The rest of the UK - today (more or less)
Ever since I began this project I've had people emailing me asking me to include all the other studios around the UK. Well, sorry, but I am trying to fit work, home and some sort of social life into my time. However, tucked away at the end of my 'history of old ITV studios in London' page was a section that began as a summary of what happened to the old ITV studios around the rest of the country. It then expanded a bit to include a few other studios so I decided it was probably about time it was given its own page. This is it.
Incidentally - I'm only including TV production studios that make a variety of programmes for network transmission on UK channels - not those built for a specific soap (eg Doctors) or regional news studios. I'm also covering 4-waller (film) studios making TV drama.
Please don't ask me why I'm not including the history of all the various Southern/Central/Border TV studios or whatever your particular interest is. I'm simply summarising here what we have now and have had for the past four or five years in the UK. If you want to create your own history of regional studios - feel free and I'll happily give your site a link!
film and TV studios listed below...
Ex-ITV regional studios
Since the mid 1990s most production studios around the country owned by Carlton and Granada - eventually becoming 'ITV plc' - have been sold off or closed down. These were in Bristol (HTV West), Cardiff (HTV Wales), Birmingham (Central), Newcastle (Tyne Tees), Carlisle (Border), Plymouth (Westcountry), Maidstone (TVS), Nottingham (Central), Norwich (Anglia), Southampton (Meridian), Albert Dock Liverpool (Granada) and Gillingham (TVS).
Outside London, apart from local news studios only The Manchester Studios (Granada) and The Leeds Studios (Yorkshire) are still owned by ITV. More on them later. However, it's not all bad news...
The ex ITV studios in Maidstone, Cardiff and Norwich have fortunately survived as independent facilities...
Independent regional studios
Endemol West/BBC S&PP at Paintworks - Bristol (2004 - 2013)
One development on the regional studios front was the move of Endemol to Bristol, thus creating Endemol West. This happened in 2004 when they moved into an old paint factory in the centre of the city. Endemol is an international media business that owns several TV production companies making gameshows, quiz shows, entertainment and drama. They decided that for the kind of programmes they planned to make here - long-running gameshows and quiz shows that take up a great deal of studio time - it would make sense to own their own studios rather than hire them. Thus over a few years they steadily converted parts of the old factory into no less than seven multicamera studios, controlled by up to four production gallery suites - although these were put together using temporary flyaway kit, as and when required.
The studios had chipboard TV floors and very basic scaffold or trussing lighting grids. Endemol didn't need anything more flexible as they were used for shows with standing sets which, once lit, could stay in position for weeks, months or in the case of Deal or No Deal - years. The buildings Endemol West occupied were part of the 'Paintworks' development. This is a large, trendy, Victorian industrial complex that contains a number of other media companies and some very small businesses such as artists and designers. It includes an art gallery, bars and restaurants and is described as 'Bristol's arts and media quarter.' It is considered locally to be a great success and benefit to the community.
Between 2004 and 2009 these studios were busy making a number of Endemol shows including Brainteaser for Five, Efourum for E4, Art School for BBC2, Gala Bingo for Gala TV, The Restaurant for BBC2 and C4's huge hit Deal or No Deal which began in October 2005. At their busiest, the studios reportedly transmitted eight hours of live television every day. The operation here employed between 80 and 300 staff, depending on the work in hand. However, Endemol's operation here was scaled back during the early part of 2010 and for much of that year Deal or No Deal was the only show being made here.
In a surprise development that frankly very few people would have seen coming, in October 2010 it was announced that BBC Studios and Post Production (S&PP) had taken over the management and operation of these studios, working for and with Endemol. Deal or No Deal continued but no other shows booked space here. Post production for that show continued to be done by The Farm on-site in a separate part of the building. S&PP was the BBC-owned company that used to run BBC TV Centre in west London. However, this certainly wasn't seen as a possible site to 'move' Television Centre to when those studios closed. This contract was simply a way of increasing revenue for the S&PP business when Endemol were looking for a company to take over the responsibility of running the studio.
Paintworks is owned by London-based firm Verve Properties. Since the autumn of 2013 they have been expanding the Paintworks site. This has involved the demolition of some unused buildings and the construction of a large number of new ones in the style of the existing old industrial units. The building containing the studios has been retained but there are no longer any studios in it.
BBC S&PP then took over part of a warehouse in The Bottle Yard - a 4-waller studio complex on the outskirts of Bristol (see below.) Deal or No Deal was made there from October 2013 - 2016. The technical equipment from the old studio was moved to the Bottle Yard and a new TV studio was created for the show within the warehouse space.
The Bottle Yard Studios - Bristol (2010 - present)
In 2010 yet another film/TV studio complex that was previously an industrial plant was opened. It was originally the main bottling plant of Harvey's - famous for their Bristol Cream sherry since 1882, although the business itself was established in 1796. Unfortunately for those working for them, they decided to move their operation away from here around 2008.
The city council took over the site after it was empty for a couple of years with the hope that it could become used as studios for shooting TV drama - although there was no intention to invest heavily in any conversion of the spaces into conventional sound stages. What they do have is thousands of square feet of warehouse space - unusually with relatively high ceiling height - and four large buildings with very high ceilings called 'Tank Houses.'
I visited the studios in May 2015 and was very impressed with what had been achieved with relatively little investment. The whole site was busy with various productions. Two of the Tank House stages had large standing sets from US musical comedy series Galavant and one had just finished shooting Poldark and was expecting a new booking shortly. A new stage had been created within the warehouse space for a children's drama and at one end of the building a complete very realistic supermarket set was being restocked for the next series of Trollied. Meanwhile, in another part of the huge warehouse was the TV studio and all its surrounding facilities created by BBC S&PP for Deal or No Deal. Sets for various productions were neatly lined up in storage in other areas.
A number of highly regarded drama and comedy single camera TV productions have made use of these facilities. These include Trollied, The Fear, Frankie, Inside Men, Dirk Gently, Five Daughters, Excluded, Public Enemies, Hit the Road Jack, New Worlds, Poldark, Sherlock, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, Wolf Hall, Broadchurch, Ill Behaviour, Three Girls, The White Princess, Crazyhead, The Living and the Dead, Golden Years, The Mimic.
A number of support companies are also located here including 180 Rental, Filmscape, TR Scaffolding, Grip Services, Location One and several more.
A well as huge areas of warehouse space, the facilities on offer include:
In 2013 one of the warehouse areas was converted by BBC S&PP into a fully equipped TV studio for C4's Deal or No Deal. This show moved here from The Paintworks - also in Bristol. The new studio opened in October 2013. The studio was larger than the one they left in the Paintworks - 93 x 87 metric feet (about 8,000 sq ft.). It is surprisingly high - around 9m - which is unusual in converted industrial units. It does have 4 pillars within the working area but these were incorporated into the set design. S&PP built a well-equipped control room suite with support facilities and a 9 suite post production area was run by The Farm.
Deal Or No Deal was axed in 2016 and BBC S&PP removed all its kit from the studio. It no longer has any connection with The Bottle Yard. However, the galleries were brought back into operation using hired in equipment for two weeks in January 2017 for C4's Cheap Cheap Cheap and then later in the year for The Crystal Maze. The main sets were built in warehouse space and the final room with the 'dome' was in the old Deal or No Deal studio.
The lighting grid consisted of a widely spaced trussing mother grid from which other trusses were suspended and there was a basic chipboard floor. Other associated facilities were very good indeed - and still exist for users of this space. There is a large production office, wardrobe, make-up, meeting rooms, audience handling area, contestant green room, canteen and rest area.
In October 2016 the studios were given £692,000 investment by Bristol City Council to pay for new roofs, production offices and IT infrastructure. At that time the studios were offering 8 stages, from 8,000 - 22,000 sq ft plus a 5,000 sq ft green screen studio.
Black Hangar Studios - Hampshire (2012 - present)
Located on Lasham airfield, a few miles from Basingstoke, this facility opened in May 2012. It basically consists of a large hangar - 32,000 sq ft in fact - and associated buildings containing production offices, wardrobe, make-up, screening room and 12,000 sq ft of workshop space. Its USP is that it also has an outdoor elevated water tank of 5,000 sq ft with an optical shooting panel in the side. This usefully has a 180 degree natural skyline.
The business also owns nearby land that can be used as a backlot with natural countryside all round and a complete Boeing 737 airliner for filming interiors.
Productions shot here include The Garden for ITV, Breaking The Bank starring Kelsey Grammer, Born To Be Blue, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, Darktide and Kill Your Friends. Several music videos and commercials have also been made here.
Bentwaters Parks - Suffolk (from 2019?)
RAF Bentwaters was an airbase near the village of Rendlesham, east of Ipswich. It was built towards the end of the war and became operational in April 1944, with Mustang fighters being based here. After the war the RAF flew Meteor jet fighters. In 1951 the airfield was transferred to the USAF in the form of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, who had several squadrons based here. From 1978-1993 the aircraft were A-10 Thunderbolt II tank busters. RAF Bentwaters is very close to RAF Woodbridge - the two were known as the 'twin bases.' Following the fall of the Soviet Union these were two of the many airbases that were deemed to be no longer necessary for the defence of Europe.
RAF Bentwaters was incidentally where a notorious UFO incident took place in nearby Rendlesham Forest in December 1980, when several officers and airmen claimed to have seen craft of unknown origin over two nights. On the first night a glowing object was observed in the woods and is said to have left marks on the ground. This incident is sometimes referred to as 'The British Roswell' - the main differences here being that no wreckage was left but it was seen by credible witnesses. Those wishing to explain away this sighting suggest that the airmen saw bright stars and a meteor shower or the light from Orford Ness lighthouse which is several miles away, and mistook them for what was described as a triangular shaped craft, glowing brightly, which rose from the ground as they approached and rapidly sped off into the night. It's easy to see how the two could be confused by trained military personnel.
Later, most of the men involved said they had been mistaken and saw nothing unusual but had been confused by the lighthouse. However, Lieutenant Colonel Halt and Sgt Jim Penniston stuck by their stories.
None of which is is of any relevance to this website, except that it does all form part of the history of this airfield, which is to have a brand new film stage constructed here.
The site is now known as Bentwaters Parks and is family owned. They are offering the airfield and its historic buildings as film and TV locations as well as a working farm. There are many buildings large and small that can be used for filming. Productions that have used the site include Space Cadets, Top Gear, Fast & Furious 6, The Numbers Station and The Grand Tour.
In November 2017 planning permission was granted to construct a 34,000 sq ft sound stage with a grid height of an impressive 60ft. Of course, the existing hangars can also be used for filming but they present issues of light blocking and sound deadening. The plan is to turn a section of the airfield into a dedicated studio area, with associated workshops, offices, wardrobe/make-up and a back lot.
They hope to attract high end TV dramas and major features.
Dragon Studios - South Wales (2009 - present)
For nearly the whole of the first decade of the 21st century, various evolving plans were announced for an ambitious development in south Wales. This was Dragon International Studios, sited mid-way between Cardiff and Swansea - nicknamed 'Valleywood.' The complex was to be based at Llanilid which is just off junction 35 of the M4 near Bridgend. The scheme was originally a £330m film studio and 'media city' with the late Richard Attenborough as its chairman.
When first announced in 2001, the plans included twelve sound stages, five silent stages and two fully equipped TV studios of 8,000sq ft and 12,000sq ft respectively. If it had been completed as planned, the complex would have been bigger than any other UK film studio.
The scheme was granted outline planning consent in 2004. When completed, the site was to include hotels, housing 'for sale or rent to media-related occupiers', business park, 'drama village', training facilities, hospital, golf course and even a theme park. It was hoped that other supporting industries would be attracted to the area, providing local employment.
Sadly, the project encountered many problems and its target date for opening was for ever being postponed. In fact, that passed in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Early problems were caused by a lack of support from the Welsh Assembly which was later secured. Then came delays in obtaining funding, which threatened a move to another site. In January 2004 Lord Attenborough announced that work was about to begin but as luck would have it some rare dormice were found living on the site in September which delayed work until 2005. (I'm not making this up.) The next delay was caused by issues surrounding permits for sewerage works. Nothing happened until October 2005. Bad weather then stopped the work (during a Welsh winter? - surely not) and construction was due to start in March 2006. As far as I can discover, it did not happen after all.
In October 2006 it was announced that the first phase of five silent stages (described rather tactlessly by a local councillor as 'posh warehouses') would at last begin construction soon. These were planned to open in 2007 but once again, it seems that construction did not happen. At the time these stages were said to be aimed at 'TV drama and low budget feature film' production.
However, at last there was some progress. Judy Wasdell, the studio coordinator, wrote to me in January 2008 with some exciting news...
Unfortunately, even this relatively modest development became a victim of the banking crisis. Yet another setback occurred in March 2008 when the development was put on hold and the administrators were called in. According to Broadcast magazine on 14th October 2008...
'The scheme, financed through a mix of private and public money and chaired by Richard Attenborough, apparently ran out of funding at a time when investors were starting to tighten up on property development money. However, administrator Rob Lewis, a partner at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, didn't rule out the possibility of finding alternative means of finance. "The preferred option would be to see the studios completed and films being made there, or to mothball the site until something else comes along," he says.' They appointed property consultants Edward Symmons to try to sell the studios and to market them as a going concern in the meantime. In fact the four stages with their attached production offices were then completed and became available for use around 2009.
David Ferris is the man in charge and he has kindly written to me with some up to date information as of February 2014:
The site currently in use occupies 24 acres and has the 4 stages plus planning consent for one more. There is also a back lot of around 5 acres with power and water. The three 10,000 sq ft stages have air conditioned offices of around 3,800 sq ft and the largest (stage 2) has offices of 6,900 sq ft plus a pit within the stage (see below.) David tells me that the stages are very much open for business.
For a while it looked as though these studios might have been bought by the BBC no less. In November 2008 the Corporation announced that they were looking at various sites to set up a new production centre. Wales was planned to become a 'creative hub' for drama - with Casualty crossing the Severn estuary from Bristol in 2011. The four stages here were briefly considered as a possible base but in the end the attractions of Cardiff Bay won out and the BBC announced in 2009 that they would set up their new drama HQ at Roath Lock. There seems to be a fascination for building studios next to water - have you noticed?
In fact the BBC did use one of the stages in 2010 for the first series of Upstairs Downstairs. Curiously, one end of the staircase was located here at Dragon Studios but the other end was on a stage at Upper Boat studios (The Dr Who base) - several miles away. Nope - makes no sense to me either. For the second series both ends were united at the new Roath Lock studios. Dr Who briefly used the studios in Sep 2010 for the 'Doctor's Wife' episode. Whites (comedy series with Alan Davies) and Merlin have also been shot here. I gather a live audience show for S4C was also made on one of the stages.
The studios have actually been used to make a movie. In 2009/2010 the film Ironclad, starring Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox and Derek Jacobi was shot here. The stages were used for interiors and a replica of Rochester Castle was built on the lot. The castle set was sadly dismantled a year or two later. It seems that so far, no other features have been made here. This seems surprising - having four decent sized stages and a large back lot on a self-contained site would, I'd have thought, be ideal as a base for a film or TV drama series. Maybe the right people don't realise that it is here.
In fact it has now been used to film two drama series - in 2015 The Bastard Executioner was shot here. It was a 10 episode drama made by Fox for the FX channel. The show had a provisional booking for 5 years but unfortunately only 1 series was commissioned and the show left the studios at the end of January 2016.
Later in 2016 the stages were occupied for 9 months by US production Will - a drama for TNT based on the early life of Shakespeare. It was said to be the most expensive TV production ever made in Wales and was backed by finance from the Welsh government. Sadly, in September 2017 the show was axed after just 1 season.
Enfys Studios - Cardiff (1990 - present)
Enfys was formed in 1984 by Alwyn Roberts. Having left TV-am he invested in a 750sq ft studio and a small OB truck, specialising in making programmes for transmission in Wales. The business did well and in 1990 they moved to their present site, building two studios - one at 4,800 sq ft and the other at 1,000 sq ft. Studio 1 is 79 x 57 metric feet wall to wall. Studio 2 is 34 x 30 metric feet wall to wall. The studios share a well equipped gallery suite. The studios are HD capable and studio 1 recently had a new floor laid.
As well as programmes for S4C and BBC Wales, the studio has also made every series of BBC2 quiz Only Connect from 2014 onwards. With the closure of Studio 1 at Culverhouse Cross, this is the only independent studio remaining in Wales.
Barcud Derwen - North Wales (1992 - 2010)
Based in Caernarfon, for a number of years Barcud established themselves as the leading provider of OB facilities in Wales. Merging with Derwen in 1992 to form Barcud Derwen they set about building a couple of studios.
Studio 1 was 88ft x 72 ft (6,300 sq ft) and had pull-out audience seating on one wall for up to 250 people. It had a saturated lighting rig with motorised bars and 450 dimmers. The gallery was equipped to support up to 12 cameras. Studio 2 had a simple scaffold grid and was 52ft x 31 ft. The two studios shared one gallery suite.
The studios mostly made programmes for the Welsh market but did make one series I know of that was not purely for Wales - Captain Mack for CITV.
Sadly, in June 2010 it was announced that Barcud Derwen had got into financial difficulties due to cash-flow and entered administration. The administrators immediately closed the Caernarfon facility with the loss of 30 jobs. Sadly no buyer was found for these facilities and during the summer of 2010 much of the technical equipment was sold on eBay, the studio's Galaxy lighting console being bought by Riverside TV in Hammersmith.
Pinewood Studio Wales (2015 - present)
On 17th February 2014 it was announced that the Pinewood Group would be creating a new studio complex in south Wales. The site was previously owned by G24 Innovations - a company that designed and manufactured small flexible solar cells. Unfortunately, they went into administration in December 2012. The business was purchased in March 2013 and a new company was formed - G24i Power Ltd. This company moved to a new base just along the coast in Newport and recommenced manufacturing in November 2013.
The plant they vacated was known as The Energy Centre - it even includes its own wind turbine - and is located in Wentloog, between Cardiff and Newport. It was constructed in 1998 and is said to be in very good condition. The 180,000 sq ft building is near to the coast and would certainly be a very attractive place to make films or TV dramas. Pinewood already own other studios in various locations around the world including Canada, Germany, Malaysia and the USA.
The BBC have invested heavily in their Roath Lock facility in Cardiff for their drama department. Many other television dramas have been made by independent companies in and around south Wales in recent years in less than ideal adapted buildings so this facility is bound to be welcomed, particularly with the investment that Pinewood have put into it. Incidentally, you'd think from the press and TV reports that the next James Bond movie is due to be made here. That's obviously not happening but why let facts get in the way of a good story?
The building is actually owned by the Welsh government - they bought it for a reported £6m. Pinewood have taken out a minimum 5 year lease. The government put up £1m towards fitting out the studios - the total cost was estimated to be £1.8m so for the price of a modest 3-bedroom house in London it looks as though Pinewood have got a pretty good deal there. Within the building there are 2 acoustically treated stages, each of 20,000 sq ft plus an additional 30,000 sq ft of shooting floor. The height to roof beams is reported to be 7m (23ft), which is relatively low for purpose-built film stages (Pinewood's own stages range from about 35 - 50ft in height) but typical for converted industrial units such as these. Unless the roofs are raised, this will somewhat limit the range of sets that can be built within them.
The Welsh government has also agreed to invest up to £30m into projects brought forward by Pinewood. They will then share in any profits made from sales of productions filmed here that they have invested in. Of course, the current tax breaks for large scale TV drama make the UK a very attractive place to film major international series.
The studios were completed early in 2015. In January it was announced that the first booking would be a pilot for a major historical drama series called The Bastard Executioner. It was made by Fox 21, Imagine TV and FX Productions and intended for international distribution.
Wolf Studios Wales (2017 - present)
In 2015 the BBC announced that they would be commissioning a drama series based on Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. If you don't know what this is, shame on you. Go straight to the nearest bookshop and buy a copy of Northern Lights - the first book. (If you happen to be American it's called The Golden Compass, for some reason.) Anyway, these books are quite extraordinary fantasy novels set in a parallel universe in which every human has an accompanying daemon, in the shape of an animal. A child passes from Oxford in our world into that one and an extraordinary adventure follows. The books are arguably as ground breaking as The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia novels.
A feature film was made in 2007 called The Golden Compass, which wasn't bad but nowhere near caught the depth or subtlety of the novel. In particular, it avoided any critical mention of God or religion, which is a strong thread running through all the books. This is obviously a big probem in the US but in the UK far less so. It would have been impossible for the other two books to be made into Hollywood films, due to their subject matter.
So - the series has Philip Pullman as executive producer and has been written by Jack Thorne. Bad Wolf is the production company chosen to make the series. You may recognise the Dr Who connection of this name - the two founders of the company, Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, both worked on that show. Their new company has been set up to create His Dark Materials, as well as other projects.
They were said to be looking at suitable studios in south Wales to make the series. Having investigated existing facilities they decided to create their own.
In May 2017, Wolf Studios Wales opened at Cardiff's Trident Park on Ocean Way, close to the city centre and with easy access to the M4. There are two linked units containing 7 stages totalling 253,500sq ft! That should be enough. Some have very high roofs of 57ft. The facility was formerly the Nippon Glass factory. The building was acquired by the Welsh Government and has been leased to Bad Wolf on a 10 year term.
As well as His Dark Materials for BBC1, Bad Wolf are also making A Discovery of Witches here for Sky.
UTV - Belfast
UTV - the independent TV company serving Northern Ireland - has a studio centre in Belfast but no large production studios. It does have a 1,600 sq ft (149 sq m) studio that in 2010 was given an infinity cyc that can be used for green screen recordings (or blue or white if required.) UTV's main studio (studio 1) is used for their daily UTV Live programme.
Titanic Studios - Belfast (2007 - present)
Northern Ireland Screen have been renting Titanic Studios (formerly the Paint Hall studio) from Harland and Wolff shipyard since 2007 for use as four sound stages. The building consists of four16,000 sq ft 'cells' within a huge structure, each with enormous doors to the outside world and connected by internal streets. The roof height is an impressive 90 ft and each stage contains a lighting truss grid that can be raised or lowered. Seasons 1 - 7 of Game of Thrones were made here for HBO and Sky Atlantic from 2010 - February 2017. Feature films have included City of Ember in 2007 and Your Highness in 2009.
In 2012 two new 20,000 sq ft purpose-built stages were completed here alongside the Paint Hall. They are within one long building and were used from the third season of Game of Thrones along with the original Paint Hall stages. They are named the Macquitty and Hurst Stages. Filming on the 8th and final season of GoT began in October 2017 and is planned to last until summer 2018. This series is expected to have longer episodes than the usual 60 minutes, similar to season 7.
Early in 2014 a planning application was lodged to expand the studios even further. £14m was reportedly set aside to build two more stages plus associated workshops and other facilities totalling 100,000 sq ft. This will bring the whole site to more than 250,000 sq ft. The new facility has solar panels on its roof, reducing electricity costs. Planning permission was granted in August 2014 but I have yet to discover whether these stages have actually been built. Can you help?
Belfast Harbour Studios, Giant's Park (2017 - present)
These are the newest purpose-built studios in Northern Ireland - constructed on a former landfill site. There are two very well equipped sound stages, each of 32,000 sq ft, linked by a 20 tonne acoustically sealed sliding door.
There are also two workshops of 11,000 sq ft each and 36,000 sq ft of production offices. Alongside the site is a 2 acre area set aside for future expansion.
In June 2017 it was announced that the first booking would be Krypton - a TV series for the Syfy channel set on Superman's home planet.
Film City - Glasgow (2004 - present)
The creation of Film City was driven by Gillian Berrie, co-founder of Sigma Films. She was inspired by a visit to 'Film City' (possibly it loses something in the translation) in Denmark in 2000 whilst being fully aware of the demand for a similar base for independent Scottish film and TV companies. Govan Town Hall had been used for location filming several times before but when she worked there she realised that it was the perfect spot to take over as a permanent base for the local industry. £3.5m was raised from various sources to refurbish the building and provide it with the necessary facilities. It opened in phases from 2004.
The building contains an impressive new Dolby post production theatre plus a Foley stage, ADR stage, dubbing theatres and 9 edit suites. There are also picture grading suites.
Currently, the old Victorian building provides office, meeting room and the post production facilities mentioned above but it also has the original 5,000 sq ft performance hall complete with audience seating on a balcony. This is described by Film City as a 'build space'. There is sufficient flat floored area in front of the seating to construct reasonably large sets with ground-support truss for lighting but it could not be described as a typical sound stage. There is no acoustic treatment on the walls for example. These facilities have been used for School of Silence (CBBC), Iron Chef UK (C4) and T4's Transmission amongst others.
In May 2013 it was announced that Creative Scotland had ring-fenced £1m for further development. The intention was to redevelop some existing buildings close to the Film City HQ in Govan Town Hall and create 15,000 sq ft of production space. There was also the prospect of two purpose-built stages, at least one of them around 20,000 sq ft, being built on open land between Film City and the BBC's studios. £10m funding was sought from various partnership sources. Unfortunately, no development has so far been forthcoming.
Wardpark Studios, Cumbernauld (2013 - present)
For the past decade there has been much discussion about the provision of large studio space in Scotland. They have seen TV series like Game of Thrones being made in Northern Ireland and several dramas being filmed in Wales and would like some of that kind of work too. Some ex-industrial properies have been used on occasion for filming - most notably the international TV drama Outlander that is filmed in Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld. This former Isola factory offers 65,000 sq ft of facilities.
In March 2016 the Scottish government offered up to £4m to help with expansion plans at Wardpark and planning permision for 2 new stages totalling 30,000 sq ft was submitted.
As of October 2017 the studios offered the following:
4 sound stages of 13,000 sq ft, 12,000 sq ft, 11,500 sq ft and 11,500 sq ft. There are also workshops, cutting rooms, wardrobe/make-up facilities and production offices. These are the original 4 stages. I have yet to establish whether the new stages have been built. Can you help?
A fourth season of Outlander began filming in the autumn of 2017.
Since around 2010, the Scottish government and its agencies have produced many reports on the necessity for more TV drama/film-making facilities in Scotland. Sadly, nothing happened. Meanwhile in Wales, Northern Ireland, Bristol and the north of England they just got on with it. Not to mention the brand new stages at Leavesden and Pinewood. They could have constructed one or two new stages at Film City in Glasgow but no. As mentioned above, they eventually coughed up some cash to enable 2 new stages to be built at Wardpark but these may not have even been built yet.
Meanwhile, in 2014 a developer came up with a plan just outside Edinburgh that looked ideal. Did it get full support from local and Scottish government? What do you think. Read on...
Pentland Studios - Straiton, near Edinburgh
Whilst the great and good were having meetings and writing reports about the future of film making in Scotland, in August 2014 a developer (PSLL) announced an actual plan. This is very ambitious and will provide the facilities that Scotland desperately needs. It consists of a group of stages, workshops and support facilities to be built in phases as part of a much larger development containing housing, retail, a hotel, business park and power station. These studios are intended for features and TV dramas which could also of course make use of Scotland's spectacular scenery for location shooting, only a short drive from here.
The plans include two 15,000 sq ft 'studios' (do they really mean fully equipped TV studios? I doubt it.), two 20,000 sq ft stages and two 30,000 sq ft stages. There is also a 45,000 sq ft 'water stage', two back lots totalling about 30 acres and 55,000 sq ft of workshop space. The plans include a film academy and student accommodation.
Following public consultation in October 2014, a planning application was submitted in May 2015. The local council were due to determine the application by September. Unfortunately, yet again the Scots seemed unable to take a decision regarding the building of film studios. In December, the developer asked the Scottish Government to call in its planning application, claiming that the local Midlothian council had taken too long to consider its proposals. They had hoped to open the studios early in 2017 but that timetable has obviously slipped.
Things took a turn for the worse in February 2016 - it was reported in The Scotsman that planners had insisted that the scheme should be thrown out as it would cause disruption to local residents, was unsuitable for green belt land and would hamper the growth of the Edinburgh Science Triangle development.
I was contacted by someone who strongly opposed the plans and he pointed out the environmental concerns of building on this particular site. He claimed that the plans were misleading as they failed to show the visual impact of the proposed power plant, amongst other things. Well, I can't really comment on these concerns as I don't know the site and how it will impact locally. His worries seem genuine and are shared by many local people. However, I do know that Scotland desperately needs a studio centre like this.
The studios were finally given the go-ahead in April 2017. As for when the studios will open - the developers have mentioned 2018 in the past but they are now refusing to give a date. They have to go through the legal process of evicting a farmer, a road has to be re-routed and they have yet to submit a detailed planning application. Some are saying that all this could take 4-5 years.
Studio City Scotland - Dundee
Just when you thought Scotland might at last have got its act together - another proposal for a studio site was revealed in January 2015. This time in Dundee. It has the name of Studio City Scotland and is planned to be built on land next to Claverhouse Industrial Park. The scheme has the backing of actor Brian Cox and producer Barrie Osborne. Interestingly, according to press reports, Creative Scotland said they knew nothing of the project when it was announced.
It seems that the planning for this project has been carried out in great secrecy but according to the press, in May 2015 the funding and backing for the project was in place. Figures of £80m or £120m have been quoted and the studios are planned to be the 'greenest' in the world. No details of the stages or other facilities have been revealed but the American architects are said to have a long track record in designing studios. The project is also planned to support the local games design industry.
At the time of writing (October 2017) I can find no information on the progress of this scheme. Can you help?
Studio 81, Leeds (2006 - present)
Not far from the old Yorkshire TV studios in Kirkstall Road is Studio 81. This business opened in 2006 and has hosted a number of TV drama productions. These include Wuthering Heights, Lost in Austen, White Girl, The Chase, Strictly Confidential, Red Riding, 5 Days, South Riding, Sirens, The Damned United, The Syndicate, DCI Banks, Just Henry, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, The Great Train Robbery and the extraordinary Peaky Blinders,
There is one very large stage of 230 x 70ft plus workshop facilities and all the usual offices, dressing rooms and wardrobe/makeup rooms.
Yorkshire Studios, Church Fenton (between York and Leeds) (2015 - present)
RAF Church Fenton was created in 1937 when the air force was carrying out a massive expansion, due to the increasing threat from Hitler's Germany. It was designed as a fighter base, defending the industrial areas of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield. As well as housing normal RAF squadrons it was also the home of the first RAF Eagle squadron of American volunteers.
After the war it remained a fighter base with the new generation of jets such as the Meteor and the Hunter. In 1959 the base scaled back its operation, becoming used for training on a wide variety of aircraft types over the following decades. Following the 2010 defence review, training was sadly (some might say unwisely) drastically scaled back in the RAF and the base was no longer required. It closed in December 2013 and was handed over to property investor Makin Enterprises.
In June 2015, Screen Yorkshire announced that it had secured the rights to create a new film studio based here at Church Fenton. They have 3 stages - two at 34,500 sq ft and one at 27,000 sq ft. The complex includes office space, workshops and plenty of parking. There is also a great deal of concreted space near the buildings previously used for aircraft handling as well as grassed over areas with clear vistas where exterior sets can be built.
Stages 1 and 3 were originally aircraft hangars. Stage 2 is under construction and due to open in 2017.
On top of the UK-wide tax breaks, Screen Yorkshire has available the 'Yorkshire Content Fund' which can be used to attract TV dramas and features to the area. They say that in excess of £1m can be invested in suitable projects.
Productions made here have included ITV's Victoria.
The Bus Sheds, Hartlepool (2017 - present)
In January 2017 Hartlepool Borough Council announced that it was planning to turn an old bus depot into film studios. 'The biggest film studio outside London' no less. It seems that two 11,000 sq ft stages are planned so perhaps not quite as big as several others described on this website.
Pat Chapman from Cleveland College of Art and Design is quoted as saying 'This is the perfect venue to create a film and TV studio in the heart of the town.' The college is working with the borough council to develop the project, which opened for business in March 2017.
From what I have read, it seems that only blacking out of windows and some basic sound deadening have been done to the shooting spaces. In a press report, Mr Chapman explained that a more sophisticated refurbishment of the building will come later, once productions have used the stages and discovered what else needs to be done. A full planning application will then follow. So my advice is - book now and get yourself a cheap deal!
Please let me know if you have any further information on this interesting scheme.
Littlewoods Studios Liverpool (from 2018?)
Designed by Scottish architect Gerald de Courcey Fraser, this building was constructed in the art deco style in 1938 and was used to process the betting slips from Littlewoods Football Pools. Its printing presses were used by the government during the war and parts of Halifax bombers were constructed here. Bomb shelters within the building still have wartime graffiti on the walls. The building has been empty since 2003 and photographs indicate that it does need a fair bit of refurbishment inside and out.
In September 2015 a plan to turn the building into a TV drama and film studio was announced by developer Capital and Centric. Liverpool has been used often in recent years as a filming location as some of its architecture can double for cities in the USA. The idea is that TV dramas and features will use these studios as a production base and film interiors here whilst using the nearby city for exteriors. The building will also be the new home of Liverpool Theatre School - with its own theatre and studio - and digital and creative companies will be encouraged to take up space here. It is hoped that 1,500 jobs will be created during the redevelopment phase and once completed it will provide 900 jobs.
The plans have yet to be finalised but the developers have referred to '20-30,000 sq ft sound stages' in their publicity. Looking at photos of the interior, it does appear that a great deal of work will be required to create these as the building has many windows and skylights in the roof and the irregular roof structure would appear to make a conventional lighting grid tricky to install.
In April 2017 the studios became closer to reality when the building was sold to Capital and Centric who declared they would turn the site into the 'Pinewood of the North.' A 250 year lease was agreed with Liverpool City Council. They have already redeveloped the bunker next to the building, which is fully let to media and technology companies.
The new owners said that they were hoping to attract companies that would work in collaboration to be part of a hub that can fully capitalise on Liverpool's world-class offering as a filming location.
No date for when the stages will be available has been announced yet.
Web Studios, The Pie Factory, Manchester Island, The Sharp Project, The Space Project - Manchester
Manchester has long been recognised as a centre of creative talent in music, drama and comedy. Quite rightly, a number of programmes are being made there now with a desire to reflect this on network television. A TV studio centre was constructed in the fashionable and trendy area of Salford Quays. Those MediaCity studios opened in 2011. However, a few enterprising organisations have also opened film/TV drama studios in other parts of Manchester. The most recent is Space Studios. Before that was The Sharp Project and before that was The Pie Factory.
But before all of them was Web Studios...
Now in case you hadn't noticed, around 2003 there appeared to be a dawning realisation that almost all the programmes shown on the UK's main broadcast channels were being made in London. The reasons for this can be argued, but the fact is that both ITV and the BBC spent the 1990s closing down almost all of their regional production studios - so it was hardly surprising. Simply put, they were not attracting sufficient work to enable them to pay their way.
However, the pendulum began to swing back and it became the aim of the BBC, ITV and C4 to make a greater proportion of programmes outside the M25. This was mostly of course due to pressure from the government and Ofcom for the TV companies to represent the culture of the whole country rather better than they were. There was in my view a confusion here. Focus groups were saying that the BBC in particular was too London-centric. I think what people were saying was that programme content was too much based on the culture of London and the south east. I doubt that many were commenting on where the studios were located in which the programmes were made.
The BBC seemed to embrace this need for change rather more enthusiastically than the other companies - possibly sensing that property is a lot cheaper 'up north' than in London and in 2008 they announced an intention to make half of all their programmes outside London by 2016.
In fact, the BBC had indicated in 2004 that they intended to move various departments to Manchester and a proposed development by Peel Holdings (now called The Peel Group) in Salford Quays was selected as a new base in 2006. Thus the BBC became 'anchor tenants', Peel obtained detailed planning permission in 2007 and the rest, as they say, is history. Read on...
MediaCityUK - Salford (dock10)
With a name as grand as MediaCityUK you know that they must have been planning something big. Well - they were. Since we are on the subject allow me to quote their website...
'MediaCity is all about connections: connections with people, places, emotions, audiences and technologies. It will ultimately represent - and redefine - a new era of global media communications'
You get the picture. In fact, here is a picture...
Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. The collection of buildings seen above that make up MediaCity is apparently not exactly admired in the world of architecture. MediaCity won the 'Ugliest Building in the UK' award of 2011 in Building Design magazine's annual Carbuncle Cup contest. Amongst many unflattering remarks, the editor commented 'Quite how the BBC has stooped this low is hard to fathom.' Ah well. No Grade II listing imminent here I suspect. A bit unfair too on the BBC who played no part in the design of all this.
Personally, I think that criticism is a bit harsh. Having worked in the place myself, I think it looks OK - it's a little bleak and wind-swept but the mix of architectural styles in the various blocks and buildings does make it seem somewhat less 'planned' than some developments. It does however look a bit as though a room full of architects have all gone off into separate corners and designed their building without looking at what everyone else was doing - but I assume that's the effect they wanted.
Despite the size of the whole project, the number of medium/large TV studios is only four, (of which one is only 4,550 sq ft - the BBC's TV Centre in White City of course had eight, five of which were between 8,000 and 10,000 sq ft.) Some people have compared this development with TV Centre but this is misleading. Nevertheless, it has become the base for several thousand people working in television, radio and other media and has affected the industry in various ways.
Many people believe that this is a BBC development. Not so. (Please remember this - I'll be testing you later.) Well, only partly so. The BBC have of course moved several departments here from London including Radio Five Live, BBC Children's Department and BBC Sport. All of these were based at Television Centre in White City. However, none of these departments made much use of the five largest production studios at the Centre so the move north did not significantly affect bookings in them. In fact, only one small studio was used by the Sport department at TVC. Children's department occasionally booked one other small studio for Blue Peter - and that's it.
The timetable was as follows: Blue Peter moved in the summer of 2011 - with the offices of other shows such as A Question of Sport and Dragon's Den moving here from BBC Manchester in Oxford Road between May and July. Many CBBC and CBeebies staff also moved up from London in this first wave. Between August and October 2011 was wave 2 which included Newsround and CBBC drama. Wave 3 was from October 2011 into early 2012 and finished off most of the move although the date for BBC Breakfast to begin broadcasting from Salford was 10th April 2012.
The BBC Breakfast move was particularly controversial as when in London the show frequently made use of many actors, film stars, musicians, celebs and politicians who just popped into the studio at TV Centre at the beginning of the day. It has undoubtedly proved to be more difficult to persuade these people to make a special trip to Salford if they are performing in or visiting the capital city - or indeed for most Members of Parliament who will either be in their own constituency or in Westminster for most of their time. Without doubt, the range and quality of studio guests has diminished although some people are interviewed in London down the line which never works quite as well. Breakfast is of course news-based and BBC News moved to brand new studios in New Broadcasting House in the centre of London - which is where many people expected the Breakfast show to be based.
It is hard to fathom the editorial logic in moving this of all shows to Salford. Two of the regular presenters refused to go as did just over half the staff working on the show - only 46% officially deciding to relocate. The programme now shares the Northwest Tonight regional news studio, which is in one of the BBC office blocks rather than the main studio building. In my view the look of the show has suffered - with its low ceiling and scaffold bar grid visible in every wideshot inevitably making it look rather cheap and second rate compared with the space and proportions of the set in Television Centre's TC7. Let's be frank - it looks 'regional' - but then, I suppose that's what the BBC wanted.
One does suspect that the fact that this show is made in Salford is because it represents 195 minutes of airtime Sundays to Fridays and 240 minutes on Saturdays on BBC One which helps to alter the overall balance of programmes made outside the capital in a simple but effective manner, whether or not it is the right programme to be made there. Let's face it - it helps to tick a box.
The BBC declared that it intended to make 50% of all its programmes outside the capital by 2016. This includes drama (much of which is now made in Wales) entertainment and comedy. Although BBC Entertainment and BBC Comedy are remaining based in London there is now also a BBC Comedy North department based here. They are therefore making some programmes here - mostly in studio HQ2 - which in previous years would have been made in London. Well, I say that... Since the studios opened in 2011, the only BBC Comedy series I can think of that were made in these studios were Citzen Khan, House of Fools, The Wright Way and Porridge. And how many of these are particularly related to Manchester in their content? Hmm.
The development has been built (not by the BBC - did I mention that?) by the Peel Group, who describe themselves as a leading property and transport organisation. They began in textiles in the 1920s in Lancashire. As the textile industry declined, they moved into retail warehousing and property development. Later they acquired the Manchester Ship Canal and its port facilities. The Trafford Centre was completed by them in 1998. They own several airports in the north of England and in 2003 acquired Clydeport, Scotland's main sea port. In 2005 they took over Mersey Docks, making them the largest owner of dockyards in the UK. In 2007 they gained ownership of about a quarter of UK Coal plc. So - an impressive portfolio of businesses in the world of ports, airports, property development, retailing and even coal mining. However, no previous experience in the world of television - unless they have chosen not to state that on their website. They have however created a new division - Peel Media - to administer this development.
MediaCity consists of several buildings - three of which are leased by the BBC. However, the main studio block is separate and for a while it was assumed that the TV studios here would be operated by 3sixtymedia, the company that ran ITV's old Granada studios. More on this later.
There are three small studios on the first floor of the studio building that were built for the use of CBBC and CBeebies. Studio HQ7 is 49 x 33 ft wall to wall and studios HQ5 and HQ6 are both 41 x 24 ft wall to wall. HQ5 and HQ6 are the homes of CBeebies presentation and CBBC presentation and Newsround.
HQ7 is the Blue Peter studio and is roughly half the size of TC2 - the small studio they had been using at TV Centre for the previous few years. No room for marching bands or elephants in here sadly. No room for much at all in fact. There was also at the planning stage an area designated 'Blue Peter Garden' - but this was on a roof, so not quite what we had been used to. No more burying of time capsules, obviously. I gather some rehearsals were done on the roof and it proved to be quite windy. Who'd have imagined? The BP garden is therefore now tucked away on the edge of a landscaped area right next to one of the MediaCity tram stop platforms. The 'Italian sunken garden' (pond) was moved stone by stone from Shepherds Bush to its new location along with Petra's statue.
Incidentally, dotted around the landscaped area and the open piazza are a number of stainless steel bollards containing fibre links and some power, enabling cameras to be set up pretty well anywhere around the site and controlled by one of the studio production galleries. This has proved to be useful on several occasions and is one of the few things one can genuinely say have been well thought-out with this development. For example, Gok Live: Stripping for Summer (C4) used this facility to great effect in 2013 combining studio with live OB from the piazza.
BBC Sport has its production offices with editing and communications facilities and its BBC Sports Centre studio in one of the BBC buildings. Many of their studio links are done on location at OBs - but some programmes such as Match of the Day use HQ3, the smallest of the main four MediaCity (dock10) studios.
Back to the history...
Negotiations and discussions between Peel Group and ITV North (the main owners of 3sixtymedia) continued throughout 2008 and into 2009. The BBC were also involved but I gather only at this planning stage regarding the design of the studio for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. My understanding is that they played no part in the design of the TV studios.
The studio design was it seems carried out by consultants TSL Systems. I copied this from their website: 'The early engagement allowed TSL to advise Peel on the technical and internal architectural aspects of the design, such that Peel ended up with a facility that met the requirements of their anchor tenants. Indeed most of the typical problems such a build would have encountered in being prepared for broadcast were solved at the design stage, allowing for completion to occur on time and on budget.' I can no longer find this statement on their website incidentally.
Reading between the lines, I can't help but conclude that the priority may have been to finish on time and on budget rather than fully consulting with the people who would actually be using the studios, which might have caused awkward delays and cost overruns. TSL were originally asked to provide guidance regarding the costs of building the studios prior to Peel winning the contract to provide facilities for the BBC. On winning it, Peel approached TSL to carry out the detailed design. Quite how many currently active producers, directors, designers, lighting directors, sound supervisors, scenic supervisors, make-up and wardrobe supervisors, floor managers and studio managers were shown the proposed plans and asked their opinion is not known. If you were involved in the early design and planning I would love to hear more - confidentially of course.
What I have heard is that the studios were intended to be fitted out with all the latest HD and 5.1 kit, making them genuinely state of the art - as one would expect after all the fanfares. However, the banking crisis changed everything and early in 2009 the budget for technical fitting out was severely slashed. Decisions were taken about what was essential and what was simply nice to have, which explains why the studios opened with some not having lighting grids and equipped gallery suites. Remember, apart from the studio dedicated to their orchestra, the BBC were not involved in any of these decisions - ITV North were the people who were liaising with Peel and TSL about the TV studios at this stage.
Although these studios were designed and built after fifty years' industry-wide experience of other studio centres, good and bad, there are several aspects of their design that many people have found somewhat surprising. For example, gallery suites 2 floors up; no toilets close to the gallery suites; each studio only having one scene dock door - leading onto an internal corridor; no studio having direct access to outdoors; most dressing rooms not located close to the studio floors; dimmers on the grid instead of in a proper dimmer room where they can be easily accessed; and the serious lack of storage and props/workshop space. (A quick look at a plan of Television Centre would reveal how all these problems could have been solved.)
At the time ITV North were involved in planning the MediaCity studios, they were intended to open in 2011 and Granada would then close its studios in Quay Street. A site for a new building opposite MediaCity had been earmarked for them to move into so that the Quay Street offices could also be sold off. However, on 11th March 2009 there was a surprising development. ITV issued the following press release:
This decision initially appeared to leave the opening of the studios in some doubt. If ITV/3sixtymedia were no longer involved and with the Peel Group severely scaling back its investment then would all of the studios be completed? Peel already had a commitment from the BBC that they would book a certain amount of studio time so on this basis (apparently £82.8m over 10 years) studios 2 and 3 were fitted out. According to press reports, in April 2009 the Peel Group were said to be trying to persuade ITV to change their minds. This was hardly surprising as to make running the studios financially viable Peel would need regular bookings from them too. Throughout the following months rumours began to circulate that ITV might leave Quay St after all.
In March 2010 Peel announced that they had appointed Andy Waters as Head of Studios. Andy is a decent chap who has a great deal of experience as a resource manager at BBC TV Centre. Within a few months several other resource managers from TV Centre joined him - possibly the uncertain future of TVC helped in this decision. Whatever their reasons, although some aspects of the studios' design might not be what they would have chosen had they been involved at the planning stage, I know that they are all determined to make this studio centre a popular and happy place to make programmes. My experience working in the studios so far has been very good. The support from the studio management team was excellent and my electricians crew were young, relatively inexperienced but extremely hard working and with a very positive attitude. It was a genuine pleasure working with them.
Some good news is that the studio management team were successful over the first two or three years of operation in persuading their shareholders to invest in a range of equipment and facilities, enhancing the attractiveveness of the studios. It is no secret that when they opened, the studios were disappointingly equipped and in many ways unfinished. This reputation quickly spread round the industry and did a great deal of harm. The investment that has since taken place has certainly improved things. It will not necessarily pay for itself directly but by making the studios a more attractive place to work will pay off in the long run.
Meanwhile, rewinding back to November 2010, SIS (part of which used to be BBC OBs) was given a 10 year contract to supply the studios with camera, sound and engineering crews. They used to operate the studio at the BBC Media Village in White City that produced The One Show. Thus 'The Studios' at MediaCity became a joint venture between Peel Media and SIS.
On 16th December 2010 it was confirmed that ITV would indeed be moving to MediaCity, after many months of discussions and negotiations. The office staff and local news are now occupying several floors of the Orange tower which is the block that also houses the University of Salford. The first local news broadcast from the new studio was on 25th March 2013. As it happens, I have visited the ITV news studio. As in most converted office studios the ceiling is much too low so most of the lights, instead of hanging properly from the grid scaffold bars, are tilted to one side and pushed up against the ceiling. That doesn't look great frankly.
On the other side of the water a 7.7 acre site next to the Imperial War Museum is now the base for Coronation Street. A production block, two TV studios and a larger exterior set than previously used were built and opened at the beginning of 2014. Two more studios were added later.
In 2017, to cope with the extra Wednesday edition of the show, a construction workshop was converted into two new studios - 5 & 6. The external lot has also been extended and a mobile production gallery has been built. This is towed around the site close to where shooting is taking place.
The studios in the main Peel block are now being used for ITV's other productions (eg Jeremy Kyle, Countdown, Judge Rinder, University Challenge), which of course was the intention when the centre was originally designed. It was thought that the move to studio 4 would happen in the autumn of 2012 but in fact it was early in 2013 - Countdown being the first ITV show to use HQ4 in January. The Coronation St site took far longer to build than anticipated due apparently to some construction issues with the main 4-storey production block. I am told that bemused MediaCity workers watched it rise in 2012 only to be dismantled and begun all over again.
What this does mean is that at least three of the four main TV studios now have regular bookings from ITV and BBC North. This places the operation of the centre on a much more secure foundation. In an interview in 2012 Andy Waters predicted that the centre would be running at 'full capacity' by 2013. This (according to Broadcast magazine) represents utilisation of 50%-60% which is the best he believes can be practically achieved.
Incidentally, in September 2012 it was announced that 'The Studios' at MediaCity would be rebranded as 'dock10'. Possibly this was in response to the widely held but erroneous belief in the industry that the studios here are owned and run by the BBC. They are not. But you know that now, don't you?
The 10 year financial commitment for the BBC to book space in these studios ends in 2020. One can't help wondering if it will be renewed.
Old BBC production studios outside London
It wasn't that long ago - well, the early 1990s - that the BBC had a medium sized production studio in three regional centres in England. Five if you include the somewhat smaller one in Newcastle and even smaller studio in Southampton. The rest were in Bristol, Manchester and the one that everyone over 30 remembers - Pebble Mill in Birmingham. Who could forget Pebble Mill at One? Even if you never saw it you'd heard of it. In point of fact, it came from the foyer of the building, not its main studio but who cares? It ran from 1973-1986 - with Donny McCloud, Marion Foster, Bob Langley, Jan Leeming, Judi Spiers, Peter Seabrook and a dozen or so other presenters who came and went. Well, they've all gone now, the building is a pile of dust and the BBC's Birmingham operation is from somewhere called the Mailbox - although there is no production studio there, just a small regional newsroom. That's progress.
Birmingham's studio A was the home of dozens of popular dramas - All Creatures Great and Small, Howards Way, Juliet Bravo, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Bird of Prey, and A Very Peculiar Practice are some examples - but many light entertainment shows were made here too including Pot Black, Beadle's About, Call My Bluff, Telly Addicts, Can't Cook Won't Cook, The Basil Brush Show and (who could forget?) Emu's Broadcasting Corporation. Of course, there was also Saturday Night at the Mill and the unimaginatively named Pebble Mill - the show that took over from Pebble Mill at One (I hope you're following all this.) High/low point of that series was undoubtedly Paul Shane's rendering of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' in 1996. A quick visit to YouTube is highly recommended.
The studio opened in 1971 and was 74ft x 64ft within firelanes, so quite a bit smaller than the medium/large studios at TV Centre. It opened with four EMI 2001 cameras which were replaced in 1983 with five Link 125s. In 1992 Pebble Mill bought four Sony BVP-370 studio cameras and two BVP-70 portable cameras. In November 1997 work began on a major refurbishment of the studio. It included a new production control room complete with 36-channel vision mixer, new lighting/vision control room and re-equipped sound control room with new Calrec Q-series 60-channel desk. This £2.2 million upgrade took nine weeks and Studio A re-opened by the end of February 1998 as a fully digital widescreen facility complete with new Sony BVP-500 and BVP-550 cameras.
Despite this huge investment it was announced only two years later at the end of 2000 by Greg Dyke, the then Director General of the BBC, that the main studio at Pebble Mill would close. (Quite a different philosophy from that now in fashion where programmes are being moved from London to the nations and regions.) Staff at Pebble Mill are said to have protested most strongly and suggested 'mothballing' the studio for a year in anticipation of the CBBC department needing a studio. Despite their best efforts and the very recent £2.2 million refit and upgrade the BBC chose to close Studio A for good. It's perhaps worth noting that a year later the Corporation spent £1.7 million upgrading studio D at Elstree for CBBC. So 'rationalisation' got under way at Pebble Mill and the next year Studio A was de-commissioned.
The following little tale will possibly come as no surprise. It seems that the week after Studio A had closed, Countryfile had a massive story which required studio space. Despite the fact that Studio A was at that time still fully equipped, the studio was prohibited from being used as it was 'officially closed'. The production team therefore had to hire in an OB unit and use the 'conservatory studio' once used by Anne and Nick for their daytime show.
Incidentally - one claim to fame for studio A is that it was the home of a new kind of floor paint. For many years all studio floors had been painted with water-based paint, with disastrous consequences if any liquid was spilled on it! Before a new colour or pattern could be applied, the floor had to be washed and dried with special machines. This wasted valuable time during studio turn-arounds. At Pebble Mill they developed 'Pebble Mill Peelable' paint, which did what it said on the can. This enabled the next floor to be painted on top of the old one, layer after layer, until it grew so thick that the cameras were bumping over the irregularities, at which time it was simply peeled off. Brilliant. Job done.
As with all the regional 'Network Production Centres', Pebble Mill also had a studio B for local news and sport. This one was 40 x 25ft.
The Pebble Mill studios were originally intended to have a third 'drama' studio - studio C - but this was never built. The foyer became the third studio instead, releasing studio A to make popular dramas. At first the foyer borrowed the galleries of studios A and B but in 1983 'gallery C' was commissioned.
Pebble Mill at One ended in 1986 but in 1988, Daytime Live was launched. Essentially the same as Pebble Mill at One, it started at a different time and therefore had a different name. This show also came from the foyer - now officially called 'studio C' - and was joined in 1992 by Good Morning with Anne and Nick which used a small area of this same studio. Needing a bit more elbow room, it wasn't long before the construction of a conservatory studio within the courtyard area was completed and Anne and Nick moved in. Both programmes were controlled from Gallery C.
The daytime drama series Doctors was also made at Pebble Mill between 2000 and 2004. Despite the fact that there was a perfectly good television studio sitting empty, they weren't allowed to use it, so the windows of the foyer (studio C) were blacked out and that became the studio - with all its limitations. A decision such as this clearly makes perfect sense if you are a very senior BBC manager. Doctors also used an additional space - radio Studio 1. This was 62 x 44ft wall to wall.
Studio 1 began as the main audio/music studio at Pebble Mill with enough space to accommodate a full symphony orchestra. Initially, it was used for sound recording sessions plus the twice weekly live broadcasts for Radio 3's lunchtime concerts. However, as well as radio this studio was equipped with a basic lighting grid and was used in its early years for the occasional television programme. The studio lighting became controlled from gallery 'C' from the summer of 1983.
However, John Birt's 'Producer Choice' agenda in the early 1990's forced Pebble Mill to charge unrealistic rental rates for the studio and thus ensured that Studio 1 became too expensive for radio use. Therefore Radio 3 moved out to Adrian Boult Hall in the centre of the city, with the newly developed BBC Resources turning Studio 1 into a full-time TV studio. A scene dock door was added together with the installation of a more comprehensive lighting grid.
Soon after, Studio 1 was in daily use for the live transmission of The Really Useful Show. This lasted for three series, but I'm told that the long acoustic reverberation characteristics of the studio were not idea for TV sound. Programmes to originate from Studio 1 included Daily Live, Anything You Can Cook and Front Room. As mentioned above, in its final years Studio 1 was used as a sound stage for Doctors, although the associated radio cubicle continued to be used to produce Radio 4's Farming Today until the closure of Pebble Mill as a whole (in May 2004).
With the main TV studio closed and the orchestra having moved out it wasn't long before somebody decided that they might as well close the whole place down. Local news and radio went to a building in the city centre called the Mailbox (or 'shoebox' as apparently the staff call it) and Doctors is now filmed at the 'BBC Drama Village' on the University of Birmingham campus at Selly Oak.
Pebble Mill opened in 1971, made its last broadcast from studio B in May 2004 and was demolished in 2005.
thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above info.
Postscript: Just when you thought it was all over... in October 2011 the BBC announced that as part of their 'Delivering Quality First' cuts they were planning to move factual programming away from Birmingham to Bristol by the end of 2012. At one time it looked as though Doctors would be moving too but that now seems relatively secure. Thus, no peaktime network programming is currently made in England's second biggest city.
Bristol's studio A was the home of Tony Hart's various art-based series as well as Animal Magic, The Really Wild Show, Why Don't You... and several other popular shows made by the Children's and Schools departments.
Mike Emery has written to inform me that the advent of colour in the region at the start of the 1970s led to colour programmes being made in Studio A from 1972 in conjunction with the West regions CMCR3 OB scanner. Also designated SW4 the scanner provided the necessary colour control room facilities together with its Philips PC-60 (LDK-3) cameras, which could always be recognised by their rich, warm tones.
However, this was not an ideal operation. The OB scanner would be on the road at the weekend often covering sporting events in the region, but on a Monday morning the kit was re-rigged in Studio A to provide the output from the studio - at least until the studio was eventually refurbished in 1979/80. This included the commissioning of a colour capable control room suite and four Link 110 cameras. A second smaller OB unit equipped with three Link 120P cameras was brought into service around 1977/8. This was often used for the Antiques Roadshow amongst other things, and allowed the use of the Link 120P cameras in Studio A on an ad hoc basis, albeit generally in place of a Link 110. In the early 1980s Ikegami HL-79D cameras replaced the Link 120Ps in the OB unit, and again were occasionally used in Studio A.
In 1985/6 Studio A was completely refurbished, although the Link cameras remained. The work included a raised roof and new grid with new lighting hoists and new sound and communications, together with a new three machine VTR edit suite with four machine capability. The studio re-opened in June '86.
Unfortunately, in a bid to save £25 million, in 1991 the BBC announced a studio closure programme and Bristols Studio A was one of six studios around the country that was to close, although much of the technical equipment was in fact left in situ. Apparently for a while it was used to house some animals from Bristol Zoo. No, I don't believe it either but that is what I am told. Can you confirm this???
Thereafter Studio A pretty much remained dark until 1996 when another redevelopment of the site led to part of the studio becoming the home of the regional news programme Points West which had previously originated from the tiny 480 sqft Studio B.
David Croxson has written to inform me that...
I have never visited myself, but I gather that parts of the BBC Bristol complex could be described as rather quaint as it is essentially a couple of streets' worth of attractive Victorian mansions all knocked together. These old houses are to the right of the 1980s building shown in the photo above. I am told that it has a genteel but rather higgledy piggledy feel as you walk from one house to the next, with grand staircases rising every so often to offices above. Studio A is in what was once the back gardens of the two houses at the junction of the Tyndalls Park and Whiteladies Roads. It had a scene dock and scenery workshop next door and a couple of quite cramped gallery control rooms in the 1st floor of these houses. Studio B was a much smaller space and was used for the local news programme Points West and sport.
Of course Casualty was based in Bristol from 1987 (the first series was recorded at TV Centre.) However, it was not made in these studios but in a converted industrial unit elsewhere in the city. The show moved to the new BBC Wales Drama Centre in Cardiff in the autumn of 2011 - a very unpopular move with many people.
Manchester's Oxford Road studio A opened in 1976 with four EMI 2005 cameras - the only BBC studio to have the misfortune to be equipped with them. Actually, not quite. Stephen Neil has informed me that BBC Norwich had to suffer them too and Robin Vanags recalls them being at BBC Plymouth.where they were in use from about 1975 - 1988.
When an Ikegami HL-79D portable camera complemented studio A's EMI 2005s in 1980 I am told that the pictures from it were such good quality they had to be downgraded by the vision engineers so they would match the rather dubious images produced by the EMIs. However, I have been contacted by Mike Renshall who worked with these cameras and doesn't remember it like this. He reckons the 2005s were pretty good - just like 2001s but with 3 tubes rather than 4. Certainly no worse than the Link 110 which was mechanically poorly manufactured. Well - maybe. The view I have heard mostly expressed is that the 2005 produced soft, muddy pictures and one would have expected it to be an improvement on the 2001, not a backwards step.
The studio was initially only 66 x 53 feet within firelanes so quite a bit smaller than Pebble Mill's studio A. The small size of the studio proved to a be a problem - limiting the range of shows that could be made here. In 1989 an 18 month project was begun to lengthen the studio. The area under construction extended into what had previously been part of the car park and increased the length of the studio by nearly 40ft. As well as increasing the floor area the height of the studio in the new section was raised too, increasing its volume by some 80%. A new 28ft high cyc rail was installed in the newly constructed end of the studio enabling wide camera angles to be used without shooting off the top of the cyclorama. Once complete, Oxford Road Studio A became the largest BBC studio outside London, at 94 x 66ft within firelanes.
The £6 million re-build and refurbishment was completed by May 1991. The old EMIs were replaced by four new Ikegami HK-355 studio cameras and three HK-355P lightweights.
Although the first programme to use the 'new' studio A was Saturday morning kids show The 8.15 from Manchester, that show had in fact had a 22 week series the year before using the scene dock between studios A and B as a studio. Alan Yardly, director, has written to me quite rightly pointing this out. Props cages were draped with tinsel, and one area was turned into a very effective stage upon which all the top pop bands of the day performed. This area became known as studio D. The scenery in the scene dock was shifted into Studio B on a Friday night, then moved back out again later on the Sunday.
For many years studio A specialised in entertainment and comedy. It was the home of Michael Rodd's Screen Test, some series of Record Breakers, yoof programme The Oxford Road Show, The Travel Show, Cheggers Plays Pop, Open Air, Fax, Jossy's Giants, A Question of Pop, That's Showbusiness with Mike Smith ('91-'96) and The Sunday Show ('95-'97). Bob Monkhouse's gameshow Wipeout came from studio A before moving to Granada's Quay St studios and the first series of Pass the Buck was also made here in 1998. Its most famous sitcom was probably Red Dwarf (after the first few series this moved to Shepperton) but one of its other shows - A Question of Sport - is still going strong, having subsequently been made at Granada (3sixtymedia) or sometimes at TV Centre then becoming one of the first shows to be recorded in the new MediaCity studios in Salford.
Unfortunately studio A was another victim of the Director General's red pen and it closed in 2000. The BBC and ITV formed a new company - 3sixtymedia - to run studio operations in Manchester, with ITV having an 80% stake and the BBC 20%. The BBC's studio staff, or some of them at least, found themselves walking up the road to the great rival Granada to become part of the new business.
Studio B (2,500 sq ft), continued in use for regional news and sport programmes crewed by BBC staff. Studio A was closed completely but curiously the scene dock area - studio D - continued in use for The Heaven and Earth Show through to 2004 which was broadcast live on Sunday mornings. These programmes were crewed by 3sixtymedia staff who I'm told particularly appreciated the 6am call time.
Although studio A closed completely for a few years, in 2005 it became part of 3sixytmedia's portfolio, albeit as a 4-waller. It was then used for shooting several single-camera dramas including both series of Life On Mars and Channel 4's Longford.
The last programme came from Oxford Road on Friday 25th November 2011. It was an edition of North-West Tonight. All staff left the building and moved to MediaCity during 2012. The Oxford Road building was demolished in 2013 and the land became a car park.
thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above info.
Newcastle's studio centre was built in the mid 1980s, with the main TV studio A eventually opening in 1988. The local BBC team moved to these very smart premises from less than perfect facilities in a very old building in the city centre. The new base was nicknamed the 'Pink Palace' (see photo above) and contains a production studio of about 65 x 40ft (2,600 sq ft) that was intended to be used for some networked programmes as well as local shows.
Rather than use a TV flooring specialist company, a local contractor was used. Strange as it may seem, none of the cameramen knew just how flat the floor should be in the new studio as they had only been used to the old studio that had ancient floorboards under the lino. They could tell the new floor was flat...but was it flat enough??? They decided to call for a cameraman from Television Centre to come up and test the floor. Unfortunately, every decent cameraman was busy so they looked around for someone who wasn't doing much and sent me. No really.
The year was 1985 and the concrete and asphalt base had just been laid. It had to be perfectly level so that when the lino was laid on top there would be no disturbance to the picture when the cameras tracked across it. When I arrived at the building site I expected to meet just a couple of BBC suits but what seemed like the whole of BBC Newcastle plus a dozen or so managers and engineers from the construction companies were there to meet me. Highly embarrassed, I felt like the man from Del Monte as I slowly tracked a camera ped back and forth across the whole surface, looking for bumps. Not as easy as it sounds, I can assure you. It only took a couple of hours but I was emotionally drained by the time we finished. I did find a few little ridges and holes which I think justified my trip. Funny old world.
The studio, with its perfectly flat floor, went on to specialise in Children's programmes including Jackanory and, of course, Byker Grove. To think that Ant and Dec (or 'PJ and Duncan' as they were then) trod the floor I had checked. It doesn't get much better than that.
Local man Gary Richardson has informed me that other network shows made in the early days of studio A included the children's gameshow Knock Knock, the regional contributions to Children In Need, daytime request show Happy Memories with Cliff Mitchelmore, and the revival of Juke Box Jury with Jools Holland complete with studio audience. Jools of course was no stranger to Newcastle having famously presented The Tube down the road at Tyne Tees Television on City Road in the 1980's.
During this period, the studio was also used for the regional magazine programme Look North when network shows weren't booked. When A was unavailable, Look North decamped to studio B - a much smaller space that was designed for the daily regional news bulletins. It is large enough for two presenters complete with a scaled down version of the news desk
Around the turn of the millennium, the studio ceased any pretentions of being able to make programmes for network TV and was handed over to Look North on a permanent basis. This saved it from closure. It had the curious advantage of not being too big - so it could be used for a programme like this. If it had been larger like the studios 'A' in Manchester or Birmingham it would almost certainly have been closed down for good like they were. On Sundays the studio is also used for the regional version of the Politics Show. Go to this web address to see a 360 degree image of the studio with its Look North set...
David Croxson has pointed out to me that like Newcastle, BBC Southampton also contains what could be described as a production studio. The centre was built slightly later than Newcastle - opening in 1991 - but by the same contractors and within the same BBC climate of wanting to be able to produce more networked programmes from around the UK.
Southampton studio A is slightly smaller than Newcastle's studio at about 1,900 sq ft. The working area is 50 x 36 feet with some additional space near the scene dock door. It is apparently audience capable, has a large scene dock and store, separate lamp store and three dressing rooms. The lighting grid has 60 motorised hoist pantographs on tracks which are also motorised for moving along the grid (that's clever) with mainly dual-source lanterns. Again like Newcastle, there is a studio B which was the original home of the Oxford sub-opt when it started in 2000 but its cameras went to Oxford when the sub-opt moved there in 2005. These days studio B is apparently used once or twice a year when A has its grid safety inspections, but otherwise is used as a meeting room.
Unlike Newcastle, by the time the studio was commissioned, the idea of producing programmes from smaller centres was out of favour and only one networked programme ever came from Southampton - The Midnight Hour - (unless you know differently!!!). Since then though, thanks to yet another BBC management idea that after a few years was quietly forgotten, they've been blessed with an excellent and somewhat over-specified news studio.
Around 1988, BBC East in Norwich was also planned to have a similar sized studio costing £4m which would have enabled the occasional network programme to be made. It was due to open in 1990. The plans were publicly announced and featured on the local news programme. Sadly for them it never happened (another victim of Michael Checkland's red pen) and instead they moved to The Forum in Norwich, where only a small news studio was built.
Of course, the BBC still have regional newsrooms in many major towns in the country but as far as production studios go there are none outside London apart from those in Cardiff and Glasgow, with a 4-waller in Belfast. Cardiff's studio A used to be the base for local soap Pobol y Cwm but that moved to the new drama centre at Roath Lock in 2011. The studio is now used for Crimewatch UK, which rather oddly was moved to Cardiff in 2011. I don't know if the syudio is currently used for anything else - can you help? still makes programmes for BBC Wales but hardly ever are any made for the UK versions of BBC1 or BBC2. However, Scotland is emerging as a new centre for programme making in the UK. The old BBC Glasgow studios closed in 2007 and a brand new 'state of the art' HD studio centre opened in a trendy location in Pacific Quay. This is intended not just to become a programme making centre for Scotland but also to make comedies and entertainment shows for the whole of the UK.
There is incidentally a misunderstanding with some people that the BBC will be opening new studios at Salford Quays in Manchester in 2011. There is of course a huge new media centre opening there but the studios are not owned or operated by the BBC - however they have signed an agreement to use some of them for a number of days each year for the next few years. The Corporation will of course be occupying a great deal of office space there and several departments are moving to Salford from London and the old Manchester centre.
Current BBC production studios outside London
The BBC site at Llandaff was purchased in 1952. The initial development of 6 sound studios, concert hall, technical block and offices was completed in 1966. TV studio C2 (1,500 sq ft) came into service in 1974. This studio is used for local news and sport programmes. The concert hall mentioned above is also known as studio A and was large enough to house the BBC Symphony Orchestra of Wales. This orchestra moved its home to the BBC Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre in January 2009.
The main production TV studio, C1, opened in December 1979. It is 80 x 62 metric feet within firelanes, making the studio about 6,500 sq ft overall. The grid has 88 motorised lighting bars with the usual BBC dual-source lanterns on them (albeit the rather less popular Kohouteks). The production galleries are spacious and well equipped and from my experience of working there on a couple of shows it is a very nice place to make programmes.
From 1980 - 2011 the main programme recorded here was Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley). This series actually began in 1974 - making it the BBC's longest-running soap. It was initially recorded in the BBC's much smaller Cardiff studio in Broadway and occasionally even in Pebble Mill. It used to be transmitted on BBC1 Wales but transferred to S4C when that opened in 1982. Located at the back of the Llandaff building was an exterior set of a street with some house and shop fronts but all the interiors were shot in the studio. For many years the programme used the studio on alternate weeks, allowing other shows to use it then. Towards the end of its tenure here it was semi-permanently based in the studio. The soap moved to Roath Lock in autumn 2011.
In January 2011 Crimewatch UK moved its base to Llandaff. It had to use the music studio A at first but then transferred to C1 once Pobol y Cwm had moved to Roath Lock. The set for Crimewatch then took up residence semi-permanently in the studio. There were 10 live shows each year plus a few editions of the CW Roadshow which used the studio for links. In October 2017 the BBC announced that they were axing the show after 33 years - which neatly solved the problem of where to base it when the studio closed.
Studio C1 has been home to several popular series over the years. Most of these have been for transmission on BBC1 Wales or S4C but highly regarded drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George was made here in 1981, drama series District Nurse ('84-'87) with Nerys Hughes, Tiger Bay ('96-'97) and one series of Terry and June was famously recorded here when no studio was available at TV Centre. Mastermind has occasionally been recorded here for transmission on BBC1. Other series made in English for BBC1 Wales have included the popular sitcom High Hopes ('02-'08) and musical gameshow The Lyrics Game ('03) - both suffering from lighting by yours truly.
In August 2013 the BBC revealed that it would be putting its Llandaff centre up for sale in the autumn. In January 2015 they announced that the building would be sold to Taylor Wimpey, who would demolish it and build housing. The new BBC site is next to Cardiff Central railway station in the city centre and is about half the size of the current building. It will house around 1,200 staff. It will contain no replacement production studio for C1, just small news/sport studios. Some facilities in the new Welsh HQ will be shared with S4C - which now gets its funding from the licence fee. Construction began in December 2015 and the BBC will move into the new building in 2018.
By coincidence, in the summer of 2013 ITV announced that they too planned to move their local news operation from Culverhouse Cross to a new HQ in Cardiff Bay.
Roath Lock - Cardiff
In July 2010 work began on the construction of the new BBC Wales Drama Production Centre. Occupying a large part of the remaining undeveloped land in the Porth Teigr area of Cardiff Bay this 170,000 sq ft site now houses a number of popular BBC drama series. Originally called 'Roath Basin', it changed its name to 'Roath Lock' early in 2011 following consultation with staff. You may draw your own conclusions.
All credit due, the first shots were recorded only 14 months after construction of the studios began - an extraordinarily speedy process. The studios were officially declared completely open on March 12th 2012.
Casualty, a genuine casualty of the BBC's drive to move programme making around the UK, transferred from its base across the water in Bristol to these studios during the summer of 2011, the first filming beginning on 16th September. Pobol y Cwm, the long-running soap, (longer in fact than EastEnders) moved here around the end of November from its previous base at the BBC Wales HQ on the other side of Cardiff in Llandaff. It now has a larger exterior set and occupies two stages.
Dr Who was previously made in Upper Boat Studios - a former seat belt factory on an industrial site at Treforest, near Pontypridd. The BBC had leased those buildings since the summer of 2006. That operation moved to the Roath Lock site early in 2012. The Dr Who base at Upper Boat provided space for workshops, video editing suites, six sound stages and a large props store. It was said to be ten times the size of BBC Llandaff. Spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures was also made at Upper Boat and was due to transfer to Roath Lock but following the sad death of Elizabeth Sladen in April 2011 the decision was taken not to make any more. Early series of Torchwood were also made at Upper Boat but the fourth series, Miracle Day, was mostly filmed in the United States.
In fact, Paul Middleton has pointed out that the rebooted (Christopher Eccleston) Dr Who first started at Sovereign House, an industrial unit in Newport on the Imperial Park industrial estate. That building was first rented by the BBC in 2001 to house the BBC Wales drama series The Bench. The building contained permanent sets of two law courts. The show was first shown on BBC Wales but was intended to alternate with daytime soap Doctors on BBC1. However, the production was axed after two series and Dr Who occupied these 'studios' from 2003 before moving to Upper Boat.
With Dr Who, Casualty, Pobol y Cwm and other dramas such as Upstairs Downstairs being made here too, it is not surprising that the centre has no less than 9 sound stages of various shapes and sizes. Upstairs Downstairs unfortunately was not recommissioned after its disappointing second series which was made in these studios. However, Aliens vs Wizards started filming in spring 2012.
Three of the stages are occupied by Casualty, two by Pobol y Cwm and the remaining four are used by 'transient' productions including Dr Who.
The stages here are called studios but apart from having flat TV floors they have no technical facilities and are fitted with very basic I-beam and scaffold grids so I would prefer to describe them as stages. All are different sizes but most are the same height except for studio 4 which is several feet higher.
The dimensions wall to wall are approximately as follows: Studio 1: 175 x 75ft; studio 2: 100 x 60ft; studio 3 120 x 60ft; studio 4 140 x 80ft. These are the stages for Dr Who and other dramas - the Tardis is a semi-permanent set at one end of studio 4.
When first built, studio 4 was fitted with a huge greenscreen which was intended for Dr Who and any other drama that needed it. It was said to be the largest in Europe. However, it was soon realised that this big stage would be more productively employed being used for large conventional sets - in particular those needing a lot of height. A greenscreen was then fitted in the corner of one of the other stages - large enough, but not the largest in Europe any longer.
Studios 5 and 6 are both about 125 x 60ft. These are the Pobol y Cwm stages and they have a basic truss and scaffold grid suspended over the sets. The sets are mostly permanent - as are the lighting rigs. Each stage has a small room on the studio floor in which the LD sits along with a console op and racks engineer. This show does not normally have a grade so it is essential that the pictures as recorded are transmittable. The director sits at a table on the studio floor with the PA and a couple of monitors. The two cameras are both recorded onto hard drive and edited later. There is no vision mixer - unlike when the series was made in studio A in Llandaff.
Studios 7, 8 and 9 are dedicated to Casualty. Studio 7 is about 80ft square and has a hospital ward set in one half and the other half is used for guest sets. Studio 8 is the most impressive on the whole site. It is about 125 x 100 ft and contains a fully ceilinged hospital set on two floors. Everything looks completely believable - it is dressed and equipped as a real hospital would be. There are soundproof barriers that can be used to block doorways or corridors - this enables two units to be filming at once within the stage. Cameras are Arri Alexas. Casualty is shot using single camera techniques but a second camera is often used.
Studio 9 is the only non-soundproof stage and is used as the Ambulance garage although guest sets are sometimes built within it. It is about 75 x 50ft. Outside this stage and studio 8 are small street scene exterior sets. On the other side of the road from the hospital on the lot is a large pub set - this is used regularly by Casualty but also sometimes by Pobol Y Cwm - with a little bit of re-dressing it becomes a Welsh country pub. Pobol also occasionally uses one of the Casualty sets if it has a scene set in a hospital ward.
Each show has its own extensive prop store but every prop is recorded on a database so is also available to the other shows that are made here - or indeed to any other programme - at a reasonable price! There is some cross-fertilisation of crew members too since most are freelance but most tend to work on one series most of the time.
The Crimewatch production office was located here although they used the main studio at BBC Llandaff for their monthly transmission. On the face of it an odd choice but Crimewatch did of course film dramatic reconstructions of the crimes it covered so they were able to draw upon local expertise for these.
The BBC has committed to a 20 year lease costing £1.35m per year. The construction cost was shared between the Welsh government, Cardiff council and the development company, Igloo. They also paid £10m up front to fit out the studios. In July 2012 it was announced that the development had been awarded the highest possible environmental and sustainability rating - and is the first industrial building in the UK to obtain the prestigious BREEAM Outstanding certificate. This has proved slightly problematic. At first, the stages proved to be very hot to work in as they were so well insulated and there was no conventional air conditioning. Extra air handling ducts had to be fitted to some of them - and to the permanent Casualty set. These still fit within the limitations of the BREEAM rules but have helped to lower working temperatures.
In some ways, these studios have taken the place of the old BBC Film dept at Ealing Studios - but on a much bigger and more sophisticated scale. The people working here seem genuinely impressed with the facilities, including those on Casualty who needed a lot of persuasion to move from Bristol. I have visited the site and was very impressed with what I saw. Also, all the reports I have read have been extremely positive. There is little doubt that establishing this centre has been a success with programmes not only benefiting from excellent facilities but able to cross-fertilise experience and talent from one production to another. This has had simple practical benefits too - for example, a prosthetic baby made for Casualty was borrowed to be used on Upstairs Downstairs. It's all beginning to sound like the good old days at TV Centre!
Interestingly, although the site was intended to be shared with independent programme makers there is seldom room for them as the studios are busy with BBC work most of the time. Even BBC programmes can't fit in. The 2013 series of Sherlock was due to be made here but because it clashed with the Dr Who schedule it was made in the old Upper Boat studios. Good job they hadn't gone back to making seatbelts.
Despite the fact that these studios were intended for single camera drama - well, 2 cameras in the case of Pobol y Cwm - the first and probably only multicamera entertainment show was recorded here in November 2013. It was Only Connect, the very popular (in my household at least) quiz show hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell. An OB truck was used for facilities. It was previously recorded in Studio 1 at Culverhouse Cross. After this one series the show transferred to Enfys Studios, where it remains.
Good luck to all those who work here. Nice to hear a genuine success story.
Blackstaff - Belfast
In 1989 the BBC announced plans to develop Blackstaff near Broadcasting House in Belfast into a 6,500 sqft studio with work starting in February 1990. The facility also with accommodation for production departments and support staff was completed by the end of 1991 and replaced ageing facilities at Balmoral Hall. Development costs were kept down by purchasing second hand lighting, mechanical equipment and audience seating. Further cost savings were made as dedicated control rooms were not built (apart from a lighting gallery), with technical facilities provided by an OB truck when required.
When it originally opened the Type 6 OB in operation was equipped with Thomson 1531 and 1624 cameras, although the portable tube cameras were were replaced by 1647 CCD cameras around 1992. These cameras were all replaced in the OB unit around 1997 by widescreen capable 1657 camera heads.
Later the same OB scanner was equipped entirely with widescreen digital technology including Thomson/Philips LDK200 cameras, a 32-input DD30 vision mixer and 36-channel sound mixer. It was the principal unit used to provide technical and control room facilities for the studio. In late 2011 this scanner was replaced with a refurbished one with HD facilities. 10 Sony 1500R cameras are now available.
Blackstaff is the home of many locally transmitted shows such as Nolan Live and the Blackstaff Sessions. It has also been used to make several UK network programmmes including Patrick Kielty Almost Live, Frank Skinner's Opinionated, Ask Rhod Gilbert and Question Time. It has retractable audience seating for 290. A new floor was laid in 2011.
It was thought that the studio might have had further network use with the increase in programmes commissioned by the 'Nations and Regions' under the current BBC scheme of things but this doesn't seem to have transpired.
In Broadcasting House, Ormeau Avenue, the BBC also have studio B - a 2,000 sq ft studio used for local news, current affairs and sport, and studio C - a small unattended studio with a single camera. Studio One is an old radio concert studio across the road from BH and has been used for a few programmes including Sunday Morning Live and Sesame Tree. There is also a small studio in the parliament building at Stormont.
thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above technical info.
Pacific Quay - Glasgow
Pacific Quay, formerly known as Prince's Dock, formed an important part of Glasgow's once thriving industrial docklands, being the first dock in the city to install the full range of cranes capable of lifting the heavy engines and boilers so important in establishing Glasgow's industrial influence across the world. The cargo docks existed for more than 100 years before closing in the 1970s. The site was subsequently chosen for the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 but when that closed it remained largely redundant until its rebirth as Pacific Quay in the early 1990s. It covers 28 hectares and comprises a 500,000 square feet mixed-use development incorporating offices, residential, hotel, leisure and other supporting businesses. The 10-acre Festival Park, to the south of the new development area, remains as a permanent reminder of the success of the flower festival.
The BBC's new HQ is a glass-fronted rectangular block, six stories high. (Confusingly, actually five floors plus a mezzanine.) The building is clad with a triple-glazed system, which I have read provides a natural air-conditioning system. The interior of the building is far more interesting than the somewhat bland exterior. Within the structure is a huge staircase, known as the 'street', that rises throughout the entire length of the design, housing the studios underneath and providing break-out spaces and informal meeting areas on top. This is clearly what the architect was mostly interested in when he sat down with his blank sheet of paper, so to speak.
Making one's way from the studio to the cafeteria which is on the top floor is therefore not quite as straightforward as it is in most studio centres. To be fair, there are of course lifts to the top floor although the complicated security pass system does mean that you might get trapped the wrong side of the door if you're not careful.
It's not only BBC Scotland that has moved to this area - Scottish Television (formally SMG), the company that provides the ITV service to Scotland, is also based at Pacific Quay next door but two to the Corporation's building. However, STV have no production studios in their complex, just small news studios. They vacated their central Glasgow studio centre which included a 6,200 sq ft studio but decided that it was not cost-effective to replace it. That old Scottish Television studio had opened in 1974 and was demolished in 2007 shortly after STV moved here. It does on reflection seem extraordinary that a nation with such a strong sense of identity as Scotland should have not even one large independent production TV studio to make programmes for its own market.
Since STV no longer have any studios, the BBC are hoping that they will book studio space in their building from time to time as well as independent production companies. This is not such a strange idea - programmes were made at BBC TV Centre in London for ITV and C4 for many years. In fact one or two shows have indeed been made here for STV but sadly not anything like the number that ought to be if STV took their responsibilities to the Scottish nation seriously. Why isn't there a regular Scots gameshow or quiz show, some music shows and a sitcom or two with Scottish scripts and actors? If they were well made they would pull in the ratings and generate advertising revenue and some of these shows could be shown over the UK ITV network too. That's what STV should be doing in Scotland - as should the BBC of course. (end of rant number 1.) OK - STV are now making one quiz show - Postcode Challenge - in studio B at PQ. It's a start.
I have been told a story that cannot possibly be true. As you might have guessed, PQ was designed as a 'tapeless' studio centre. Except of course, for a number of years it wasn't and programmes made in studio A were recorded on videotape like in every other studio. It seems that early in its existence, a runner was sent to deliver the day's recorded tapes to the STV building 'next door' where they were going to be edited. She duly handed them into reception and went home. Next day there was a flap on as STV hadn't received the tapes. It seems that the runner had obeyed her instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, the building literally next door was occupied by the Scottish judiciary. STV was next door but one. The gameshow tapes had been taken in and included as evidence in an on-going legal case and could not now be released without permission from the judge, which would take several weeks to obtain. I have yet to establish whether the runner was employed again. More likely she was promoted and is now a producer of a Saturday night talent show.
The BBC's building here contains three studios, of which one is is relatively large - at around 8,400 sq ft. It is 90 x 70 metric feet within firelanes so pretty well identical in size to studios TC3, TC4, TC6 and TC8 at TV Centre. One might think it was booked solid making shows for Scotland - to be shown on BBC1 Scotland and STV but sadly this isn't the case. The way British TV is organised, the good people of Scotland mostly have to watch the same as the rest of the UK. No wonder so many Scots want independence.
The main studio - studio A - is in fact occupied for much of the time with programmes being made for the UK versions of BBC1 or BBC2. Since opening in the summer of 2007, several shows have been brought to the studio that might otherwise have been made in London. These have included Get 100 and Copycats (CBBC gameshows), The National Lottery 1 vs 100, Win Your Wish List, Break the Safe, Who Dares Wins and In It To Win It, daytime gameshow A Question of Genius, sitcoms The Old Guys, Life of Riley and Mrs Brown's Boys and song and dance show Tonight's the Night. Almost all of these had the production teams, director, actors/presenters and various heads of craft departments flown up from London.
I am very pleased to report that the studio staff are very friendly and helpful to those who travel up to work with them - I'm not sure I would be in the circumstances. The local staffers must find it a bit galling to have a bunch of Englishmen coming up to tell them how to do things that they probably consider they are quite capable of doing themselves but they certainly don't show it and could not be more accommodating.
Studio B is much smaller - smaller than TC2, say, at TV Centre. In 2008/9 it was decided that daytime shows The Weakest Link and Eggheads would also move to Scotland and be made in this studio. Weakest Link was being made in a large studio in Pinewood and was completely unsuitable to be transferred to such a small room. However, despite the size of the Scottish studio being marked out on the floor of TV-One at Pinewood so all could appreciate the problem, certain BBC managers and producers apparently insisted that it would have to be made to fit. After several months of discussions it was eventually decided to make the show in Studio A at PQ. Eggheads, however, was made to fit in Studio B. By chance, the set could just about squeeze into the tiny space with a little trimming but the 'question room' - previously an area just behind the set in the same studio - literally had to become another room in the building. Another daytime quiz show - Perfection - also made the move to Glasgow and squeezed into studio B.
The BBC is plainly keen to see these studios used as much as possible and to try to get more programmes made outside London. However, I'm not sure that making a couple of sitcoms in Glasgow that from their scripts are plainly supposed to be set in the south-east of England is quite the way to achieve that. Similarly, I wonder if making existing gameshows in Glasgow that have worked well in London is really helping to promote Scottish culture and identity throughout the UK. I wonder how many Scots even realise that these shows are now 'Scottish?' Nevertheless, in October 2008 Jana Bennett (Director, BBC Vision) announced that...
I wonder, is it possible to 'focus' on quite so many areas of TV - that's almost all of it isn't it? Oh yes - I almost forgot the Arts. But Newsnight Review (later called The Review Show) and Alan Yentob's Imagine moved here too. Anyway, there was more...
Anne Robinson's reaction to the move was not recorded. Jana Bennet continued...
Now, pretty obviously Question Time is a show that travels the country so is not made in these studios. As for the Lotto shows - it turned out that almost all the shows were made here - until 2017 when the BBC ceased to broadcast the Lotto draws.
What does seem odd and downright wasteful to many is that so many shows are being made in these studios that were previously made in London - but without any obvious benefit to Scotland or indeed to the BBC. It must be costing far more, since so many of the key people involved are travelling up here from their homes around London and being put up in hotels for the duration. The hired lighting equipment too has to be trucked all the way up the country and back again. Local BBC staff cameramen, sound crews, make-up and wardrobe assistants, electricians and scene crew are of course employed on the shows - which is nice for them but tough on the freelance crews from all over the rest of the UK who originally worked on them.
It's easy to be cynical about these things but in principal the BBC is trying to do the right thing. It can't seem right to many people all over the UK that so much of the country's television seems to be focused on London. However, the essential problem will not go away - as has been discovered time and again; most writers and performers working in the worlds of theatre, comedy, music, film and television tend to gravitate towards London, wherever they were born and brought up. London is arguably the cultural capital of the world, not just the UK. There will of course always be individuals who fight that urge and decide to work in their local town or city but for most creative people the magnetic force of London cannot be resisted any more than people in similar professions in the US gravitate to Hollywood or New York.
That applies too to producers, studio directors and the various craft departments - set design, lighting, sound, cameras, vision mixing, costume, make-up, graphics, visual effects and so on - it's simply because they work on so many shows of all types that they learn how to do their jobs and are able to work quickly and efficiently to world-class standards. If all that is fragmented then arguably the industry as a whole will suffer.
My guess (and I promise that this rant will be over soon) is that the important thing to most viewers is who the people are that they are watching on their TVs - and where the programme appears to be set - not where the programme has actually been made. The Liver Birds and Bread had a few locations filmed in Liverpool but the majority of the running time was shot at TV Centre in London. So what? Those comedies could not have been more Liverpudlian. Two Pints of Lager was firmly set in Runcorn with a northern cast but apart from a few location scenes it too was recorded at TV Centre. The locations for Last of the Summer Wine were all shot in Yorkshire but the interiors were filmed at Pinewood. Still Open All Hours filmed exteriors in Doncaster but also used Pinewood and Teddington for interiors. Does that matter? Surely what really matters is that the culture of people who are not from the south-east of England is properly represented.
These excellent studios have proved to be very successful and are guaranteed a long future - especially with the new BBC Scotland channel which begins in the autumn of 2018. I have thoroughly enjoyed working here. What I would truly like to see however are plenty of shows made here by the Scots for Scotland. It would also be good if some of them were shown on UK network TV too - but they should be 'Scottish' shows, not London shows brought up to occupy the studio in order to artificially satisfy a quota.
BBC Dumbarton Studios
Although unknown to most people living south of the border, River City is a very popular soap in Scotland. It has been made by the BBC since 2002 and is based in studios that are a converted whisky bottling plant in Dumbarton, on the north west outskirts of Glasgow. The site has three main stages converted from industrial buildings. One is permanently occupied with the sets for River City and the other two (studios 1 and 2) are available for hire. There is also a back lot with a permanent street scene set. The site has workshops and all the usual facilities - make-up, wardrobe, dressing rooms, production offices etc.
In 2008 two stages were made available for use by other productions. Studio 1 is 170 x 104ft and studio 2 is 197 x 147ft. Both have relatively low roofs of only 16-22ft as you might expect from converted industrial sheds. Studio 1 is an unbroken space but studio 2 has two rows of pillars within it, suppporting the roof. Stage 1 has been acoustically treated and both stages have a 3-phase power supply. Neither stage has a lighting grid.
There are no technical facilities - River City is shot using single camera technique (although 2 cameras are often in use.) The two other stages are just basic 4-wallers. They have been used for a number of dramas and films but Channel 4 daytime quiz show Face the Clock, hosted by Rory Bremner was also recorded in studio 1 in the autumn of 2012. Fly-away facilities and cameras were hired in. I'm told that the greatest problem during recordings was preventing the contestants from looking freezing cold on camera.
Since 2008 Dumbarton has been used for a number of dramas including Garrow's Law, The Deep, Hope Springs, Personal Affairs, Eagle of the Ninth and How Not to Live Your Life.
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