Saint
('77-'78). This was to be the last TV series ITC made in these studios.
should be mentioned that the famous promo for Bohemian Rhapsody was
shot here in 1975 on one of the original four stages. Queen had
been rehearsing their tour and that extraordinary pop video was
quickly knocked off in a few hours one evening.
were more positive signs in 1978. EMI decided to build a huge
new stage - stage 6 - which was intended to be used for The
Empire Strikes Back. The stage was
250ft x 122ft and 45ft high. It was completed by the
summer of 1979.
after months of pre-planning, Stanley Kubrick began filming his
horror classic The Shining
in 1978 on stages 1 - 4 and the back lot.
had filmed Lolita here
in 1962, some of A Clockwork Orange
in 1970, and previously 2001: A Space Odyssey
in the MGM studios just down the road. That ground-breaking
film had occupied seven of the ten stages on the MGM site for three
years (1965-1967) and sometimes spread to stages here at ABPC Elstree
and to Shepperton. Kubrick was not known for rushing the making
of a film and he occupied the site for many months with The
the filming of this definitive horror film, stage 3 contained one of
the huge sets of the interior of the 'Overlook Hotel.' As
principal photography on the film was ending, the set caught fire and
caused extensive damage to the stage. Adjoining stages also
received some damage - the total cost was £1.25m.
extraordinary Stanley Kubrick, in the ruins of stage 3. I've
looked at this photo on many occasions and can't decide how I feel
about it. Is he happy that he has almost completed the movie
and is simply enjoying the moment? Or is this one of those
occasions when in the midst of tragedy someone says something darkly
humorous and laughter is a way of breaking the tension.
However, at the back of my mind I can't quite separate this from the
manic look of Jack Nicholson in the closing scenes of The
those wishing to get a glimpse of how the backstage areas of the
original studios looked - I suggest buying a DVD of The
The extras contain a short documentary filmed by Kubrick's daughter,
Vivian. She begins a sequence interviewing Jack Nicholson in
his dressing room. He walks out and down the stairs to one of
the entrances to stage 4, which leads into a corridor of the Overlook
Hotel. The set looks utterly convincing - it was fully
ceilinged so once on set there was no way of telling that you were
not in the actual hotel, in deep winter high in the Rocky mountains
of the USA.
exterior of the hotel was built on the Elstree back lot - the snow
piled up in front of the building was in fact salt. Falling
snow was tiny polystyrene balls, dropped from giant hoppers suspended
by cranes. Unfortunately it blew all over Borehamwood and made
a bit of a mess of local gardens. I'm sure the neighbours saw
the funny side of that.
For those who
simply can't believe that the Overlook Hotel was built in
Borehamwood, here it is. It was sited more or less where stage
1 now stands. Behind it in this photo was stage 9, to the left
behind the wall of the 'maze' are the workshops and the roof of the
old stage 5.
documentary also contains a sequence where the young film-maker
walks with the camera along a firelane in stage 1 and turns into the
famous snow-filled maze that is the scene of the climax to the
film. For those familiar with The Shining,
and even for someone like myself with a lifetime working in studios,
it is quite bizarre to think that these scenes in such an iconic
movie were made in Borehamwood. (The daytime maze scenes were
shot on the back lot at the old MGM studios - even though they were
atmospheric shot is the first frame of Vivian Kubrick's excellent
documentary. I hope she won't mind me borrowing it to
illustrate how the old studios looked.
It shows the
exterior of stages 3 and 4 during the late 1970s. The windows
are dressing rooms, make-up areas and production offices associated
with the stages which are just a few feet the other side of these rooms.
architectural style is typical of the post-war period and must have
looked very smart when it opened in 1948.
This piece of
land is now part of Tesco's car park.
1979 Thorn, the electrical giant, amalgamated with EMI. Thus Thorn
EMI Elstree Studios were
created. An interesting offshoot of this development was that
Thorn had been developing a new type of lamp to replace the old arc
lights previously used on film locations and often in the studios
too. These new HMI lights were much smaller, more efficient and
much easier to use than the old 'brutes'. Thorn were keen to
see them used so they were offered to Lucas for The
Empire Strikes Back. Always
enthusiastic about new technology he took them on location and was
highly impressed. HMI lamps are now used worldwide on film and
is said that the delay caused by the fire on stage 3 prevented
George Lucas from starting The Empire
Strikes Back at his planned
time. Director Irvin Kershner actually began principal
photography on location in March 1979 but his shooting schedule was
severely disrupted by all the repairs and rebuilding going on at
Elstree. Also, stage 6 was not completed at the planned time
and they began shooting on it before it was totally finished. I
assume it did at least have a roof. This stage was used to
house the Millenium Falcon, which was 65 feet in diameter, with an
overall length of 80 ft. It also contained the sets for the
jungle on the planet Dagobah and the rebel HQ on the ice planet
Hoth. Remember that when you are next shopping for frozen chips
for those who like such facts - I have read that stage 8 is where
the first shot of the first Star
Wars movie was
made in 1975. Well... possibly. Stage 8 was apparently
the one used for Jabba the Hutt's Throne Room - we all remember that
scene I'm sure. It was also used for part of the interior of
the Millennium Falcon (see below). Stage 9 was the interior of
Yoda's house in The Empire Strikes Back. I have also
read that stage 8 is where the snake pit scene was filmed in Raiders
of the Lost Ark.
Well... maybe. Almost certainly, some scenes were shot on
stages 7, 8 and 9 in all those movies but which ones are up for
debate. The other stages used were lost to the Tesco's
redevelopment - more on this later.
is stage 6 under construction, early 1979. This became known
as the 'Star Wars Stage.' It is where the Tescos store now
stands. The steel was used to construct stages R and S at
Shepperton after it was dismantled in 1989. Stage 6 was about
30,000 sq ft - the same size as the new Attenborough and Q stages at Pinewood.
completed stage 6 from the air. To its left is stage 5.
The workshops at the top of frame still exist as part of the Elstree
Studios lot although the near ends of them were cut off.
well-known photograph with some familiar faces, taken in 1979.
This is The Empire Strikes Back
and is on stage 8, currently used as a TV studio by BBC
S&PP. The set on the left is the interior of the Millennium
Falcon. The stairs in the corner now lead to the TV control
rooms and the door on the right to the camera store.
don't ask for permission to use this or any other photograph
commercially - it is copyright and is shown here for educational and
was no television work in 1979 and for a number of years it remained
patchy. In 1980 ATV worked on the six episodes of their film series
Shillingbury Tales and Euston Films
returned to studio filming in 1982 to make the twelve-part Thames TV
drama series Reilly - Ace of Spies.
The Hammer House Of Mystery And Suspense
series of 13 feature-length TV movies was based here in 1983 although
only one episode was filmed on a stage - the rest on location.
was the year Jim Henson and Frank Oz made their extraordinary
feature The Dark Crystal at Elstree. They were of course
very familiar with all the joys of Borehamwood, having made The
Muppet Show over the road in ATV's studios between 1975 and 1980.
photo above shows Elstree Studios in 1982 - then known as 'Thorn-EMI
Elstree Studios.' At that time there were 9 stages. The
large block in the centre of the picture with the zig-zag roofs
contained stages 1-4, constructed in 1948. The one top left
(stage 3) has been rebuilt with a flat roof. It was severely
damaged by fire in 1979 during the completion of filming of The
The huge one at the back was stage 6 and was built for The
Empire Strikes Back
in 1979. It was 250 x 122 feet. Stage 5 was the
square-shaped building with the pitched roof in the upper centre.
triangular shape top centre was the outdoor tank which was built in
1955 for Moby
starring Gregory Peck. For the last several years it has been
where the Big
house is situated.
studios look quite different now. The red line through the
middle of the site indicates approximately where the divide was
between the remaining film studios on the left and what became
Tesco's and its car park on the right. Thus, 6 stages were lost
in 1989. There is little doubt that if these had been kept
rather than being sold off, they would now be extremely busy due to
the current shortage of studios.
long block on the left contains stages 7, 8 and 9 - now operated by
BBC Studios and Post Production.
years of gradual decline, American moviemakers Cannon Films bought
the studios in 1986 and having changed the name to Cannon
immediately made the appalling Superman 4.
They had previously been having enormous success making popular
action movies and needed more studio space. Unfortunately their
profitability was short-lived and they lost huge amounts on a run of
flops. In 1989 the company went bust.
- before that there was a significantly successful feature filmed
here in 1987 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit? starring Bob Hoskins,
Christopher Lloyd and a load of cartoon characters. The story
goes that director Robert Zemeckis asked Steven Spielberg where he
recommended he should make the movie. Spielberg immediately
suggested Elstree and the film was made using many of the same crew
that had worked on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones features.
The animation elements were prepared using British artists and
technicians and then sent to Disney and ILM in America for
completion. Incidentally, the scene at the conclusion of the
film was shot in one of the old disused Central Line generator
buildings in Wood Lane, opposite TV Centre. For those who
worked at TVC - have a look at the film and it suddenly looks very
familiar! These two distinctive buildings have been preserved
next to Westfield shopping centre and are now a bus garage, sadly no
longer a portal into Toon Town.
Jones and the Last Crusade, the third movie in the franchise,
helped to keep the studios going in 1988, although most of the film
was shot on location. This ended the run of titles made by
George Lucas at Elstree.
the Cannon ownership there was also a little TV production - four
episodes of Inspector Morse,
made by Central TV's production arm Zenith, were based here in
1988. One source claims that TVS also made the Channel 4 series The
StoryTeller - recording nine episodes and
a further four the following year under the revised title The
StoryTeller: Greek Myths. However,
Dennis Weinreich has contacted me and pointed out that it was
actually made at Wembley studios. He was the dubbing mixer and
visited the set several times. So possibly only the second
series was made here. Can you help with this confusion?
scenes for the BBC's experimental high definition video drama The
Ginger Tree were definitely recorded in
stage 9 in August 1989. This was the first time I worked at
these studios and I remember it well. My impression was that
the site was pretty run down with little evidence of any work going
on in the other stages and the stage we were working in was
filthy! Little did I suspect that 24 years later I would return
to light various sitcoms in that same stage.
plan of the studios as issued to people working there during the mid
1980's. Note the John Maxwell Building to the left of the block
containing stages 1-4. Areas A and B were carpenters'
workshops, which in the late '90s would be adapted into stages 5 and 6.
it shows the tank later used for the site of the Big
Brother House being used as a car park.
on the plan to see in in greater resolution.
thanks to the Avengerland website
1989 the studios were sold to property developer Brent Walker, who
had made a few films under the 'Goldcrest' name. The site
became known as Goldcrest
the claimed intention of modernising the studios on a more compact
site they sold off about half the land enabling a Tesco supermarket
to be built. As many as six stages were demolished, although
stage 6 - the huge one built for The Empire
Strikes Back - was dismantled and sold to
Shepperton. The steel was stored and eventually used to build
the R and S stages there with some remaining pieces going into the W stage.
1990 Brent Walker signed a planning agreement to run the remaining
site as studios for 25 years. However, in 1993 they announced
the planned closure of the studios because of financial difficulties
caused by the economic recession, hoping to sell the remainder of the
site off to be developed as a shopping centre. This
announcement was very poorly received by people in the industry,
local residents and the local council. A prolonged dispute
erupted between Brent Walker and the council during which the studios
were hardly used and their condition deteriorated. I can find
only two TV series made during this period - The BBC drama series Love
Hurts was filmed at the studio in 1993 and
the beginning of the following year saw
Little Napoleons in production here.
1995 the gates closed and Elstree became virtually derelict.
Anything of any value - even carpet tiles, old office chairs and
literally kitchen sinks - were sold off by Brent Walker to raise a
few pounds. They switched off the heating and allowed rain and
cold weather to damage the remaining buildings. Headed by Paul
Welsh MBE a three year 'Save Our Studios' campaign was organised
involving local residents, studio employees and filmmakers.
Brent Walker finally agreed to sell the site to Hertsmere Borough
Council for £1.9m.
studios were taken over by Hertsmere in February 1996 and leased to
a management company in April who renamed them Elstree
Film and TV Studios.
management contract came to an end in March 2007.)
immediately the new company carried out some improvements and began
to attract new work. Stages 5 and 6 were created by adapting
some workshop space within the John Maxwell Building. Two large
new stages (1 and 2) were completed in 1999. Each is 135 x 116
ft (15,660 sq ft) and 50ft to the grid. Somewhat confusingly,
the whole building containing both stages is known as 'The George
Lucas Stage' in recognition of his work here in years gone by.
He also filmed a few pick-up scenes on these stages for episodes 1 - 3.
Wars was one of the first TV shows to use
the new stages - using an OB unit for facilities. One of the
first movies to be filmed in the George Lucas stage was The
Guide to the Galaxy (2004). Somehow
it seems right that with Elstree being the original home of Star
Wars it should also be host to this homage
to space sci-fi.
sound stages/studios currently on site are 1 and 2 (mentioned above)
but there is no stage 3 or 4. Not yet at least. Stage 5
is 95 x 57 feet and is a silent stage with limited facilities adapted
from a workshop. Stage 6 is about 62ft x 62ft and was also
converted from a workshop area a few years ago. It has a resin
TV floor and rooms that can be used as control areas. However,
there are no technical facilities, no cyclorama tracks and it has a
very basic chain and tackle type grid. The floor was originally
laid for the kids' series The
used the rooms next to the studio as workshops, green room and a
control area but when that series ended all the technical equipment
7, 8 and 9 were all built in 1966 with future TV use in mind and
have telescope lighting grids but until the BBC moved here there were
for many years only a handful of very old 'scopes available for
use. Stage 7 is about 78 x 65 feet wall to wall. It has a
resin floor and a suite of Portacabins originally fitted out as
control rooms in the covered way behind the stages. These were
built by Tell-Tale, the production company who made 390 episodes
in this studio between 1998 and 2001. The Portacabins have no
equipment installed but flyaway kit can of course be used on an
ad-hoc basis. This stage is currently still part of the normal
Elstree Studios package - not BBC S&PP - although it is often
used to make single-camera TV shows, some of which are shown on BBC
channels. For example, in the spring of 2013 another series of Horrible
8 and 9 are both about 98 x 78 feet wall to wall and originally had
wooden floors. Each also had a 30 x 31 x 9ft tank (now covered
over). These stages are thus the magic 90 x 72ft within
firelanes which makes them very useful spaces for making television
programmes of many types - especially those with studio
audiences. The stages were originally linked by a passage
between them with doors at each end but the stage 8 doors were
bricked up during the BBC TV conversion in 2013. There is a TV
gallery suite between them at first floor level but this was not
fitted out until around 1990 when a company called ESP, run by Derek
Oliver, had the contract to provide technical facilities to make TV
shows in stage 9.
sitcom series were made between 1990 and 1993. Series 2 of Birds
of a Feather
was probably the first (series 1 was recorded in TC6 in TV
Centre.) The cameras were Sony 330s and the crews were
freelance - many were ex-Limehouse which had recently closed.
Other shows included Clive
Anderson Talks Back, Drop the Dead Donkey, Nightingales and
which included a very young Kate Winslet in the cast. Most of
these were made by Alomo Productions.
the mid 90s a few other multicamera TV programmes have also been
recorded in these stages - using OB units for facilities. Smack
the Pony and
the fourth series of the quiz show
The revamped version of the BBC children's series Jackanory
was made here in 2006 and 2007. CBBC's Space
recorded here in stage 7 in 2007.
around 1998 the control rooms were occupied by production offices on
a semi-permanent basis for Who
Wants To Be A Millionaire?
That show used stage 9 with the set remaining permanently rigged,
ending its regular run in 2010. It used an OB truck parked
outside for facilities but the lighting control was in the camera
store room just off the stage floor.
2006 and 2007 a kids' TV series - Jim
Jam and Sunny
- was made in stage 8. TV drama continues to use the studios -
shot on film or single camera digital video. Kavanagh
QC and Secret
Diary of a Call Girl
are notable examples.
two stages in the George Lucas building... (Why DID they call it
'The George Lucas Stage' when there are two stages? Bonkers.)
...anyway, stages 1 and 2 have proved popular for large scale TV
productions since they opened in 1999. Robot
Wars was an
early booking and in more recent years stage 2 was the home of Dancing
on Ice from
2006 to 2014 (except for 2011 when the stage was being used for a
feature film). Other TV shows made in either of these large
stages have included a Michael Bublé Christmas special for ITV
in 2011, Let's
Dance for Sport Relief in
2012 and the closing rounds of The
Come Dancing was
based in stage 1 from September - December 2013 and stage 2 was the
home of the show in 2014. Stage 1 was where somewhat less
well-received BBC series Tumble was made in 2014. Moving
course, one of the most famous TV shows to occupy the site in recent
years has been Big
The house was constructed in the 131ft x 196ft outdoor tank on the
back lot (originally built for the film Moby Dick
in 1955) and stage 1 was used for the studio sequences. The
house is redesigned and partly rebuilt each year. BB
began in 2000, using Three Mills studios. After a couple of
series it moved to Elstree in 2002. The show was axed by
Channel 4 in 2010 but it was taken over by Channel 5 who continue to
use the facilities at Elstree. The BB
house and associated area occupy quite a large area and one could
imagine that once this show is finally axed (it can't go on for ever,
surely) that space would be an obvious site to construct another
stage. Having said that, in the summer of 2013 Elstree Studios
applied for planning permission to keep the BB
House for 5 more years. The permission was granted.
January between 2006 and 2010 the George Lucas stages were
both being used for live TV shows. ITV Productions turned stage
2 into an ice rink to make Dancing on Ice whilst
Celebrity Big Brother was coming from stage
1 next door. Across from the BB House a workshop was used as
the studio for Big Brother's Little Brother
and a few yards away in stage 9 Who Wants To
Be A Millionnaire was also being recorded
on some of these days. In fact, in some weeks around that
period in all five years more prime-time television was coming from
these film studios than from some television centres.
recent years, Elstree Studios have been enjoying success with a mix
of commercials, single-camera TV dramas and multi-camera children's
and entertainment productions. Encouragingly, there are also a
few feature films each year that use these these stages for all or
part of their filming schedule - for example, Sky
Captain and the World of Tomorrow
(2004), the highly acclaimed drama Proof
(2005) with Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins,
Notes on a Scandal
(2005) with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, horror movie 1408
(2006) starring John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson and The
Other Boleyn Girl
(2006) with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman. 2007 saw Wild
Child, Made of Honor, A Number
recent films to use these stages have included Is
There Anybody There? ('08),
Harry Brown ('09),
Devil's Playground ('10),
The King's Speech ('10),
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ('11),
The Veteran ('11),
X-Men: First Class ('11),
Jack the Giant Killer ('12),
the Skin ('12),
Hyde Park on Hudson ('12),
Comes a Bright Day ('12),
World War Z ('13),
The World's End ('12) Paddington ('13).
The Pacifica saga
might have thought that Elstree's future was very much assured.
However, throughout much of 2006 there were rumours reported in the
local press that there were problems associated with finding a new
management company to take over in April 2007. Some claimed
that the lack of a decision by the summer of 2006 was affecting
long-term bookings. There was also said to be a report
commissioned by the local council, who own the studios, that advised
selling off the site for housing.
these fears proved unfounded. Several companies expressed an
interest in taking over management of the studios and the winner,
announced on 31st January 2007, was an American firm - Pacifica
Ventures. They were the management company that ran Culver
Studios from April 2004 to October 2006 - they owned the brand new
Albuquerque Studios in New Mexico and were planning to open a
new centre in Kiev. They seemed ideal. Pacifica stated
that they planned to invest heavily in the Elstree site and restore
its use as a major studio for the making of feature films. In
January 2007 they unveiled their preliminary proposals which included:
to train people in film-related crafts.
new sound stages on asbestos-contaminated land at the rear of the site.
new sound stages to replace workshops.
new gateway and entrance buildings.
permanent streetscene at the back of the site.
of existing stages and Big Brother house.
with the council were expected to take three to four months.
negotiations seemed to be very positive at first but rumours of
problems began to emerge. It appeared that one of the sticking
points was over the disposal of the earth mound that covered what
remained of the back lot. This is where two large stages were
to be built but 'The Mound' contained asbestos, which of course is
very expensive to dispose of. This is said to have come from
the roofs of the original stages that Brent Walker demolished.
It seems that the contractors simply dumped the spoils onto the grass
of the back lot, thus preventing it from being used again.
the talks there were various stories reported in the press
concerning legal action affecting one or more directors of the
company in the US. Whether this affected the council's decision
is not clear. Whatever the reason, in July 2007 it was
announced that the negotiations had officially ended. Some
weeks earlier Pacifica's vice president, corporate development - Matt
Rauchberg - contacted me and he explained the situation from his
were very keen to become involved in running a studio in the UK and
Elstree was their number one choice. They were impressed with
the Elstree site - in particular stages 1 and 2 - but didn't see the
studios as viable for attracting film work without building more
- as mentioned above - a serious issue was what to do with the Mound
and its asbestos. Pacifica were planning to build two or even
three large stages on this five acre site. They saw this as
essential to the future of the studios. The company put up a
significant figure as a contribution to its clean-up, hoping that the
council, as owners of the site, would contribute the rest. The
total was unknown as no recent environmental study assessing the
clean-up costs had been carried out, which clearly posed a problem
for both sides.
fact of course, in 2013/2014 the Mound was eventually cleared - the
local council paying £4.5m from various funds to carry this out.)
major issue that appears to have stalled the talks is that of
liability. There have been a growing number of cases recently
where people in the industry have sued the owners of studios over
asbestos contamination. It seems that at least one previous
employee of the studios has sought compensation for his contracting
cancer during the Cannon Film days. Quite understandably,
Pacifica didn't see why they should take on the responsibility for
unlimited future claims over something that was plainly nothing to do
more information, there is a public letter released by Pacifica
Ventures that explains their position in greater detail. It can be
found on www.borehamwoodtimes.co.uk/display.var.1559188.0.0.php.
with the collapse of the negotiations the studios remained under the
ownership of the local council who also had to manage them for the
time being. According to news reports at the time this was
expected to be for up to three years. It's pretty obvious that
this arrangement will now continue indefinitely. Reflecting the
change in circumstances, the name changed in April 2007 - at first to 'Elstree
then in 2008 simply to 'Elstree
perhaps recognising the equal importance of television work to the business.
October 2008 Hertsmere Council advertised widely for a new managing
director. It seems they had decided that rather than attempt
again to sell the lease to a management company they would continue
to own the studios but appoint an experienced manager who could run
them at arm's length from the council.
person appointed was Roger Morris - previously head of Teddington
Studios during the years when they were run by Barnes Trust. He
took up his post at the beginning of 2009 and immediately brought a
great deal of enthusiasm to making the studios successful.
really good news is that the future of the studios is looking more
secure now than at any time in its long history. This is all
very encouraging and Roger Morris is to be congratulated in
continuing the successful running of the studios, which are said to
generate 16% of the local council's income for its ratepayers.
As well as negotiating the deal with BBC S&PP he has also begun
work on building a new stage and in July 2013 a planning application
was lodged to allow the Big Brother House to stay for 5 more years.
July 2010 Variety newspaper in the US published an article claiming
that Elstree were planning to build two new stages - one at 15,000 sq
ft and the other an impressive 30,000 sq ft. In August of that
year, Roger Morris clarified the position. He was in fact
looking into the feasibility of building one, possibly two more
stages. He was quoted as saying that he is having to turn work
away because of lack of studio space. This of course is similar
to what Pacifica also planned, and for the same reason.
According to press reports, a suitable investor was being actively
sought. Although the George Lucas building cost £5m in
1999, that was paid off long ago and those two stages are now
generating useful income so building more large stages could indeed
represent an attractive proposition.
nothing appeared to happen regarding this development over the
following year, there were press reports in November 2011 stating
that Roger Morris was in talks with financial backers over plans to
raise '£10m' to build a new 30,000 sq ft stage. Perhaps
spurred on by Pinewood constructing one of a similar size (plus
another in 2013) he is reported as saying that he hoped to build the
stage 'within 24 months.' In the summer of 2012 I read that it
was hoped to have the new stage open in 2013.
November 2012 the press reported that a £2m loan had been
agreed with the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership's 'Growing
Places' fund. Hertsmere Council would also be providing
£2.5m from its reserves. This would enable 4 acres of land
to be cleared (The Mound). Site clearance and construction were
due to begin early in 2013. This total figure of £4.5m was
quite a bit less than the previous estimate of £10m for the
development but it turned out it was simply the cost of clearing the
Mound and its asbestos.
what would eventually be constructed was not confirmed but according
to a report in Broadcast it was at the time planned to include a
16,000 sq ft stage. It was estimated that the new facilities,
once constructed, would generate an additional £0.5m revenue per year.
winter and spring of 2013 came and went but no work was done on the
site. However, clearance work did commence at last in the
middle of September. There
were press reports that a new stage would open in 2014 - although
how big it would be were not confirmed. However, a report on
the website www.broadcastnow.co.uk on 3rd October 2013 quoted Roger
Morris as saying (perhaps rather surprisingly) that there were at
that time no firm plans to build a stage on the cleared Mound.
The decision on whether to build stages and workshops or to leave it
as a backlot would be left to client demand. He is quoted as
saying "The market is bigger than the current conventional
studio structure can cope with, so the studios have to catch up with
the market." Pick the bones out of that.
what it's worth - here's what I think they should build: Two
stages of 20,000sq ft and 10,000 sq ft, with well designed
grids having good access much like those at Leavesden, enabling quick
relighting. There would have to be associated workshops to
construct sets and plenty of space linking the stages for
prop/costume/lighting storage. A well appointed suite of
production offices and dressing rooms would be essential - along with
ample car parking. This would enable a medium sized film to be
based here, separate from the rest of the site which is now very TV
biased. The 2 stages would make it possible to shoot in one
whilst construction and lighting are happening in the other.
All this would fit very nicely on the Mound site and enable Elstree
to regain its reputation as a studio for making world-class
movies. Of course, stages 1 and/or 2 would be available to such
features too when not being used for TV so quite ambitious films
could be made here.
it appears they have ignored my carefully considered advice
(ahem). I gather there are plans to construct an exterior set
representing Westminster in the 1950s, ranging from large houses to
bombed-out streets. Planning permission has been applied for to
allow the set to stand for up to 6 years. It is thought that it
will be used by a new 10 part Netflix drama called The Crown,
directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Peter Morgan - the same
partnership who created the play The Audience and the film The
Queen. The series is based on the relationship between the
Monarch and her government. Each season will cover a decade of
her realm - hence the plans to keep the set (which will have to be
updated of course) for a number of years. Personally, I'm not
sure that this is the best use of this land - a couple of stages
would have been far more useful to the film and TV industry in
general but I imagine that it hasn't been possible to raise the
capital to construct those facilities. A great deal of money
was spent on clearing the site and now a quick source of income is
needed, so to be fair, this is a good deal to have secured in the
circumstances. One assumes that interior sets will use one or
both of the George Lucas stages.
Above is a
photo released in May 2014 showing the cleared Mound.
Meanwhile, architects Caradoc-Hodgkins have published the images
below on their website. They carried out feasibility studies
including a master plan for the development of the whole site
including new stages. The computer image shows a proposed stage
3 (approx 300 x 100ft) and the site plan also indicates another
building that might be a small stage or a workshop - the resolution
of the image is not great enough to read what it says. The site
plan is shown here upside down so it ties in with all the photos of
BBC move in!
August 2012 the official announcement came that BBC Studios and Post
Production (S&PP) would be moving here in April 2013 from
Television Centre. (They are continuing to occupy their BBC
Elstree Centre studios over the road in Borehamwood. Studio D
there has been refurbished). Some in the industry had known
about this for many months but final negotiations between S&PP
and Elstree took months to conclude. Work began on converting
the stages into well equipped studios at the end of 2012.
8 and 9 have been provided with TV floors, wallboxes and other basic
infrastructure. The very shabby walls have been covered with
smart black fabric. Most of the steelwork has been repainted
and stairs to the galleries in stage 8 refurbished. There are
prop stores on the opposite side of the roadway a few yards away and
the costume/make-up block has been redecorated. S&PP also
has a workshop on site for storage. The grids have been
equipped with monopoles/telescopes - some were brought over from BBC
Elstree whilst others were purchased from the 3sixtymedia studios in
Manchester ex studio 6. Each stage now has a number of
motorised scenic hoists that can be positioned where required.
fact the old monopoles bought from 3sixtymedia proved to be less
effective than had been hoped. Having two types of 'scopes in
one studio also made lighting rigs and finelights very slow. In
the summer of 2013 a decision was therefore taken to purchase 200
brand new monopoles from MTS - the same as were supplied to
Pinewood's studio TV-two. These monopoles are excellent and
certainly speed up lighting time. They are just equipping stage
9 leaving stage 8 with surplus 'scopes from BBC Elstree.
currently turn around over a couple of days - not overnight as was
the case at TVC. In fact, the most that can normally be
achieved here is two shows per week in each studio - standing sets
being preferred when possible. However, in the autumn of 2014
three shows were turned around per week in one of the studios by
keeping all the lighting rigs in position and flying them in and out
for each show. The productions were Never Mind the
Buzzcocks, Celebrity Juice and Sweat the Small Stuff.
large Portacabin-type building has been constructed at the end of
the studio block to service stage 9. This contains lighting,
sound and production control galleries. These certainly feel
very comfortable and spacious inside and not at all 'temporary.'
Much of the kit from studio TC8 at TV Centre equipped these
galleries along with some new purchases. Other Portacabins
provide production office and technical apparatus room facilities.
the TV galleries between stages 8 and 9 were fitted out and are used
for stage 8. These galleries are very smart and are well
designed and equipped. Some kit was new whilst the rest
including HD cameras came from TC4.
7 - at least for the time being - remains operated by the Elstree
Studios management and is usually busy with single-camera drama
work. However, it already has a TV floor and Portacabin control
rooms (albeit with no kit in them) left over from a previous long
term TV booking. It could therefore become part of the S&PP
portfolio with relatively little capital expense involved if there
was a good business case made for this.
few years ago not many people would have predicted that this would
be painted on stage 8's dock door in 2013.
1 in the George Lucas building was used for Strictly
in 2013- with a standing set for the series. The dance floor
was enlarged from how it was in TC1 and a much bigger audience was
accommodated. This was set further back which gave the
impression on screen of a much larger room - which of course it
is. One does wonder how keen the production team will be to
return to a much smaller TC1 if they get used to this bigger
space. It would certainly look much more cramped on
screen. In 2014 the show moved to stage 2 - which is identical
very well-equipped control room suite has been built at ground floor
level within the production block that runs down the side of the
stages. It has a mix of new kit and some removed from TC1.
Access is very quick from the galleries to the floor of stage 1 or
stage 2 for that matter. These galleries can easily service
either stage 1 or stage 2 - as they did for Tumble and Strictly
in the autumn of 2014.
have worked on a couple of shows in stage 9 and was on the whole
impressed with what has been done with the galleries and technical
fit-up. The lighting installation in the grid was initially
very basic and slow to operate but with the new monopoles it has been
improved somewhat. Unfortunately, the electrical distribution
is still temporary - there are no boxes in the grid or at floor level
with convenient outlets to plug in lights as there are at BBC
Elstree, Pinewood, Teddington or TLS. Everything is connected
via trailing Socapex cables to temporary dimmer racks which can be
slow and confusing to operate.
lack of off-studio space with easy access to store scenery and props
has proved to be a bit of a problem. The working area is 90 x
72 metric feet, the same as TC8 at TVC but it does feel more cramped
- probably because the firelanes are much narrower - particularly
those along the sides of the studio.
is clear is that on the whole, the equipping has not been carried
out as a temporary fix. It has mostly been done properly, is
well thought out and I am sure that those who work in these
stages/studios who knew what they were like before will be
impressed. (As long as they get a car park space.)
However, let nobody be under any illusion that these stages are a
direct replacement for the lost studios at Television Centre.
They bear no comparison at all.
current rental deal runs until April 2017- it was extended in 2014
when S&PP admitted the bleedin' obvious fact that they could not
return to a building site at TVC in 2015. It is an interesting
question whether they will keep these two stages on after 2017.
I suspect they will as long as Elstree Studios don't ask for an
unreasonable amount of rent. They have invested in new lighting
telescopes and of course all the technical equipment and cameras came
from TV Centre, is paid for, and most of it will still be good for
another two or three years, although by 2017 the cameras in stage 9
will be 11 years old.
three studios at TV Centre will have to be re-equipped from scratch
- probably with 4K capable kit - so the equipment here at Elstree
will not I imagine be returning. I also think that S&PP
will hang on to their gallery suite for stages 1 and 2. It's a
relatively small commitment and I reckon that Strictly will
stay here until it eventually dies.
1955 - when Associated-Rediffusion started to film programmes here
because they feared that their Wembley studios might not be ready -
to the present day, since television dramas are still filmed here,
these studios have played a part in our television history. As
well as single camera drama the stages have also from time to time
seen various shows recorded on tape using outside broadcast units.
has one of the largest number of sound stages of any studio site in
Europe - currently 15. However, it began many years ago - like
several UK film studios - growing up around a grand house and
estate. In this case, Littleton Park - a 17th century
manor house surrounded by 60 acres. The house has changed
considerably over the years and was extensively rebuilt at the end
of the 19th century following a fire.
1928 Norman Loudon bought the estate. He was a camera
manufacturer but also made a small fortune selling 'flicker' books
that gave an impression of movement when flicked with a
thumb. His ambitions were rather greater however and in 1932 he
founded Sound City Film Producing and
Recording Studios. Two stages were
constructed in the grounds - one at 110ft x 80 ft and later a second
stage 80ft x 45ft. These eventually became stages L and M.
The larger one was destroyed during the Second World War although it
was rebuilt to a slightly smaller size. L is now 100ft x 65ft
and was still in use in 2014, although it is due to be demolished
eventually as part of the planned redevelopment of the site.
to see in greater detail
1936 stages A/B and C/D were constructed. (A and C are 150ft x
120ft; B and D are 100ft x 120ft) These still form the
hub of the site. They were superbly designed, with excellent
sound insulation and ventilation plants. They form two pairs
that are separated by connecting doors, so a very long set can
be constructed if necessary.
ability to link two of the stages was, incidentally, used for the
2008 series of Gladiators
- made for Sky 1. The show was made on stages A and B and was
shot in HD using an OB unit for facilities.
page from the Architects' Journal, August 1936. The care taken
in the construction of these stages is obvious.
on the image to see it in higher resolution.
City' in the late '30s. Stages A/B and C/D dominate the site
with the earlier L and M beyond. Littleton House is on the left
and still surrounded by gardens.
photo taken in 2009 shows some of the oldest stages at Shepperton,
their smart steel facing disguising their age. In the
background are the large stages C and A - the B stage is just visible
in the background. In front of A at a slight angle is L -
originally constructed in the 1930s and rebuilt after the war.
Foreground on the right is the smaller M stage. All the
buildings in the foreground will be lost and 2 new stages built if
the Shepperton Master Plan is ever carried out.
thanks to Rotten Tomatoes
the war the four large stages were used at first to store sugar,
later to manufacture bomber parts when the Vickers-Armstrong factory
a few miles away suffered a direct hit. Meanwhile, thousands of
decoy aircraft, tanks and guns were built in the scenery construction
workshops. These were used to help confuse the pilots of enemy
aircraft both in the UK and in North Africa.
the war in 1945 Sound City reopened, with all four large stages plus
the smaller L stage. A year later Shepperton was bought by
successful film maker Alexander Korda, who renamed it British
Lion Studio Company.
around 1952/3 the huge H stage was moved here from Worton Hall
Studios, Isleworth. At the time it was the largest stage in
Europe at 250ft x 120ft or 30,000 sq ft. Faced in sheets of
corrugated iron, it is probably the ugliest film stage in the UK but
my word, it is big. (It is similar in area to the Attenborough
stage and new Q stage at Pinewood but is longer and narrower.)
It has a small tank but what makes the H stage unique is that the
entire floor area can be flooded. This was for example made use
of in 2004 when it housed the huge set for the Bat Cave in Batman
Begins, complete with flowing river.
A full-scale sailing ship was built in it for Elizabeth: The
Golden Age in
was also used for the spooky forest in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow
in 1998. Most of this feature was shot at Leavesden but this
set consisted of tons of soil and grass, dozens of real trees and was
lit with several hundred space lights - each with its own feed back
to a row of Portacabins. The cables were strung across Studio
Road on a scaffolding bridge and several generators were parked
alongside, the generous electrical feed to the studio being
insufficient for this collossal rig. The spacelights were
individually adjusted in brightness for each shot giving the soft
ambience required - but also providing direction of light.
has proved to be one of the most useful stages in the country over
many years. Under the Shepperton Master Plan the H stage is due
to be demolished and replaced with another of a similar size near
stages J and K but when this will happen is anyone's guess.
Studios, Worton Hall, Isleworth in 1937. The main stage was
built by Alexander Korda in 1935 for the film Things To Come.
Amongst many famous films it was used for The African Queen
('51). Urban legend has it that the parakeets that were used to
'dress' the set on that movie escaped and became the ancestors of the
thousands of breeding pairs that have inhabited the south-west
suburbs of London ever since. Others claim that this is not
true. They say that the movie was made in Isleworth, not
Shepperton which is nearer to where the birds are mostly to be
found. Another source is quite definite that no parakeets were
used in the making of the film. However, other sources are
pretty sure that that some scenes were shot on stages at Shepperton -
so... if those ones did use a parakeet or two then - maybe???
the end of 1946 Worton Hall had formed very close links with
Shepperton, with several productions using stages on both sites to
make their films.
huge stage was moved from here to Shepperton where it became H
stage. Many sources quote the year 1948 for when that happened
but this seems unlikely as Isleworth was busy around then.
Isleworth did not close until 1952, when a loan they had taken out
many years before could not be paid off. This seems a more
likely year therefore for the move of the stage. In fact, as is
mentioned below, stages E, F and G were built at Shepperton in
1953. It seems likely therefore that stage H was re-assembled
after they were completed later in that year.
above thanks to Britain From Above. Link
- photo thanks to Rotten Tomatoes
investment was made in the studios and in 1953 E, F and G stages
were built. (E and F are both 72ft x 44ft; G is 94ft x
72ft) These three stages came into their own in 1955 when
Associated-Rediffusion needed a bank of programmes shot on film to
get them through the first few weeks of broadcasting. Their
Wembley television studios were only just going to be ready in time
for the first transmission date. In Derek Threadgall's
excellent book 'Shepperton Studios, an independent view' he quotes
Peter Graham Scott...
May 1955 onwards we made a number of quickly shot films at
Shepperton. I directed three scripts I was able to choose - A
Call on the Widow, The Guv'nor and
All Correct Sir.
Others who made similar films at Shepperton were Robert Hamer, John
Moxey, Charles Saunders and Peter Cotes. A-R had contracted Sir
John Barbirolli of the Halle Orchestra and one of his ideas was to
record eighteen quarter-hour performances by young unknown
soloists. I spent an enjoyable two weeks filming two of these
programmes per day....
was expected to shoot A
Call on the Widow
in four studio days at the unheard of rate of twelve and a half
minutes screen time per day. (The average in film studios was
only two minutes.)
was a particularly lovely summer that year and stages E, F and G
hummed with activity. There was a great spirit of optimism as
we gathered for drinks in the garden of the Old House at the end of
each filming day.'
was one of the greats of the British film industry and under his
stewardship several successful films were made. However, the
company's finances were built on shaky ground. In 1955 the
company was wound up and British Lion Films
took over the assets of its predecessor. Sadly Korda died of a
heart attack in 1956.
1957 the four main stages were modernised with new roofs and grids
but 1961 was the year that saw huge investment here. New
wardrobe blocks for stages A/B, C/D and E F G were constructed.
A 'new' stage - I (124ft x 57ft) - was moved here from Walton Studios
where it had been used in the filming of The
Adventures of Robin Hood which had been
made for ATV. (The I stage was demolished in 2006.) A new
dubbing theatre was also built - this probably also came from Walton.
in the same year the old stable block and distinctive clock tower
were demolished along with the restaurant and bar in the Old House to
make way for stages J and K. These were considerably smaller
than the present J and K. J was 80ft x 36ft and K was a tiny
36ft x 35ft. They were built specifically for screen tests and
to be used for television commercials and dramas - although it
is not recorded how much of this use they actually had.
Certainly, J was too small to be used for anything that needed more
than a simple set or two and K was too small to be used for much at
all other than pack shots or to film a single person for a screen test.
stages were adapted into a three story admin building in 1996 when
the new J and K were built. This was named the David Lean Building.
in the late 1960s. In the foreground is the multistorey car
park that was built in 1967. The dark building at the top right
of the studio site is stage H.
old J and K stages are hardly noticeable in the clutter of
buildings, unlike their later replacements.
L, M and I can be seen behind the 4 main stages.
original entrance to the site can be seen here in the bottom centre
before it was lost to housing in 1977.
1965 Stanley Kubrick made a relatively brief return visit to
Shepperton. Here's a snippet that might be of interest to film
buffs of a certain age and disposition. The first day's
shooting on 2001: A Space Odyssey
was on the H stage. The set was the excavated site on the Moon
where the monolith had been discovered. The 'hole' was 150ft x
50ft x 20 ft deep and at one end had an area representing the Moon's
surface. The first day of shooting this extraordinary film was
December 29th 1965, some three and a half years before a man would
actually step onto the Moon itself. (The majority of the film
was shot at the MGM studios in Borehamwood, where it occupied most of
the stages there for several years.) Oh well - I think it's
Lion's success grew during the 1960s but they were constantly
fighting the overall decline in the British film industry as a
whole. Nevertheless, investment continued - in 1965 L stage was
re-equipped. In fact, between 1958 and 1966 half a million
pounds (a great deal of money at the time) was spent on new buildings
and equipment. Unfortunately, during the '70s the decline began
to seriously affect the viability of British Lion. In 1972, the
company was taken over by Barclay Securities.
They intended to redevelop much of the site (a familiar story
unfortunately) but fortunately and rather surprisingly, tree
preservation orders prevented them from carrying out their plans.
campaign was begun to save the studios which resulted in a deal in
1973, whereby the original studio backlot would be sold off but
twenty acres would be retained, which included all the existing
stages. Barclay Securities was at this time taken over by J
H Vavasseur and Co., who became the new
owners of Shepperton Studios. A new deal was struck that
increased the site by another two acres but the plans included the
proposal to move H stage to another part of the site. It didn't happen.
1974 the studios were said to be in a run-down state. Studio
equipment was sold off to pay for the rebuilding of some roads and
the rewiring of several of the stages. Yet another owner
arrived in June 1975 when British Lion (by then called Lion
International) was bought by Spikings and Deeley. They
shortly afterwards changed the name to Mills
and Allen International.
I hope you're keeping up with all this.
1977 some of the site including the original entrance was sold off
to be used for housing. This saved the studios from
closure. Another part of the site was also threatened but was
leased by a company owned by The Who. They took over six acres
including Littleton House and J and K stages. The redevelopment
of that part of the site was thus prevented.
the 1970s and early '80s stages E, F and G were occupied by a
company called BBRK. They often also used the giant
stage H. This business was owned by four art directors who
specialised in designing sets for distinctive TV commercials.
If you lived through that period you will definitely have seen their
work which helped define the cultural experience of all of us.
Many famous directors shot commercials on their stages on some
extraordinary sets. These included the Cadbury's Smash
Martians, PG Tips chimps, Hamlet cigars and the ad that stopped me
dead in my tracks one day in a cinema on my way to buying an ice
cream - the Benson and Hedges swimming pool. Nobody had seen
anything like these beautifully made commercials before.
Rutter has written to me with an interesting story. It seems
that the builders Taylor Woodrow decided that they needed a studio to
create corporate videos. An offshoot of the company called Kadek
Vision was created and they took out a lease on a construction
workshop in 1977. This was between stages E, F and G and the
canteen block. The two-storey building was gutted and a TV
studio created within it. Initially it was equipped with low
grade Philips Video80 kit but this was later replaced with broadcast
quality cameras and RCA quad VTR machines. They dug a trench to
install cables linking their VTRs with the BBRK stages so that some
ads could be shot on video rather than film. Phil tells me that
they made quite a few. This was pretty ground-breaking but to
be honest, it never really caught on as a replacement to film.
Ads to this day have always tried to look like 30 second features.
1984 a major upturn in the fortunes of Shepperton began when the
whole site, including The Who's land was purchased by the Lee
brothers for £3.6m. They also later took back ownership of
the land occupied by the old H stage, which you'll remember had been
threatened with demolition to make way for more housing. Lee
were running Wembley studios at the time and had had some success
there with a mix of commercials, filmed TV drama and one or two major
feature films a year. Shepperton became Lee
International Studios and a programme of
investment began. In fact, they also kept Wembley on until July
1986 - which at the time rather confusingly also had the name 'Lee
International Film Studios.'
1985 stages L and M were upgraded and new workshops surrounding
stages A/B and C/D were constructed. These included smart new
lighting stores - not surprising considering the new owners.
The following year a stylish new art department building adjoining a
large workshop block was completed.
seemed to be going very well. The company was so confident in
fact, that in 1987 Lee International bought the Panavision
company. This stretched the finances considerably but it looked
like a good idea at the time. Sadly, very shortly afterwards
came 'Black Monday' and huge amounts were wiped off the value of
shares worldwide. The company was in difficulties and other
problems began to emerge which led to a serious fraud office
investigation. Not only that, but film making dried up thanks
to a strike by the US Screen Writers' Guild.
investment bankers Warburg-Pincus bought out the company, and the
Lee brothers lost the influence they had enjoyed over the industry
for many years. The studios continued to operate under the Lee
International name, however. I have read that the emphasis of
operations at Shepperton focused on television production around this
time, but I have yet to establish any typical examples of dramas or series.
new owners continued with the steady programme of investment.
In 1994, R and S stages were opened on the northern edge of the site
alongside H stage. (R is 120ft x 85ft and S is 100ft x
100ft) They were constructed using the steel from the old stage
6 at Elstree, previously built for The
Empire Strikes Back. The original
Elstree stage had been dismantled to make way for a Tesco superstore
and sold to Shepperton. R and S are a different shape from the
one they were built from and in fact some steel remained - it being
used on the later construction of the W stage.
1995 a new chapter began when Ridley and
Tony Scott bought the studios. They
immediately brought an experienced and fresh eye to the studios which
became known simply as 'Shepperton Studios'. Within a few
months they began to develop much of the site with new facilities.
1996 three stages were built. W is 130ft x 80ft and the double
stage J & K are larger - J is 150ft x 100ft and K is 120ft x
100ft. When it opened, the building was one single very large
stage and was used for the film Lost in Space.
After that movie wrapped it was divided into the present two stages
- J & K. The earlier much smaller J and K were adapted to
become The David Lean Building.
next five years saw a period of stability during which the studios
were used for many big British and international movies. By
now, Shepperton was equipped with many good sized stages and a useful
back lot that were attracting film makers. However, they were
in direct competition with Pinewood which was not helping either of
them financially. Each studio was also having to turn movies
down because they weren't quite big enough to fit in all the
potential work. The answer was to combine assets so on 11th
February 2001 a merger with Pinewood was announced and a new company
- Pinewood-Shepperton plc - was formed. They are still known as
Shepperton Studios but are now part of the Pinewood
Studios Group that can now offer
facilities to production companies at this site as well as at Pinewood.
in 2004. Top left is the huge Queen Mary reservoir. The
river Ash borders the site in the foreground.
right are the original stages A/B and C/D. In the foreground
right is the double stage J/K, on the left are stages R/S.
site has seen three areas used as the back lot. Bottom left is
some of the housing that was built on the original back lot that was
sold off in 1977.
relatively small area seen in the foreground above occupied by the W
stage, a car park and J/K stage was the back lot between 1977 and 1996.
current very large back lot is reached by crossing a bridge from the
main site and is off this picture to the right. This land was
not part of the original site and was purchased in the late '90s.
the back lot is a 'Western Street set' of log cabins, originally
constructed for The Golden Compass.
Unusually, it was retained after the movie wrapped as it was thought
to offer a very useful and flexible facility.
May 2004 Pinewood-Shepperton submitted a planning application to
carry out a major rebuilding programme over ten years. It was
intended to increase the amount of square footage of stages and
supporting areas by more than twenty percent. There was a
similar long-term plan submitted for Pinewood. The Pinewood
plan has partly been carried out with some modifications but
relatively little redevelopment actually took place here compared
with what was planned.
September 2006, Pinewood Shepperton plc announced that it had
entered into a joint venture with Morley Fund Management Limited on
behalf of Aviva plc Life Funds. The 50:50 joint venture, called
Shepperton Studio Property Partnership, acquired the 999 year
leasehold interest of Shepperton Studios with a view to further
developing the studio in line with the planning consents achieved by
the company. Thus, the new partnership was to release the
funding necessary to begin the ambitious construction plans mentioned
above. The demolition of stage I and construction of 'I
block' began in late 2006 - the John Mills building being completed
in 2007 and the 60,000 sq ft Gainsborough Building opening in June
2008. The latter block contains offices and facilities for
media companies and additional space for productions currently
shooting on the Shepperton stages. However, since the
announcement, rather disapointingly no new stages were built.
the end of 2014 Pinewood-Shepperton bought out Aviva to become sole
owners of the studios. They paid £36.8m to acquire Aviva's
stake. This will enable them to spend money as they see fit on
improving the site - possibly the other owners were reluctant to
invest heavily in the necessary new facilities.
June 2014 it was announced that the controversial major development
at Pinewood would be going ahead. At the same time and barely
commented upon, Pinewood also stated that 2 new stages would be built
at Shepperton. Maybe the 2004 Master Plan is about to be dusted
off and will be carried out after all.
is the 2004 Master Plan. This was all due to happen over the
following 10 years. Below, how the studios actually looked in
2012. The H stage was planned to be demolished and the land
used to build a car park. A new H stage of similar square
footage but different proportions was to replace it to the south west
of the main hub of stages. Two stages were also planned to
replace L and M along with support facilities. The existing car
park was to be demolished and a large office complex constructed for
media companies. Some of these developments may yet be carried
out over the years to come - in fact in June 2014 Pinewood announced
that 2 new stages would at last be constructed.
on the plans to see in greater detail
thanks to the Pinewood-Shepperton
have hardly mentioned any films made here in the history of the
studio site above. The list is almost endless and is easily
found in several excellent books about Shepperton. However - it
would be wrong not to mention any so here are a few notable ones from
the post-war years...
Ideal Husband ('47), The Third Man ('49), The Wooden Horse ('50),
The Sound Barrier ('52), The Colditz Story ('54), Hobson's Choice
('54), Richard III ('55), Room at the Top ('58), Our Man in Havana
('59), I'm All Right Jack ('59), The Angry Silence ('60),
Guns of Navarone ('61), The L-Shaped Room ('62), Dr Strangelove, Or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb ('63), Becket ('64),
The Spy Who Came in From The Cold ('64), Darling ('65), A Man For All
Seasons ('66), Oliver! ('68), The Day of the Jackal ('72), Young
Winston ('72), Return of the Pink Panther ('75), Alien ('78),
Privates on Parade ('81), Ghandi ('82), Nineteen Eighty-Four ('83),
The Company of Wolves ('84), Passage To India ('84), Out Of Africa
('85), Cry Freedom ('86), 84 Charing Cross Road ('86), Gorillas in
the Mist ('87), Henry V ('88), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ('90),
The Crying Game ('91), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein ('93), Four
Weddings and a Funeral ('93), The Madness of King George ('94), Sense
and Sensibility ('94), Shadowlands ('94), Braveheart ('95), Evita
('95), Elizabeth ('96), Sliding Doors ('97), Shakespeare in Love
('98), Notting Hill ('98), Gladiator ('98), The End of the Affair
('98), Billy Elliot ('99), Spy Game ('00), Chocolat ('00), Possession
('01), Love Actually ('02),
K19: The Widowmaker ('02), Finding Neverland ('02), Calender Girls
('02), Troy ('03), Stage Beauty ('03), Mrs Henderson Presents ('04),
Batman Begins ('04), The Da Vinci Code ('05), His Dark Materials: The
Golden Compass ('06), Black Book ('06), Inkheart ('08), Moon ('08),
The Boat that Rocked ('08), FAQs About Time Travel ('08), The Young
Victoria ('08), Robin Hood ('09), Nine ('09), Chatroom ('10), Captain
America ('10), Hugo Cabret ('10), 47 Ronin ('11), Last Passenger
('11), A Fantastic Fear of Everything ('12), Thor: The Dark World
('13), Gravity ('13), World War Z ('13), Guardians of the Galaxy
('14), Into the Woods ('14), Avengers: Age of Ultron ('15)
list above is very impressive and what strikes me is the continuing
consistency of the high quality of the films over the years. It
is also nice to see that the studios have produced so many excellent
has been used for several multicamera TV productions over the
years. These include You Bet
('88-'95) the later series of Red Dwarf
('91-'99) The National Lottery Big Ticket
('98) The Vicar of Dibley ('97-'06).
I had the pleasure of lighting the Christmas and new year episodes
for 2004/5 on stage B. As mentioned above, Sky 1's Gladiators
('08) was recorded here too - series one on A and B stages and series
2 just on the A stage. In 2011 ITV's Dancing
on Ice moved to the J and K stages at
Shepperton from its previous home at Elstree but it returned to
Elstree in 2012.
to the lack of available TV studios, in the autumn of 2014 K stage
was shared by 8 Out of 10 Cats and Russell Howard's Good News.
An OB truck provided facilities and the lighting rigs for both shows
were suspended on trussing. The audience seating was shared but
the sets were set and struck each week for the two shows.
hope to add a list of single-camera television drama and comedy shot
here in due course but I have noted that Blackadder
Back and Forth was shot here in 1999, Jam
and Jerusalem in 2006 and BBC comedy Beautiful
People was made here in 2008. For
several years, the longest-running sitcom on British TV was made at
Shepperton. I refer of course to Last
of the Summer Wine. The interiors
were shot here on single camera and the final edited programme
projected to a studio audience at Teddington to record their
reaction. Interestingly, despite the longevity of the show (and
its cast), in its final years it was shot using the latest HD camera
technology. One assumes this was to make the most of the
beautiful location sequences rather than revealing all the crags and
crevices of the distinguished cast.
dealing with Shepperton, a brief mention should be made about Lion
Television Services. This company was an offshoot of
British Lion Films and was led by Peter Lloyd, who had previously
been running the Granville Studio. It was formed in 1969 and
was an independent company with an OB unit that was based at these
studios, occasionally using one of the stages to make programmes.
Lion TV, Mike Fitch has sent me the following...
formed by an ex-ATV producer called Peter Lloyd. We had a
garage and offices built on the left hand side just after coming
through the main gate. We didn't fit out a studio there but we
often used the scanner as a plug in to a studio with great
success. We started off with a b&w scanner with Emi 2028
cameras, whilst we were building our colour scanner which was
equipped with LDK 3 cameras. The first Head of Cameras was Roy
Garner, ex ATV and then it was the late Dave Swann who tragically
died in 1989 in a hotel fire in Bulgaria. The other cameramen
at that time were John Howard, an Oz whereabouts not known, Barrie
Dodd, who is Head of Cameras at Visions Mobiles, and Dave Barber
(Rocket) who eventually formed his own OB company which is
Telegenic. After a couple of years British Lion put us up for
sale and we were bought by Trident Recordings, who renamed us Trilion.'
are covered on the Independent TV Studios page.
are probably the best known UK film studios in the world.
Although they quite rightly deserve this fame for all the successful
feature films made here they have in recent years been building up
the television side of their business. At present only three
stages have been converted into fully equipped TV studios (one
regularly used for the Lotto draws) but there are plans to convert
more stages into TV studios. Over the years many film stages
have also been used to make a huge amount of single camera television
drama and comedy, and many multi-camera entertainment shows have been
made here using OB units for facilities.
photograph above shows Pinewood Studios in the 1950s. (Compare
it with the cutaway drawing below to discover what each building was
used for.) At that time there were only five main sound stages:
A - E. The old stately home, Heatherden Hall, can be seen
foreground right. Its grounds have been used for many a film
location, including of course several of the Carry On
movies. The triangular pattern of paths on the large lawn on
the foreground left indicates by coincidence the site and shape of
the huge outdoor 'Paddock Tank', which was built in 1959/60.
The open area to the top of the picture is now occupied by several
more stages, supporting buildings and the back lot.
advertisement shows the studios as they were in 1961. There
are five main stages, two smaller ones - F and G - and the long
narrow one (top right, marked '21') later called stage H is referred
to here as the 'tunnel stage.'
on the image to see it in greater resolution.
is arguably the most famous film studio in the UK - thanks to a long
history of successful British and international movies. The
studios' history dates from 1934 when Charles Boot, a businessman
with film-making ambitions, bought Heatherden Hall. A year
later he met J Arthur Rank and the rest is, as they say,
history. Stages A - E were the first to be built and still form
the hub of the site. In 1957 an additional two smaller stages
(F and G) were brought into operation along with two new viewing theatres.
stages have been added over the years including, of course, the huge
007 stage - which was originally built in 1976 for the film The
Spy Who Loved Me. When completed it
was 334ft x 136ft and was the largest stage in the world. It
also had one of the biggest indoor tanks - at 297ft x 73ft and nearly
nine feet deep. It was in fact a 'silent' stage as it was not
soundproofed. Nevertheless, dialogue was often recorded in it -
although filming sometimes had to wait for the occasional passing
aircraft. This stage was completely destroyed by fire in June
1984 and reopened in January 1985, with a few alterations to its
design, as the 'Albert R Broccoli 007 Stage', in honour of the
producer of many early Bond movies. It is however known
throughout the industry simply as 'The Bond Stage'.
third and latest incarnation of the Bond Stage. 374ft x 158ft
and containing a 9ft deep tank 300ft x 72ft.
thanks to the Pinewood website
Sunday 30th July 2006, during the derigging of sets for Casino
Royale, fire broke out once again.
The stage was almost completely destroyed but within a matter of
weeks it had been dismantled and trucks laden with steel were
arriving on site to begin the construction of its
replacement. The new stage was completed in March
2007. It is said to have better sound insulation than before
and the design is rather different with vertical walls rather than
the sloping ones of its predecessor. The structural steel frame
is now cleverly outside the walls thus increasing the useable floor
area considerably. It has gone from about 45,000 sq ft to
59,000 sq ft and is the largest in Europe. Even that wasn't big
enough for the film Prometheus
in 2011. One end of the stage was opened up and a temporary
structure extended it many more feet onto the back lot.
is little point in trying to name all the films that have been made
at Pinewood. The list goes on and on. It includes
some of the greatest and most successful movies made anywhere in the
world. The studios' own website is an excellent source of
historical material and there are several books that recount the ups
and downs of these studios. But - our subject is television, so...
was first and foremost a film studio. However, the increasing
demand for television drama shot on film created a new market in the
early 1960s. According to George Perry's book, 'Movies from the
Mansion', in 1964 stage H was built specifically to house MCA
productions, who were to make several filmed TV series. Owen
and Burford's more recent book 'The Pinewood Story' says the
same. The books state that as well as the 'new' stage a
self-contained block was constructed with admin areas, dressing
rooms, make-up and wardrobe. The first TV series was called Court
Martial and consisted of 26 x 48-minute episodes.
must confess, I have a problem with this account. To be frank,
H stage never looked as though it was built to make television
productions in the 1960s. It is no longer with us but for many
years was an ugly, concrete construction and was in fact much older
than that. It can be seen on aerial photos of the site dating
back to the 1950s and in the drawing shown above is referred to as
the 'tunnel stage.' It was very narrow - making it rather
difficult to arrange sets within it, I would have thought. It
joined onto the Large Process Stage - another even narrower long
building and was part of that complex. Confusingly, the Large
Process Stage is now called stage H. The original H stage was a very
odd shape being 89 feet long but only 36ft 6ins wide. (The
current H stage is possibly even more strange being 115ft x 28ft.)
long, narrow 'process' stages that stick out of stage E were built
for a system called 'Independent Frame.' This was developed by
a group of technicians and scientists shortly after the war.
Rank was very keen to find ways of making films faster and
cheaper. The Independent Frame system used a complex back
projection system - sometimes as many as three BP screens were in use
so the camera could pan. The camera shots were all worked out
before shooting took place and background plates were filmed, having
calculated exactly the right lens height, angle and focal length for
There might be
a few foreground props but the idea was to have almost all the
backgrounds projected so no physical scenery was necessary.
Quite how people opened doors and walked into rooms is not
explained. In other words, they were developing modern CGI
techniques decades before any of that was possible using computers.
surprisingly, the resultant films were very static and looked rather
odd. Despite Rank pouring huge amounts of money into the
system, it was dropped after a couple of years. The process
stages still remain though, attached to stage E.
Ed Nassour for pointing this out.
conclusion, although I have yet to find final proof of this, is that
the tunnel stage was refurbished and renamed H in 1964. Thus
the stage was not actually built for MCA, rather it was adapted from
its previous use. New admin and wardrobe/makeup facilities were
created alongside it for MCA to use. However, this is not all
they used. Bill Hill, one of their producers, has recalled that...
people at Pinewood built us our requirements as a self-contained
unit. They gutted a whole block and reconstructed it, creating
an admin block, completely self-contained and inter-communicating,
plus dressing rooms, make-up, hairdressing and wardrobe
departments. They modified three
stages for our production. (My
This went on during July and August. The unit of 150 people
started to arrive ready to shoot on 7 September.'
quotation is gratefully taken from Owen and Burford's 'The Pinewood Story.')
it seems that two more stages were involved, as well as H.
Stages F and G were nearby so one assumes that these three formed the
dedicated MCA complex.
Pinewod lot in 1966. Stages F, G and H are top left. The
brand new stages J and K (now called TV-one and TV-two) are top
centre. L and M have yet to be built. The painted backing
for the Paddock Tank is foreground left. These days it is
painted chromakey blue - skies and other backings are added in post
production but for many years it was painted as a realistic sky.
1966, work began on two new stages - J &
K. Constructing them would cost
£352,000. Previous stages on studio sites in the UK had
mostly been built out of steel, clad in concrete - often painted
cream. Frankly, these old stages are not particularly
attractive as buildings. However, J and K were different in
many ways. They were faced with red brick and with their admin
and wardrobe/make-up facilities as part of the construction they form
a nicely proportioned and visually attractive construction. The
Pinewood management and architects visited studios all over the world
to discover the latest techniques in design and construction and
applied them to these stages.
was very much in mind when they were designed. This requires
fast re-lighting of sets so a grid with monopoles was included.
Monopoles allow lights to be rigged with great accuracy and to be
positioned much faster than in conventional film stages. (The
way overhead lights are rigged in film stages is to mount them on
elevated platforms or to hang them on scaffold poles, ladder beams or
trusses that are suspended from the overhead beams via steel lines or
chain hoists. This is a very slow and relatively inflexible
method.) In J & K a grid was designed combining monopoles
for lightweight lamps and I-beams enabling heavier movie lights to be suspended.
other main difference between a TV studio and film stage is the
floor. A film stage traditionally has a floor covered in hard
wooden blocks that can have nails hammered in, enabling scenery to be
secured rigidly to the ground. Thus, any camera moves have to
incorporate the use of tracks as the floor is too uneven to roll a
dolly across it. This takes time to set up - time that does not
exist in the making of television programmes. TV studios have a
hard concrete floor covered with lino or resin, enabling the wheels
of camera peds or dollies to run smoothly over it. J and K were
intended to be used for both film and television so this created a problem.
solution was to have a hard smooth floor that had a wooden surface
laid over it when required. The wood block floor was laid in
removeable pallets 8ft x 5ft which sat on top of the perfectly flat
'molten plastic' TV floor. In fact, after a year or two the
wood stayed down until 2000, when the stages became dedicated TV
studios and new resin floors were laid. More on this
later. The stages were also constructed with very effective
acoustic isolation, being built on separate concrete rafts. The
centre production office/control room/makeup and wardrobe area
between the stages sits on its own T-shaped floating raft. This
is all quite a contrast to some of today's studios that have been
very simply and cheaply adapted from former industrial buildings.
the sound point of view, the stages included 'high grade microphones
and the installation of a Mellotron.' For those of us old
enough to remember bands like Yes, Genesis and King Crimson, the word
Mellotron conjurs up the sound of grand sweeping strings, brass
sections, 8-voice choirs and many other classic sounds of '70s
progressive rock. However, because the Mellotron was basically
a keyboard with a pre-recorded tape linked to each key on the
keyboard, there were non-musical versions available that had sound
effects on each key so that these could be played in immediately in
real time, much as digital samplers are used today, thus saving time
on the dub.
bit of forward planning in the design of these stages was to include
space for TV control rooms. At the time of construction, all
the TV drama made at Pinewood was on film but they considered the
possibility that in future they might have to record on videotape
using TV cameras. Thus, control rooms were incorporated between
the stages, with windows at first floor level looking on to the
studios. The rooms were not equipped and were intended as
observation rooms but they soon became used as dressing rooms and
production offices. After a few years the windows were boarded
up. The blocked-up window frames can still be seen today.
The galleries were eventually equipped in 2000 and 2001 - although
not quite as originally intended. Until 2012, studio TV-one (as
we must now call it) had its production gallery at ground floor level
although TV-two's production gallery was on the first floor in the
space it was originally designed to go all those years ago. The
lighting galleries were both on the ground floor.
at Elstree a new block containing stages 8 and 9 was being built at
the same time - these stages had a similar grid with monopoles and
also TV control rooms beween the stages that, like Pinewood, were not
equipped but included just in case they would be needed in the
future. How right they were.
boarded up gallery window in TV-two. The stairs up to the
production gallery were added in the mid noughties. The window
was re-glazed in 2013 so the old gallery is now used as an
and K (now known as TV-two and TV-one respectively) are quite large
as TV studios go at 110 x 80 ft gross - 106 x 74 metric ft within firelanes.
1969, stages L and M were built - using the same design
principles of a monopole grid and hard floor with wooden
surface. These stages did not however have TV control room
suites included. They are 105 x 90 feet wall to wall, so
slightly shorter than J and K but usefully quite a bit wider.
and M are still mostly used as film stages, although they have often
been used to make TV dramas on single camera film or video - for
example, they were Gerry Anderson's base in 1970 for the last 9
episodes of UFO,
between 1973 and 1976 when he made 48 episodes of Space
1999 and again in 1994 and 1995 for 24
episodes of Space Precinct.
The Persuaders with
Roger Moore and Tony Curtis was also made in one of these stages at
the same time as UFO
in the other.
Tricks has been a more recent regular
occupant with 77 episodes over 9 series since 2003. A 10th
series was transmitted in 2013. Stage M featured prominently in
the first series of Ricky Gervais' comedy Extras.
and M have also been booked in the past for multi-camera productions
using drive-in OB scanners as control rooms. For example, a
series of the
it Lucky was recorded in 1994 in one of
this pair. Apparently, Pinewood have considered converting them
into TV studios in the past but at the time all the stages on the
site were very busy with film work. In fact, according to press
reports in 2007, EastEnders
looked as though it was due to move to Pinewood within a year or
two. These two stages were earmarked to be converted into
studios for that programme. However, the plans were abandoned
stayed at BBC Elstree.
as part of the major redevelopment of Pinewood which was given the
go-ahead in the summer of 2014, it seems likely that L or M will
after all be converted into a multicamera TV studio once some of the
new stages have been built.
around 1970. Stages J and K are the brick faced buildings top
centre. They would later become studios TV-one and TV-two.
Stages L and M are off this photo to the left. In the distance
are the fields where Pinewood hopes to expand over the next decade or so.
series and dramas shot on film at Pinewood have included Court
in a Suitcase ('66),
The Avengers - 2 eps ('66),
Strange Report ('68),
From A Bird's Eye View ('69),
UFO ('70), The Persuaders
('70-'72), Shirley's World ('71),
The Zoo Gang ('73), Space
1999 ('73, '76),
The New Avengers (''76, '77),
The Professionals ('77),
Press Gang ('89), Ivanhoe
('81), The Hunchback of Notre Dame
('81), Witness For the Prosecution
('82), The Last Days of Pompeii
('83), Master of the Game
(''83), Squaring the Circle
('83), The Corsican Brothers
('85), Still Crazy Like a Fox
('86), Pack of Lies
('87), Hazard of Hearts
('87), some sketches for French and Saunders ('87-'98),
A Man For All Seasons ('88), War
and Remembrance ('88), Press
Gang ('89), Crucifer
of Blood ('90), Fry and Laurie's Jeeves
and Wooster ('91), The Camomile Lawn ('91),
an episode of Inspector Morse
('91), Bye Bye Baby
('91), Tales From the Poop Deck
('91), Dennis Potter's Lipstick on Your Collar
('92), Lady Chatterley
Over Heels ('92), Minder
('93), The Borrowers ('93),
Moving Story ('93),
Space Precinct ('94, '95),
Chandler and Co.
('94), The Spooks
of Bottle Bay ('94),
Class Act ('95), The
Final Cut, ('95), Last
of the Summer Wine ('95, '98, '05, '06),
Hostile Waters ('96),
To Run ('96), Jonathan
Creek ('96, '97, '99, '04), Crime
Traveller ('97), Potamus
Park ('96, '97),
Invasion Earth ('97), The
Vanishing Man ('97),
CI5: The New Professionals ('98), Little
White Lies ('98), Hornblower ('98, '00,
'01, '02), Roger Roger ('98),
Midsomer Murders ('98),
Harbour Lights ('98) and
the brilliant Longitude ('99).
Potter's final two drama series, Karaoke
and Cold Lazarus
were filmed at Pinewood in 1995 - unique in that in order to fulfil
the writer's dying wish they were jointly financed and transmitted on
both BBC1 and Channel 4.
of the two British episodes of Friends -The
One With Ross' Wedding were also filmed
here in 1998 - the rest was made in front of an audience at Fountain Studios.
recent single-camera TV dramas and comedies shot here (often using L
or M stages) have included Dinotopia
('00), The Lost World ('01), The
Queen's Nose ('01), Trial
and Retribution ('02), Wild
West ('02), Spooks ('03-'11), Ray
Winstone's Henry VIII ('03), Auf
Wiedersehen Pet ('03, '04), My
Dad's the Prime Minister ('04), two
episodes of Dr Who
('06), some sketches for Dead Ringers
('03, '04, '05), some sketches for Little Britain
('03-'06), Grandma's House
('10), some sketches for That Mitchell and
Webb Look ('06-'10), scenes for Come
Fly With Me ('10)
New Tricks ('03-'12) and Episodes
('10, '11). Episodes
was particularly noteworthy, being set mostly in Hollywood but with
almost all the interiors and some exteriors actually shot on a stage
here in Pinewood.
number of gameshows and entertainment programmes have also used
various stages as multicamera studios. These include
Strike it Lucky ('94),
Eat Dog ('01), Shafted
('01), Braniac: Science Abuse
('04, '05 '06), X-Perimental ('04),
The Whole 19 Yards ('09), The
Magicians ('11) and Got
To Dance ('11) which was transmitted live
from the R stage. A fibre network has been installed all round
the Pinewood site enabling any of the stages to transmit live TV and
in 2011 the link to the BT Tower was upgraded to uncompressed HD.
Pinewood has recently had its ability to handle live TV upgraded, in
fact the first live TV broadcast was from the K stage in 1992.
This was for the children's Saturday morning show Parallel
9 which ran for several months in the
summers of '92 - '94. The K stage became the surface of a
distant planet whilst celebrity guests had to enter a tatty little
caravan on the back lot, which of course was the 'portal' to Parallel
9. Weekends are usually quiet at Pinewood (apart from the
occasional fire) so this show did not interfere with the normal
running of the studios.
Den has also been shot here at
Pinewood. The first two series in 2004/5 used a real location
but after that the show built a set on the F stage (100 x 76 ft wall
to wall). It is interesting to note that the programme was
still being made here in 2011 despite the fact that it is a Salford
based show. In fact, in 2012 they used studio HQ4 in Salford's
MediaCity to record it.
February 2000, Pinewood was purchased from Rank by a business
consortium headed by Michael Grade and Ivan Dunleavy. In June
of the same year, J stage began conversion into a dedicated TV
studio, with a resin floor and its own fully equipped gallery suite
with digital mixer and associated electronics. In 2001, K was
similarly converted into a digital TV studio specifically for The
Weakest Link, which had previously been
using Capital and then Magic Eye Studios in Wandsworth. (Thanks
to Neil Wallace for that info.)
some further refurbishment in 2005 the studios were renamed 'TV-one'
(K became one and J became two.) The studios specialise in
series with standing sets but do occasionally accommodate single
productions. For many years TV-one had The
as a regular booking whilst TV-two had sitcoms like My
to Bex and All
About Me filling its schedule. The
first series of The Catherine
Tate Show was also recorded in TV-two .
the Nation came from TV-one on a few
occasions when Fountain was busy and the Christmas special of The
Green Green Grass was recorded in TV-two
in October 2005. It was shot in high definition using an OB
unit for facilities as the studio did not have its own HD gear.
second series of Extras
was also filmed in TV-two in 2006. This series dealt with the
making of a sitcom which was part recorded using the studio's
facilities. Most of the series was shot on single camera
Digibeta. Exterior shots showed BBC TV Centre but no, the
studio was actually here at Pinewood. The Extras
2007 Christmas special was also made here in the summer of that
year. In the spring of 2007 TV-one was the home of the second
series of The IT Crowd,
the production requesting that they have a studio with the
production gallery on the ground floor.
had the pleasure of returning to the studios in November 2007 when I
lit a revival Christmas special of To The
Manor Born in TV-one. This was shot
in HD using an OB scanner parked in front of the building.
Other shows around this time included Lily
Allen and Friends in 2008 and
Would I Lie To You in 2009.
saw an interesting development. The highly acclaimed theatre
production of King Lear,
with Ian McKellan in the title role, was recorded in TV-two for C4
and the American PBS channel. Unfortunately this doesn't seem
to have heralded a return to recording successful theatre productions
for television so that many more millions can see them - in the way
the BBC did for many years but oddly abandoned in the early
1990s. Actually, that's not strictly true any longer.
Since about 2012 several productions have been broadcast live from
the National Theatre and Royal Opera House to cinemas around the
country. This only became possible when cinemas were equipped
with digital projectors. Some of these plays and operas have
also subsequently been shown on broadcast TV.
Green Green Grass Christmas special 2005
in TV-two. Comedy lighting by yours truly.
thanks to the Pinewood website
2009 a BBC Children's series - ZingZillas
- took up residence in TV-one for most of the year. This meant
that the final series of Weakest Link
before its move to Glasgow was moved into TV-two. The knock-on
effect of this was that My Family
had to move from its home of several years to Teddington. This
unfortunately disrupted several regular Teddington bookings including Harry
Hill's TV Burp and this undoubtedly
affected subsequent bookings at Teddington. Once My
Family wrapped, Teddington's studio 1 was
nothing like as busy as it had been previously. The wisdom of
all this is not for me to comment on here but it certainly caused
much discussion amongst many people in the industry.
first part of 2010 was somewhat thin on the ground for TV
bookings in these two Pinewood studios and from the summer they were
rented out as film stages for the X-Men:
First Class movie. Film bookings
extended well into 2011, TV-one being used as a props workshop
supporting the Ridley Scott 'Alien' prequel Prometheus.
It was also used as a wardrobe store for Snow
White and the Huntsman for many months
from 2011 into 2012. This doesn't on the face of it seem the
best use of a TV studio but I guess Pinewood's sales and marketing
people know best. TV-two saw the return of Would
I Lie To You in 2010, 2011, 2012,
2013 and again in 2014. Lee
Mack's All Star Cast was also made in
TV-two in 2011. In May 2012 I had the pleasure of lighting the Angelos
Epithemiou Show for Channel 4 in TV-two.
the closure of TV Centre, bookings have understandably been busier
here. Typical sitcoms have included Count Arthur Strong,
Birds of a Feather in TV-two, Brotherhood (which I
worked on) in TV-one and I Live With Models in TV-two.
December 2012 it was announced that Camelot would be leaving their
1,200 sq ft studio run by Arqiva - only a few miles away in Chalfont
Grove. The National Lottery draws moved into TV-one from
January 2013 until a purpose-built studio and associated facilities
were completed elsewhere on the Pinewood lot. The old scoring
stage (once used to record orchestral soundtracks) was converted into
a TV studio and renamed TV-three. The Lotto draws moved there
in October 2013.
is much smaller than the other two studios but twice the size of the
old Chalfont studio at 2,640 sq ft. It has a dedicated suite of
control rooms next to the studio and its own cameras. These can
be used for TV shows being recorded on other nearby stages on the
days when there is no Lotto draw. The 7,500 sq ft F stage sits
directly alongside TV-three and since fibre links were installed in
the autumn of 2014, is able to share this gallery suite and
TV-three's cameras for TV shows with standing sets. The Richard
Attenborough stage is a short walk across a roadway so TV-three's
galleries might also be a practical alternative to using an OB truck
for major shows in that huge space.
and improvements have been carried out in the two main TV studios
from time to time. The green rooms, dressing rooms etc are all
very smart. The studios themselves have relatively new air
conditioning systems. In the summer of 2009 TV-two was given a
new resin floor, despite the existing one being less than ten years old.
they began operating as TV studios, TV-one and TV-two never owned
their own cameras and VTR machines but hired them in on a daily basis
when required. This must have saved a great deal when setting
them up and it also meant that less capital was tied up doing nothing
when the studios were not actually recording. In this way,
Pinewood were able to charge less than some other studios when
standing sets were used.
perhaps surprisingly, did not carry out a full HD installation in
these studios at the same time as other studios around the
country. They had HD fibre cables installed in both studios and
to and from the galleries and MCR but continued to hire in equipment
when required. They did however purchase 8 Sony HDC-1000/1500
cameras which were shared with Teddington and they have hired in more
2012 they at last carried out some serious investment here -
constructing a new gallery suite at the front of the building at
ground floor level taking over some offices and a green room.
These have quick and easy access to both studio floors.
(MediaCity Salford please note!) At present there is one suite
to service both studios - it is assumed that only one studio will be
recording or transmitting at a time. If both do need to be in
use then an OB unit can be used - although it would be possible to
use the old galleries and equip them with flyaway kit for a series.
new galleries opened in September 2012. Many working
professionals including me were asked their advice when the galleries
were designed and they are now arguably the best in the country.
How refreshing, compared with one or two other recently built TV studios.
old ground floor lighting control rooms have become camera and
technical stores and the production galleries have become viewing
rooms but as mentioned above could be used as temporary control rooms
was also given new lighting monopoles - the previous ones were very
old and time consuming to use - there were actually three separate
designs in use, each requiring different hand-held motors to raise or
lower. The very smart new ones were designed and built by
German company MTS to Pinewood's specification. They are a huge
improvement. It was at the time intended that after a few
months, more would be purchased to equip TV-one but this has yet to
happen. (BBC S&PP bought 200 of the same monopoles for
stage 9 at Elstree in 2013.) TV-one was also given a new floor
in 2012 (TV-two had a new one in 2009.)
surprisingly, with the closure of BBC TV Centre, Teddington,
Riverside and Wimbledon, these studios have seen an increase in their
use - especially with their excellent new facilities.
2001 Pinewood purchased Shepperton Studios to form
Pinewood-Shepperton. Michael Grade remained as chairman.
The business with all its facilities and 36 stages became one of the
world's premier film and television resources. During 2006 the
company began operating under the name of the Pinewood Studios Group
and now markets and operates the various stages and TV studios at
Pinewood, Shepperton and Teddington as one operation.
May 2004 Pinewood-Shepperton declared an intention to redevelop both
sites and increase their film and TV studio space significantly over
the following ten years, demolishing some old stages and building
several new ones. In April 2005 the company bought the lease to
Teddington Studios when they went bust, thus saving them from
closure. This unexpected acquisition may have delayed some
expansion in the TV side of the business at Pinewood itself.
2007 planning permission for the Master Plan was granted and
work immediately began on a new entrance and gatehouse and some new
buildings nearby. The Queen opened the gatehouse on 2nd
November. According to the Pinewood website at least three new
film stages were planned (see the drawing below).
2007 plan indicated that the car park in front of the two TV studios
was also to be developed. It
looked likely that a 15,000 sq ft TV studio was to be built
there. Although it is unlikely now that a fully equipped TV
studio will be built, this will eventually be the site for a new
sound stage which could be used for TV production using the galleries
nearby. In 2010 a 'temporary' workshop building was erected
that is likely to remain until the new stage is built.
fact, the Pinewood Master Plan began its development in 2003
(although planning permission took several years to obtain) and the
industry has moved on significantly over the following decade.
Blockbuster feature films and big TV entertainment productions now
demand very large stages which was not the case back then.
Towards the end of 2011 construction of a very large stage
(initially referred to as stage T) commenced. It was built on
the area opposite stages L and M where the old H stage and some
workshops used to be located. It received its first booking in
February 2012 (the feature film Les Misérables)
and was officially opened and named as 'The Richard
Attenborough Stage' in April 2012.
new Richard Attenborough stage. Its length is the same as the
building that contains stages L and M, seen behind.
thanks to the Pinewood website
is an impressive 30,000 sq ft (203ft x 148 ft and 50ft high).
This is very large indeed - about half the area of the 007 stage but
much larger than any of the other stages here. The Richard
Attenborough stage is intended for major TV entertainment shows as
well as feature film production. It has emergency exits
and other facilities enabling a large studio audience to be handled
if required. It is more than twice the size of the largest TV
studio in the country so not surprisingly Pinewood are looking to
attract big blockbuster live event shows. However, no technical
facilities have been incorporated so an OB unit has to be used.
The first TV show recorded here was The Love Machine
- made by Princess Productions for Sky Living in July 2012.
is the Pinewood Master Plan as it appeared on the Pinewood website
in 2007. These developments were expected to take around ten
years to complete.
orange blocks are new constructions or refurbishment of existing
ones. Note that a new building is indicated occupying the car
park in front of studios TV-one and TV-two.
the end of 2010 this area was converted into a temporary scenery
workshop for a major feature film. The 'temporary' building
remained through 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is likely to be
the site of a new stage within the next few years.
studio map in 2013. The new Richard Attenborough stage
occupies a significant part of the site although it was not quite
what was originally intended on the Master Plan as seen above.
double orange block top left of the master plan is where the 30,000
sq ft Q stage and associated workshops is indicated in light blue and
shown as 'under construction.' It opened later in 2013.
the new TV-three marked in red just above the F stage.
thanks to the Pinewood website
the beginning of September 2007 the Pinewood Studios Group
surprisingly announced that they were considering purchasing the BBC
Studios part of BBC Resources. They spent nearly 1 million
pounds on the bidding process but in the end the sale
collapsed. It seems that Pinewood were not prepared to
take on the pension liabilities of the BBC staff. Back in 2007
Ivan Dunleavy had announced that the company was planning to
significantly increase the proportion of TV vs film at
Pinewood. According to the press, he stated...
are looking to achieve a parity with film in terms of revenue.
The UK TV market is large and diverse, we want to increase our share
in it." Dunleavy apparently said that the company could
increase the revenue share from TV, which currently stands at 30%, to
50% over the next three years.'
interesting statement probably reflected the company's declared
interest at the time in purchasing BBC Studios. It is likely
that the purchase of the business would have been followed by the
construction and/or conversion of several new TV studios at
Pinewood. The staff and much of the equipment would have been
moved to Pinewood over the following 3 or 4 years (along with the
BBC's regular programme bookings) enabling TV Centre to be demolished
in 2013. Of course, the purchase of the business fell through,
and the total demolition of TV Centre is not going to happen now
although it has been sold and most of it will be
redeveloped. TV Centre will retain three of its eight
studios when BBC S&PP eventually return.
story will also have affected Pinewood's plans to increase revenue
the summer of 2007 various rumours began to circulate widely, mostly
from people associated with BBC Elstree, that EastEnders
might be planning to leave Borehamwood and the BBC studios there sold
off for redevelopment. These rumours grew and indeed were
reported in two or three newspapers. According to press
reports, Pinewood was the most likely site for the programme to move
to. Albert Square and its surrounding roads would have been
reconstructed on the back lot here and three stages taken over and
converted into television studios. I gather that L and M were
the ones earmarked, given their original TV-based design, plus R,
which is next door. Of course, a great deal of space would also
have been required for prop and set storage and for offices and
story was repeated in the press in March 2008 but was officially
denied by BBC spokespersons. They claimed that in the current
economic climate it would not be possible to sell the Elstree site
for the money they would be seeking. Thus EastEnders
would be staying where it was for the time being. It seems that
the BBC were hoping for £300m from the sale of that site which
would almost entirely be given over to housing. However, the
crash in property values diminished the value of the BBC's Elstree
studio site considerably so a sale became unlikely for several
years. Thus EastEnders
remains at Elstree for the foreseeable future and major investment is
being made there to exterior sets and technical equipment.
recent years changes in tax laws have seen the fortunes of Pinewood
wax and wane as movie-making is so easily influenced by production
costs. An uncertain period in 2005 was improved when the tax
laws were made more encouraging in 2006. However, the
availability of cheap labour and facilities in eastern Europe
affected the number of films made here in the following few years.
of the determination to see the long term success of the studios
came on 15th November 2007 when Pinewood-Shepperton announced a
proposed expansion of the site - taking up the fields on the opposite
side of the road between the studios and the M25 motorway. The
scheme would have occupied a huge area on land already owned by the
company and was certainly ambitious (although, once given a few
moments' consideration - were they really serious about all
this? I mean, seriously??? That must have been one hell
of a brainstorming meeting.)
plan as announced in 2007 was to build several permanent location
sets to which film-makers would otherwise have to travel. The
published plans were genuinely quite extraordinary. Proposed
locations included Venice, an American university campus, streets in
Vienna and Chicago, a UK industrial canal, a London street market,
New York warehouse district, 'Lake Como', West Coast America,
'Chinatown' and even a medieval castle and a Roman amphitheatre.
Whew! The cost of constructing all this to the kind of detail
that would be convincing on an Imax cinema screen can only be
imagined. (What were they thinking? Had these people
never heard of bluescreen and CGI?)
the most interesting/baffling part of the proposal was that these
dwellings would be lived in by real people. About 2,000 homes
were to be included which would be available to buy or rent, so if
you fancied living in a flat overlooking a Venetian canal or possibly
in a New York slum you would be able to live your dream.
small fly in the ointment was that this land was designated Green
Belt. Another was, of course, the cost involved in constructing
all these inhabitable but historically accurate dwellings.
However, perhaps the most challenging was what to do with all the
people living in these properties trying to go about their everyday
lives whilst movies were being shot all round them.
surprisingly, after almost a year of consultation the proposed plans
were considerably revised. As announced in September 2008 they
then included large areas of open green space which would have been
available for use by local residents and all the existing hedges and
wooded areas would have been preserved. The castle, Roman
amphitheatre, Lake Como and Venetian canals had all disappeared from
was now a somewhat more realistic proposal. The site was
to have a mix of 'filmable' streets and smaller private
roads and cycleways behind the film sets for local inhabitants to
use. Someone had at last realised that people living here would
still need to drive the car to work every morning. However,
this whole scheme was still a location facility - it didn't address
in any way the shortage of sound stages available in the UK to make
world-class feature films - which is odd, to say the least.
final planning application was made in July 2009. This was
roundly refused in October by the local authority - largely because
of the Green Belt issue. A local campaign to refuse permission
was started up and strong views were expressed.
public enquiry into the development began on April 5th 2011 and
lasted into May. Pinewood were hoping that the 960 permanent
jobs that would be created would help the application. Also,
that this expansion of facilities would help to maintain Pinewood's
reputation as one of the top film studios in the world.
20th January 2012 secretary of state for communities and local
government, Eric Pickles, announced that the application had been
refused. Unfortunately this decision came only a few months
after the government announced that they were relaxing planning
regulations in order to stimulate growth in the construction
industry. This created a loud backlash of many individuals and
organisations claiming that the Green Belt was now under threat.
The government strongly denied that this was the case so had they
allowed this application so soon they would have played straight into
the hands of the protesters. Unfortunately the timing was not
good for Pinewood.
did not choose to appeal against this decision so this scheme died
but they immediately began working on another much more realistic and
most of the first decade of this century the television side of the
business was thriving and the two TV studios were kept very
busy. As the TV side of the business diminished towards the end
of the decade the pendulum swung back towards the film side and the
stages were busy all year round with features. In November 2011
the government announced that it was extending UK film tax relief
until the end of December 2015, which was excellent news for Pinewood
and of course all the other British film studios.
saw a considerable reduction in Pinewood-Shepperton's income from
television, compared to film. It fell from £11.3m in 2009
to £8.2m in 2010. This decline continued in the first half
of 2011 - but was offset by a big increase in revenue generated from
movie production. For much of this period the two TV studios
were occupied by feature films and many of the studios at Teddington
were relatively quiet. The Pinewood management partly blamed
the BBC and ITV for using their in-house studios more than before in
a press statement. However, more than half of all the
entertainment programmes shown on BBC and ITV channels are made by
independent companies who are relatively free to make their shows
where they like and Pinewood has an interesting advantage over the
other London TV studios in that it is technically a 'regional' studio
since it is (just) outside the M25. It therefore enables
programme makers to tick that particular box if they have to.
fact in recent years several entertainment shows have used film
stages at Pinewood and Shepperton to record series such as Ant
and Dec's Push The Button, The
Whole 19 Yards,
Got To Dance and The
Love Machine. This is the kind of
work Pinewood is likely to be seeking to attract over the next few years.
Pinewood-Shepperton was seen to be operating successfully (total
revenue in 2010 increased by 8%) in April 2011 an unexpected bid was
made to buy the company. This was from Peel Media, the company
who own and run MediaCity in Salford. They already owned 29.7%
of Pinewood and launched an £87.8m takeover bid. Two weeks
later, Mohammed Al Fayed, former owner of Harrods, was also said to
be considering an all-cash bid for the company. On 27th April
it was announced that Peel had increased its offer to £96m and
this new offer was accepted by the directors of the group.
Michael Grade stayed on as chairman and Peel said that they would
allow Pinewood to continue to operate autonomously.
owned by Peel has given Pinewood greater financial stability which
has enabled long term investment to begin. Previously, the
company had to pass a large proportion of its profits to a number of
shareholders leaving relatively little for major investment.
Peel seemed to be looking at Pinewood in the long term enabling the
immediate construction of two new large stages and some welcome
investment in the two main TV studios. Certainly, I can report
that walking round the site now all the buildings are clean, freshly
painted and old cables, pipes and other clutter have been removed
giving a much smarter appearance all round. Most of the old
dilapidated buildings and workshops have gone and everywhere gives
the impression of a very successful and busy enterprise.
the 10 year Master Plan was published by Pinewood in 2004, by no
means all of the proposed development has actually taken place.
Of course, the studios have a smart new gatehouse (curiously with the
security hut on the wrong side of the road) the Richard Attenborough
stage opened in 2012 and Q stage in 2013 but most of the other
redevelopment has yet to happen.
Q stage was constructed during 2012/13 in the south dock area
replacing a 16,700 sq ft silent stage and some offices and workshops
and opened in September 2013. It has its own very large
workshops and office areas included as part of the development.
It is in a part of the site that was earmarked for development in the
Master Plan so planning permission was already granted.
the rejection of 'Project Pinewood' in January 2012 which would have
been on land owned by the studios on the other side of the road, (see
above), in August 2012 Pinewood announced that it would submit a new
planning application for major development by the end of the
year. In fact the application was made on Feb 1st 2013.
took place with local residents during the autumn. The
expansion recognises the fact that over the past few years most of
Pinewood's stages have been fully booked and work has been turned
away. They can currently only handle two feature films at the
same time and this sometimes also means that TV work has to be turned
away. The aim is eventually to be able to handle four features
plus more TV work. Pinewood will also be aware that Warner's
new studios opening in 2012 at Leavesden have taken the crown from
Pinewood in offering the newest and some of the largest stages in the country.
new proposal is much more realistic than Project Pinewood and
appears to be more aware of the environmental consequences of
building on Green Belt land.
plans indicate three new stages on the existing site (indicated in
white). One is the large Q stage that opened in 2013.
Another is in front of the two TV studios - so no real surprise
there. This is currently occupied by a temporary workshop and
was shown on the 2004 Master Plan. This stage is unlikely to be
equipped with TV facilities but with the control rooms of TV-one and
two sitting alongside, it could easily be used for large-scale
third new stage occupies the area of car park 1 next to the D
stage. This is about the same size as Stages A, D and E and was
not on the original Master Plan. A multi-storey carpark is also
planned on the site of the existing carpark 3, near the main entrance
as are two new production office blocks.
no new-build TV studios are planned, at least two existing film
stages are to be converted into multicamera studios. One of
these is F stage (100 x 76ft wall to wall), which is in the same
block as studio TV-three and is sharing its gallery suite and
cameras. (TV-three is only used on Saturdays for the Lotto
draw.) As a first step, fibre links between the galleries and
the stage were installed in October 2014. Weekend Kitchen With Waitrose
for Channel 4 was the first booking to use these. It is not
known when the stage will receive a TV-friendly resin floor and a
flexible lighting grid. Until then, to be honest, it remains a
other new studio is likely to be either L or M (105 x 90ft), both of
which have the same monopole TV lighting grids as TV-one and
TV-two. Pinewood are currently undecided as to whether to build
a new gallery suite in the L/M block but this seems inevitable.
This availability of new TV studios will be very welcome in the
industry, particularly with the closure of Teddington and Riverside
in 2014. Lighting monopoles (telescopes) are being brought over
from Teddington and will equip TV-one and L or M along with the best
of the old Pinewood ones. I gather it is possible that both L
and M will become TV studios in due course, which would certainly
make a lot of sense.
controversially, significant development is planned on the land on
the other side of the road. 8 large stages and 2 medium stages
are to be built there, along with a number of workshops, production
offices and support facilities. Very cleverly the walls of some
of the stages will have a 'city street' set built into them enabling
scenes to be shot on site that would otherwise involve closing off
parts of a real city centre. There will also be another
large back lot for temporary outdoor sets.
will all be hidden from the roads and local houses by trees, shrubs
and a landscaped bund. A large area of natural open ground
including a wooded hill will be retained for the use of local
residents along with a wide green border containing footpaths round
was refused by the local council but a public enquiry began in
November 2013 following an apppeal by Pinewood. The government
announced in June 2014 that permission had been granted in the
national interest. A formal planning application for the first
phase of development was made in October and was passed later in the year.
new expansion is known as the Pinewood Studios Development Framework
(PSDF). In March 2015 Pinewood announced that they would be
selling 8 million shares to raise £30m to go towards funding the
development. The rest is being loaned by four of the major
banks. Phase 1 is anticipated to cost £65m.
on phase 1 is due to begin in June with facilities beginning to open
in the spring of 2016. There will be 5 stages in this phase
which will all be on the new north site. No new stages (or
sadly the multistorey car park) on the existing site are part of
new stages consist of one of 42,000 sq ft (220 x 190ft), one of
40,000 sq ft (250 x 160ft) and three of 25,000 sq ft (180 x 140
ft). Bear in mind that the new Attenborough and Q stages are
30,000 sq ft - so you can see that all these stages are of a similar
or even larger size. Phase 1 also has 10 new workshops and some
PSDF will be tackled in three phases, each currently scheduled to
take up to 5 years to complete - the total cost is estimated at £200m.
in early 2006, viewed from the north end of the site. The huge
building in the foreground is the second 007 stage - since destroyed
by fire and replaced with another. To its right are stages R
and S - each 166 x 116ft and built in 1999. Nearby on the right
of this picture are stages L and M, originally built for TV filmed
dramas. The two TV studios currently in use are in the centre
of this picture. The car park in front of the TV studios
(currently occupied by temporary workshops) will be the site of a new
stage within the next few years. The area occupied by the car
park on the left is where the new multi-storey car park will go.
thanks to the Pinewood website.
these studios were only a few hundred yards down the road from the
ones we now call 'Elstree Studios' and 'BBC Elstree Centre' they were
always named more accurately as being in Borehamwood rather than
Elstree. They were not used to make a great deal of television,
which is why they have not been included in this website until
now. However, they were the home of one particular TV drama
series which helped define the 1960s - Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner.
That was not the only television show made here but certainly the
more obscure TV series mentioned in the 1960/61 British Film and TV
Yearbook include One Step Beyond, The Third Man and Zero One.
studios were built from 1935 by Paul Soskin, a film producer, and
his uncle Simon Soskin. They named them Amalgamated
As they neared completion in 1937 it turned out that a production
deal with Columbia had fallen through. This combined with far
greater construction costs than anticipated (don't these people watch Grand
Under the Hammer?)
meant that the builders effectively took over the ownership.
Thus, the brand new studios found themselves looking for someone
interested in film-making to purchase them.
Maxwell of the nearby Elstree BIP Studios considered it but J Arthur
Rank knew that they would be major competitors to his newly opened
Pinewood and Denham studios so he snapped them up.
a film had been made here before the war came along and they were
taken over by the government to be used for storage.
1947 Rank was in financial difficulties so he sold the studios to
the Prudential who in turn sold them to MGM in 1948 to be used for
making international films starring a mix of British and American
actors. They were renamed MGM-British Studios and were
considered by many to be the most glamorous studios in the
country. They were heavily invested in by MGM and were equipped
with all the latest kit from Hollywood.
they struggled to come up with a major success until Ivanhoe
in 1952. In 1958 MGM rented out studio space to 20th-Century
Fox for the making of The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring
Ingrid Bergman, which was a huge international success. This
had involved the construction of a large set on the back lot
representing a fortified Chinese town. It covered 500,000 sq
feet and was the first of many big sets built behind the stages, in
the style of typical Hollywood studios.
was also the year that Tom Thumb was made here. This
was an immediate hit and became a firm favourite with children for
decades thanks in future years to VHS and then DVD sales.
Successes in the early '60s included The VIPs and The
Yellow Rolls Royce which
had a large cast of very famous international stars.
studios were of course primarily used for making films but our
subject is television. The first well known TV drama made here
was Danger Man, starring Patrick McGoohan, series one being
filmed in 1960. It was the idea of Ralph Smart, one of the
writers on The Invisible Man which was filmed at ATV's Elstree
studios just down the road. He got together with Ian Fleming
and they decided to create a James Bond series for TV.
Unfortunately, the rights to Bond had been sold to Eon Productions -
the first Bond film Dr No had yet to be made but buying the
rights back was not possible.
with another writer, Ian Stuart Black, they created a new character
working as a freelancer in the world of espionage - 'John Drake'
He was to be cool, ruthless, a casual user of women and able to
solve any problem using his bare fists or a loaded gun. (In
other words, James Bond.) They sold the idea to ATV's Lew Grade
and he gave the go-ahead. They selected Patrick McGoohan to
play the lead. He was tall, good looking and with an
extraordinary screen presence. He agreed to play the part but
on one or two conditions. He had it put in his contract that he
would never be seen kissing a woman, his character would always treat
them with respect and also that any problems would be solved by his
brainpower before he had to resort to fighting. So the
character became not so much James Bond as Dr Who. McGoohan had
had some bad experiences during his recent contract with Rank and was
not going to make the same mistake twice. I have seen a
documentary where people who knew him described him as being a devout
Catholic - explaining that his personal moral code affected what he
was prepared to do on screen, both in Danger Man and later in The
first series was popular in Britain but only moderately so in the
US. Maybe they wanted to see more kissing and fighting. A
second series was therefore not commissioned. However, once Dr
No came out in the cinemas in 1962 and ABC's The Avengers
grew in popularity, the world of secret agents suddenly became big
business so Lew Grade thought again about another series of Danger Man
(It was called Secret Agent in the US). The length was
increased to 50 minutes and the show ran for a total of 86 episodes
over four series. McGoohan became the highest paid actor in the UK.
Studio had originally been built with four large blocks containing
seven stages - one block had a very large stage (stage 3) of 194 x
96ft and the rest were split in two with stages approximately 120 x
96 ft and 74 x 96 ft each. By 1962 a further two stages of 75 x
50ft had been built and stage 10 opened in 1963. It was
somewhat larger at 120 x 85ft and had previously been in use at
Walton Studios which had recently closed. This stage was later
dismantled yet again and re-erected at Bray in 1973.
in May 1966. 2001: A Space Odyssey
was occupying most of the stages but in others were The
Prisoner and The
Dirty Dozen. Extraordinary times.
on the map to see it in greater detail
episode of the first series of Danger Man had used
Portmeirion as a location to represent an Italian village.
Situated on the coast in north Wales, it was the personal project of
architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis who designed it to fit
organically into the natural landscape of sea and mountains.
(He was still building it during the filming of Danger Man and
later The Prisoner.) Although clearly with a
Mediterranean look about it, he denied that it was a copy of an
Italian village and in fact the architecture borrows from several
styles and periods. McGoohan was struck by its unique qualities
which helped him form the germ of an idea for a new show once Danger
Man had wrapped.
Prisoner was an extraordinary series that was unlike anything
previously made on TV. It was very much of its time - filmed in
1966 and 1967 it was about a secret agent who had for some
undisclosed reason decided to give up his job. We see him in
his London flat, gas is pumped in through the keyhole, he passes out
and wakes up still in his flat but - when he opens the curtains he is
in a mysterious village from which there is no escape. Each
episode had a different 'Number 2' who attempted to break our
hero. Meanwhile he (number 6) tried to escape. The series
was baffling, ground-breaking, occasionally somewhat pretentious but
built up a very loyal audience. It tackled some pretty deep
subjects to do with freedom, democracy, politics and religion but all
within the framework of a prime time mystery spy thriller. Most
importantly, it was never made clear who were the goodies and who
were the baddies - we never knew whether Number 6 had been caught by
'us' or 'them.' The show still has a huge fan base. It
was the Twin Peaks or Lost of its day. Nothing
like it had ever been made before.
people assumed that McGoohan was playing the same character as in Danger
Man - John Drake. He always denied this but according to
some who worked on it, the early printed scripts had his character's
lines spoken by 'Drake.' In later scripts his lines were down
as being spoken by 'P' (for Prisoner). His rules of what he
would and would not do on screen still applied. The script for
episode 2 called for him to kiss a woman whilst he whispered
instructions in her ear so that the bugging microphones couldn't hear
him. Much to the frustration of the writer and director he
refused to kiss her so the scene didn't work as it should have.
of the exteriors were filmed in Portmeirion but all the interiors
and some exteriors were shot at MGM in Borehamwood. The show
was based in stage 6 - appropriately enough - but occasionally other
stages were used - for example, Billy Casper informs me that the
episode 'Fall-Out' used some old sets from Battle Beneath the Earth
on stages 1 and 2.
shot on a stage here included a beach scene (using the stage's
tank), the woodland scenes, some scenes at the outdoor cafe and many
of the scenes outside Number 6's house. The lighting is always
the giveaway! That and the painted backcloths. None of
this would have been noticed on TV when these shows were first
broadcast but are apparent now on today's high definition TVs.
was one particularly striking interior set - a large circular room
with backlit walls, and panels in the floor from which chairs or
tables or other things might emerge. This set was dressed and
redressed to become several different chambers in which the
controlling powers were running The Village.
first series ended after 13 episodes but it was agreed between Lew
Grade and McGoohan that another whole series would be too many so
they would finish it with only four more. Rather like Twin Peaks
or Lost - everyone wanted to know how it was going to end and
in particular who was 'Number 1'? The final episode satisfied
almost nobody - the press and viewers were furious that a nice neat
tidy answer was not forthcoming but of course with a series as
enigmatic as this how could there be one? Just like Twin Peaks
and Lost in fact.
involved in making The Prisoner tell how McGoohan was
obsessed with it and controlled everything. More than one
director was fired by him. He ended up directing some episodes
himself and some were also written by him under false names.
His acting performance in the series is quite exceptional but his
power on set when working was at times disturbing to the crew and
other cast members - Leo McKern who played a two-hander with him
towards the end of the series is said to have had a nervous
breakdown, the intensity of acting with McGoohan was so stressful.
can thoroughly recommend the Blu-ray release of this series.
The image quality is astonishingly good - the original 35mm colour
print has been beautifully cleaned up and graded. The style of
the show is clearly very 1960s but much of it still stands up
remarkably well - the performances are particularly strong from
McGoohan and his supporting cast. It is easy to see why it made
such an impact.
from a series called Rafferty and a handful of episodes of Columbo
in the US, McGoohan rarely acted in TV dramas after The Prisoner
and only appeared in a few movies during the rest of his life - these
included Ice Station Zebra ('68), Scanners ('81) and Braveheart
('95). To be fair, in 2000 he did agree to give his voice to a
character called 'Number 6' in The Simpsons episode The
Computer Wore Menace Shoes. So maybe he did have a sense of
humour after all. He died in January 2009.
McGoohan was changing the face of television on one of the stages at
MGM, Stanley Kubrick was taking over most of the other stages with a
film that would change the face of cinema - 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film was not well received by some at first but over the
years it grew to become considered one of the best ever made - in
2012 it was voted the 6th greatest film ever in the Sight and Sound
poll of movie critics and their similar poll of film directors placed 2001
the second greatest film ever made. Praise indeed. (In case you
were wondering, the directors placed Ozu Yasujiro's Tokyo Story
first. No, me neither.)
called Voyage Beyond the Stars, 2001 was co-written with
Arthur C Clarke. Based on one of his short stories it was
developed into an epic saga about primitive mankind being taught how
to survive by a far superior alien race four million years ago and
then making contact again in 2001 to help us on our way and stop us
from destroying ourselves. At least, that's what I think it's
about. Kubrick always refused to explain the film but the novel
that he and Clarke co-wrote whilst the film was being made is much
more easy to understand then the film, which baffled audiences when
it first appeared, possibly since Kubrick did not follow the
conventional rules of storytelling.
didn't baffle me. I was 15 when I saw it and was completely
knocked out by it. I saw it 9 times over the following couple
of years and it remains my number 1 greatest ever film. Mind
you, I've never seen that Japanese one.
was insistent that the space hardware in the film should be
technically and scientifically accurate. Real aerospace
companies from Britain and the US were involved in designing much of
what appeared on screen. This was at the same time as some of
them were working on the actual moon landings - Apollo 11 landed on
the Moon after the movie was completed but much of the design of the
interiors and exteriors of the spacecraft was modified during the
filming in order to keep up with the rapid development of real
science and technology. For example, the craft in the film were
originally metallic in finish but it then became apparent that NASA
were painting their spacecraft white so the model shots so far filmed
were scrapped and re-made.
the first scene on the Moon was shot at Shepperton around Christmas
1965, filming began at MGM Borehamwood in January 1966. Scenes
involving actors were completed by September 1967 but effects
photography continued until March 1968. The film occupied seven
of the ten stages at MGM plus some in other studios such as ABPC
Elstree and Shepperton from time to time. It went way way over
time and budget but its photography and model shots were so well done
that they still stand up today. There was of course no CGI in
those days - effects shots on other films were usually done using
travelling mattes and bluescreen that always caused grain and picture
degradation. Kubrick insisted that the image quality should be
pristine so new techniques were developed. These included front
axial projection and shooting effects using multiple takes 'in
camera.' This involved an early purely mechanical version of
motion control, before computers were available.
of the 'Dawn of Man' sequences. The background plate was
projected onto a highly reflective screen made by 3M. The front
axial projector was attached to the camera so that both lenses were
exactly aligned. The background image was a large format
photograph specially shot in Africa. It was almost invisible to
anyone in the studio and could only be seen properly by the
camera. All of the Dawn of Man scenes used this technique, none
were shot outdoors - except for the final one where 'Moonwatcher'
throws the bone into the air. That's a Borehamwood sky behind him!
thanks to www.gavinrothery.com
spacecraft models were huge in order to look as realistic on camera
as possible. For example, the Discovery was about 60 feet
long. Kubrick insisted that the lighting should appear to be
from a point source (the sun) and of course everything had to be in
focus. This meant that the camera lens was stopped down to a
pinhole. Thus, a sequence where a spaceship appears to glide
past the camera in a few seconds was shot with each frame being
exposed for 4 seconds, then the camera (not the model) was moved a
fraction of an inch, so that the simplest of moves would take many
hours to shoot. Then it would all be done again having wound
the film back in the camera to precisely the same frame in order to
add a foreground spacecraft or a background planet, then again to add
images of people seen through windows. These were done by
covering the model in black velvet and fixing white card to the
windows. Pre-filmed sequences were then projected onto the card
a frame at a time whilst the camera moved a fraction of an inch,
exactly repeating the previous move. Sometimes these separate
takes were months apart. Eventually, the film would be
processed and the rushes viewed and if there was the slightest of
wobbles or other issues like mismatching exposure it was all shot again.
a star field was added using an animation technique. Rather
than using a travelling matte, each individual frame of previously
shot models was lined up using a grid by a room full of women who
used photographic enlargers to note which parts of the image had
spacecraft or planets over them. In another room, people
painted the stars out using black paint in each individual frame of
film so that the stars disappeared behind the spaceships and planets
- and then the two images were combined. This laborious
technique enabled crisp, grain-free 70mm images to be maintained
throughout the film.
all of the spacecraft were miniatures. Here is one of the
full-scale pods from the Discovery being filmed on a stage at MGM
Borehamwood. Some of these shots were achieved by covering the
whole grid with black velvet. The pod and floating astronaut
were suspended on wires and the camera mounted on the floor looking
straight up. This way the wires supporting them were
hidden. A star field was added later.
thanks to www.gavinrothery.com
on a documentary on the making of The Prisoner, one of the
editors interviewed tells the story of how there was a scene where
'Number 6' uses a sextant to look at the stars. They needed to
cut to a shot of the stars but filming such a thing was surprisingly
difficult and expensive. He went next door and had a chat with
one of his mates who was working on 2001. He 'lent' him
a star field shot which duly appeared in The Prisoner.
Kubrick of course knew nothing of this and heads would have rolled if
he had found out.
impressive were the sequences where astronauts appeared to be
walking on the outer walls of a centrifuge creating artificial
gravity. A huge rotating circular set was constructed on one of
the largest stages at MGM - it was built by Vickers-Armstrong (one of
the UK's leading aerospace companies) and was some 38ft in diameter,
costing around half a million pounds in 1960s money. This
enabled some of the most effective space travel scenes to be filmed
that had been seen on screen up to that time or even since then.
I would recommend buying the Blu-ray of this film. The images
are crystal clear and absolutely faultless - as is the multi-track
sound. The movie was first shown in Cinerama cinemas - these
had huge curved screens and presented films made in Super Panavision
70mm with 7 channel sound. They were in a way similar to
today's Imax cinemas in that they projected films on a much bigger
screen and in far greater detail than could be seen in normal
cinemas. At first Cinerama used three 35mm films running side
by side but from 1965 almost all Cinerama films were shot on a single
70mm film. The Casino was London's main Cinerama theatre from
1954 to 1974 - it is now the Prince Edward Theatre. 2001
played here for 47 weeks from May 1968 to March 1969 and again for 6
weeks in 1972.
is the giant 'centrifuge' that was built for 2001.
Below is one of the extraordinary shots in the film, made with no
CGI or flying wires. One astronaut is seen at the bottom of the
frame sitting apparently eating a meal - the other emerges from a
hatch, climbs down the ladder and walks round the 'wall' to meet his
colleague, apparently now upside down. This sequence was
achieved with a camera fixed to the set. The astronaut sitting
was strapped to the chair and was hanging upside down at the start of
the shot. The other actor climbed down the ladder and as he
walked round the centrifuge it was revolved so he was always at the
bottom - thus the poor upside down actor eventually ended up the
right way round.
is one of the scenes being filmed where the centrifuge did not have
to rotate. The cramped space is clear to see - as is the size
of the 70mm camera. Image
thanks to www.gavinrothery.com
movies were made here during the run of 2001 - not quite all
the stages were occupied by that film. Some well known ones
included Blow-Up ('66), The Dirty Dozen ('66), Quatermass
and the Pit ('67), Dance of the Vampires ('67), Where
Eagles Dare ('68), Inspector Clouseau, ('68). Many
of these made use of the large backlot to build exterior sets.
A 17 episode TV series was also made here in 1968 and 1969 called Journey
to the Unknown. Each was a slightly spooky thriller with
an American actor in the lead but the other parts played by British
actors. One episode was set around the making of a TV show -
the Intertel facilities at Wycombe Road were used for this.
1969 and 1970 a rather better remembered TV series was made here -
Gerry Anderson's UFO. The effects shots were made in his
Slough studios but this was his first sci-fi series using real actors
rather than puppets. The series starred Ed Bishop, Gabrielle
Drake and Michael Billington and was moderately successful - but not
enough to warrant a second series. 26 episodes had been ordered
but unfortunately the studios closed before series 1 was
complete. The last nine eps were shot later at Pinewood.
Ed Bishop was familiar with these studios - he played the captain of
the ship that travels to the Moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Unfortunately for him, all his dialogue was muted in the final cut
and his scene is simply played out with music. By a sad
coincidence, both Michael Billington and Ed Bishop died within a week
of each other in June 2005.
10 more movies were made in these studios after 2001 wrapped
but sadly despite its success, other films made here were less
profitable. MGM was in trouble back in the US and they had to
cut their costs. The studios in Borehamwood were proving very
expensive to run and despite their popularity amongst film-makers, in
1970 they were closed. UFO was the last production made
here. MGM moved down the road to take a 50% share in EMI's
studios - they were also struggling. However, this arrangement
was only to last three years or so and MGM would then no longer have
a studio in the UK.
site sat empty until it was taken over by Christian Salveson in 1973
who demolished the stages and built facilities to be used as a cold
store. Stage 10 was dismantled and sold to Bray where it became
their new stage 1. It would later be renumbered stage 2 and
would remain in use right up to 2010.
the Studio's film-making days were not quite over. In 1973
there was apparently a scene shot for Holiday on the Buses (I
can't say I have seen it) where Stan demolishes an old building; this
is in fact rather tragically stage 6 at MGM - the one used to film The
Prisoner. As a complete contrast, in 1978 Kubrick was
filming The Shining at EMI Elstree studios down the road.
He needed to build a section of the maze that features in the film
but the back lot at EMI was already occupied with the Overlook
Hotel. Thus, the maze was constructed on the old back lot at
MGM. This was for the daylight scenes. The night scenes
of the maze in the snow were shot on stage 1 at EMI Elstree.
distinctive white clock tower and admin building lasted until
1986. Despite protests from local people they too were
demolished when Christian Salveson left the site and it became a
Sainsbury's distribution centre. The back lot was turned into a
- 2010 (the studios have not accepted bookings
since 2010 but remain standing, pending redevelopment.)
studios will forever be associated with Hammer horror films but
those were only a relatively small part of the studio's history.
Although set up as a film studio, the stages were soon being used
used to make a number of TV dramas and in latter years some
multicamera sitcoms, a kids' gameshow and a lottery gameshow for the
BBC. They were also a favourite location for bands to rehearse
tours. Famously, on one occasion in 2007, David Gilmour was in
one big stage and Roger Waters was in the other with his band.
They met, inevitably, and rather uncomfortably, outside one day and
the encounter was filmed. (Watch it on YouTube). Although
they had performed a couple of years before when Pink Floyd were
reunited for Live
this filmed conversation demonstrates quite nicely that the Floyd
would never re-form on a permanent basis.
studios as they were after they closed in 2010. Stage 3 on the
left, stage 2 straight ahead, stage 1 below.
- back to the beginning. Down Place, a 17th century mansion
beside the Thames between Windsor and Maidenhead, was owned by one
Jacob Tonson. He, by the way, formed the 'Kit-Kat Club' which
had nothing to do with chocolate bars. The club didn't meet
here, despite what you might have read, but in Tonson's London
residence. The house was a private dwelling until 1951 when a
small wing remained privately occupied.
to go back a few years before 1951 - Hammer Productions Ltd was
created in 1934 by an ex-actor, William Hinds, who called himself
Will Hammer. Hinds was part of a comedy double-act paired with
a bloke called Smith - they lived in Hammersmith, hence 'Hammer and
Smith.' The Hammer name stuck. He was a member of the
family who became famous for their High Street jewellery shops and he
later became the chairman of the Goldhawk Building Society. No,
really. He also managed a few theatres and sold bicycles.
I'm not making this up. The first Hammer film was The Public
Life of Henry the Ninth ('35). I'm sure we all remember
1935 Will Hammer paired up with one Enrique Carreras. The pair of
them established 'Exclusive Films.' Some of their movies were
under the 'Exclusive' banner, others were 'Hammer' films. In
1938 Enrique's son James joined the company. A little later,
Will's son Anthony joined the company too.
the war they began making cheap quota quickies (these have featured
in the history of studios throughout this website). They made a
film called Dick Barton, Special Agent ('48) which was based
on a BBC radio series. Realising that this might be a rich seam
of possible movie titles, in 1949 they formed a new company to
exploit this new direction - Hammer Film Productions. For the
next few years they made low-budget films based on popular radio
shows like The Man in Black ('50), A Case For PC49
('51) and Life With the Lyons ('54).
decided to make these low budget films in large houses rather than
renting costly studios. The first one was in Dial Close,
Cookham Dean near Maidenhead but the neighbours were not impressed so
they had to move on. The next property was Oakley Court, a
Victorian gothic mansion beside the Thames between Maidenhead and
Windsor, to which they would return in future years. The owner
was still in residence but lived in a few rooms and let them have the
run of the rest of the house. The Man in Black ('50) was
made here. They made two or three films here and also in a
house in Harlow, Essex.
1950 they filmed a few scenes of The Dark Light in Down
Place, which was in effect next door to Oakley Court, although a few
hundred yards up river. The house was almost derelict - it had
been used to store duffel coats during the war (many were still
there!) and parts of the floor had collapsed under the weight of all
that damp duffel. The owner was living quietly in one wing,
separated from the rest of the house. Nevertheless, Down Place
proved to be perfect for their needs so in 1951 they took out a
one-year lease on the property.
('51) was the first Hammer film completely made here. In fact
they liked the house so much that in 1952 they took over the freehold.
named the place 'Bray Studios' after the nearby village (famous for
its vicar, its riverside homes where several celebrities have lived
over the years and its two Michelin 3-star restaurants. The
restaurants came later by the way.) Everything here was very,
very basic but a team spirit soon established itself amongst the crew
that would last for years.
Hammer first started using the house for filming they numbered the
rooms just like stages - A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H. Some of
course were relatively small and with low ceilings, making lighting
and boom operation very tricky. In fact it was not uncommon for
the boom op to be standing outside, poking his rod through the window
as there was no space in the room for him to stand.
1953 they decided to knock three rooms into one, including
the ballroom. This created the 'ballroom stage' or stage
'B-C-D'. It was 110 x 25 ft. A decent length but rather
narrow and of course with a relatively low ceiling compared with a
purpose-built stage. When the new big stage was built in 1957
this became stage 3. It was used for many scenes in famous
films including Dracula (the Inn where Peter Cushing arrives
in the village), The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Mummy and
several others. In fact, if you see a long, narrow set with a
low ceiling in any early Hammer film it was probably shot on this
stage. It was seriously damaged by a fire in 1961 but was rebuilt.
smaller stage was created within the house in the side wing by
knocking some rooms together and the large entrance hall was often
used too. These all gradually went out of use over the years as
proper stages were built in the grounds but the ballroom stage was
used up until the late 1970s. It later became a viewing theatre.
in 1953 Hammer built their first actual stage - it was a modest 45 x
40 ft but it had a grid height of 18ft which was a luxury in that at
last they could light sets from above. It was built of brick,
which meant that they could use fire FX within it relatively
safely. It had a small tank 10 x 8ft and only 4ft 6in deep but
this extra depth was useful in some sets. The stage was built
between the wings at the rear of the house where a circular driveway
had originally led to the entrance. Known early on as stage 2,
it changed its number several times over the years but remained till
2010 when it was known as stage 4.
Hammer was not doing too well making its quota quickies and radio
adaptations. Just about keeping its head above water but that
was about it. Then in 1955 Hammer secured the rights to make a
movie version of TV sci-fi series The Quatermass Xperiment.
was phenomenally successful and was followed up in 1956 with Quatermass
II. They realised that horror might be the way to go so
made The Curse of Frankenstein ('57) - their first
colour film. For the next few years they revelled in blood and
gore with films like Dracula ('58), The Hound of the
Baskervilles ('59), The Mummy ('59), Curse of the
Werewolf ('61), The Damned ('63), Kiss of the Vampire
('63) - well, you get the idea. Most of these films starred
Christopher Lee and/or Peter Cushing. These movies used every
inch of Down Place which was dressed and redressed for each title,
whilst other sets were built on the stages. The exterior set on
the back lot was also used for many a graveyard, ancient village or
the popularity of many of their films, the business itself never did
that well. In 1955 Bray Studios was in trouble. They cut
their regular staff to 60 and started to rely on outside companies to
book their facilities. They considered selling the studios but
the success of each horror film as it came out just about rescued
them from disaster. Their US distributors Columbia purchased a
49% share in the studios in order to save them from closure.
This investment enabled Bray to build their third and largest stage
in 1957. This was of course a terrible time for the British
film industry in general. Cinema audiences were plummeting and
the creation of ITV in 1955 made things even worse. Why would
people pay to go to the pictures when television provided such great
entertainment at home for free?
1956 the first TV production was filmed at Bray. It was The Errol
Flynn Theatre and was made not by Hammer but by Motley Films
Ltd, although the credits state 'An Inter-TV Production.' 25
half hour episodes were made it appears, all in one year. They
were aimed at the American market but were also shown by the new ITV
companies. Errol Flynn himself played the lead in every fourth
show but they also starred many leading movie actors including
Christopher Lee (of course), Glynis Johns, Leslie Phillips, Herbert
Lom, Mai Zetterling and many others. Interestingly, the first
in the series (Evil Thoughts) was actually filmed at Walton
Studios in 1953 as a pilot for a similar series that was never commissioned.
the fragility of the company's finances, by 1956 it was clear that
they needed more room at Bray. Part of The Abominable Snowman
had to be filmed on a stage at Pinewood as there was no suitable
space at Bray and so in 1957 they constructed a new much
larger stage which became known as stage 1. It was 90 x 60ft
(according to Kinematograph Weekly). There are some reports
that this stage came from Walton Studios - but this seems very
unlikely since those studios were busy at this time and in fact
undergoing some modest expansion. The confusion appears to have
arisen because the later stage 1 at Bray came from MGM Borehamwood
but prior to that it had been located at Walton as their stage
A. Anyway, we will come to this in due course! Stage 1
was built where the final stage 2 stood, but was somewhat smaller.
year or two later, Hammer built another stage - stage 4. This
was a rather basic looking construction faced in corrugated iron but
was still standing in 2010. It was 71 x 36ft so not large by
any means but very useful for sets such as various domestic
interiors, cells, inns and the like. Apparently it was favoured
for dungeon sets where rats were involved as the escapees could do
less damage than on the other stages. It also had a 4ft 6in
deep tank that was 10 x 8ft.
by December 1962 (according to Kinematograph Weekly) they had the
following: stage 1 - 90 x 60ft; stage 2 - 45 x 40ft;
stage 3 - 110 x 25ft and stage 4 - 71 x 36ft.
back lot was to the left of the main entrance down the driveway from
the Windsor Road, where the newest brick-built stage was located in
the latter years of Bray. There were three main sets over the
years that were used many times over. The first was the
exterior of Dracula's castle which was built in 1957. This was
re-dressed and used for several films including The Revenge of Frankenstein
and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
1960 this was struck and a village square was built for The
Brides of Dracula. This square was enlarged bit by bit and
a second square added to it. It became very elaborate indeed
with loads of convincing detail. It could be a generic
mid-European town square or a medieval English village with a bit of
re-dressing. It even became a Chinese dockyard in Terror of
the Tongs. (No, me neither.) Eagle-eyed Hammer fans
can recognise familiar archways, roof lines and windows in most of
the films shot around this time but the sets were so detailed that
most viewers would have completely accepted that they were real.
Other sets were squeezed in around the village square when required,
occasionally spreading into the adjacent field.
1965 the village square set was replaced with an exterior castle set
for Dracula, Prince of Darkness. This was transformed
into a gothic house for Rasputin the Mad Monk and then became
part of a village and graveyard for Plague of the Zombies and The
Reptile. Don't you just want to rush off and watch all
these glorious titles now?!!
back lot sets were cleared in 1966 when Hammer left Bray.
is a plan of the site in 1966. Down Place is at the top
- the ballroom stage (3) was within the long wing of the building
across the top with the curved section.
1 is the large block in the centre of the site - a larger stage
would be built here in 1973.
rectangle to the south of stage 1 was stage 4. Stage 2 was the
square shape tucked up by the house.
long row of buildings along the left of the site were various
workshops, stores and the powerhouse.
sets on the back lot were built in the area on the bottom right of
January 1964 ABPC became co-owners along with Hammer and
Columbia. This was an odd deal. Hammer remained effective
owners but they had agreed that they would henceforth make all their
films at ABPC Elstree, unless those studios were full. Bray
thus became a sort of overspill site. The studios became
mothballed for much of 1964. None of Hammer's six films in 1964
was shot at Bray. It was used for a couple of films made by
Bill Luckwell but the studios were proving a financial
millstone. They reopened in March 1965 and Dracula Prince of Darkness
was the first of seven films made by Hammer between '65 and '66 plus
two produced by Harry Alan Towers (see Highbury Studios for more info
on him). The first four films in 1965 were shot back to back
and shared several sets and props which were redressed for each film.
1965 Hammer also took over the Victorian gothic mansion Oakley
Court. (You will remember that they first used it as a filming
location in 1950.) This was a few hundred yards along the river
from Down Place. I have not been able to establish whether this
was a lease or possibly a number of short term rentals whilst the
property was unoccupied. (The previous owner had died a few
months earlier and the house remained empty until 1979 when it was
converted into a luxury hotel). Oakley Court looked even more
the thing for making horror films than Down Place and several used
the house such as The Reptile ('66), Plague of the Zombies
('66) and And Now The Screaming Starts ('72).
other less chilling films also used this property including The
Rocky Horror Picture Show and - rather surprisingly - Tommy
Steele's Half A Sixpence. Some accounts state that the
original St Trinian's films used it too but to be honest the
dates don't fit, the house doesn't look the same and none of the
official location guides mention Oakley Court. In any case, for
many films that did use it, it is likely that the exterior and the
extensive grounds were used more often than the interior - Down Place
was still more suitable for interior shots.
Court - as it is now (a very nice hotel). Imagine it rather
more dilapidated at night with clouds scudding across a full
moon. You get the idea.
house was the HQ of the French resistance during the war and
DeGaulle was said to be a visitor.
brief resurgence in Hammer's filmmaking at Bray did not last and the
last Hammer horror film made here was The Mummy's Shroud,
which wrapped in October 1966. They continued making films but
used Elstree. Hammer left Bray in November. They retained
ownership of the studios but for the next four years just used them
for some effects photography on a few films.
1970 the studios were used for two significant movies - John
Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday and Ken Russell's The
Music Lovers. Bray was still owned by Hammer at this time
although the company itself was nowhere to be seen. However,
many of the former crew members worked on those films. They
used the three main stages - the ballroom stage was occupied by FX
work on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. The set on the
back lot was long gone but the prop stores had various familiar items
lying around, left over from classic Hammer horrors.
November 1970 the studios were sold to Redspring Ltd for
£65,000. That wasn't very much even then. They
originally planned to demolish the stages and build housing (sound
familiar?) but fortunately changed their minds. The studios
were renamed 'Bray International Film Centre.' The old
stage 1 was demolished and replaced with a new, larger one opening in
1973. I have been told that this was because the old stage 1
had been 'gutted by fire' but I can find no other records of
this. Can you help?
is a plan of the site from 1976. According to the
brochure it is taken from, the studios had been 'largely rebuilt'
during the previous four years. This included the new stage
1. This stage was also taken from another film studio - it had
originally been stage 10 at MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood.
Those studios had closed in 1970 but were bought in 1973 by Christian
Salveson who used some of the old stages for storage and demolished
the rest. However, this one was dismantled and re-erected
here. Stage 10 had been the last to be built at MGM in 1963 so
was relatively new. It was 10,200 sq ft - 120 x 85ft.
When at Borehamwood it would almost certainly either have been used
by Patrick McGoohan's iconic series The Prisoner or as one of
the stages for Kubrick's 2001:A Space Odyssey. (Both
were made there at the same time.) Whichever, that is pretty
the stage numbering changed at this time - with the stages being
re-numbered in descending order of size as can be seen on the drawing
above, which is from a studio publicity brochure. Some time in
the late '70s the ballroom stage (4) was converted into a viewing
theatre. The 1976 brochure boasts that the studios had:
sound stages, three tanks, eight cutting rooms, nine dressing rooms;
theatre and sound department; fourteen offices, penthouse production
suite; two art departments; workshops for painters, plasterers and
metalwork; wardrobe, hairdressing and make-up; props store and camera store.
new stage 1as it was in 1976
photo is from a marketing leaflet dating from the late
1980s. It appears to be the same stage (then called stage 2)
but looking in the other direction.
significant films were shot at Bray during the 1970s and into the
'80s including Pope Joan, The Hireling, Agatha, Loophole and The
Rocky Horror Picture Show.
early '70s also saw the site being used for effects work on Dr Who
and between 1973 and 1975 Bray was booked by Gerry Anderson for
effects work and miniature shots on his series Space 1999.
Apparently he didn't use the big stage but took over the stage in
the house, some workshops and one or both of the other small stages.
was the year in which Anglo-German sci-fi series Star Maidens
was filmed. I have read that they used some props and sound
effects left over from from Space 1999. I assume Gerry
seems to have become known around this time as a centre of
excellence for special effects work. In 1978, Ridley Scott's
movie Alien took over the site under great secrecy. The
effects shots, model shots and the exterior shots of the Nostromo
spacecraft were filmed here. The sequence where John Hurt
rather foolishly looks into the egg and we see movement inside it was
shot on one of the stages here - or at least, the closeups of the egg
were. Ridley Scott's own hands were inside the 'gloves' that
formed the embryo alien in the translucent egg - he knew exactly how
he wanted it to twitch.
1983 and 1984 Gerry Anderson returned to Bray to make his first
puppet series since the Supermarionation days of the 1960s on the
Slough Trading Estate. This was Terrahawks and the
puppet scenes and special effects for all 39 episodes were shot here.
1984 the studios were bought by Samuelson's who
shortly afterwards built a brand new large stage (see below).
Movies in the 1980s included The Sea Wolves, Dead Man's Folly, A
Month in the Country, For Queen and Country and Hope and Glory.
TV drama included Paradise Postponed,
The Manageress and
of the acts for the 1985 Live Aid concert rehearsed at Bray - in
fact a large number of world-class bands and solo artists used the
relative privacy of stage 1 or 2 to rehearse their tours over many
years. The two main stages were and still are an ideal size to
set up the set and lighting rig to be toured. There is little
doubt that if the studios were still open they would still be used
for this kind of work. Bray Studios are ideally situated only a
short drive from Heathrow and London and with excellent hotels and
world class restaurants nearby.
Bray Studios site around 2010. (Compare this with the
the Thames at the top, obviously. Down Place is the house at
the north of the site with the long narrow wing below it and then
extending southwards to the left and right. The wing on the
left contained the camera and sound dept and cutting rooms with
workshops further south. The wing on the right is a private house.
within the wings and attached to the house is stage 4 - the first
one to be built in 1953.
large building south of the house is stage 2, built in 1973.
cluster of buildings south of that consists of stage 3 (with the
pitched roof) built around 1958 and a couple of workshops constructed
a few years later.
the bottom of the picture is stage 1 - it has workshops, production
offices, make-up and dressing rooms etc running along each side.
This stage was built around 1985.
houses on the right of the image are private properties and not
connected with the studios.
thanks to Googlemaps
to the 1983 BFI Yearbook, Bray then had the following:
Stage A - 10,204 sq ft; B - 3,003 sq ft and C - 1,883 sq ft.
These sizes do not quite tally with the ones quoted in the 1962
yearbook and numbers have oddly become letters. This may have
been an error by the publishers of the Yearbook. Also, note
that by then the ballroom stage had become a viewing theatre.
1985 another large brick-built stage had been built.
This was an actual purpose-built stage - not coming from another
studio. It was roughly the same size as the existing stage 1
and was constructed on the land that in years gone by had been used
by Hammer to build their exterior sets. When it was opened the
numbering changed again, with it becoming stage 1.
according to the BFI Yearbook, in 1986 Bray had stage 1 - 10,247 sq
ft, stage 2 - 10,204 sq ft, stage 3 - 3,003 sq ft and stage 4 - 1,883
a marketing brochure kindly sent to me by Mark Elliott has the
stages as follows:
1 - 113 x 91ft (10,283 sq ft), stage 2 - 120 x 85ft (10,200 sq
ft), stage 3 - 71 x 36ft (2,556 sq ft) and stage 4 - 45 x 40ft
(1,800 sq ft).
think we can probably rely on these dimensions as being accurate.
is the plan of the new stage 1 as it appeared in a marketing leaflet
around the time it was built.
thanks to Mark Elliott
1 - built in 1985.
four photos are thanks to Adrian Ace and Flickr
photos were taken in 2007. The poor state of some of the
buildings is clear to see although the two main stages look in pretty
good nick externally at least.
dock doors to stage 2 - built here in 1973 but previously at MGM
Borehamwood and before that at Walton studios. The most
travelled stage in the country.
3. Built pretty cheaply in 1958, this one is certainly showing
back of Down Place seen here in the background. In the middle
distance is stage 4. This was the first stage Hammer built in 1953.
the right is the glamorous Portacabin serving as make-up and
wardrobe for stage 2.
is a photo taken in 1955, 52 years before the one above. The
movie was Dick Turpin - Highwayman. I have included it
here as it is a similar viewpoint to the image above. Below,
the stage was very new and the exterior set is where the Portacabins
were built much later on the left. Amazingly, the trees in the
background don't seem to have changed much in half a century.
1990 the lease for the studios was taken over by Bray Management
Ltd. In July 1999 Broadcast ran a story under the headline
'Bray Studios Saved From Closure.' In it they reported that the
studios had been saved 'for the next 15 years.' In the article
Peter Gray and his business partner Neville Hendricks are quoted as
saying that they were looking to spend '2 or 3 million over the next
five years on structural and facilities improvement to bring it into
the 21st century.'
dramas and comedies filmed here in the '90s and noughties included Inspector
in the Sky, 99-1, Born and Bred, Demob, Dirty Tricks,
Invasion Earth, Murder Rooms, Night and Day, Our Friends in the
Green, Gone To The Dogs, Jeeves and Wooster, Poirot,
Roger Roger, Roughnecks, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Sex Chips &
Rock n' Roll, Soldier Soldier, Stick With Me Kid, Still Life at the
Penguin Cafe (ballet),
The Detectives, The Gentleman Thief, The Safe House, The Unknown
Soldier, The Wyvern Mystery, Titmuss Regained, The Turn of the Screw and
Murder Most Horrid.
least two multicamera sitcom series were recorded here. One
Do You Want Me ('97,
Dylan Moran and Charlotte Colman. Far more controversial was Heil
Honey I'm Home ('90), a spoof '50's-style sitcom in questionable
taste depicting Hitler and Eva Braun living next door to a Jewish
couple. It was made for the ill-fated BSB channel Galaxy but
only one episode was ever aired. The rest of the series was
never transmitted. When Sky took over BSB they were appalled by
the show and immediately scrapped it. One of the camera crew
told me that they were working on the final episode but were sent
home at lunchtime before it was recorded. Sky had just bought
BSB and the series had been pulled. So 4 unseen episodes may
still exist somewhere. The pilot (ep 1) was in fact made at
Pinewood - that's the only one to survive. I gather the old
Tyne Tees Television scanner was used for facilities here at
Bray. They probably shoved it in the river when the show was scrapped.
ticket for the ill-fated show described by some as the world's most
tasteless situation comedy. I've watched it on YouTube.
was also a BBC1 lottery show - Red Alert. Two series
were recorded in 1999. 200
episodes of the CBeebies series Fimbles
made at Bray from 2001. In 2003 Stage 1 was the home of Inside
Clyde, a kids' gameshow set within the internal organs of a
human being called - er - Clyde. It was presented by Tony Hawks
and directed by highly respected (and much missed) David G Croft who
now lectures at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield.
of the set for Inside Clyde
thanks to David G Croft's website
stages at Bray have often been used to shoot commercials. One
notable example was the 1998 Guinness ad with the surfer and the
white horses. Apparently much of it was filmed against
bluescreen on one of the stages here.
shot here since 1990 included The Witches, Edward II, Mojo,
Velvet Goldmine, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Reign of Fire, The Dark
and (ahem) Ali G Indahouse. Probably the last film made
here was some miniature and effects work for Terry Gilliam's The
Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus in 2009.
in 2010 Neville Hendricks announced that the studios were no longer
economically viable. He said that bookings from films and TV
had diminished in recent years and competition from larger studios
such as Pinewood and Shepperton meant that they could no longer
attract sufficient business. He planned to renovate Down Place
and live there with his extended family. The stages and other
buildings would be demolished and seven luxury houses would be
built. There was inevitably strong opposition to this - some
people pointing out that it is the relatively small size of the site
and its seclusion that has appealed over the years to so many film-makers
and to bands who need to rehearse in privacy. Twickenham
studios - a similar sized site - was saved from closure in 2012.
However, despite a similar campaign to save these studios, on 3rd
October 2012 planning permission was finally granted.
a newspaper interview in 2010 Mr Hendricks explained that the stages
and facilities were by then very old and needed 'millions' spent on
them to bring them up to a reasonable standard. He did possibly
have a point - much of the site had a dilapidated and seedy look to
it for a number of years although I would question whether millions
needed to be spent on the stages, particularly stage 1. You
could build brand new ones for millions - a few hundred thousand
would go a long way to redecorate and tidy up the existing ones.
Certainly the support facilities did need some money spent on them.
is worth pointing out that stage 1 is comparatively not very old and
stage 2 has a bit of a history but was erected here in 1973 which
compares very well with many film stages. Studios like Ealing,
Twickenham, Elstree, Pinewood and Shepperton all have much older
stages that are still in regular use. A film stage is a very
basic thing - a black box with a grid and some power. It is not
like a TV studio which is full of technical equipment that goes out
of date. A well-built film stage (like stages 1 and 2 ) can go
on for ever. In fact, many films and TV series are now being
made in far less suitable facilities than this. Old factories
and leaky warehouses are frequently being used now due to the lack of
available film stages.
also explained that the old house needed a great deal spent on it to
preserve it for the future. That is a point. It is
perhaps unlikely that he would get his money back from renting studio
space if he did spend millions doing up the old house and turning it
into several luxury residences.
- bitter as it may seem - it looks as though simple economics have
brought the studios to a close, although it is a shame he didn't
appear to be willing to put the site on the market to see if someone
else might make a go of it. He does also appear to have turned
away work since 2010 which could have kept the studios going for a
few years longer whilst discussions continued over their future.
to attractive tax laws, the making of features and TV dramas in the
UK is more popular than ever. This has meant that they have
really struggled to find stages to hire. Since the closure of
TV Centre, Teddington and Wimbledon there has been an even greater
demand for studio space and stages 1 and 2 here might well have
attracted TV shows with standing sets. They would almost
certainly have had regular bookings by TV dramas and low budget
features - these are now having to use unsuitable buildings such as
empty factories and warehouses around London due to the severe
shortage of available sound stages.
guess is that if it had been put on the market, an enterprising
company or individual could have come in and refurbished stages 1 and
2 for a relatively small amount. Some new dressing
rooms/make-up facilities and production offices would have been
needed for stage 2. Stage 3 and the surrounding workshops
should probably have been demolished and replaced with new workshops
and/or possibly a new medium stage. The house clearly needs
some money spent on it but it was a near ruin when Hammer took it
over in 1951 (remember the duffel coats?) so there is no reason to
assume it should be transformed into a luxury dwelling now.
Making it weatherproof is a priority but its dilapidated character is
surely part of its charm and film-making history.
campaign with a Facebook group and petition was organised in 2013
attempting to save the studios, despite the planning permission
decision. The occasional newspaper report has mentioned
it. Terry Gilliam is one notable director who has lent his
support but it is unclear how the studios can now be saved. I
have been informed that the decision by the planning committee was
challenged on the grounds that that they might have been given false
information which may have affected their decision. However, it
does sadly look as though this last minute attempt to save this
valuable asset for the UK film industry has not been successful.
Nevertheless, in April 2015 when I last looked, the stages all
appeared to still be standing - but unused. What a waste!
part of the proposed redevelopment is that a small 'media centre'
will be built so that, according to press reports, 'the site can
continue to make television programmes.' Quite what this might
contain is at present unclear but I suspect that the newspapers have
misunderstood what is planned. The architect's drawing
indicates a relatively small office-type building on two floors with
no apparent space for any TV production studios. It is possible
that a very small interview-type/greenscreen studio might be
incorporated - there seems to be a windowless wing to the building
that might contain a small studio.
imagine that the hope is to attract one or two small TV production
companies so that planning of programmes to be shot elsewhere and
maybe some off-line editing can be done in the building. There
are only 24 parking places on the plans so this suggests a relatively
council also called for a permanent memorial to the studios' history
on the site but what form this will take has not yet been clarified.
a few hundred yards downstream of Tower Bridge on the south bank of
the river, these studios were in their day the largest in London,
covering 3.25 acres. They were originally a Spillers' dog biscuit
factory - no, really - and began with 4 stages, increasing to 7 by
the time they closed. Apparently, the empty factory was used as
a location for a pop video and the makers realised that the buildings
would make great film stages until redevelopment took place - as
still often happens today. In fact this temporary use went on
for 11 years.
highly regarded feature films were shot here either entirely or
partly including Highlander ('86) with Christopher Lambert, Personal
Services ('87) with Julie Walters and Prick up Your Ears
('87) with Vanessa Redgrave, Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina.
Other movies included Biggles - Adventures in Time ('86), The
Young Americans ('93), and Different For Girls ('96).
St was used to make pop videos, commercials and several TV
dramas. Best known of these was LWT's London's Burning.
This was based on the 1986 TV movie written by Jack Rosenthal.
It ran from 1988 - 2002 and there were 171 episodes. The
original fire station featured is on Wolseley St in London and was
opposite the Jacob St Studios. When the studios closed in 1994
another fire station was used. The Comic Strip 2 was
also filmed here.
studios were demolished to make way for a large residential development.
House Mill ahead and the Clock Mill to its right. The third
mill was rather carelessly lost 500 years ago.
thanks to Wikipedia
studios are located on Three Mill Island, Bromley-by-Bow in East
London. The island is said to be London's oldest surviving
industrial centre and is the location of The Clock Mill and The House
Mill - the latter being the largest and most powerful of the four
remaining tidal mills in Britain. It last turned in 1941 but
there are plans to restore it to working condition as a power
generator. In fact there may have been several mills on the
island at the time of the Domesday Book - these reduced to three by
the 12th century (when the island gained its name) and in the 16th
century the three became two - the House Mill and the Clock Mill,
seen above. These together had a total of seven large
waterwheels and in the 19th century they were processing around 125
tons of maize and barley per week.
mills and associated facilities on the island have been built and
rebuilt several times over the centuries. As well as maize and
barley they were even briefly used to produce gunpowder. In the
19th century Nicholson's acquired the site and used it to distil
gin. Following air-raid damage during the war this ceased but
the remaining buildings continued to be used for warehousing.
This lasted in parts of the site right up to the early 1990s.
'old lab' and gin still. An example of the lovely old
buildings that are all around the 3 Mills site.
of the old distillery buildings began to be used for film production
from the mid 1980s. There are conflicting reports on the
precise sequence of events but this seems the most likely (unless you
know different?) - two companies established themselves here: Bow
Studios and 3 Mills Island Studios.
1993 the two studio businesses and all the other buildings on the
island were bought by Workspace Group - a property company
specialising in the provision of accommodation for small
businesses. Workspace invested over £8m in the site - a
considerable amount. At the same time Edwin Shirley, a former
actor and businessman, saw the potential in these facilities so he
formed Edwin Shirley Productions (ESP), took out a lease and became
the management company for the new 3 Mills Studios.
in 2001 there appears to have been a legal dispute between Workspace
Group and ESP over lease contracts and rent payments. According
to press reports at the time, Workspace 'ousted' ESP from the
studios. There seems to have been some concern at the time that
the studios would close but Workspace declared that they were
committed to seeing film-making continue. They brought in a
consultant from Leavesden Studios to help take over the running of 3 Mills.
August 2004 the studios were taken over by the London Development
Agency who transferred ownership to the Olympic Park Legacy Company
in 2010. Some of the stages were used as rehearsal rooms for
the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies. This enterprise is
now known as the London Legacy Development Corporation.
studio site pre 2014 (thanks to the 3 Mills website).
The pink areas are stages, dark blue are 'warehouses', orange are
prop stores, light green are rehearsal rooms, light blue are
production offices, beige are workshops. Stage 10 is now 3
impressive size of the whole studio complex is clear but it is also
interesting how it formed two distinct halves. In 2014 the site
was considerably reduced in size when all the stages and facilities
to the west were demolished for redevelopment.
you can guess from the long history, the site is now an attractive
mix of buildings of various shapes and sizes. There are no
fully equipped TV studios here but there are an impressive 11 stages
plus a number of rehearsal rooms, workshops, prop stores and over 200
production offices. Most stages were adapted from previous
industrial use so have a variety of proportions and roof
heights. Most have fairly basic grids unlike the purpose built
stages at sites like Pinewood, Elstree, Leavesden or Shepperton.
Only stage 15 has air extraction built in and none has air cooling
which means they are bound to get pretty warm when used for long
periods with a big lighting rig.
studio site until 2014 was two separate sites side by side and
linked by a bridge over the river. On the west were stages A, C
and D and associated workshops and offices and to the east the island
with the old mills and the numbered stages 1 - 15. (stages 3, 10, 13,
and 14 no longer exist.) In 2014, despite increased demand for
studio space, the entire western section was closed and demolished
for redevelopment. The studios are owned by the London Legacy
Development Corporation - who, let's be honest, are not particularly
interested in film and TV but have a remit to redevelop and upgrade
this whole area with new housing, business premises and shops.
stages are used for all kinds of work including pop videos and
commercials and for rehearsing rock tours and West End musicals
etc. Several feature films have also been made here such as Topsy
Turvy, 28 Days Later, Sexy Beast, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking
Barrels, Made in Dagenham, Sunshine and Attack the Block.
3 Mills is also used to film single-camera TV drama and in recent
years they have occasionally been used to record multi-camera TV
shows using OB units. Not only that but live TV comes from here
now - channel 4's Million Pound Drop is made at 3 Mills.
features have been made in the stages to the west, which offered a
degree of privacy away from the rest of the site. With these
having been lost, it is possible that 3 Mills will find it more
difficult to attract this kind of work in the future.
studios are reasonably close to tube and DLR stations and with good
road, rail and even air connections via London City. However,
they are situated well away from most of London's other film and TV
studios so those working in the industry living to the west probably
find them not as easy to commute to. They are also sited well
away from prop hire and scenery companies which are mostly located to
the west of London. Also, as mentioned above, most of the
stages do not have the flexible grids found elsewhere and none has
built-in air conditioning - so 3 Mills have had to attract business
in other ways. Quite sensibly, I am told that they are
relatively cheap to hire and so are ideal for shows with standing
sets or, let's be honest, low budgets. However, that's far from
all - the site is long established as a busy studio centre and is
well equipped with production office and workshop/wardrobe/make-up
areas. It also contains many beautiful old buildings plus the
surrounding waterways of course and by all accounts is a very
pleasant environment to work in.
TV shows made here have included 24 Hour Quiz, The Grid, Big
Brother (series 1 and 2), Blue Peter Christmas Panto, The
Slammer ('06, '08), Hell's Kitchen ('07, '09), Gordon
Ramsay's Cookalong Live ('08), Katy Brand's Big Ass Show ('08),
Britain's Next Top Model ('10), Million Pound Drop ('10,
'11, '12, '13), A Comedy Roast ('10), Ant and Dec
Push The Button ('11).
camera dramas and comedies have included Bad Girls, The
Canterbury Tales, Chickens,
Lazarus, Crocodile Shoes, Hornblower, Hunting Venus, Kavanagh QC,
Letting Go, London Bridge, London's Burning, Manchild, Prime Suspect,
Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), The Diary of Anne Frank, Waterloo
Road, Ashes to Ashes, The Bill, Lead Balloon, Luther, Whitechapel.
are/were 14 stages as follows:
1 - 3,945 sq ft - mostly used as a rehearsal room for musicals
2 - 3,129 sq ft - very dead acoustic and mostly used for
theatrical and musical rehearsals
4 - 6,034 sq ft - (links to stage 6) square shape and used for
some single camera dramas such as Diary of Anne Frank
5 - 10,437 sq ft - same size as arena of Royal Albert Hall.
Often used for rehearsals but also commercials and features such as Attack
6 - 8,056 sq ft. Contains an L-shaped blue screen.
Used for Hells' Kitchen and The Slammer amongst many others.
7 - 13,483 sq ft - largest stage here. Used for Ant and
Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Bad Girls, Never Let Me Go plus
8 - smallest at 3,802 sq ft. Used for Hell's Kitchen,
28 weeks Later, Lead Balloon etc.
9 - 8,949 sq ft. Million Pound Drop, The Slammer, Terry
Pratchett's Hogfather and so on.
11 - 8,128 sq ft and with a block and tackle grid. Million
Pound Drop, The Mighty Boosh and many rock tour rehearsals.
Has a covered area alongside suitable for an OB scanner or
portacabins providing TV facilities.
12 - 7,834 sq ft and with highest grid on site. Used for Million
Pound Drop, Diary of Anne Frank, Ant and Dec's Push The Button, Sunshine.
15 - 5,320 sq ft and the newest (purpose-built) stage on site
with gantry, I-beam grid and external power source for OB
scanner. Gordon Ramsay Cookalong Live, The Deep Blue Sea
plus various ads etc.
following stages no longer exist:
A - 10,499 sq ft. Several features such as Eastern
Promises, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Enter Shikara made here.
B became a workshop.
C - 9,169 sq ft. Direct access to stages A and D.
Fantastic Mr Fox, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Sunshine.
D - 9,402 sq ft - Fantastic Mr Fox, Tim Burton's Corpse
A, C and D were grouped together on the west of the site along with
various workshops and warehouses and were ideal as a base for making
feature films. This area was separated from the rest of the
site by a central gate in the roadway that linked the two halves of 3 Mills.
1 - mostly used for rehearsals
7 - largest stage at 206ft x 81ft widest, 59ft narrowest
11 - fitted with an I-beam grid and 100ft x 82ft.
15 - purpose built with an I-beam grid and 84ft x 77ft. This
stage also has air extraction (the only stage with this) and a wooden floor.
the above images with thanks to the 3 Mills website.
Mills is not a major studio like Pinewood, Shepperton or
Leavesden. Most of the stages are relatively small by film
standards but are ideal for shooting TV drama, commercials, pop
promos and low budget features. They have also been used for a
few multicamera TV shows with standing sets. 3 Mills might be
compared with Black Island/Dukes Island studios or West London
Studios (HDS). All are appealing to the same market.
Their only possible handicap is their location but thanks to the
Olympics, the east of London has enjoyed considerable investment in
transport links and a general uplift to the area. These studios
are bound to benefit from all that.
Island/Duke's Island Studios
Just off the
A40 Western Avenue in North Acton are two large buildings containing
film stages just a few hundred metres from each other. They are
both owned and operated by the Island Studios group, which also has
Cape Island and Gold Island Studios in South Africa and Manchester
Island Studios in, er, Manchester.
Black Island building was originally a cold store. It was then
acquired by AFM Lighting to be turned into a 4-waller studio complex
with AFM supplying all the rigging and lighting facilities. The
earliest mention I can find of Black Island Studios is in 1992. (Can
you confirm that this is when they were established?) AFM
merged with Lee Lighting in 2008 to form Panalux.
provide a very useful facility for single camera shoots - especially
commercials and pop promos although I understand that they are
occasionally used for TV dramas and single-camera comedies.
knowledge they are not often used for multi-camera TV shows but Oasis
recorded a televised concert on one of the Black Island stages in
August 2008. Black Island has also been the location since 2005
for the boardroom scenes in the BBC's The Apprentice.
This is a set of course, not a real boardroom and is shot with
multiple cameras but is not vision mixed at the time. Another
show shot in a similar way is Channel 4's Four Rooms.
The first series was shot at a real location but subsequent series
have been recorded in a set on one of the stages at Black
Island. As a complete contrast, The Dick and Dom Diaries
was recorded at Duke's Island in 2008. I'm also told that David
G Croft directed a children's reality gameshow series called Starfinder
here in 2003. Pilots have included Pro-Celebrity
Bowls, believe it or not. The excellent Charlie
Brooker's Weekly Wipe was shot on Duke Island's Blue stage early
in 2015 - previous series used studio 2 at Teddington.
The stages are
also often used for bands to rehearse tours. A few low-budget
features have been filmed here too.
Island stage 1
Island stage 5
Island stage 6
thanks to the Island Studios website
Island white stage
stages available are as follows:
1 - 150 x 65ft (9,750 sq ft)
2 - 90 x 65ft (5,850 sq ft)
3 - 100 x 65ft (6,500 sq ft)
4 - 45 x 40ft (1,800 sq ft)
5 - 150 x 110ft (16,500 sq ft)
6 - 90 x 55ft (4,950 sq ft)
stage - 45 x 40ft (1,800 sq ft)
stage - 80 x 56ft (4,480 sq ft)
stage - 70 x 70ft (4,900 sq ft)
All of the
stages have cycloramas, some with coves. The three Duke's
Island stages have runway beams for rigging as does stage 5 at Black
Island. There are plenty of associated dressing rooms, make-up
rooms, production offices etc.
drawn a bit of a blank trying to establish titles of TV dramas or
comedies that have been shot here. Can you help???
Bros Studios, Leavesden
as it is today. In the foreground are new workshops, then the
new stages behind. On the far left are the two buildings used
for the Warner Bros Studio Tour. The huge back lot is behind
Studios - or now more accurately 'Warner Bros Studios, Leavesden' -
are located north of Watford just a mile or two inside the M25, about
the same distance from central London as Pinewood is. These two
major studios are about 17 miles apart from each other, round the M25.
the 1930s the present studio site was part of a farm and called One
Mile Field. The clue to its size is in the name. In 1932
the local council were looking for a suitable location to construct
an airfield and this was one of two that were considered.
Interestingly, it was also proposed that film studios should be
constructed here and this was the preferred choice of the local
parish council. In fact, neither project happened. The
field was purchased by the council and in 1937 an enormous park
including several playing fields was planned. It was to be
called the King George V Recreation Ground. Some preliminary
work commenced in 1939 but the park was not completed. In any
case, the declaration of war in September 1939 put all such projects
the outbreak of war the Handley Page aircraft company requested that
other factories be built around London to help assemble its Halifax
bombers. The De Havilland company agreed to do this and began
to look for suitable sites to construct an airfield with associated
factories. The King George V Recreation Ground was ideal and
work was begun in January 1940.
Wimpey Ltd constructed a single tarmac runway, about 3,000 ft long
by 150ft wide. They also built two factories - No.1 factory was
built to the north of the runway and No.2 factory on the eastern
perimeter. There were also two 'flight clearance' sheds built -
one near each end of the runway. These were very large hangars
where aircraft could be prepped ready for their first flight.
years later, No.1 Factory formed part of the film studios used for
the Harry Potter movies.
Factory was demolished when part of the airfield was sold off to
construct a business park in the 1990s and was never used for film making.
- back to the war.
2 factory was used to construct Mosquito fighter/bombers. The
Mosquito was a very fast 2-engine aircraft made mostly of plywood
that had a variety of versions including night-fighter and tactical
bomber. An astonishing 1,476 of them were made at
Leavesden. The Mosquitos also used the flight shed at the
western end of the runway near the A41. This building was used
from the mid '90s to 2009 as an occasional overspill film stage.
It has now been replaced by a brand new sound stage.
being manufactured at Leavesden during the war in the No. 2 factory
- now demolished.
No.1 factory was used to assemble Halifax bombers. The Halifax was a
large 4-engine bomber, almost as successful as the more famous Avro
Lancaster. 700 were built here. Rather like bits of
Airbus airliners are manufactured now in various factories all over
Europe, different sections of the Halifax and its engines were
constructed in factories around London. Before the war these
all manufactured cars, lorries and buses. A new company - the
London Aircraft Production Group - was formed to coordinate this
process which ended with the assembly of the aircraft at Leavesden
prior to their first flights. It is said that pilots liked the
Leavesden Halifaxes because the seats were beautifully made in green
leather. The company that made those previously constructed
London Buses. The Leavesden Halifaxes also had superior
riveting, which increased the top speed of the aircraft by 10-15
knots. Very important when being attacked by a prowling Bf 110
night fighter somewhere over Germany.
Halifax bomber being assembled in No.1 Factory. Possibly this
is where the Great Hall in Hogwarts was located some 60 years later.
last Halifax made at Leavesden was named 'London Pride' and was
rolled out on 16th April 1945 with great celebration from many of the
great and good including Sir Frederick Handley-Page.
WWII, No.1 Factory was taken over by the DeHavilland Aircraft Engine
Division. This was one of the first factories in the world to
manufacture commercial jet engines. For example, the Ghost
engine was made here in 1947, which powered the Comet airliner and
the Venom fighter.
the Korean war which ran from 1950-1953, DeHavilland anticipated a
significant increase in orders for military aircraft. They
decided to double the size of the Leavesden factory so constructed
workshops alongside the existing hangars and a new admin block with a
control tower at the runway end. These new facilities were
completed in 1954. They are still in use today as part of the
new WB film studio complex.
is No.1 Factory as it was in 1948 - camouflage paint on the roofs
still there from the recent war. The row of hangars in which
the Halifax bombers were assembled became film stages between 1994
is the same view in 1954 following the addition of the extra
workshop space that would be used to manufacture aircraft
engines. This area still remains in the WB Studios and is
referred to as a 'multifunction zone'. The smart new office
block seen below is still in use. At the left hand end of the
lower picture can be seen the new control tower for the
airfield. The smaller wartime one is the round white building
in front of the old hangars. In case you were wondering - the
tall white tower seen on the picture above was a temporary control
tower erected to give a view of the runway in 1948 to see over the
new buildings whilst they were being constructed. Once the new
control tower was operational it was removed. (That's useless
factoid No. 857B.)
1959 the DeHavilland company became part of Hawker Siddeley which in
turn was taken over in 1966 by Rolls Royce. They based their
'small gas turbine division' at Leavesden, where many engines for
aircraft and in particular for helicopters were made. The last
engine manufactured here was a Gnome for a Wessex helicopter in 1993.
the '60s, '70s, '80s and into the early '90s the airfield was used
for general aviation and several business and charter aircraft were
based here - as was the Goodyear Blimp.
'91 and '92 there were no orders for Rolls-Royce helicopter engines,
partly due to the recession and of course to the collapse of the
Soviet Union. This led to big cutbacks in defence
spending. Sadly but inevitably RR decided to close the
facility. They had left the site by June 1993 but the airfield
remained open for a few more months. However, on 31st March
1994 the last flight left the airfield and it was closed to aviation.
1994 the Bond film Goldeneye was unable to use Pinewood as
the stages there were fully booked. Eon, the production
company, looked for an alternative studio but only this airfield
offered the large stages they needed by converting several of the old hangars.
at first was seen as a temporary fix to a problem turned out to be
rather more permanent. The old aircraft factory No.1 proved to
be an excellent place to make movies. The arrangement of
several large hangars linked to thousands of square feet of workshop
space was ideal. Also of course, being an airfield there was
and is a large area upon which to build exterior sets. This
back lot has the added advantage of a very low horizon with no
1995 the airfield was bought by 'Millennium Group' who intended to
turn it into a theme park based on movies. They also planned to
keep some film making here and to sell off part of the site for
housing and a business park. The housing and business park went
ahead but the theme park plans were never submitted to the council
1996 George Lucas returned to England to make the first of his Star
Wars prequels - The Phantom Menace. The original
three films had of course been made at Elstree Studios, a few miles
south of here, but those studios were no longer able to provide
sufficient space. Leavesden was ideal. It could be sealed
off from the rest of the world and there was more than enough space
to construct large sets and fill stages with spaceships, alien worlds
and giant greenscreens.
of the old stages in use. Although converted from aircraft
hangars they were equipped with proper film stage grids as can be
seen here. The new stages however have higher and better
1997 the studios were used to make Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
No, me neither.
saw Tim Burton move in to make Sleepy Hollow. Most of
the film was shot here but curiously, the spooky forest was built on
the 30,000 sq ft H stage at Shepperton. Odd, since A and B
stages here were a similar size. As a complete contrast, An
Ideal Husband was also filmed here in 1998.
2000 Warner Bros leased the whole airfield and began to make the
first of the Harry Potter films - Harry Potter and the
Philosopher's Stone. They made 8 movies in total,
completing the series in 2009.
during the Harry Potter years. The area with zig-zag roofing
is the workshop space built after the war for manufacturing aircraft
engines. The stages are on the right (previously the wartime
Halifax factory) and the two buildings at an angle in the centre were
wartime aircraft hangars being used now as stages. The upper
one is stage C which you can see has had an extension added to
it. The lower one is the D stage which had a tank for shooting
underwater scenes built within it. The D stage is the only one
still remaining. To the left can be seen the exterior set for
Privet Drive - Harry's muggle home.
thanks to Windows Live
this time there were 7 stages including a huge one over 74,000 sq
ft. These were adapted from existing hangars. The old
flight shed on the west side of the airfield was also occasionally
used as a silent stage. Stage D had an underwater tank 60ft x
60ft and 20ft deep built within it, so nearly twice as big as the
underwater stage at Pinewood. This was constructed in 2004 for Harry
Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which contained several
original stages were as follows:
- 243 x 132 x 30ft (32,000 sq ft)
- 231 x 132 x 30ft (30,500 sq ft)
- 122 x 92 x 28ft (11,000 sq ft but had a temporary extension added)
- 123 x 96 x 28ft (contained underwater tank)
- later used as a workshop area
- 15,300sq ft
- 19,200 sq ft
- 74,500 sq ft
shed - 48,000 sq ft
of the above had very limited sound attenuation, as they were of
course adapted from industrial units.
back lot had several familiar sets built on it including Privet
Drive, the main courtyard at Hogwarts, Hagrid's hut and part of the
rickety bridge at Hogwarts. Most of these had bluescreens built
round them and the backgrounds were added in post production.
None of these sets now remain.
2010 Warner Bros announced a proposal to buy the freehold and to
redevelop the site as a major international film studio. The
plans were agreed and construction began. The stages dating
back to the wartime Halifax factory were demolished and replaced with
new ones. All are now fully insulated sound stages. This
is particularly important as most are positioned next to each
other. I have read that many of the original steel frames of
the old hangars were incorporated into the structures of the new
stages. This explains why they follow very similar outlines and
must have saved quite a bit of cost in their construction.
buildings were refurbished or had extensions added. There were
some new construction workshops and offices added too. The new
studios opened on 11th June 2012.
is a plan showing how the old stages were laid out. The
exterior walls have remained more or less in the same place but below
is a drawing indicating how the new stages are arranged. Stage
C (upper left) has been completely rebuilt and is much larger than before.
has been completed is a site with superb facilities for every
department. There are now 9 stages in the main complex - the
10th on the west side of the airfield opened in 2013. This huge
stage (L) of nearly 50,000 sq ft replaced the previous flight
shed. Only the 007 stage at Pinewood is larger in the UK at
59,000 sq ft. It also has 50,000 sq ft of hard standing outside
its dock doors where sets could be extended if required.
stages have excellent grids with catwalks over them enabling rigging
to be relatively fast and flexible. The vast workshop area that
adjoins the stages is now designated a 'multi-function zone' that can
have production offices, wardrobe, make-up, prop stores etc
positioned close to each stage as and when required.
new studios were officially opened in April 2013 by Princes William
and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge - who all clearly enjoyed
visiting the Harry Potter exhibition and in some ways rather spookily
resembled the three leading characters of those books and films.
impressive new Leavesden site. The size of the back lot is
clear - including what is left of the original runway which has been
widened. The block of buildings on the upper left contains the
new stages and the Studio Tour with its car park is on the
right. The stage replacing the old flight shed is not visible
in this photo - it is to the bottom left.
thanks to Kays
new stages are as follows:
- 180 x 130 x 45ft (23,400 sq ft)
- 180 x 130 x 30ft (23,400 sq ft)
- 240 x 130 x 45ft (31,200 sq ft)
- 120 x 90 x 27ft (10,800 sq ft - contains underwater tank)
- 280 x 120 x 30ft (33,600 sq ft)
- 280 x 130 x 30ft (36,400 sq ft)
- 280 x 120 x 30ft (33,600 sq ft)
- 140 x 130 x 30ft (18,200 sq ft)
- 140 x 130 x 30ft (18,200 sq ft)
- (replacing old flight shed) 440 x 112ft (49,280 sq ft) - this is a
tank - 250 x 250ft x 4ft deep with a 8ft deep section of 109 x 96ft
July 2014, Warner Bros announced that they are constructing 3 more
stages due be open in early 2015:
- 250 x 140 x 50ft (35,000 sq ft)
- 140 x 121 - 40ft (17,000 sq ft
- 140 x 121 x 40ft (17,000 sq ft)
will notice that most of these stages are very large indeed.
very impressive new C stage at Leavesden. All the stages have
been built to this very high specification.
thanks to wbsl.com
addition to those listed above, two new stages - J and K - are
situated just south of the main block of studio buildings but
separated from them. They house the Warner Bros Studio Tour -
also known as The Making of Harry Potter. This is not a theme
park but an exhibition of actual sets, dismantled from the original
stages and re-erected here. There are thousands of props from
the movies on display which can be closely examined by visitors.
assumes that if and when the public eventually tire of Harry Potter,
this exhibition could cover other films although there is no
indication that this might be happening any time soon. It is
also possible that in due course these two buildings could become
working stages as part of the studio lot. Just to emphasise -
Warners have not suggested anywhere that this is planned.
you may have spotted that these stages are J & K - the initials
of course of J K Rowling. Coincidence or wizardry? You decide.
an interview, the head of Warner Bros UK was quoted as saying that
the site contains 'three smaller TV studios.' I'm not sure
which three of those above he means - H and I are the smallest
(although still pretty enormous at 18,000 sq ft each!) so may be
earmarked for TV drama production. None are actual TV studios
in the sense of having resin TV floors and production galleries.
In fact, all the stages have concrete floors. The third 'TV
studio' he had in mind may be D, which contains the underwater
tank. The Warner Bros website indicates that the tank can be
covered over and the stage used for normal filming.
Warner Bros, which is part of media giant Time-Warner, own Waterloo
Road producer Shed Media. This group includes Wall to Wall
and Twenty Twenty Television. Any of these companies
might therefore use these studios to make TV drama. We could
also see one or more of the stages being used for large-scale
entertainment series using an OB unit for facilities. However, The
Voice is made by Wall to Wall but has not used these stages - so
far. In fact, according to the studio's website the stages here
are available for any company to hire - not just those associated
with Warner Bros.
these studios are best known for the Harry Potter films, they have
been used to shoot some scenes on several other movies. Some
have used stages, others just the back lot. I have mentioned
two or three above but others have included Die Another Day ('01),
The Dark Knight ('07), Sherlock Holmes ('09), Inception
('10), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ('11), The Dark
Knight Rises ('11), Argo ('12), Robopocalypse
('13), Edge of Tomorrow ('13), 300: Rise of an Empire ('13),
Tarzan ('14), Mission Impossible 5 ('14), Jupiter Ascending
('14), The Man From UNCLE ('14), In the Heart of the Sea ('14).
far the studios have not been used for much TV production but this
may change with the recent expansion of facilities. One notable
drama some years ago was the excellent Longitude ('00).
second series of the kids' gameshow series Pump It Up was
recorded here in 1999 for ITV. The first series had been made
the year before in a similar very large converted industrial shed in
a village a few miles from here called Park Street Studios.
As it happens, that facility had previously been used by another
Bond movie - Tomorrow Never Dies. By coincidence, it too
was originally an aircraft factory - in its case used by Handley
Page. Park Street Studios were demolished around 2007 and the
land used for housing.
may not have escaped your notice that these studios are now
Pinewood's main commercial rival in the UK. Had Pinewood been
able to accommodate Goldeneye all those years ago, Leavesden
Studios might never have come about. I wonder where all the
Potter films would have been made? Possibly not even in the UK.
Bros owned Teddington Studios back in the 1930s and 1940s.
These studios in Leavesden are on an entirely different scale.
They are in fact one and a half times the size of Warner's studios in
Hollywood. With some of the newest, largest and best-equipped
stages in Europe, it will be very interesting to see the kind of work
they attract in the coming years.
Studios / Studio 2000, Borehamwood
- 2006; 2010 - present
Light and Power (ELP) is a lighting hire company that evolved from
Meteorlites - a company that was established in 1976 specialising in
rock concert lighting. They developed a system of pre-rigged
trussing that enabled complex lighting rigs to be rapidly set and
struck. This efficiency was noticed by one or two BBC OB
lighting directors around the late 1980s who started to use
Meteorlites to provide the lighting for televised concerts, shows and events.
was console operator on some of these TV productions and had great
fun with a 90-way Celco controlling hundreds of Parcans. For
one entertainment series recorded in Jersey in 1988 I operated two
consoles side by side (about 12 feet long in total) controlling over
1,000 parcans and other lights mounted on a ground support truss over
a massive stage - the rig designed and built by Meteorlites. I
needed a chair on well-oiled wheels for that one.
the success of their work on BBC OBs, the company headed by Ronan
Wilson decided to move away from the world of concert lighting and
concentrate on lighting for film and TV. (After all, the guys
running the business were not quite as young as they used to be and
maybe constant touring was beginning to lose its appeal?) They
changed the name to Elstree Light and Power (ELP) and in August 1993
based themselves in Borehamwood, not far from Elstree Film
Studios. They also supplied some lighting equipment to the BBC
at their Elstree studios for TOTP and other shows.
should mention at this point that Ronan is one of the industry's
great innovators. As well as inventing the pre-rigged truss in
his rock and roll days he has devised ingenious solutions to rigging
and staging problems for many TV shows. He came up with the
idea of a studio on legs that could be sited on top of an OB truck
for sports events like Formula 1. ELP are also responsible for
supplying the lighting rig for Question Time, which is staged
in every kind of venue from sports halls to arts centres to
prestigious historic locations, where it is essential that no damage
of any kind is caused to the fixtures and fittings. Other shows
they have supplied kit to include The Proms, The Royal Wedding,
Robot Wars, Strictly Come Dancing at Wembley, The
Voice, Britain's Got Talent, Top Gear etc etc etc. They
have also provided lighting equipment for many dramas including Lewis
and Waking the Dead.
named their new premises Millennium Studios.
They were bigger than they needed to store their considerable range
of lighting and rigging equipment. Office space was rented out
to film and media companies. Much of the Elstree Film Studio
site just down the road was in the process of being demolished to
make way for the new Tesco store so a number of companies previously
based there moved up the road to Millennium Studios including Hammer Films.
the ground floor of the warehouse an area was set aside to be used
as a sound stage. It was (and still is) 80ft x 44ft. It
became available for use in January 1995 and was known as 'X'
stage. It had a suite of rooms supporting it that included
production offices, construction workshop, wardrobe, make-up and
stage was not equipped with technical facilities (apart from lights,
obviously) but was used by a number of TV companies to make single
camera drama and entertainment shows or multicamera productions using
flyaway facilities. Some children's programmes were made here -
including the first series of The
Mysti Show for the BBC in 2004.
2005 the Trisha
show moved to Channel 5 from ITV and also moved studios from Anglia
in Norwich to this studio. (The following year it moved to Maidstone.)
the bar area near the studio was attractively dressed and furnished
with some unique bar stools. These were adapted from the
carcasses of Link 110 TV cameras that had been skipped by the BBC and
'rescued' by ELP. They were certainly a talking point although
not necessarily the most comfortable stools in the world.
2006 ELP decided to move out to much larger facilities at Alconbury
- which used to be a USAF airbase. (I remember going to a very
impressive airshow there in the 1980s.) The facilities here in
Elstree were closed down. ELP dropped the 'Elstree Light and
Power' name and became known purely by the initials.
2010 the studio in Borehamwood was reopened and renamed Studio
2000. It is associated with
Denmark Studios, a small 4-waller in north London. It is
equipped with a permanent greenscreen (which can be repainted) and
has been used for various single camera shows such as Rude Tube
and Summertown. This business has no connection with
ELP. Hire company Production Gear Ltd is also based here.
would appreciate any more info on TV shows made in this studio in
production in the studio in 2010
in 2009 Ronan Wilson purchased hangars and other facilities at
Thurleigh, Bedforshire. The airbase used to be an MoD
establishment specialising in military research. It was used
for testing various missiles, Harrier, Concorde and various flight
simulators. That site is now called Millennium Studios.
The stages there specialise in providing rehearsal facilities for
band tours but can be used for shooting movies, TV drama, pop promos
or commercials. The huge range of ELP kit is naturally
available for rigging and lighting.
still have their equipment base at Alconbury but in 2011 they moved
their office facilities and some hire stock back to Borehamwood - in
fact to Elstree Film Studios. They now occupy the old studio
powerhouse so can of course be called 'Elstree Light and Power' once
again. They are very handily placed to support the stages that
have been taken over by the BBC.
London Film Studios, Hayes (formerly
HDS and Chak89 Studios)
studios were created within some industrial units at the corner of
Springfield Road and Beaconsfield Road, Hayes. There is some
conflicting and confusing information around so it has been difficult
to establish exactly what facilities were available and when they
were created. However, I believe the information below is the
company HDS was originally based in Reddich and specialised in
scenery construction, building a number of sets for all the main
broadcasters, including Pebble Mill apparently. The name 'HDS'
is derived from the initials of the men who owned it. Later
they moved to Hayes.
there were a number of large workshops - some used for constructing
and storing scenery with three of them being used as film stages for
commercials, pop videos etc. In 1997 these three were converted
into TV studios for the new Channel Five soap Family Affairs.
The three studios shared two control room suites.
studios were remarkably well equipped, with 10 Sony 570 cameras
shared by the studios. The two production gallery suites were
fitted with BTS vision mixers and all the facilities one would hope
to see. The main shortcoming was the grids which were very
basic fixed beam grids as you find on a film stage rather than a TV
studio. These limited the studios to fixed and inflexible
lighting rigs and prevented rapid turnarounds and relights. The
slightly sloping ceilings and grids on some stages also made things
were dubbing and editing facilities here and optical links to the BT
Tower for live broadcasts. Scenery construction was also
carried out in a 40,000 sq ft workshop.
doubt to to the considerable disappointment of the owners of the studios,
Family Affairs only stayed here for two years until 1999, when
it moved to TalkbackTHAMES' own studios in Merton to join The Bill.
2000, after Family Affairs
had left, Sky's business division took over studio 2 and built three
small studios within it - A, B and C. They also constructed two
new control galleries. They began broadcasting from the studios
in September of that year. In addition, elsewhere in the
building there was a small news studio (20 x 20ft) with its own
control gallery and a 'pack shot' studio (14 x 10ft) with a chromakey cyc.
Travel Shop' occupied Studio A for 1 day a week as a live production.
B and C were used for 'The Automotive Channel' and 'The Pub Channel'
- which was aimed at publicans and not available to the general
public. (Non-stop hints and tips from Al Murray, one
assumes.) Actually, I'm told that the channel was live for most
of the day giving tips on how make your bar/ pub/ club better and
included items such as cooking demos. The Automotive Channel
broadcast to the motor trade from 8.30am to 1.30pm every weekday.
the Pub and Automotive channels finished broadcasting their live
output, the use of the studios and galleries quickly switched to 'At
two galleries occupied by Sky were equipped with Snell and Wilcox
1524 vision mixers, Calrec sound desks, an Aston concept, 3 Sony
Betacam SX machines and digital Sony cameras. There were four
cameras per studio with Vinten peds - each with a Radamec pan/tilt
head. The cameras were rolled to new positions marked on the
floor by the floor manager. I'm told that the sets were partly
chromakey and used a 'virtual' system to fill in the gaps.
of the three TV studios created by Sky. This is thought to be
the current stage 4C so probably the original home of the Pub Channel.
2001 two more stages (4 and 5) were marketed along with their own
production offices, makeup, wardrobe and dressing rooms. They
could be linked to either of the original production gallery suites.
business seems to have got into difficulties around the end of 2003
and ceased operation on 29th April 2004. My understanding is
that that the Pub and Automotive Channels were closed down and At The
Races moved to Teddington, with Sky Travel Shop becoming a
pre-recorded package and going to studio 7 at Sky's HQ in Osterley.
2007 a planning application was made to convert the studio site into
a mixed use development including function halls, cinema, ten pin
bowling, restaurant, health club and multi-level car park. One
can get an idea of the size of the site from this alone. That
application had the total floor area of the studios at an astonishing
75,000 sq ft. which must have included the scenery construction
workshops and other facilities. The planning application was
refused by the local council and by the Mayor of London's office and
went to appeal where it was also turned down.
studios were therefore closed and put up for sale. However...
redevelopment, the studios were taken over by The
Collective - a
company offering locations for film and TV shooting. They
carried out some basic improvements to the facilities but only
offered the stages as a simple dry-hire location, with minimal
support and management. However, stage 3 was refurbished and is
April 2013 it was announced that the studios had changed their name
This followed the acquisition of the site by Elbrook Cash and Carry
- a leading food and drink wholesaler with an annual turnover of
£129m. They also own Chak89 restaurant and banqueting
hall. This company specialises in organising weddings and
banquets - not just in their own premises but in many prestigious
locations around London. They seem to be intending to run the
site as a film studio for the foreseeable future and are investing in
improving the facilities here - which is extremely welcome.
Perhaps not surprisingly given the new owners, there is now on-site
catering for example. It is no secret that after HDS left, much
of the site was poorly maintained and in need of some basic tidying up.
3. At 8,400 sq ft this is one of the largest and with its
permanent cyclorama is probably the best equipped.
stages here have been used for filming commercials and a number of
single-camera TV dramas including ITV's Lewis and the BBC's Born
and Bred. More recent bookings include New
Tricks, A Young Doctor's Notebook, Miss Marple, Misfits, The
Last Weekend, Hunted, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, Him and Her and
Hunderby. According to the Chak89 website, Britain's Got
used a stage here, as apparently has The
Jonathan Ross Show. Quite
what was filmed here by those two shows is not clear - the main
shows are of course made at Fountain and The London Studios.
feature films have also used the stages here to shoot scenes.
These include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Bollywood thriller Rush.
seems pretty clear that at some point most of the stages have been
renumbered. The sizes and numbers do not tally between those
when they were owned by HDS and those advertised now. I assume
this is because some of the stages are an irregular shape so it
depends how you measure them.
to the best information I can find, during the HDS days the studios
were as follows:
1: 8,000 sq ft (92 x 76ft working area)
2 - in 2000 converted into 3 TV studios:
2,000 sq ft
1,800 sq ft
1,900 sq ft
3: 11,000 sq ft (!)
4: 7,000 sq ft approx
5: 6,530 sq ft (85 x 70ft working area)
thanks to the Chak89 website
according to the
Collective and Chak89 websites, the
are now as follows:
1: 6,240 sq ft (88 x 68ft)
2: 5,796 sq ft (82 x 68ft)
3: 8,400 sq ft (97 x 73ft) This stage has a permanent cyclorama.
4A: 1,291 sq ft (50 x 25 ft)
4B: 1,291 sq ft (50 x 25ft)
4C: 1,700 sq ft (50 x 33ft)
5: 7,000 sq ft (described by The Collective as a workshop space or
6: 9,500 sq ft (152 x 62ft) This stage has new sound dampening
material on the walls
and has recently been expanded.
the summer of 2014 the name changed yet again - to West
London Film Studios.
The ownership has not changed, just the name which is probably a lot
easier to market than 'Chak89'. US period drama pilot Knifeman
starring Tom Hollander was one of the first bookings under the new
name. The studios also now contain some realistic hospital sets
run by The Hospital Location (handily replacing those lost when
Wimbledon Studios closed.)
you have worked here and can let me know any more about the studios
I'd appreciate it. I would particularly
like to hear from anyone who worked on Family Affairs.
is unique amongst all those available in the UK for film and TV
making. It has one of the largest and most unusual back lots to
be found. Originally owned by the Ministry of Defence - and in
more recent years by the defence research company QinetiQ - it
was where tanks and other military vehicles were developed and tested
from 1941. After the war the MoD hung onto it despite protests
from locals and they only left in 2005. It was known by several
names including 'Forces Vehicle Research and Development
Establishment' and 'Defence Evaluation and Research Agency'.
The site is currently owned by Crest and Aviva who plan to redevelop it.
British tanks of the '40s-'90s were developed and tested here
including the Challenger and Challenger 2, which is famous for its
almost impregnable 'Chobham' armour. This was named after the
nearby village. No Challenger has ever been lost through enemy
fire - one had a Milan anti-tank missile and dozens of RPGs fired at
it - it was slightly damaged and 6 hours later was fully
operational. Another tank was hit by an astonishing 70 RPGs but
was not badly damaged. On another occasion, an IED exploded
under the tank - the driver lost 3 toes. The underside armour
has been modified to prevent this happening again.
was accidentally destroyed - by another Challenger 2 in a tragic
'blue on blue' incident in the Iraq war. This however was due
to a round exploding on the open hatch - not penetrating the Chobham
armour. Although the British Army has about 400 Challenger 2s
in its inventory which will continue in use till around 2035, these
are not expected to be replaced as the age of the main battle tank is
thought to be nearly over. Hence facilities like this are no
located on the M3, two miles outside the M25 in Surrey, close to
Wentworth golf course. The nearby Longcross railway station has
been a source of mystery for many years as commuters have noted that
it always remains open and trains have often made unscheduled stops
there, despite hardly anyone using it. Clearly the handful of
people who did were very very important. More intriguingly, the
station is inaccessible by road and can only be reached via the golf
course or down a country lane that reduces to a track, then a footpath.
photo was taken by a friend of mine who has long suspected that
Longcross station is not what it seems. Apparently, it is
impossible to take a sharp photo - they all come out blurred like
this (or so he tells me.) It is considered by him and all his
fellow travellers as the station with no name - indeed, to mention
its name will bring disaster upon the utterer. He's a very
intelligent chap so naturally I believe everything he tells me.
Studios are sited literally on the M3 - (OK - maybe not literally on
it, but either side of it) - half the site with its extensive
buildings is to the north and a bridge capable of supporting the
weight of a tank passes over the motorway to the test tracks to the
south. The test tracks are in naturally wooded landscape and
look like normal country lanes and roads so can be used for filming
car chases, stunts etc. They include a loop a mile long which
is ideal for dialogue scenes in cars. There is also a high
speed track two miles long with banked corners and an off-road track,
steep inclines and other challenges. Not surprisingly, these
were used in the Bond film Skyfall and a number of other
movies and TV dramas too. Sadly, in 2007 a stunt driver was
killed here whilst rehearsing a sequence for The Dark Knight.
lane loop was used for the 2013 Christmas special of Not Going Out
- a long scene in a car being shot in a controlled environment with
no risk or danger from other traffic.
In the centre
of the test track lot is a Victorian manor house built in a Jacobean
style, previously used as an officers' mess. Its beautiful
exterior and interiors are in excellent condition and have been used
on many TV dramas.
back lot is even a 9-hole golf course which is certainly unusual to
be found on a film lot. Quite what secret weapon the MoD was
testing here is open to question.
thanks to the Longcross Studios website
On the north
side of the M3 are numerous offices, workshops and four stages.
These of course were the original factory units where armoured
vehicles were constructed. Some have immensely strong roofs as
they contained integral cranes that lifted components - they are a
very useful height too making them ideal film stages.
stage 1 -
42,000 sq ft: 350 x 120 x 50ft high (This is big!)
stage 2 -
17,600 sq ft: 226 x 78 x 30ft high
stage 3 -
12,400 sq ft: 165 x 75 x 35ft high (this is more of a workshop than a
shooting stage but can be used for either.)
stage 4 - a
former helicopter testing chamber - 65 x 65 x 35ft high.
stages have been used for big movies like Hugo, War Horse, Clash
of the Titans and Skyfall. The scene in Skyfall
on the frozen lake at night was shot here. Other movies have
included Green Zone, Wrath of the Titans, John Carter, Jack the
Giant Killer and Fast
and Furious 6.
TV dramas and
comedies shot here since 2006 have included HolbyBlue (Kudos
for BBC1), Jekyll (Hartswood for BBC1), series 2 of Hyperdrive
(BBC Comedy for BBC2), Primeval, Moving Wallpaper, Lewis, Honest,
Echo Beach, Law and Order UK,
Foyle's War, Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, Enid
(the Enid Blyton biopic with Helena Bonham-Carter) and some of series
2 of Broadchurch. In 2014 some sets for Call The Midwife
were located here.
application was submitted by the owners in 2011 to redevelop the
northern part of the site into a business park. This was
granted but in July 2013 another application was made that altered
the proposals to include a number of houses. It is not known
when any work will commence but with the acute shortage of studio
space in the London area, these facilities are sure to be busy both
with film making and TV drama production in the meantime. The
redevelopment plans as published do not include any film or TV studios.
If you know
the titles of any other
dramas or comedies shot here, please let me know!
Metropolitan Studios, Greenford
another disused factory was taken over to be used as 4-waller
stages. This one is a relatively new building and looks to be
in very good condition. Rather than being a temporary filming
facility pending redevelopment, this looks set to develop into a
fully functioning studio complex. It is being marketed by The
Collective - London's leading film and TV location agency. The
studios are situated in Greenford, West London - near the A40 and
close to Greenford tube and train station.
contains two very large stages - each 35,000 sq ft with a good height
to the roof beams - 32ft in fact. There is a third space the
same size but this is perhaps more suited as a workshop area as it is
pillared and has a lower roof height.
plenty of rooms that can be used as offices, wardrobe/makeup, props
stores etc. There are also kitchen and canteen facilities.
The site also has an area of over 3 acres where future expansion
could take place. There is consent for a further 74,000 sq ft
of studio space to be constructed.
This will no
doubt become a very popular facility - it seems ideally suited to
large scale TV drama series or feature films. It is very
conveniently located and has plenty of space to develop and expand
internally and externally over the next few years.
of the 2 main stages. Each is the same size.
thanks to The Collective
information: As on the rest of this website - please do not
use or ask permission to use any of these images in books or other
publications or on TV programmes or commercially run websites.
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
for historical reference and research purposes. If you do own
the copyright to any image displayed here and wish it to be credited
or removed, please contact me and I shall of course be happy to oblige.
apology - firstly for all those
errors which are almost certainly still sprinkled throughout the
above. I shall do my best to put them right when I discover
them or when somebody contacts me with the facts!
Secondly - I am very aware that I have almost completely ignored
sound in all my comments about studio equipment. It's not that
I'm not interested, rather that I am far better informed about
cameras and lighting and frankly there is very little information out
there about which sound mixer was installed in what studio and
when. That's my excuse anyway
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