go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to top of page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London's old (and present) ITV studios

 

Although the studios below are closely associated with the history of ITV they have in many cases operated as independent studios for a number of years.  Rather than separate those periods out and put them on the 'independent studios' page on this site I have kept all the information about them together on this page for clarity.

This page looks at each studio in turn as it relates to the history of ITV.  (Yes, I know that technically TV-am and GMTV were not part of ITV but they are very much part of its history.)  Each new franchise period saw ITV companies come and go and these changes affected the studios and who occupied them.  Confusingly, with some studios I have dealt with all these periods in one section, in others I have separated them out.

 

Studios and dates listed below in the order they appear:

 

ITV history 1955-1968

The Viking Studio (early film days, Associated-Rediffusion, BBC studio M)

The Granville Theatre (Associated-Rediffusion, independent)

Television House (Associated-Rediffusion, ITN)

Wembley (early film days to Associated-Rediffusion, Rediffusion London)

Teddington (early film days to ABC to the demise of Thames)

Wood Green Empire (ATV)

Hackney Empire (ATV)

Highbury Studios (early film days, High Definition Films, ATV)

Elstree - Clarendon Road (early film days to ATV, Central, BBC Elstree Centre)

Foley Street

Chelsea Palace (Granada)

ITV history 1968-1981

Wembley (LWT)

The London Studios (LWT, ITV)

Wycombe Road (Intertel, LWT, Joe Dunton Cameras)

Wembley (Lee, Limehouse, Fountain)

Euston Road (Thames)

New London Theatre

Royalty Theatre

ITN - Wells St and Gray's Inn Road

ITV history 1982-1992

Camden (TV-am, MTV)

ITV history 1993- present

Teddington (Pearson, Barnes Trust, Pinewood)

 

 

 

NB - I have where possible given the dimensions of the studios.  This can be a bit of a  minefield.  BBC studios, Fountain, Teddington, Riverside and even Pinewood TV have their plans drawn in metric 50:1 but for some reason The London Studios (LWT) still use the old 1/4 inch to the foot scale.  This slight but significant difference can cause problems if a set moves from one studio to another with plans of a different scale as it might not fit!

Also, for marketing purposes the size of a studio is often quoted wall to wall.  However, most of them have fire lanes running round each side so the available space for cameras and sets is somewhat smaller.  Where possible I have quoted sizes within firelanes and, except for TLS, in 'metric feet' where applicable.  This curious measurement was invented by the BBC and is 30cm in length.  (If you think back to your old school rulers, they had 12 inches on one side and 30cm, which is very slightly less, on the other.)  It does mean that a studio that is marked as 90 metric feet long is actually 88ft 6ins long.

Most TV studios have their length and width within the firelanes clearly marked along the walls and/or on the floor in feet or metric feet.  This enables the scene crew to put the set up exactly where it was drawn on the designer's plan.  This very useful facility is never seen on film stages which, incidentally, are always still measured in feet and inches.

 

Whilst dealing with each ITV studio centre in turn it might help along the way to briefly explain how that channel came into being and how its various constituent companies came and went.  Their story is very closely linked with several of the studios.  There are some very good websites and books that cover this aspect of television history in detail so I shall simply summarise it here.  We are used to referring to that particular network channel simply as 'ITV' but when it began in September 1955 it was a complex arrangement of 4, building to 14, regional companies - each with a remit to make and broadcast programmes to its own part of the UK.

 

1955-1968

When ITV was created there was a flurry of activity as in large towns all over the country, studios were constructed or converted from buildings such as cinemas to enable the new programmes to be made and broadcast. 

The four companies set up at the start of ITV were given an additional brief.  In addition to their local remit they had to make the big expensive programmes that would be networked over the whole country.  These included drama, comedy and light entertainment but also a significant proportion of current affairs, news and religion as ITV had a strict public service requirement in those days.

Three of the four big companies decided to have studio centres in or near London.  They were Associated-Rediffusion, ABC Television and ATV.  The fourth, Granada, was based in the north of England and constructed its main studio complex in Manchester.  This company always remained at arm's length from the others and nobody at the time could have predicted that fifty years later it would be the only one remaining.

 

Associated-Rediffusion was formed by a combination of Associated Newspapers and another combined company - British Electric Traction Company (B.E.T.) and 'Broadcast Relay Service' who traded under the name 'Rediffusion.'  B.E.T. was a tram and bus company, believe it or not.  Perhaps not the obvious people to become involved in the early days of television but it seems that they were a highly successful transport company who had been worried that they might be taken into public ownership by the 1946 Labour government.  Therefore they diversified by taking over Rediffusion, whilst allowing that company to continue trading as a separate company.  Their considerable financial resources were to prove crucial in the first year of ITV's activity.

Broadcast Relay Service, or 'Rediffusion' had been founded in the 1920s to offer their subscribers better reception than was possible with their own aerials.  They were, in effect, the first cable company - although of course in those days it was radio not TV.  They 're-diffused' the radio (and later TV) signal - hence their name and logo.  Perhaps surprisingly, they were not initially keen to be involved in the new ITV venture.  In fact on 9th January 1953 their board agreed unanimously that it would not be in their interests for commercial television to be introduced.  However, they later reconsidered but only on the condition that it was in partnership with another company.  Associated Newspapers seemed to be the ideal partner.

The new company was called Associated-Rediffusion and their familiar spinning logo (sometimes known as the 'adastral') was used as a break bumper before ads were shown and has since been imitated by countless comedy shows.

This company is credited by some as having 'saved ITV'.  For the first few months of operation all the ITV companies were losing huge amounts of money.  Fortunately, BET was wealthy enough to weather the storm and keep Rediffusion going.  Associated Newspapers were horrified by the losses and got out of the business as soon as they could.  Within six months they had reduced their holding to only 10% of the company.  What a mistake.  Within a year or two the ITV companies were making so much money they hardly knew how to spend it.

The costs of running the new companies proved to be higher than anticipated and the advertising income far less.  Partly, this was because it was months before the midlands and the north west had transmitters. The transmitter covering Yorkshire took even longer to build.  Even then, only about half the population was covered.  Advertisers were very wary and slow to respond to this new market.

The early losses forced the companies to look hard at their costs.  During 1956 they made staff redundant and closed down unnecessary small studios only months after equipping them.  They also set up formal arrangements to regularly share programme time between each other, which originally had not been considered at all.  It had initially been assumed that the companies would be in strict competition and would sell individual programmes to each other on an ad-hoc basis.

As the weekday ITV supplier to London, A-R bore most of the burden of the early losses.  Had the company been as lightly financed as some of the others it is possible that they could have gone under and taken the whole of independent television with them.  Thus through financial adversity the 'ITV network' was created, dominated by the original big four companies. 

In fact, when ITV was first planned it had been assumed that within a few years, once the frequencies were freed up, each region would have several ITV companies broadcasting in competition with each other as was to be found in the US and some other countries.  There was no such thing as 'ITV' as a channel name in those days.  Independent television was a concept, not a name, and the channel was commonly known in each region by its number (in London it was channel 9), the local company name or sometimes people called it the 'ITA' - the Independent Television Authority.

From the time Associated-Rediffusion got the green light to begin broadcasting in London they were up against an incredibly tight schedule.  Not only did they have to convert existing buildings into television studios, they had to hire and train the staff to operate them.  They only had from January to September to recruit at least 200 staff and be in the position to transmit seven hours of television per day!  In May they began training in a small studio in Kensington known as the 'Viking Studio' that was fitted out with all the equipment that would be found in the new studios.  Wembley Park film studios were being rebuilt for TV but the heads of A-R were worried that they would not be ready in time so they started filming some programmes in April at Shepperton just in case.  (See the section on Shepperton on this website for more info on this.)

 

St Mary Abbott's Place in 2006. The studios were on the site of the new red-brick building to the right of the white-walled restaurant.

For those who like to collect snippets of useless information - I am told that the restaurant used to be owned by a gentleman called Pere Auguste, who was also the compère of a BBC Saturday Night variety show called Café Continental ('47-'53). He left in the mid 1950s - possibly when the series ended - and the restaurant became a coffee bar called the Kon Tiki.  So there.

 

The Viking Studio was also known as 'St Mary Abbott's Place Studios'.  It was sited, not surprisingly, in St Mary Abbott's Place which is just off Kensington High Street - between Edwards Square and Warwick Gardens in Kensington.  A document dated 1953 states that there were two studios, 1 - 40 x 26ft and 2 - 35 x 26ft.  Looking at the plan below, it appears that these were knocked through to form one larger studio some time between then and 1955.  I'm guessing that this happened when TV took over.

Whether the stages were purpose built or converted from an original building is not known.  However, the building facing the road was originally one or two large houses - the main studio was behind them and accessed via a passage at the left of the site which ran behind the corner coffee shop.  (When I visited in 2006 this had become a Chinese Restaurant.)

The Viking Studio.  Not a bad size but with a big chunk taken out of the corner to fit in the production gallery suite.

with thanks to Richard Greenough

click on it to see it in greater resolution

The studios were used for making films between 1947 and 1950.  At least eight titles are known to have been made there but none was of any great consequence.  The companies that made them were John Baxter Productions and Five Star Films.

It seems that Powell and Pressburger, the famous film director/producers, had offices in the building during the 1950s and into the '60s.  They made many highly regarded films under their company name 'The Archers.' However, it is probable that they did not use these studios to actually do any principal photography - rather using the site as a base for some of their productions and editing them there.  The offices and cutting rooms were said to be at the back of the studios.  It seems likely that Michael Powell moved offices to Albemarle Street in the mid 1960s.  His son has contacted me and he believes that the studios were possibly owned by one of his editors and he rented the office space from him.

By the early 1950s St Mary Abbott's Place Studios were used primarily for making advertising films, commercials and possibly some filmed television programmes - but what and for whom is not yet known.

 

By the beginning of 1955 the original stages had been converted into a fully equipped television studio by the Marconi company which one assumes is when it became known as the Viking Studio.  Marconi Television's Demonstration Unit originally intended it to be used to assist in sales of their equipment to the BBC and the new ITV companies so it was equipped with all their latest kit.  However, it soon found use as a training studio.  It seems that at first the studio was hired by the BBC to do some directors' training courses - with Alvar Liddell and Bill Cotton Jnr amongst others, and Ron Koplick looking after the lighting.

Around spring 1955 this small studio became Associated-Rediffusion's main training centre for the staff it was to take on over the following months.  Very few of the people who would begin to make programmes for A-R in September 1955 had any television experience whatsoever.  They came mostly from the worlds of theatre and cinema but television is very different from both of those.  A handful of ex-BBC employees rapidly trained them all in about four months - cameramen, engineers, boom operators, vision mixers, make-up, wardrobe, set designers - all had to learn how things were done in this new and mysterious world.

The Viking Studio during A-R training.

The pilot for Strictly Come Dancing perhaps?

The gallery of the Viking Studio. The fashion of the day was to place the monitors above the studio window so the producer (as the director was then called) could see exactly what was happening on the studio floor.

By the late summer of 1955 the job was done and the new staff and technical crews were on their own.  The studio became available for operational use and was hired by A-R during the week and ATV at weekends. 

On the morning after ITV began transmitting (a Friday) there were two programmes that both came live from this small studio.  At 10.45 was the first edition of a daily soap called Sixpenny Corner, followed at 11.00 by Hands about the House - what we might today describe as a 'lifestyle programme.'  Well, you might - I wouldn't.  Within this show was a gripping item on 'how to make a frame of flowers'.  According to Joan Kemp-Welch, who was producing the show (in other words, directing) she was so nervous that at the end of the programme she forgot to give the instruction to fade to black.

The following day - Saturday 24th September - ATV hired the studio and more live shows were transmitted.  Thus began a regular pattern every weekend for the next few months.  Saturday morning started with Weekend Magazine, a live programme that went out between 9.30 am and 10.30am presented by Daphne Anderson and David Stolle.  The first show included an interview with Gracie Fields.  I have been told by the vision controller working that day that her manager apparently complained because the cameras were too sharp and unkind to the great star - so stockings had to be put over the lens to give a more flattering look.  I can't imagine anything like that happening with any of today's stars.  No really.  Absolutely not.  Not a single name comes to mind.

At 4pm the studio was back on the air with another live show - Home With Joy Shelton.  This had a duration of 20 minutes after which the cameras turned round and transmitted the ABC Children's Club.  This ran for 10 minutes, at which point I assume the crew collapsed in a heap of nervous exhaustion.  For a tiny studio like this to produce an hour and a half of live TV with, one assumes, little or no rehearsal was quite an achievement.  Particularly since most of the production team and crew had little or no experience.  Of course, after a couple of weeks the ABC Children's Club changed its name to the ATV Children's Club when the company name was changed.  (More on this below!)

This pattern of live television from the Viking Studio continued every Saturday.  Typically, the morning magazine show would be followed by a number of 15 or 20 minute programmes later in the day - a Philip Harben cookery slot, Rolf Harris doing some sort of act involving 'Ollie Octopus',  Doris Rodgers presenting an ad mag,  Leslie and Joan Powell performing a 15 min comedy routine (all recalled by Stu Wilson, a house engineer at the time, who was kind enough to contact me.)  Others programmes, like The Randals were made here on Sundays.

ATV's schedule for the first Saturday of transmission on 24th September 1955.  (Note the original 'ABC' logo.)  The company also provided a 30 minute variety show from Wood Green on 22nd - the opening night of ITV.  As can be seen from the far right column, the Viking Studio (V.K.) played a significant part in Saturday's programming.  This small studio was on the air between 09.30 and 10.30 and then between 16.00 and 16.30 with two different programmes in that half hour!

Incidentally, Wood Green was pretty busy too, transmitting ABC Music Shop between 15.00 and 15.30 and then Saturday Showtime between 20.15 and 21.00. 

When on Earth did they rehearse all this stuff???

click on the schedule to see it in greater resolution

thanks to Richard Greenough

From the first Monday of ITV's transmission, A-R broadcast the second edition of their regular 15 minute live soap - Sixpenny Corner.  This went out from 10.45 - 11.00 every weekday.  It had a schedule during the week of run through, dress rehearsal, line-up and transmit every morning - reset, light and stagger every afternoon.  At weekends, as there was no storage area at Viking, the Sixpenny Corner sets moved out into large trucks parked in the road and ATV moved in with their sets. 

ATV used the studio until 17th March 1956 - another edition of Home With Joy Shelton was the last one made here.  Towards the end of 1956  Sixpenny Corner moved to A-R's Wembley studios and Granada moved in - using the studio to train their staff.  They were not there for long - indeed, early in 1957 the BBC were to take over.

However, around this time the studio was also used to make at least one film - a 56 minute drama called The Devil's Pass.  It starred stalwart actor of the period, John Slater and was directed by Darcy Conyers.  Its intended market may well have been television or simply as a B-movie to support more popular cinema features.  It was released in April 1957. 

 

 

The same Marconi engineers that worked in the Viking studio in 1956 were also looking after a studio in London Zoo.  They often swapped roles - one day being a cameraman, the next a boom op, the next a racks engineer.  One day a week they produced Zoo Time for Granada, presented by Desmond Morris.  I'm pretty sure I remember it - but I was only a toddler back then!  Perhaps it's just the theme music I recall (Peter and the Wolf).  That and the chimps - I definitely remember the chimps.

Anyway, the studio was nicknamed The Den and was effectively a large shed.  It was serviced by an OB truck that was parked outside.  John Winn recalls that they used new OB scanners as they were coming off Marconi's production line - the show was a sort of proving test for them.  Unfortunately, sometimes they had all been sold and there wasn't a scanner available - so they had to improvise and much of the time the show came via a rapidly converted 30cwt van.  Desmond Morris referred to it as the 'bread van.'

The show was of course live.  There were usually 3 cameras - 2 in the 'studio' and one somewhere in the zoo.  It would typically be on the end of a 1,100 ft cable which was technically too long to be reliable but needs must if the programme needed it.  John recalls a particularly hairy show when the camera went down and spares had to be biked over from the Viking Studio in the nick of time.

Although Zoo Time ran from 1956 - 1959, this arrangement with the Marconi crew only lasted for 6 months.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Granada unions objected to other people doing their work.

 

 

On 18th February 1957 the BBC's Tonight programme began broadcasting.  For about three years before it moved to Lime Grove it came from 'studio M' which was the BBC's name for the Viking Studio.  This raises a couple of interesting questions.  Why did the BBC need another studio?  Why call it studio M?

Ivan Burgess has written to me to confirm the following:

The first answer is that Tonight was the programme with which the BBC filled the new space in the schedule created by the ending of the 'toddler truce.'  This was the close-down between 6 o'clock and 7 o'clock that up until then had allowed parents to get their children to bed.  Astonishing but true.  Under great pressure from the ITV companies, the government agreed to abolish it.  The BBC were somewhat caught on the hop and without a vacant studio to be occupied every weekday all year round.  The Lime Grove Studios were all open but busy making other shows. 

A redoubtable BBC producer named Grace Wyndham Goldie was friends with the producers of Highlight - the much shorter predecessor to Tonight that was made in Lime Grove's presentation studio.  The producers of that show - Donald Baverstock and Alastair Milne - were working on plans to develop it into a much longer and more entertaining current affairs programme, if given the chance.

Grace knew of the plans for the new programme.  She went to see Cecil McGivern, who was the channel controller at the time.  She was most insistent that the show would be ideal to fill the toddler truce but he tried to fob her off by pointing out that the BBC had no available studios.   He concluded by saying 'if you can find a studio, you can do it' almost certainly assuming that that would be the end of it.  Quite by chance, Grace happened to live in - you guessed it - St Mary Abbott's Place.  She knew of the studio and also knew that it was currently not booked.

So she had her studio and Tonight was born.  Astonishingly for the time, the BBC agreed that it could be crewed by the Marconi employees - albeit with a BBC engineer 'in charge.'  John Winn was an apprentice at the time - he tells me that most of the Marconi crew were from the radar division 'having a quiet time.'

The show developed a unique style, partly said to be because it was away from the influence of the BBC at Lime Grove.  After each show there was a post-mortem in the local pub.  Tonight was watched by millions and became a huge success.  It was superbly researched, often irreverend and highly entertaining.

So why studio 'M'?  The obvious explanation of course is 'M' for Marconi.

'Studio M' during the transmission of Tonight.

The cameras are Marconi MkIIIs

(with thanks to David Petrie)

John Winn recalls working on a 6-week series about astronomy for ITV in November 1957, which is interesting as it means that the studio was not only used for Tonight.  The astronomy programme went out live at 11pm so they must have turned the studio round after Tonight came off the air.

Tonight moved to Lime Grove in 1960, when the opening of TV Centre freed up studio space at the Grove.  After that, Studio M was used to train a few producers.

John also remembers making one or two ad-mag (advertising magazine) programmes for ITV - he tells me that he nearly hit Hughie Green with his boom once.  I'd say he should have tried a bit harder.  John doesn't recall the studio making any more TV programmes after the ad-mags finished.  This happened within a few months of the Pilkington report being published in June 1962.

 

The Viking Studio is listed as a film studio in the British Film and Television Yearbook throughout the 1960s.  I have heard that it may have been used by an American TV news company during the 1980s.  One wonders therefore what happened during the 1970s.  If you can shed any more light on this - please get in touch! 

The original building was demolished in the mid 1990s and replaced with a development containing apartments and offices.

 

The frontage of the new building on the site of the Viking Studios. The passage on the left was the original access to the studio although at that time it was wide enough to reverse a scenery truck up it.

 

 

Associated-Rediffusion had also bought an old music hall - the Granville Theatre, in Walham Green, Fulham - which had been undergoing conversion for three months.  The first 70 trainees were due to move there from the Viking Studio but the Granville wasn't ready.  The builders and engineers would apparently need a fortnight more.  Nevertheless - ready or not, one week later the first batch of trainees went to the Granville and began work.  It thus became the first operational ITV studio.

The forbidding exterior of the Granville.  Frank Matcham at his most gothic.

with thanks to Louis Barfe

 

The Granville Theatre in Fulham Broadway opened in September 1898, designed by the great theatre architect, Frank Matcham.  It was built on a very small plot of land - the original stage was only 6 feet deep!  More land was acquired in the 1920s and the stage and other areas were increased in size.  Its capacity was 1,122 and it was a typical music hall of the period.  Stars who appeared here included Dan Leno (who was one of the owners), Vesta Victoria, George Roby, Wilkie Bard and Gracie Fields.

Norman Fenner (who died in 2012, aged 91) knew the theatre very well and wrote down some of his memories. 

'On entering the theatre, the box office was on the left and the entrance to the right led to the stalls.  Ahead was the staircase leading to the dress circle.  If you were seated in the dress circle (weekdays 9d, 1s 3d on Saturdays), after being greeted by the manager, always in full evening dress, you ascended the staircase which led to the rear of the circle.  There were no boxes and the sides of the circle extended almost to the proscenium arch.   If you sat in the side seats, the man operating the follow spot would most likely be sitting next to you.

The seating in the circle was fixed, not tip-up with very little leg room and only 6 rows.  The stalls had 14 rows of tip-up seating whilst the gallery had stone steps with padding on the edges - 2d in old money.

The ladies toilet in the stalls was a bit of an embarrassment (the one thing Matcham never got right in all his theatres!)  It led straight off the stalls with only one cubicle.

When I used to visit the Granville it was presenting variety and revue, no big names but as a rule it was very entertaining.  During the war it became a repertory theatre.  Later a new management presented semi-nude reviews.

Like most theatres the Granville presented the bioscope during the interval.  It had been built with a tiny projection box at the rear of the stalls.  Not ideal as the operator had to keep knocking on the small window to get the audience to move as they were being 'shadowed' on the screen.'

 

Thanks to Richard Broadhurst for sending me a copy of Norman's memories.

 

 

The conversion of the Granville to TV use was pretty basic and apparently the stalls floor retained its rake, making control of the cameras somewhat challenging.  The Granville was officially known within A-R as studio 6.  One of the early series made here was called The Granville Melodramas.  This was a series of Victorian plays that proved surprisingly popular with the viewers.

In 1956 - less than a year after its opening - the studio was closed along with studio 3 at Wembley.  The ITV companies were in serious financial trouble and so began to share more programmes between each other to save money.   Thus the Granville was no longer needed.

The theatre probably remained the property of Associated-Rediffusion for a year or so but it was not used.

The Granville Theatre - ITV's first operational studio.  Not the largest or most sophisticated but - the first!  It began making programmes on 7th August 1955. 

Note how this set seems to be lit entirely from the front.  Since radiomics were many years away one wonders how sound was picked up without getting boom shadows.  Perhaps the actors just spoke very loudly!

 

In 1957 the studio was purchased by Pye TVT and Mole Richardson.  Bob Davis tells me that he worked there as a sound trainee for eight months around 1957/58 when it was operating as an independent studio.

According to a 1960 edition of 'Television Today', the studio was then extensively rebuilt - reopening on September 12th 1960.  It was marketed as the Granville Studio.  The refurb was considerable - a new flat TV floor was laid creating 2,000 sq ft of useable space and all the latest technical kit including telecine machines were installed.  This included a brand new memory lighting desk from Strand Electric.  The production, sound and vision galleries were effectively a shop window for all the equipment Pye had to offer the main broadcasters to go in their studios.

So Pye and Mole used the Granville as a demonstration studio.  However, they also advertised it as an independent studio to be hired by anyone - 'competitive rates available from Rear Admiral RS Welby.'  Perfect.  It was apparently provided with a GPO coaxial cable to Museum telephone exchange enabling recording to take place elsewhere.  It seems they had no intention of purchasing Ampex VTRs as 'better systems would probably come along at a later date.'  The studio manager is quoted as saying 'our customers are not just people: they are our friends.'  Now where have I heard that before?

Thanks to Richard Broadhurst for bringing these gems to my notice.

 

The Granville following its refurb.  Note that the grid has been completely rebuilt and is fitted with Mole-Richardson harp telescopes.  These are the same as were installed at ATV's Elstree studios and at Teddington.

This shows just how tiny the auditorium was.  Note the control rooms at the rear of the stalls and dress circle.

The Granville Studio in 1960 during the Mole/Pye days.

I can just hear the LD screaming 'Get her away from that cyc!'  Well, I would.

Bob Davis has written to me - for it is he tracking the Mole boom with Sam Cartmer operating.  He recalls that the chap on the lazy arm was Slim McDonnell.  He went on  to make his name developing underwater camera equipment, I am reliably informed.

photo thanks to David Petrie

 

An advertisement printed in the 1961-62 British Film and Television Year Book

 

Andrew McKean recalls...

'...I worked for Pye TVT 1962 -1963, based in London and recall the Granville Theatre.  Pye TVT had a small Bedford van equipped with two Pye Mk3 3" Image Orthicon cameras.  I remember setting up the equipment at the Granville Theatre on a number of occasions for Granville Television.

On one occasion Richard Burton was making a documentary about the life of Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Taylor was sitting just back from the cameras.  She had her leg in plaster from an accident during the filming of the movie Cleopatra.

My main memory though is of the strict union control at the site.  Coming from Australia where we were used to doing many tasks, at the Granville there had to be individual staff for lighting, camera, video, audio etc.  As a result there were far too many people there for efficient productions.  Many of the staff were moonlighting, and I got to meet some colourful and interesting characters from the various stations in London.'

Interestingly, Andrew adds...

'we brought along our own Pye Mk3 Image Orthicon cameras and set them up in a makeshift control room overlooking the stage.'

He believes that these cameras were possibly some of the original ones owned by High Definition Films when they transferred to Tottenham from Highbury.  See the Highbury section on this page of the website for more info.. 

 

As you will come to see, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones seem to crop up in the history of many of London's TV studios and this one is no exception.  On 2nd and 3rd October 1964 the Beatles rehearsed and recorded a performance for the British edition of the ABC (American) TV show Shindig.  The producer was Jack Good, the executive producer Leon Mirell.  The Beatles played `Kansas City', `I'm A Loser' and `Boys'.  It was broadcast on in the US on the 7th October 1964.  Some or all of the Stones were said to be at the recording too as the two groups had known each other for more than a year by then and often met up at each other's concerts and performances.

 

It seems likely that the Granville was sold by Pye after running it for four or five years.  Certainly, the cameras mentioned from about 1964 are Marconis, which is obviously a clue.  It was purchased by William (Bill) Stewart and Peter Lloyd who both originally came from ATV.  They formed a company called Granville Television.  Peter Lloyd used to present ATV's Seeing Sport and he had an unlikely catch phrase - 'Don't forget Mum'.  He was probably also associated with British Lion Films.  He formed Lion Television Services at Shepperton - most likely in 1969.  Bill Stewart had been a director at ATV, working on such programmes as Emergency-Ward 10 and Mrs Thursday.

 

The studio was used by the Robert Stigwood Organisation to make a few music-based programmes.  A company called Airtime Productions is said to have been involved in making some commercials.  I am told that a company called Fenestra Productions also used the studio - possibly for training purposes.  Someone has also informed me that he recalls a cameraman colleague of his directing there.  It seems that the Granville was a favourite place for quite a few people to do a bit of moonlighting.  In fact, that cameraman who had probably better remain nameless, went on to become a very highly regarded drama director and in more recent years a producer on EastEnders.  An ex-BBC sound man has told me that he was paid the princely sum of £9 for a day as a boom op in 1970.  Mind you, you could buy a small car for that amount back then.  Well, almost.

 

Linda Kaye has been researching the history of the Central Office of Information.  She contacted me with the following information:

'The Granville Studios were used by the Central Office of Information to produce a weekly series called London Line from 1964.  It was initially made in two versions ‘Old Commonwealth’ for distribution in countries such as Canada and Australia and ‘New Commonwealth’ primarily for Africa.  In 1966 a colour version was produced, effectively replacing the ‘Old Commonwealth’ version and this continued until 1969.  Each programme consisted of around four topical stories often featuring live performances.'

The cameras used to make these COI films were dual Marconi Mk IV video cameras optically linked to Mitchell 16mm film cameras.  This system was sometimes known as Gemini and was also experimented with by ATV at Elstree, A-R at Wembley and the BBC at Riverside around this time.  It enabled a programme to be made on film but using TV multicamera techniques.  Interestingly, all the main TV companies abandoned it after a while - the Granville was to my knowledge the only studio that persevered with the system - later Ewarts adopted it too.

Gemini was actually a trade name but the idea of recording onto film whilst using what was in effect a huge video assist camera was similar with all the various systems.

One of the 'Gemini' cameras in use

with thanks to David Petrie

However, it seems that some programmes continued to be made on video and recorded on tape rather than the Gemini film cameras. 

 

An advertisement from Kemp's International Film & Television Directory, 1968.

I love the expression 'colour lighting.'  I assume that means they had bought a couple of rolls of red and blue gell. 

(Yes I do know it actually means that they had sufficient power and lights that were bright enough for the Gemini cameras.)

thanks to Geoff Hale for sending the ad to me

 

The gentleman walking away from the camera is the poet John Betjeman.  The year was 1968 and he had just delivered an epilogue on the final programme made by TV company TWW.  Oddly, this epilogue was recorded in the Granville but it does give us a chance to see a glimpse of the beautiful ornate balcony with a typical 'TV studio conversion' door plonked below it.  I wonder what the great 'friendly bombs' poet made of that!

Note the clock and 'On Air' sign.

with thanks to Louis Barfe

 

Bill Stewart's daughter Jane has kindly written to me with her memories...

'...It was an exciting place for a child too.  I remember meeting Lulu, Cliff Richard and a Dalek!  I also remember it had plaques in the dome ceiling which I believe were made from marble and were the names of ballets performed at the theatre.  I used to love running up the curved staircase which took you from the studio floor up to the control room.  Also I remember a dear lady called Mack who used to sit in the old box office doing the accounts.  We stayed in touch with her for many years until I believe she retired and emigrated to South Africa.

My memory is that the lease ran out, and my father was unable to renew it.  I can recall conversations at home about what the future would hold, and the heartache of having to let members of staff go.  It was one of the reasons we left London in 1971, and it took my father a few years to recover and build up his new business, WSTV, William Stewart Television.'

Thus television making ended at the Granville.  The Gemini cameras were bought by Ewart Studios who also took over the COI work.

The Granville Theatre was demolished in 1971.

 

 

 

Associated-Rediffusion also moved into a large ex-RAF building in Kingsway called 'Adastral House.'  During the war it was the headquarters of the air ministry.  Its roof became well known to listeners of radio weather forecasts as the place in London where the air temperature was measured.  Once A-R moved in it was quickly renamed Television House.  (This building also became the first base for the studios of ITN.)  It contained four small studios used for current affairs, presentation and 'talks programmes' and was also the headquarters of the company.

     

 

The company was very keen to be seen as 'respectable' and as important as the BBC so they chose a site more for its prestige than its practicality.  They moved in during 1955 whilst alterations were still underway which made life very difficult for the new staff.  A-R's four studios in Television House were as follows:  Studio 7 (33 x 24 ft), studio 8 (38 x 25ft), studio 9 (64 x 40ft) and studio 10 (26 x 12ft).  (Studios 1 - 4 were at Wembley, studio 5 was in the planning stage and studio 6 was the Granville Theatre - mentioned above.)  Studios 7 and 8 were used for 'talks' programmes and 10 was the continuity studio.  The Viking studio in Kensington was not part of this numbering system, probably because it was owned by Marconi and hired from them on a daily basis.

Studio 9

Studio 9 was used for the coverage of important events such as general elections.  However, it was also used for some entertainment shows such as Ready Steady Go! before it moved to studio 1 at Wembley.  The first two series of this ground-breaking programme were made here and some fans of the show believe that these were the best - the confined space in the studio helping to produce an electric atmosphere.

Ready Steady Go!

 

Apart from studio 9, which was in the basement and opened in November 1955, the others were all pretty small and apparently had very low ceilings.  In his autobiography Leslie Mitchell complains that the studio they used for talks (7?, 8?) had a ceiling so low that they could not use overhead lighting.  He also complains of inadequate air conditioning.  Typical programmes made at Television House included The Frost Report, The Levin Interview, Three after Six and This Week

The building was very large and impressive and just over the road from the BBC's Bush House, which must have given the new owners some satisfaction.  Its television studios were the first in central London.  The Rediffusion logo was proudly displayed on the front and became known by some as the 'Adastral' - an appropriate name that echoed the previous owners of the building (RAF) whose motto of course is 'Per Ardua Ad Astra' ('Through struggle to the stars'.)

Although it was the HQ of A-R, Television House was also used by ATV for office space on the 5th and 6th floors and the TV Times had its base here too.

 

ITN had its studios in this building on the 7th and 8th floors.  They were accessed by a rather unreliable lift, which added to the excitement of getting out live bulletins.  Their main studio was 38 x 29 ft and was equipped initially with Pye Mk 3 cameras, later being replaced with 4 x Marconi Mk IV cameras.  In the Pye days, one of the cameras was equipped with a Watson 3in-15in zoom lens (shown below) - quite an innovation in those days.

The photos above were taken in the main ITN studio in the roof of Television House in Kingsway.  Note the sloping walls.  The bottom one is a rehearsal of the 5.55pm news.  That's Gordon Honeycombe behind the desk.

This is the production gallery during the first ever News at Ten on 3rd July 1967.  That's Anna Price vision mixing and Diana Edwards-Jones directing.  Not a man to be seen.  How brilliant is that?  Just to be very boring for a moment - that looks like a BBC vision mixer panel to me.  Any thoughts anyone?

When Television House was closed in 1969 ITN moved to a new building in Wells Street.  (See later on this page).  Their main studio in that building was 2000 sq ft - more than twice the size of this one.

 

In 1968 Thames took over Television House and they converted the foyer into another studio which became 'Studio 4'.  Since Thames was based at Teddington which had three studios, this made perfect sense.  The daily local news programme Today, presented by Eamon Andrews, came from here and behind him commuters could be seen walking along the pavement and occasionally peering through the windows in the background of the shots.  One of the reasons Rediffusion lost the franchise in 1968 was that they had neglected local news.  The new franchisee, Thames, therefore thought it very important that their local news service was literally as highly visible as possible - hence the window looking into the studio. 

The man in the street's view of the Today programme being broadcast.

with thanks to Maurice Dale

As soon as Thames took over the building they started to look for something more suitable and in 1969 they moved to Euston Road.  More on this later.

 

 

 

A-R's main production centre back in 1955 was to be at Wembley Studios - taking over a film studio site then owned by 20th Century Fox and quickly converting the old stages into four TV studios. 

 

The early film years...

Following the First World War it was decided to build a huge exhibition in Wembley to celebrate the British Empire.  It cost 10 million pounds to construct and opened in 1924.  No less than 26 million people visited it between 1924 and 1925.  The famous twin-towered stadium dates back to this period.  (Just pause for a moment to consider these figures.  They are quite extraordinary!)

Upon closure, 35 acres of the land was bought by two businessmen - Ralph J Pugh and Rupert Mason.  They intended to develop the 'Palace of Engineering' from the Wembley Exhibition and use it as a base for creating an American style film studio complex. Sadly, their finance fell through but the site was taken over by a distributor who named it 'Wembley National Studios'.  An ambitious title as there was only one small stage on the site at that time.  Unluckily, this was destroyed by fire in 1929.

The 'studios' now occupied a much smaller part of the exhibition site than the intended 35 acres - and some years later BBC OBs would have their base here using some of the old exhibition buildings on the opposite side of the road from the film studios.

Following the fire a much larger stage of around 8,000 sq ft was built by I W Schlesinger who formed a new company - British Talking Pictures.  This company merged with Associated Sound Film Industries - a supposedly wealthy enterprise with great plans for making movies.  They were of course hampered by only having one stage but this was said to have the advantage of possessing the most modern grid with an 'overhead gantry wiring system' - whatever that was.  Sadly, the ambitious plans for making dozens of films did not materialize and Wembley was soon leasing out its facilities to independent producers making 'quota quickies.'

Fox Films from the US also needed to make cheap films in this country to fill its quota so in 1934 it formed Fox-British Pictures and took out a lease on the studios - later buying them in 1936.  It is likely that further expansion happened at this time and a second stage was built.

In 1938 a new films act was passed by Parliament and the Fox board in America objected to some of its proposals.  They decided to reduce their commitment to film making in the UK and closed Wembley - although oddly they did retain ownership of the studios.  Also, rather surprisingly they decided to lease space at Lime Grove studios to make some films rather than use their own at Wembley.

During the war the studios were brought back into commission and used by the Army Kinema Corporation and the RAF to make training films.  Unfortunately, stage 2 was destroyed by fire in 1943 but it too was subsequently rebuilt.  Following the war some film-making continued by independent film makers.  In 1947 Wembley was said to have two stages with a total floor area of 12,252 sq ft.  The last film made in this period was The Ship That Died of Shame, in 1954, starring Richard Attenborough.

 

The arrival of television...

In 1955 A-R bought the site and unbelievably took only nine months to add the control rooms and other necessary facilities to enable the stages to be used for television.  Stage 1 had control room suites built across the middle to form two new studios - 1 and 2 either side.  They were ready for use on August 29th, just three weeks before transmissions began.

The addition of control galleries therefore reduced the size of the old stages - the largest, studio 1, being 80 x 54 ft wall to wall.  Studio 2 was 80 x 40 ft, studio 3 about 42 x 20 ft and studio 4 was 75 x 42 ft.  There is a publicity leaflet published by Rediffusion in 1967 that states that the grid height in studios 1 and 2 was 16 feet and an extraordinary 11 feet in studio 4.  This is hard to believe, frankly.  However, in 1980 (when the studios had become film stages again) another document has the grids at 30 feet and 20 feet respectively, which is much more likely.

The old film stage 2 became studios 3 and 4, which were open by the end of 1955.  Studio 3 was very small and only in use for a short time.  However, Les Roworth tells me that it had the honour of producing the first show from Wembley.  It was a children's programme called Small Time and was transmitted at 12 o'clock noon on 23rd September 1955.  The studio also produced another show, Mail Call at 22.30 the same evening.  The first transmission was not exactly problem-free as although the pictures looked fine in the studio they were 'ringing' horribly on transmission.  A hurried investigation discovered that the output cable to studio 4 was connected to the cable from studio 3.  Fortunately, the second programme in the day looked fine.

In 1956 A-R were feeling the pinch financially - like all the new ITV companies - and they closed studio 3.  The space was later turned into a telerecording area.

 

This picture is thought to show the opening announcement at the start of transmission of the first Friday of A-R broadcasting on September 23rd 1955.  The announcer is Shirley Butler and the poor woman is having to appear calm and collected in front of a studio full of suits.

 

A-R were aware that none of the studios at Wembley was particularly big.  To enable really large-scale shows to be made, the board decided in 1958 to begin the planning of a huge studio on the site, alongside the existing stages.  This studio was to be capable of being divided in two using soundproof doors - enabling maximum use of the studio between the major productions.  A contract for £500,000 was signed.   The foundation stone was laid on May 7th 1959 and studio 5 opened in June 1960 - by coincidence the same month the first studio at BBC TV Centre opened.  This was remarkable progress - especially since there was a national shortage of  bricks at the time (maybe the BBC had used them all) and construction was hampered by discovering some of the very solid foundations of old Wembley Exhibition buildings.

studio 5 on 1st November 1961.  Little did they know how often the name on the side of the building was going to change over the years.

with thanks to Maurice Dale

Studio 5 is still in use as 'Fountain Studios' and is unique, consisting of two medium-sized studios each with a separate control gallery suite.  The huge double thickness soundproof doors dividing it can be raised in 30 minutes. (A rate of one foot per minute.)  Apparently the only motors that could be found that were powerful enough to lift the doors were some made for rotating the gun turrets on warships.  I have climbed the ladders to visit the winch room at the top of the building myself and very impressive it is too - the huge doors being suspended on steel ropes wound round winches that have a SWL of 25 tons.  Apparently the winch gear should be checked once a year but studio manager Tony Edwards has it checked every six months.  I asked him if he worries each time he presses the button to raise or lower the doors whether it will work or not.  The answer came as no surprise.

The space that results is 14,000 sq ft  - more than 130 metric feet long by 90 metric feet wide within fire lanes making it at the time the largest purpose-built TV studio in the world - and possibly it still is.

TC1 opened 4 years later and was 'only' 11,000 sq ft..  In case you were wondering, the only comparable fully equipped TV studios in the UK are HQ1 at MediaCity Salford which is 12,500 sq ft and studio 5 at Maidstone which is 12,000 sq ft.  Stage 1 at Elstree Studios does not have a TV lighting grid or flat TV floor but it does have a control room suite and is 15,700 sq ft.

 

Wembley studio 5 was originally equipped with 8 EMI Image Orthicon cameras (4 per half studio) and there were 140 motorised lighting hoists with a total of 340 lighting circuits.  Production, lighting and sound control rooms were (and are) at first floor level, with vision control (ie camera racking), apparatus rooms and make-up etc on the ground floor.  Note that vision and lighting control were originally in separate rooms - as in the ATV studios at Elstree.  This was a union requirement - engineers and electricians were not allowed to sit side by side.  I kid you not.  The lighting director must have done a lot of running up and down the stairs.  Today most of the ground floor rooms along the corridor have become star dressing rooms and the apparatus room and vision control are on the first floor.

As will be recounted later on this web page, all that remains of the old Wembley studios is this large double studio.  Fortunately, all the essential areas such as dressing rooms, production offices and production galleries were not lost to redevelopment and are still there - as is the restaurant which produces some of the best food of any studio in London.  To the rear of the studio is now some covered scenery storage and a small car park.  The galleries are well-designed and can either be operated separately, or each gallery can control both studios when the giant doors are raised.

In this plan you can see how studio 5 - at an angle to the rest of the studios and marked '5' - dominates the site.  Each half of the studio is significantly larger than any of the other studios.  '1', '2' and '4' are the respective studios with control room suites running up the centre of the site.  On this plan '3', just below studio 4, is indicated as being a telerecording area.  It was for a short time studio 3.

(Ian Dow recalls that following seeing a show in studio 5, audience members could look into the studios through observation windows in the long corridor that ran the length of the site.)

The area on the lower left marked '19' was the OB garage.  Three scanners were based here.  Other large areas (9, 10, 11, 12, 16) were used for scenery assembly and storage.

The restaurant/bar is still where it used to be (marked 35) and it can be seen that the reason the corner of the room is cut off today is because of the layout of the original studios.  The triangular area top left of studio 5 is now the covered scenery store and a small car park occupies the space of the buildings along the north of the site.

All the other buildings have sadly been lost to redevelopment as a small retail park.  (See below.)  A drive-in McDonalds now occupies part of the original site of studio 1.  That's progress.

A Google Earth view of Fountain Studios in 2005.  It is interesting comparing it with the plan above.  Studio 5 is clear to see - as is the canteen block at centre bottom.  The blue-green roof that cuts into the canteen is now a lighting equipment storage area.  Originally the space was occupied by the end of studio 1.  The white building to the lower centre-left is MacDonald's.

The blue/green roofed area to the left of the studio is a scenery store - as it was before.  The tiny car park at the top occupies the space of the original carpenter's shop, assembly bay and paint shop.  The large white roof on the left of the picture is part of the retail park and contains shops.  It is where studios 3 and 4 and an assembly bay and loading dock once stood.

 

Associated-Rediffusion used Wembley Studios for such iconic shows as Hughie Green's Double Your Money, Take Your Pick with Michael Miles ('55-'68), the first series of Opportunity Knocks ('56) and perhaps (for those of a certain age) one of the most missed pop shows ever - Ready Steady Go.  The programme was the first to ban miming in pop acts and made a star of teenage presenter Cathy McGowan.  This show was made in studio 1 having transferred here from studio 9 in Television House. 

Rediffusion also created two shows that were the predecessors to Monty Python - Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show.  Other popular programmes included Educating Archie ('58 - '59), The Dickie Henderson Show ('60 - '65) and Our Man at St Mark's ('63 - '66).  Drama series included Seven Deadly Sins, No Hiding Place and The Rat Catchers.

 

Take Your Pick.  Presented by Michael Miles, this was one of A-R's most successful light entertainment shows.  Contestants had to guess what was in the box and might or might not win huge amounts of money.  Sound familiar?

 

Maurice Dale was in the audience on November 1st, 1961.  Thanks to him for keeping the ticket stub!

Tuesday Rendezvous in studio 4 on August 20th, 1963.  The studio had this show, which went out live, at one end and Holiday Music, which was recorded at the other end.

The puppets are Ollie Beak - voiced by Wally Whyton and Fred Barker, who sounded remarkably like Basil Brush.  Actually, not remarkable at all since he was voiced and operated by the same man - Ivan Owen.

The human presenter is Howard Williams whom I confess I have completely forgotten - but Muriel Young also presented the show and I certainly remember her.  She went on to become one of ITV's top children's TV producers.

Tuesday Rendezvous evolved into The Five o'Clock Club - one of the most popular kids' TV series of its day.  Sadly, since all these shows were live there is probably no record of them except in the memories of my generation.

with thanks to Maurice Dale.

Françoise Hardy appearing on Ready Steady Go in studio 1, probably in 1966.  This was one of the first shows when it became fashionable for the cameras to be seen in shot, so the Marconi Mk IV seen here has 'RSG' stuck on the side.  This was apparently borne out of necessity.  The show originally started in the much  smaller studio 9 at Television House and the director, Daphne Shadwell, found it impossible to keep the cameras from seeing each other.  She decided to go with it and call it a gimmick!

This still is courtesy of Lester Cowling who was in the audience that day.  She's probably standing right where the Big Macs are stacked today.

 

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the days of Rediffusion is that it is hard to discover many productions that really took advantage of the size of studio 5.  The opening night, however, was certainly an exception.  The studio opened three weeks before Television Centre on June 9th, 1960 with a spectacular play involving music and dance entitled An Arabian Night.  This certainly made full use of the space.  It had a cast of 300 together with 10 horses, 8 camels, 6 donkeys, 4 goats, 2 mules, 2 snakes, 1 performing bear and (possibly) an elephant.  Imagine the mess in the car park.  According to one source, as well as the obvious technical requirements one of the specs for the studio floor was that it should be able to withstand the weight of an elephant.  This proved to be useful on at least one further occasion.

Planning for the programme had begun six months before.  The director Mark Lawton's brief was 'to produce a show of bigger dimensions than anything ever televised in this country.'  By all accounts he certainly succeeded.  The show was designed by John Clements and was lit by David Motture.  In one corner of the studio was built a raised area for an orchestra - the space beneath being used for quick-change dressing rooms.

Bob Hart was an extra working on the show.  He was training as a vet at the time but found himself looking after the liberty horses on this unique programme.  He has sent me his recollections...

'The animals were from Chipperfield’s circus.  I honestly don’t recall the elephant.  Our version was that the floor was accurate to 1/8th inch in 100 ft so that the camera dollies would run smoothly, not that it should support an elephant. 

The only warning we were given was to watch out for cameras because they would not stop.  Every second Arab was an asst. director with walkie-talkie directing ‘traffic’. The liberty horses were unshod but the studio insisted they be shod with rubber shoes to prevent damage to the floor.  This was done by the Royal Vet College farrier.  Quite an experience since they had never been shod before. They were housed for the week of rehearsals in a marquee in the open space behind the entry doors (behind the market set). The horses were all Arab stallions.  I spent a couple of nights in there with them.  Add to the production schedule the logistics of caring for that many animals!

There were also at least three stunt horses, two were to be jumped over a market stall, a 19 sec sequence which was unfortunately lost, or at least not broadcast, due to a timing glitch.  Martin Benson rode another.

The sets were so realistic that we sunbathed on the dock set between rehearsals.  Makeup calls were at 7am I think. Took hours to get 300 people made up.

TV folk didn’t understand that animals did not need a three hour call. 15 minutes was enough. The animals got bored being walked around outside.  In fact, a mounted Martin Benson, a brave man since he didn’t ride, backed into the bear.  Oops.

Camels are awful on a set, or anywhere. Pull them forward and they stretch out their necks. Push them back, and they fold them.  Then they spit.  Thank goodness none of this was evident in the production.

At one time we got so bored we decided to take the animals on set and stage another caravan.  The director was delighted and wanted the sequence kept.  A few minutes later it was rescinded - timing would be thrown out!

We were told the production would be live, although the final dress had been recorded, and it was our belief that it would be running simultaneously in case of disasters.  I think that show generated more ulcers than any previous production.

Today no sane director would attempt a 3 hour live show of that magnitude involving so many unpredictable animals.  It was a wild experience.'

 

The set plan for An Arabian Night.  Click on the image to see a larger version

A Midsummer Night's Dream was another of the major productions made in studio 5.  The set consisted mostly of multiple layers of hanging gauze.  It was directed by Joan Kemp-Welch and designed by Michael Yates.

A Midsummer Night's Dream in studio 5.  This complex lighting rig, designed by Bill Lee, was necessary to bring out the textures and depth in the layers of heavily-coated gauze in the set.

Photos thanks to the STLD and Bill Lee.

 

However - the series that seems to really have made the best use of the size of the studio was Hippodrome.  This was made in 1966 and proved to be surprisingly popular.  It was an unlikely combination of circus acts and popular showbiz entertainers.  A show might therefore amongst others include Dusty Springfield, The Everly Brothers, a high wire act and some performing bears.  Extraordinary.  During the ten weeks of shooting, the car park was typically occupied with trailers, caravans and cages housing - you guessed it - 12 elephants, 12 lions, 6 tigers, 2 pumas, 5 leopards, several dogs and all the various performing acts of acrobats, clowns, jugglers etc.  And all while the World Cup was being played in the stadium next door.

Each show was introduced by a big American star.  Bizarrely, on one show it was Woody Allen.  (Not the kind of entertainment with which one usually associates him.)  The series made full use of the space and height of the studio and was a genuine spectacular of its day. 

Unusually, it was shot using two separate camera crews - the local crew using four EMI black and white cameras  (the budget didn't run to using all eight), and a crew from Intertel (more on them later) using Marconi BD848 colour cameras.  The colour recording was for CBS in America, whilst the monochrome one went out on ITV.  Amazingly, they somehow made each show simultaneously with two directors and two completely separate camera crews.

This extraordinary sledgehammer of light was constructed for Hippodrome.  The Marconi colour cameras were very insensitive and required huge levels of illumination to get decent pictures out of them - around 4,000 lux as opposed to the 700 lux typically used at that time.

As well as lighting towers such as these, arc lamps were rigged in the grid which remained there for the duration of the series, whilst other shows came and went using the normal studio lights.

Despite the challenge of simply illuminating the studio to that extraordinary level, expert lighting director Bill Lee also managed to create some subtlety too - as is seen here.  This is a 150 Amp arc through a cut-out.

with thanks to Bill Lee and the STLD

 

Despite the success in its day of this series, A-R seem to have used the studio mostly for far more modest productions.  At Elstree, ATV were making big variety spectaculars in their somewhat smaller main studio but Rediffusion seemed to be happy making dramas, quiz shows and sitcoms.  Arguably, the studio would not really come into its own until forty years or more later with shows like The X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent.

 

The three images below were kindly sent to me by Christopher Matheson.  They are stills from a film called Interlude starring John Cleese amongst others.  It was filmed in 1967 and one scene where Cleese and Barbara Ferris visit a TV studio was shot in studio 5.  The first image shows the production gallery with its very large window, viewed from across the studio.  The second shows the monitor bank and the third has the vision mixer nicely featured.  The TV director is Humphrey Burton, who was of course just that in those days before he became a presenter of arts programmes.

 

I'm told that the cameras that Rediffusion were using at Wembley in 1968 when they lost their franchise were Marconi Mk IVs in Studio 1, Marconi Mk IIIs in Studios 2 and 4 and EMI 203s in studio 5.

Before leaving A-R's time at Wembley it is worth including some information sent to me by Bill Lee - A-R's leading lighting director.  As you will discover if you read more on this site, around the end of the '60s several studios in London were carrying out experiments in shooting programmes on colour film but using traditional television camera techniques.  It seems that A-R were no exception...

'Associated-Rediffusion were very involved in making colour productions for the Americans, long before studios were equipped for it in Britain. They used the remote facilities of Intertel and followed the Hippodrome production with a series of plays for the American producer David Suskin that involved American actors and rehearsed in America, although with a British director and an A-R crew.  A-R were also very involved in experiments of using Arriflex cameras running with film and modified to offer a television picture simply for production staff to use for viewing.  The idea was to produce good quality colour productions, shot television style on film and by television crews.  Along with other crew members I lit a trial half hour play in Munich, which was quite successful.  The project was inevitably scrubbed when A-R lost their weekday contract and were amalgamated with ABC to form Thames Television.  Interesting I think to speculate what the outcome might have been had they not lost their contract.'

 

Interesting indeed.

A small postscript...  A few years ago the restaurant was enlarged by creating a glazed extension about 10 feet deep along the wall facing the road.  At one end a corner was formed and the original engraved stone marking the laying of the foundations of the new studio found itself indoors rather than outdoors.  This stone is the only physical record of the old Rediffusion days.  For a while it was hidden behind a chocolate bar vending machine but I am glad to say that when I looked in May 2006 the machine had been moved and the stone is there for all to see.  Oddly, the contestants of the X-Factor didn't seem that interested.

Click here to jump forward to the next section on Wembley

 

 

 

The next successful company to win a franchise was ABC Television, which was to broadcast in the Midlands and the North at weekends.  They were initially reluctant to become part of the new independent television as they saw it as a competitor to their film business.  Nevertheless, they were persuaded by the ITA to get involved when another company's bid fell through.

Their Midlands service began on 5th May 1956, eight months after ITV began in London.  ABC TV was an offshoot of the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), which owned hundreds of ABC cinemas up and down the country and also made a number of modestly successful British movies.  They had a large film studio in Borehamwood (Elstree) but decided to keep this new TV subsidiary completely separate.  It is said that the unions did not want television programmes to be made in their film studios but the management too were probably happier keeping them separate, with their very different conditions of service, hours and rates of pay.

For its Manchester base, ABC converted a cinema it already possessed - the Capital in Didsbury.  This was a large cinema with a big stage that could be used for live shows when required so was ideal.  The stage was extended right out into the stalls area to create one large studio - where many episodes of Armchair Theatre were made, amongst other dramas and light entertainment shows.  Famous stars of the day who regularly appeared here included Mike and Bernie Winters, Bruce Forsyth, Matt Monro and Ken Dodd.  The studio was also the home of two of the earliest pop shows on British TV - Wham! and Boy Meets Girl!  The Beatles are said to have played on TV here for the first time.  Well, mimed probably.

 

There were also two small studios.  One was in the former restaurant on the first floor and apparently used for local news and small productions like panel shows - the other for continuity.  ABC kept this site on until they lost the franchise and became part of Thames.  The last programme made here by ABC was Opportunity Knocks in 1968.  Yorkshire TV briefly took over the building, then it was sold to Manchester Polytechnic (Julie Walters was one of many students educated here).  It was demolished in 1999.

ABC TV's converted cinema in Didsbury, Manchester.

There are a couple of really interesting clips on the Pathé News website of the opening night that show how impressive this studio was.

Although I don't have a plan of the Didsbury studio I have found this photo showing a plan being worked on, which is almost as useful.  You can see that the stage, nearest the camera, was quite large and it appears that most of the auditorium was also part of the studio floor area.  I have read that the working area was about 100ft x 50ft so a very useful size indeed - in fact, slightly larger than ATV's Wood Green Empire and Hackney Empire studios.

In Birmingham ABC TV shared a studio centre with ATV at Aston, which had also been converted from an old cinema.  This site was known as Alpha TV Studios and later became the HQ of BRMB radio.  Neither ABC nor ATV saw Birmingham as being particularly central to their operation and each company concentrated their main productions in their other studios.

 

 

Teddington Studios from the river.  The photo was taken in January 1998 when the hospitality boat, restaurant block and production block were still part of the studios' facilities.

with thanks to Paul Burton

 

ABC TV did not have a London franchise but realising that most acting and showbiz talent was based in London they decided that they needed to have a London-based production centre with large studios to make their network shows.  They converted some old film studios located in Teddington, on the western edge of London.

These popular studios later became part of the Pinewood Studios Group and the home of many well-known sitcoms and other big entertainment shows.  The site contains two production studios which have been used to make many programmes for the main network channels: studio 1 - 8,900 sq ft (98 by 74 metric feet within firelanes) and studio 2 - an unusual T-shaped studio of about 5,700 sq ft (75 by 62 metric feet at its widest.)  Studio 1 is still available (just) for TV bookings but studio 2 was not upgraded to HD and since about 2012 has not been marketed as a fully equipped TV studio.  It was still occasionally used as a 4-waller for single camera shoots but officially closed for good in the summer of 2014.  Paul Whitehouse's comedy Nurse was its last booking in July 2014.

There were also six small studios around the site - most were closed by the summer of 2013:  Studio 3 (2,098 sq ft) had a long history of classic children's programmes including Magpie and Rainbow and was used in the 2000s by a couple of shopping channels and as the base for a roulette-based gambling channel.  In its final years it was fitted with a hard infinity cyclorama which could be painted white, green or blue.  Studio 4 (1,475 sq ft) was originally built as a music studio and since conversion to a TV studio in 1994 had been booked by various digital channels.  From early in 2008 to September 2010 it was the home of CBeebies continuity.  Studio 5 operated as a continuity studio used by the Chinese Channel - closing in 2014.

Studio 6 was converted in 2004 from the old viewing theatre in the Admin Block and for a while was the home of the Jewellery Channel; 7 was built in the old prop store area near studio 2 in the summer of 2005 for the Quiz Call channel (the channel closed in 2007 but Quiz Call as a programme continued to air for a while on Channel 5).  Meanwhile studio 8 used to be edit 1 and became a continuity studio for Turf TV.  From the autumn of 2007 to summer 2013 Teddington also housed the linking hub for the video feeds sent from race courses to the UK's betting shops.

As well as providing facilities for many independent production companies and even occasionally BBC Comedy department, Teddington was for a while the playout centre for several digital channels.  However, its origins were far removed from all this...

 

The studio site before all this film and television nonsense began.  Those familiar with the studios will I am sure get their bearings from The Anglers.  Below is Weir Cottage at the gate of the studios in 2014.  We might be able to get a sense of what Weir House itself could have looked like by its unusual architectural style.  This cottage is all that will remain when the redevelopment of the site is carried out.

Richard Halladey - ace editor who has worked on every episode of Not Going Out (almost the last programme to be made here) - tells me that the cottage was used by Thames for training their staff.  Ah, training - yes, I remember that.  Shame none of the big TV companies does that any more.  I wonder what will happen when all of us oldies eventually retire.

The early film years...

The studios' history goes back to the end of the 19th century and the early days of filmmaking.  Originally an impressive mansion called Weir House stood on the site and its owner, wealthy stockbroker Henry Chinnery, took a keen interest in the early experiments in cinema.  One version of the story goes that whilst walking in Teddington he took pity on a local film crew struggling in the rain and invited them to use his greenhouse.  Another version has him allowing them to use his garden for filming as he was already fascinated by the new medium - and then they used the greenhouse when it rained.  Either way, there was rain involved and they all ended up in the greenhouse.

The site soon became a permanent base for film making.  In 1912, a company called Ec-Ko Films used the grounds of the house to make a series of low budget comedy and cowboy films.  The banks of the Thames in south west London not the obvious place to simulate the Arizona desert but there you go.  At least being silent they didn't have to worry about the accents.  The chap who led Ec-Ko apparently also ran a troupe of circus acrobats.  Of course.

Ec-Ko stayed for three years before moving on to another studio in Kew.  A new company - Master Films - took over in 1916.  They built a 'dark' (i.e. not glass) stage in the grounds measuring some 60ft by 40ft.  This was probably where studio 2 later stood.  Master made many films but apparently they weren't up to much - I gather they suffered from several small fires due to using the new-fangled carbon arcs in the stage.  Eventually it burnt down completely in 1929.

In 1931 the studios were renamed Teddington Film Studios by Henry Edwards and E G Norman - Edwards' wife Chrissy White was said to be the driving force behind this.  She was an actress and very keen to be in the 'talkies' so persuaded her husband and his business partner to build her a studio.  They did indeed construct an impressive a new sound stage on the site - this eventually became the later television studios 2 and 3.  The stage was T-shaped and capable of being divided into two (A and B) if required.  When used as one stage it was 130 ft long.

This picture gives some idea of how the Teddington site looked in 1931.  It has clearly been drawn by a very early marketing consultant and its scale is hopelessly inaccurate.  The stage seems to dominate the site, but since it is the same size as the later studios 2 and 3 this is hardly correct.  Weir House can be seen almost as a tiny model behind it. 

click on the image to see it larger

The original viewing theatre as seen bottom left in the drawing above.  ABC used this space for the first control rooms for studios 2 and 3 - in Teddington's final years it was studio 3's control room suite and a green room.  The window in the foreground can also be seen on the drawing - it looks as though there was originally a door behind that trellis.

Above is the interior of the original stage at some time during the 1930s.  Those familiar with the ABC/Thames studio 2 will recognise parts of it including the two steel columns that support the lighting bridge.  At the far end is the section with the lower roof that became studio 3.  It is, incidentally, hard to see from this picture how the studio could be divided.  There does not appear to be any sign of a door or shutter.  However, it is said that it could be split in two along the line of the bridge and steel columns.  Possibly there was originally a door arrangement that was subsequently removed. 

Another mystery - in the post fire photograph shown lower on this web page, there is a scene dock door positioned in the corner just behind where the man on the far right is standing.  Oddly, that door is also shown on the drawing above.  However, there doesn't seem to be any sign of it in this picture.  Very curious.

Note the lighting grid.  What those hanging 'teeth' were and how they worked I have no idea.  Having said that - I have been contacted by someone who thinks they may be connected with a system for hanging drapes and backcloths.

click on this image to see it and the one below in greater detail

Studio 2 in 2014, just before the studio was closed for good.   Several similarities can be seen with the old photo above.  The lighting bridge separating the two parts of the studio is obvious and the two steel pillars can be seen.  The grid of course has telescopes here to support the lights.  This studio was home to many popular series and its unique shape was actually quite useful, the 'small' end of the studio forming a natural position for audience seating when required.

 

Warner Bros were so impressed by the work that Edwards and Norman had done in fitting out the studios and associated facilities that in August of the same year (1931) they took out a lease on the studios - later buying them outright - using them mostly to make 'quota quickies.'  The studios were renamed 'Warner Brothers First National Productions Ltd'.  I'm surprised there was enough room on the screen to fit all that in.  Warners continued with the investment and between 1934 and 1937 they built another much larger stage (on the site of the later TV studio 1) with associated dressing rooms, prop stores, offices etc as well as the Admin Block facing Broom Road and what later became known as the Production Block facing the river - this had a garage on the ground floor and offices above.

Many successful films were made by Warners during this period and a number of famous actors developed their craft here including Rex Harrison, Cecil Parker, Margaret Lockwood, Felix Aylmer, Charles Hawtrey and a young Errol Flynn.  Max Miller made no less than 8 comedies here.

The recently completed Admin Block seen from across Broom Road, some time in the 1930s.  Below is a staircase inside the building, photographed by me in 2014, still showing the beautiful lines of the period architecture.

The old Production Block at the back of the site in 2014 - used as offices here by Haymarket Publishing.  The three large doorways to the garage for location vehicles that occupied the ground floor in Warners' years are clear to see, with the concrete lintels still in the brickwork.  The height and area of the internal space must have been quite impressive.  Thames added a mezzanine floor when they built new construction workshops between the Production Block and studio 1 and turned this whole building into offices.

 

Scenery construction was carried out by Warner Bros in buildings along the side of the site where the South Block and multi-storey car park were later built.  These were faced with building fronts in various architectural and period styles so they could be used as backgrounds for filming.  A couple of curious gargoyles incongruously attached to the side of the car park is all that remained of these buildings in later years.  Incidentally, Pinewood plan to do something very similar to this with the new stages they are building over the road from their existing studios.  City building façades will be attached to the stages, enabling the roadway in front to be used as a cheap and convenient location.

The new stage 2 was also given an imposing frontage, enabling it to be used as the entrance to a posh hotel, office block or similar with a little redressing of signage.

The original workshops with their 'old street' set façade.  I assume this is during their demolition, judging by the age of the truck.

 

When war broke out there was a brief pause but then Teddington became busy making films for Warners and other production companies.  It was unusual in remaining open - most other film studios had been requisitioned by the government for storage.

 

The numbering of the stages on the site is somewhat confusing so I do hope you're keeping up.  The first stage was subdivided into A and B.  The later stage - TV studio 1 - was called Stage 2 at which point the original stage was called Stage 1.  In other words, the opposite of how we later referred to studios 1 and 2.  Confused? Don't blame me.

 

On the evening of July 5th 1944 at 8.10pm a V1 flying bomb bounced off the corner of the powerhouse and reportedly landed in the space between the Admin Block and Stage 2 (later TV studio 1).  Curiously, the photo below seems to suggest that the blast happened at the back of the stage near the dock doors.  However, they do say that bomb blast affects buildings in strange ways.  In any case, wherever it landed there were diesel oil tanks buried beneath the concrete and the whole lot went up with a huge explosion.   Three employees including the studio's production manager, 'Doc' Salomon, sadly lost their lives.  The others were Harry Brayfield, the receptionist and a Miss Reeves who worked in the print department.  It might have been many more but since the bomb fell in the evening most people had fortunately gone home. 

The main stage was completely destroyed and the other older stage, Admin Block and some other buildings were gutted by fire.  The film in production at the time was completed in the studio garage on the ground floor of the Production Block, which had escaped damage and was hastily soundproofed.

 

Above is stage 2 (studio 1) after the V1.  The bomb appears to have exploded close to where the main exterior dock door was situated.  The blast has apparently blown the wall inwards and fire has completed the destruction.  However, official accounts state that the doodlebug landed on the opposite side of the studio.  The top of the powerhouse chimney can be seen in the upper centre.  Hmmm - what do you think?  Incidentally, painting a big building like that with terrible camouflage patterns I'd have thought was asking for trouble from any passing Luftwaffe bomber.  What were they thinking?  That it would become invisible?  Not of course that it made any difference to the V1 which was pilotless.  That was simply bad luck.

Stage 1 (studios 2 and 3) following the fire.  (Broom road is on the far side of the stage, so the photographer must be looking through a top floor window in the riverside Production Block.)  Although this was originally all one stage, the roofline is lower at one end.  Interestingly, the 1931 publicity picture above does not show this.  Was this another distortion of the actuality by the publicity department?  In any case, during reconstruction it was decided to wall off the low end indicated in this photograph, forming studio 3.

This photo shows very well the force of the blast that destroyed the main stage.  It truly was a miracle that only 3 people lost their lives.

The Admin Building, severely damaged.  It would not reopen until 1948.

In 1946 rebuilding began.  Oddly, government regulations insisted that reconstruction had to retain the size and appearance of the original buildings so any enlargements or improvements were not possible.  However, it would appear that when the original older stage was rebuilt, it was decided to divide it into two stages permanently.  The division was not, however, where the two parts of the 'T' shape met but some way down the long 'leg' where the roofline became lower.  (Thus the small studio 3 was created next to studio 2.)  The intention at the time was that this small stage would become a sound recording studio and that a new large stage, 140ft x 100ft, would be constructed in the space between the existing stages and the Production Block.  However, this stage was never built.  The fortunes of Teddington Studios might have been very different had it been constructed.  If later converted to TV use it would have been the same size as studio 5 at Wembley (Fountain Studios).

The restored studios were re-opened by Danny Kaye in January 1948 - he was in the country to appear at the Palladium.  For a brief period they were busy and actors such as Nigel Patrick, Richard Greene, William Hartnell, Kenneth More and Richard Burton appeared in films made here.  Unfortunately, this success was short-lived and within two or three years the British film industry was in crisis.  Not only did the government abandon the British-made quota, they imposed a tax on cinema tickets.  Studios all over the country were closing and in November 1951 Teddington went into 'care and maintenance.'  Film-making ceased and during the next few years the site was used by the Hawker Aircraft company, who had a factory just over the river in Ham, for storage.  (One wonders how they transported things between the factory and the studios.  Surely not over the footbridge?)

 

 

The arrival of television...

In November 1958 ABC television bought the site and began the task of adapting the studios for TV use.  Although ABC did not have a London franchise they still had to supply programmes to the ITV network.  One of their most successful series was Armchair Theatre.  This series was being transmitted live from Didsbury (Manchester) each Sunday night.  The perils of live drama included actors forgetting lines and cameras breaking down.  In fact, during one memorable performance of Armchair Theatre one of the actors was actually found dead in his dressing room just before transmission.  The rest of the cast carried on like troupers and improvised his lines to keep the show going.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was becoming difficult finding top actors based in London who were not working and would or could make the journey to Manchester.  It became clear that the company needed some London studios so that actors could rehearse during the day and go to their theatres in the West End in the evening.  ABPC Elstree was considered as it was of course owned by the parent company but the unions were not at all keen on letting TV productions with their odd hours and working practices onto a film studio site.  Teddington was empty and seemed suitable, although it was a few miles west of theatreland.  As it happened, technology had moved on and by the time ABC had begun to occupy the site, the video tape recorder had been invented.  Armchair Theatre and other productions would not have to be transmitted live any more.

In 1959 ABC installed the UK's first RCA videotape recorder here.  It was a TRT 1B for those to whom such things are important.  A year earlier, Associated-Rediffusion had taken delivery of the first Ampex machines at Wembley.  By 1959 the cost of an Ampex VTR had risen from £15,000 to £25,000 which might explain why ABC bought from RCA - who were probably offering a good deal on a brand new machine.  By 1965 ABC had the first four RCA TR22 VTRs which were fully transistorised - quite something in those days.

Back in 1959, the new VTR machine at Teddington enabled ABC to make programmes all round the week instead of having to broadcast them live at weekends from their studios in Birmingham and Didsbury.  Of course, programmes were not edited - simply recorded 'as live'.  To edit video required two or three machines, which for many years would be prohibitively expensive.  The alternative was cutting and splicing the tape - a risky and time-consuming process.  Also, very costly as the expensive reel of videotape could not be used again on another programme.

 

 

It might be interesting at this point to compare the approach of the three London-based ITV companies to live and recorded programmes. 

At the beginning ATV produced a mix of 'cheap' live drama and more sophisticated series recorded on film using high definition TV cameras at Highbury.  (Yes - 834-line progressive scan HD in the 1950s!)  The High Def days ended in 1956 and all drama was then live shot in normal 405 lines.  Some dramas began to be recorded remotely at Highbury from 1960 but always 'as live.'  It was only from 1961 when they moved to Elstree that all drama was recorded on videotape.  ITC drama series made for ATV were of course shot on 35mm film with an eye to the export market.  Most of ATV's entertainment shows - even a number of adverts - were live until the early 1960s.  Even then - as a few ITV shows still are today (eg The X-Factor) - some shows were live.  When, from the 1960s onwards, they made an entertainment show for sale to the US it was recorded twice.  Once in 405 lines for the UK and then in 525 lines for the US.  Standards converters were pretty poor quality in those days.

Associated-Rediffusion telerecorded drama on film (in 405 lines) but that was after a few years of live transmissions.  Perhaps surprisingly, they also telerecorded some gameshows.  Apparently, they would use several contestants in a show like Double Your Money but only transmit the interesting or amusing ones - editing the film afterwards.  This might explain the success and longevity of the show.  This technique is used frequently now but in the 1950s it was revolutionary.

ABC apparently never used film recording but went straight from broadcasting plays live to recording them on videotape.  Probably this is because their parent company ABPC would not have wanted to open the can of worms of their TV subsidiary making 'films' in competition with their own Elstree studios.

 

 

Initially studios 2 and 3 were converted - flat floors were laid, telescope lighting grids installed and a control room suite was built alongside Broom Road in the area formerly occupied by the viewing theatre.  This initially serviced both studios 2 and 3.  Well, actually studios '3 and 4' - as the studio later to be called studio 2 was initially numbered 4.  I assume this was to avoid confusion with Didsbury's studios 1 and 2.  However, by July 1960 studio 4 had been renamed 'Teddington studio 2'.  Just to confuse everyone even more, there are some set plans still existing that were drawn after that date that still have the studio number 4 - but one assumes that's because they had a load of blank plans already printed and sensibly used them up rather than chucking them all away.  (Thanks to Alan Hayes for this info.)

Above - a set plan for an episode of The Avengers called 'Kill the King'- apparently recorded in studio 4 on August 30th 1961.  See the detail below for the relevant dates etc.  Anyone who knows Teddington will recognise this as studio 2 but there it is - 'studio 4.'  This was what it was called for a short time after it opened.  By the summer of 1960 it had been renumbered as studio 2 but they had all those printed plans to use up!

thanks to Alan Hayes for these images

 

Armchair Theatre began to be made here from the summer of 1959 - sometimes using studio 3 as well as 2.  Studio 1 was used as a rehearsal room before work began on converting it for television use.  The studios were equipped with Marconi Mk III Image Orthicon cameras.  A few years later these were replaced with EMI 203 black and white cameras, which lasted until colourisation in 1968/69.

The plan on the right shows the way studio 2 was set for Act 2 of a typical Armchair Theatre production - in this case Afternoon of a Nymph, which was recorded in the autumn of 1961.

The designer was Assheton Gorton and it was directed by Philip Saville - a brilliantly talented man who was extremely demanding of all those who worked with him.

Note that every inch of the studio space is used - creating the impression of a much larger set.  Also, note that all the camera and boom positions are pre-planned.  This was essential to enable them to move from one part of the set to the next without a pause.  Although the play was recorded, it was 'as live' since videotape was hardly ever edited in those days.

Television dramas in the '60s and '70s attracted some of the most talented writers, directors and designers in the country.  The 'television play' developed into an artform in its own right - neither theatre nor feature film it borrowed aspects from both but was appreciated by critics and viewers as a unique form of artistic endeavour.  During the '80s it gradually died out and is sadly no longer with us.

 

Those familiar with studio 2 will note the slightly different arrangement of the studio doors.

Now here's a mystery - why does the plan not indicate the two steel pillars that supported the lighting bridge?  They were certainly there and it looks as though they would have interfered with the set.

 

click on the plan to view in high resolution

Afternoon of a Nymph in rehearsal.  It appears that an 'arty' reflection shot is being set up.  No doubt the designer is about to be asked for a ceiling piece to back the actors' heads and the lighting director will then throw himself in the river as the last place he can get some light in to the set is taken away.

The middle Marconi Mk III has had its covers removed.  That doesn't bode well for a trouble-free recording!

Geoff Hale has pointed out that the 'mirror topped table' is shown on the plan left of centre at the bottom.  In which case, although only two cameras were originally going to be used for this scene (1 and 3), rehearsals must have thrown up the need for a third camera.

Studio 2 during a drama rehearsal - one assumes Armchair Theatre.  I wonder if the LD realises that the house lights are still on?  At least it helps us see the excellent grid - those tracks are only 1 ft (30cm) apart so every lamp can be placed exactly where the LD needs it to be.

The photograph above shows Armchair Theatre in rehearsal in the corner of studio 1.  After rehearsing their play all week the actors would move into studio 2 to perform it in front of the cameras. 

It is still a film stage at this date - 1959.  The scene dock door is clearly visible - it no longer raised in the TV studio days but the old runners could still be seen on the wall.  The later door was mounted on the outside of the studio and slid to the left.

The walls in this photo are pre their 'bottle green' paint job and there is no small door in the corner of the studio.  This was apparently added during the TV conversion.  The curious large box-shaped structures against the walls are part of the original ventilation system.

 

This picture was taken in 1960.  It was sent to me by Alan Stokes and shows a Marconi Mk III during a recording of a show called Steamboat Shuffle.  It was thus before studio 1 was operational - so maybe they were using a boat on the river since studio space was a bit scarce at the time.  The boat is moored alongside the studios - although they would have had to time the recordings carefully to get the shots they needed as the river goes up and down by several feet as the tide goes in and out!

Warren Baxter has written to me to let me know that his father - Ronnie Baxter - is the cameraman.  In later years Ronnie went on to direct many well-known sitcoms including the great Rising Damp.

The camera was probably from studio 2 or 3 and the programme controlled from the gallery rather than using an OB unit.  There was a box installed in the car park near the river that contained some power and camera cable sockets.  These were later upgraded to G101 cables when the studios were colourised.  I recall seeing inside the box when we were recording sketches for Harry Hill's TV Burp and the G101 sockets were still there - though a little rusty and of course connected to nothing at all then.

Various programmes over the years including Magpie shot items in the car park or on the riverbank.  The car park and area outside studio 1 was often used to record sketches for TV Burp between 2002 and 2009, although these were usually recorded with a Betaback camera.

Perhaps the most famous riverside sequence to be shot was The Beatles' arrival at the studios by boat in February 1964.

 

Studio 3.  Often used by ABC and later Thames for children's programmes such as Magpie and Rainbow.  The production gallery moved from the old viewing theatre to where the window can be seen in the far wall once the Tech Block was completed.  It then moved back again when the studio was used in the 2000s for digital channels such as The Shopping Channel.  Its first show was probably Armchair Theatre in 1959 and its last was a scene from Not Going Out in July 2014 - inside a car against green screen, lights and cameras controlled from studio 1's galleries.

Popular gameshow of its day - For Love or Money.  No, me neither but apparently it ran from 1959 - 1961 and was presented in turn by Keith Fordyce, Bob Monkhouse, Dickie Henderson and Des O'Connor.

This looks like studio 2 to me.

Once the first phase of construction was up and running, the major building work could commence.  Weir Cottage and its garden were purchased which enabled the main site entrance to be moved to its current position between the cottage and studio 3.  A new reception area was built on the site of the original vehicle entrance.  Behind that and linking studios 2 and 1 was the site of the new technical block.  This contained  large control room suites for studios 1 and 2,  videotape and telecine areas and a CAR.

The site soon after the Technical Block had been completed.  Note the difference in the top right corner from later years - no car park, office block, workshops or restaurant block.

The control rooms were designed with a 'fan' layout - all the desks on a curve with large windows separating the three rooms.  This enabled each person - in particular, the director - to be able to look along the line and see everyone.  This clever arrangement was copied in LWT's new studios on the South Bank but to my knowledge nowhere else.

Above - the original layout of the control rooms and technical areas on the first floor of the new tech block.  There were several minor changes over the years.

Below is the production control room of studio 1 nearing completion.

Below is the gallery suite in July 2014 during the last recording of the comedy Not Going Out.  I have stood up to take this shot, which shows the fan layout of the galleries very nicely.  In the foreground is the vision controller with his camera OCPs, behind a sheet of glass is the production control room with producer, script supervisor (PA), director and vision mixer (plus a visitor at the far end) and through the next window is the sound gallery with sound supervisor and gram op.  I was the lighting director, in case you hadn't worked that out and to my left out of shot was the console operator.  Behind us were the client liaison manager, the technical manager and the production designer, who normally sits with us during recordings - he was on the studio floor throughout rehearsals, as indeed was the director but not all directors do this on sitcoms.  Some prefer to spend rehearsals in the gallery.

 

Another innovative feature of this building was its raised 'waffle floor' that enabled cables to be easily routed around the building.  This was one of the first uses of this 'computer floor' design in the country - along with BBC TV Centre, which was also being constructed at this time.  The main block also contained rehearsal rooms and an 800 sq ft band room.  (The latter was converted into studio 4 in 1994.)

One of the new features was an impressive building behind studio 1 for the painting of scenic cloths.  This was similar to the paint frame at TV Centre.  It had a working floor some 15 feet high with a slot either side enabling a cloth to be hung through it.  The backcloths would be suspended on a bar using counterweights so they could be raised or lowered enabling scenic artists to work on them.  When completed they were rolled up and lowered on a hoist out of a door at high level.

The paint frame.  Impressively large and of course very light and airy.  Below is one of the counterweight cradles to balance the cloth, enabling it to be easily flown to the right height for painting.

EMI 203s in 1967.  This could be studio 1 or 2.

The show is Tempo - an arts programme, with Daniel Barenboim seen here at the piano.

 

By late summer 1962 the new building was complete.  Studio 1 opened with EMI 203 cameras - the other two studios had their Marconis replaced with EMIs soon afterwards.  The first show made in studio 1 was almost certainly The Avengers - an episode called 'The Decapod' from series 2, recorded on 13th September.  Series 1 and the rest of series 2 had been made in studios 2 and 3.  (From 1964 onwards this popular drama moved to ABPC Elstree studios and was shot on 35mm film.)  The predecessor to The Avengers was a series called Police Surgeon.  Many of these were made at Didsbury but some were recorded at Teddington in studio 2.  (Thanks to Alan Hayes for the Avengers/Police Surgeon info.)

 

In 1965 the restaurant block was built overlooking the river, providing excellent catering and social facilities for staff and visiting artists.

The restaurant block.  Some might say the most popular part of the whole studios site.  I only used it briefly when I started working here as a freelancer from 2002.  In 2004 it was closed when Haymarket bought the freehold to the site.  Bafflingly, they never re-opened it.  Had they let it be run as a commercial enterprise and made it available to Haymarket staff and people working in the studios it would I am sure have done a roaring trade.  Anyway, in its day it contained a restaurant, a cafe/shop and a well-stocked bar, plus a large room that could be hired for wrap parties etc.  This was in addition to the hospitality boat moored alongside - at first the MV Iris, one of the Dunkirk 'little boats', later the Sir Thomas More.  Happy days.

 

Jumping ahead in our ITV history - in 1968 there was a big surprise in the awarding of franchises.  ABC lost the Midlands and North at weekends and Rediffusion did not automatically get its London franchise renewed which they had assumed was a foregone conclusion.  Both companies were fiercely independent and each very popular with viewers. 

The ITA had one franchise to fill - London's weekdays - so they forced ABC and Rediffusion to merge and form Thames TV.  Neither company was happy frankly - particularly Rediffusion who were awarded 49% of the new company to ABC's 51%.  They had to sell their Wembley studios to the new LWT but they did keep their central London ones at Television House in Kingsway which became the HQ for Thames local news, sport, religion and current affairs.  Later these departments would move to Euston.  Most of Rediffusion's Wembley staff stayed on to work for LWT.

Thames took over the ex-ABC staff plus a number from elsewhere and made Teddington its base for drama and entertainment.  There was always a bit of rivalry between the two branches of Thames - they even had slightly different programme idents for a while.

 

There was more major building work on the site in 1973 when a new office building was constructed by Thames, filling in the one remaining gap in the buildings and linking with the production block at the rear of the site.  Beneath and alongside this was a new scenery construction workshop.  A floor in this building was used as the location for filming Ricky Gervais's comedy The Office in 2001 and 2003.  This building is now part of the area occupied by Haymarket Publishing and is now a working office again.  I wonder if the people in there realise...?

Part of the workshops built by Thames in 1973.  This photo was taken just before they were handed over to Haymarket in 2004 to be completely rebuilt as offices and other facilities for the magazine publisher.  The glazed corridor connected the Technical Block with the Production Block at first floor level.

The final stage of construction was in 1975 when the multi-storey car park was completed.  Cars must have been much smaller in those days as this car park surely had the smallest parking bays with the least amount of space for maneuvering between them of any in the UK.

This picture shows Teddington at the completion of major construction in the mid seventies.  It is a very compact and densely-packed site as can be seen.  Very different from ATV's Elstree studios which opened around 1960.

The complex is dominated by studio 1, centre right.  To the left of that is the wedge-shaped technical block built in 1963 by ABC.  On the lower left are the pitched roofs of studios 2 and 3.  The dark roof bottom left was originally the viewing theatre but was then converted by ABC into the control room suite for studios 2 and 3.  Just above studio 1 is the area of the paint frame on the first floor with prop store below.  The dark roofed area just above the red line was the new scenery workshop and store built by Thames - this extended under the new office block on the upper right.

The red line indicates more or less the areas occupied in recent years by Haymarket Publishing (above) and Pinewood Studios Group (below).

The blue circle indicates approximately where the office used as a location for Ricky Gervais' The Office was situated.

 

 

The creation of Thames in 1968 coincided with a huge change in technology - the introduction of colour to ITV.

Colour and HD

The studios were upgraded to colour with EMI 2001 cameras being installed in 2 & 3 in 1968 and studio 1 in 1969.  (ITV began colour transmissions on November 15th 1969).  These cameras were replaced one studio at a time between 1980 and 1985 with RCA TK47s which were said to be not very popular with cameramen or indeed some engineers. 

Their replacements in the early 1990s were Ikegami 355 CCD cameras which produced infinitely better pictures.  These cameras were upgraded to become digital widescreen versions in the mid 1990s and astonishingly remained in use on occasions right up to 2012.  When they stopped being used (they were never formally withdrawn, just inevitably every show eventually booked HD cameras) they were very much showing their age and must have been the oldest cameras in any major TV studio in London. 

Sadly, this says as much about the way the studios were run by both owners after Thames left as it does about the cameras.  Pinewood took the odd attitude when new HD cameras were purchased that they would not throw away the old ones but expected hirers to use them if they happened not to be recording in HD.  Every other studio quite rightly ditched the old cameras when HD ones were purchased.

From 2005 to 2007, Studio 1 produced several sitcoms which were recorded in high definition - using cameras, monitors, VTRs and vision mixer temporarily installed by hire company Presteigne.  The cameras in 2005 were Sony HDC-950s and in 2006 they were HDC-1500s.  Teddington at last took delivery of four new HDC-1500s in August 2007.  Two more cameras - HDC-1000s - were bought in 2009.  However, the HD vision mixer, lighting gallery monitors and VTRs still had to be hired in when an HD production was being recorded.  If a proper HD installation had been carried out in, say, 2007 the company would probably have saved huge amounts of money over the years.  That's what happens when companies only think short term.

 

Here's a pretty unusual picture.  In the foreground a brand new colour EMI 2001 fresh out of the box with the Thames logo proudly emblazoned on its side.  In the background some EMI 203 monochrome cameras doing all the work.  The cameraman has worked out which end of this new-fangled contraption to look through but can't understand why the viewfinder is still in black and white.  'You'll have to wait another 25 years before colour viewfinders come along mate and even then most cameramen won't like them.'

The year is 1968 and the show is Cooper at Large.

 

A typical drama in the 1970s in studio 1 - EMI 2001s are the cameras of course.  Thames recorded many dramas in this studio.  When multicamera dramas went out of fashion the studio continued to be popular for making sitcoms, which over the years gradually adopted the same high production values as those classic dramas.  This studio has its lighting tracks only 18 inches apart - that's about 45cm if you're under 50 years old.  This means that the LD can place each lamp almost exactly where he or she needs it to be.  I have lit quite a few sitcoms and sketch shows over the years in many different studios and this was always my favourite studio for that reason.  All the other monopole/telescope studios have their tracks more widely spaced (at Elstree they are 3 feet apart!) and studios with motorised bars also involve many compromises.  Teddington will be sorely missed after 2014.

 

Of course Teddington Studios under Thames Television was the home of many classic series including This is Your Life, The Des O'Connor Show, various Tommy Cooper shows ('68 - '80), Opportunity Knocks ('64-'77), The Kenny Everett Video Show ('79-'81), children's series like The Sooty Show ('68 - '92),  Magpie ('68-'80) and Rainbow and of course, Benny Hill ('69-'89).  Between 1978 and 1983 Morcambe and Wise recorded several series at Teddington after they left the BBC.  Sooty too was previously a BBC star.  He and Sweep made the move here in 1968 and lasted until the demise of Thames in 1992.  An astonishing 43 series containing 481 episodes were made between 1955 and 1992, at first hosted by Harry Corbett; then from 1976 his son Matthew took over - but frankly never looked as thoroughly miserable as his Dad by the end of each show, always soaked in water or smothered in filth.  "Bye-bye everyone, bye-bye."

Incidentally, Op Knocks was one of very few programmes made by Thames to have originally been an ABC TV production.  A previous Rediffusion show was Do Not Adjust Your Set - a forerunner to Monty Python starring Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Denise Coffey and - er - David Jason.  Series 1 was recorded at Rediffusion's studios in Wembley and series 2 here at Teddington.  Frankly, the best bits are the performances by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.  Worth tracking down a DVD just for them.

The ever charming Hughie Green - presenter of Opportunity Knocks.  Make up your own caption here.

The set for Strike It Lucky, in studio 1.  This Thames show ran here at Teddington and later Pinewood from 1986 to 1994.  A version called Strike it Rich was made by LWT and Grundy between 1996 and 1999 and recorded at TLS.

 

Although often remembered for its popular light entertainment and comedy shows, Thames made several highly regarded studio dramas here.  These included Special Branch ('69-70), Van der Valk ('72-'73) and The Tomorrow People ('73-'79).  In 1974  Lee Remick came to Teddington to make the distinguished drama series Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill.  Further historic series followed - Napoleon and Love with Ian Holm and Billy Whitelaw, and Timothy West as Edward the King, which won a Bafta as Best Drama series of 1975.  1978 was the year of Edward & Mrs. Simpson - another  BAFTA winner - with Edward Fox best actor for his portrayal of the King.  Rumpole of the Bailey ('78-'83, '87-'92) was another of Thames' great successes and as a contrast they also made the highly original musical drama Rock Follies ('76, '77) here at Teddington.

For the whole of its existence as a TV studio, Teddington's studio 1 has been very popular with sitcom makers.  From the early days of ABC, shows like Happily Ever After ('61-'64) and Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width ('67-71) established a tradition of live audience multicamera comedy that continued to the end.

Thames produced many popular sitcoms including Father Dear Father ('68-'73), Bless This House ('71-'76), Man About the House ('73 -'76), George and Mildred ('76-'79), Robin's Nest ('77-'81), Shelley ('79-'92), After Henry ('88-'92) and Never the Twain ('81-'91).  Leonard Rossiter's final sitcom Tripper's Day was recorded here in 1984, the actor sadly dying during the run of transmissions.  Two years later, despite the original series not being well received, it was revived with no less than Bruce Forsyth in the lead and renamed Slinger's Day.  This was the only time Brucie attempted a sitcom role but he can't have been that bad as it was brought back for a second series.

More recent productions are listed in the section about Teddington post Thames towards the end of this web page.

 

 

Teddington has a feature that is shared by only one or two other studios to my knowledge.  The studios are said to be haunted and several sightings have been made - even relatively recently.  During the setting of As Time Goes By in January 2005 a figure was seen looking out of a window on a set but when the witness turned back to see who it was they had vanished.  A few years before, a security guard was locking up a dressing room and apologised to the woman sitting inside.  Realising that nobody should be there he opened the door again but nobody was inside.  A publicity photograph of a light entertainment show has a figure standing on part of a set looking out of a window where actually there was no floor - it was just part of the set designer's illusion.  Nobody can explain how the shadowy figure got on the image.  There is also a photo of the ruins of the building after the V1 explosion that seems to show a figure amongst all the rubble (see below).  I gather some have even seen a spectral dog - but no cavalier with his head under his arm you'll be relieved to hear.

Meanwhile, Pete Rogers wrote to me in 2007.  He had been in an audience - the back row of seats on the studio floor for a show in studio 2 - and distinctly felt something flick the top of his head in the way a teacher would to a naughty child.  He says there was nothing around that could have caused it.

Apparently there is a ghost in this photo.  Is that a grey lady on the right or am I looking in the wrong place?  Hmmm.

 

 

In its heyday, Thames was producing some of the most popular and highly regarded programming on British Television.  It always gave the BBC a run for its money and its dedication to high standards both technically and artistically was exemplary.  It believed in thoroughly training its staff and they worked at Teddington with a true sense of loyalty and dedication.  Thousands were employed here - every inch of the site was filled with offices, workshops, post production facilities and of course the studios.  Its slogan was 'A Talent for Television' and this certainly rang true.  When Thames lost the blind auction to Carlton in 1992 it was a genuine loss to the nation's television.

 

Many thanks to Howard Denyer for sending me some of the archive photos in the above section which were compiled by John Tasker.

 

Click here to jump forward to the next section on Teddington that covers the post-Thames years

 

 

 

 

Back in 1955, ATV was the company that won the franchise for London at weekends and the midlands during the week.  This arrangement did at least enable them to show the same filmed programme at different times in the two regions which must have been a cost saving.  They established a base in Birmingham that they shared with ABC TV - called 'Alpha Television.'  However, most of their premises were to be in London.

The company had been formed by a merger of two others that had previously been competitors.  One was called the Incorporated Television Company (ITC).  This collection of individuals was steeped in showbiz and consisted of Val Parnell and Prince Littler (Stoll Moss Theatre Group), Lew Grade (one of the top booking-agents in the UK), Stuart Cruickshank (Howard Wyndham Theatres), Binkie Beaumont (head of H. M. Tennants, the most important producers of plays in London), and Dick Harmel who was the right hand to South African millionaire businessman John Schlesinger. Two thirds of the financial backing came from the Warburgs - a leading concern in the city.  Harry Alan Towers, a film producer, was also associated with this group.

The other company was the Associated Broadcasting Development Company (ABDC).  This was led by Norman Collins, Sir Robert Renwick, C O Stanley and the Pye electronics Company, combined with the Midlands Post and other business interests based in the Midlands.  This group owned Highbury Studios - of which more below.

Initially, the ITA awarded the franchise to the ABDC - they did not want the ITC to get the contract as they thought they dominated the entertainment industry too much.  The ITA considered that it would be better if ITC operated as independent programme-makers, supplying shows to all the ITV companies.  However, the ABDC could not raise sufficient funds to operate as a contractor.  ITC did have the necessary funding so the ITA reluctantly agreed to a merger of the two companies.  ITC did very well out of this arrangement.  They owned 50% of the new company but also remained a production company in their own right, so any programmes they made that were shown on ITV would earn royalties to them alone when sold abroad.

The new company called itself 'Associated Broadcasting Company' - or 'ABC' which unfortunately was almost the same name as - well - 'ABC TV', the offshoot of the Associated British Picture Corporation.  Confused?  Do keep up.

The original logo that was in use for only three weeks.  Possibly the double eye motif animating to form one eye represented the two merged companies - ITC and ABDC.

Thus, the name was changed to Associated TeleVision - or 'ATV'. By September 1955 the company had established its presentation and control centre in Foley Street.  It could use the theatres its partners owned (like the London Palladium) for outside broadcasts and its new OB units were of course built and equipped by Pye - also a partner in the company.  (The first Sunday Night at the London Palladium was broadcast on 25th September 1955.  It starred Gracie Fields and was introduced not by Bruce Forsyth - he came later - but by Tommy Trinder.)

As mentioned above, the owners of the new company already possessed Highbury Studios but ATV also converted two of their Frank Matcham variety theatres into studios - the Wood Green Empire and Hackney Empire.  Highbury would not be used as a conventional TV studio until October 1956 and The Hackney Empire would not be ready until February 1956 but Wood Green made its first programme on the opening night of ITV - 22nd September 1955.

This first night was a weekday so normally would be the responsibility of Associated-Rediffusion.  However, ATV (at the time called 'ABC' of course) were also involved on this one special night.  There is a rather sad story surrounding this.  It seems that there were several problems to do with sound feeds on the big night.  ABC's Deputy Head of Sound took the responsibility for this upon himself.  Apparently, he didn't turn up for work the next day - in fact he was never seen again and it was believed that he had jumped into the Thames.  Hard to imagine quite that sense of dedication these days, frankly.

 

 

Wood Green Empire as painted by Charles Cundall.  This picture was on a Christmas card, sent to ATV's commercial clients.  A little artistic licence may be evident - particularly with the lighting rig - but it shows beautifully how the studio was laid out.

The Wood Green Empire originally opened on 9th September 1912 with a seating capacity of 1840 and stage 75ft wide wall to wall x 35ft deep.  The property of Stoll-Moss, part owners of the new ATV company, it was used as a theatre until January 1955 when it went dark for a short while before being re-equipped by ATV.  The first programme made here was on 22nd September 1955.

To cater for the needs of television production, changes were made to the interior including the enlargement of the stage area.  The stage was built forward with a deep apron and extending on camera left all the way to the dress circle, giving a total stage area of 5295 sq ft.  The control rooms and apparatus rooms were built under the camera right side of the dress circle.  The audience was seated in the dress circle, which had a capacity of about 300.

 

The studio plan for Wood Green.  Below can be seen a more schematic drawing that also indicates the position of the control rooms beneath the dress circle.

Note the orchestra pit on the right of the stalls - it is not too clearly marked on the studio plan.

with thanks to Richard Greenough

Lighting on stage was controlled by the theatre's Grand Master which was situated in the camera right corner behind the proscenium arch.  Oddly, there was another lighting control for all the front-of-house lights, which was in the vision control room (nowadays called the production gallery).  Lighting changes must have been tricky to coordinate!

Within the auditorium were five lighting bars, each on a motorised hoist.  The maximum lighting load was 300kW, consisting of Mole-Richardson 'scoops', and incandescent spots plus some Strand carbon arcs.  The cameras were initially supplied by Pye and were Mk 3 three-inch image orthicons although only three plus a spare were in use.  (These days entertainment shows use ten or more cameras.)  However, later they were replaced by Marconi Mk IVs and I have received a note from cameraman Jeremy Hoare explaining why...

'They were used at Wood Green up until the remarkable man I was proud to work for, the late legendary Lew Grade, did a deal with an American network to produce some Dick Cavett shows, live from north London to the USA coast-to-coast with a five hour time difference to New York of course.  So the Pyes were replaced by Marconi Mk IVs as these were switchable from 405 to 525 lines. These were good cameras also and delivered excellent pictures, and from my use of them as a cameraman, I found the viewfinder sharp enough to give me confidence to try shots that I wouldn’t have dared with the Pyes.'

Jeremy has also told me about his experiences with the original Pye Mk 3 cameras...

'The cameras at Wood Green, Hackney Empire and Foley Street Studios, and on Outside Broadcasts, were Pye image orthicons with four position turret lenses, typically 2”, 3”, 5” and 8”.  In the studio, it was only the brave and foolhardy that used the 1½“ and 12” lenses, but everyone tried at least once, it was part of the learning curve.  These cameras were way ahead of their time with electric lens change and focus demand, the latter switchable to either side, although the only person I recall anyone using the left side was my first Senior Cameraman, Ron Francis.  When the focus control packed up on a live show, which was frequent, the side of the camera was opened up and the focus adjusted by sliding the tube carriage forwards and backwards manually.  It worked and kept a camera going when the normal compliment was usually only three and sometimes, but rarely, four; so this was vital.'

A typical Pye Mk 3 - well used by the look of it.  They came onto the market in 1951.  By 1960 Pye were selling the Mk 5 which was bought by ATV for their new Elstree studios.

Bill Brown on the camera at Wood Green.

with thanks to Jeremy Hoare 

 

A telecine machine was also installed at Wood Green.

An unusual innovation in the studio was a cue-dot generator.  This device enabled a small square dot to be placed in the top right corner of the screen 30 seconds before a commercial break, enabling ITV companies all over the UK to cue their commercials accurately.  At first this was an experiment but later the system was universally adopted and amazingly in this digital age is still in use.

The floor of the Wood Green Empire in 1958. 

This still and the ones below are taken from a promotional film made by ATV.

The production control gallery - called the 'vision control room' on the plan above.

According to the plan, in the corner of the gallery was a 'lighting control point.'  One assumes therefore that the gentleman sitting in the background of this picture must be operating the lighting.  I'm intrigued by the panel above the window.  It has seven sections.  Seven? What could it possibly have been?  My guess is that it controlled the lighting hoists in the auditorium.  Another source says that there were only five of them but maybe there were seven after all.

A shot looking from the stage towards the auditorium.  The audience sat in the dress circle.  The balcony above was not in use during the days of television.

The Wood Green Empire was the home of ATV's scenery workshops and their OB fleet was also based there.  In 1957 the studio produced about seven hours of programming a week.  The theatre was linked to ATV's Highbury studios via landlines, whence the signal was sent to their continuity and playout suite in Foley Street.

The studio was used to make all kinds of programmes including LE, drama and children's.  I have also been told by more than one ex-employee that Emergency-Ward 10 began here before moving to Highbury.  Examples of contrasting shows include Val Parnell's Saturday Spectacular, a sitcom called Joan and Leslie (starring Joan Reynolds and Leslie Randall) and various 90 minute plays.  Rosemary Wenzerul  has been kind enough to contact me.  Her late father, Barry Molen, used to run the canteen and collected many photos of the stars who performed here.  She has confirmed that Emergency Ward-10 was indeed made at Wood Green for a while.  She has also sent a picture of the Randalls with a dedication from them to her father.

I must confess I hadn't heard of the sitcom but it seems to have been very popular and has its own page on the IMDb. 

 

Amongst the plays was probably The Voodoo Factor - a spooky tale starring Maxine Audley based around her character's fear of spiders.  There is a possibility that this was made at Highbury but Wood Green seems more likely.  Other programmes recalled by people include The Sid James Show and The Strange World of Gurney Slade ('60) - a bizarre and sometimes disturbing comedy starring Antony Newley.  Interestingly some if not all of the latter was filmed on 16mm.  Jeremy Hoare has written to me about his not very happy experience on this show...

 

'I was still an ATV Trainee Tracker when I was unusually scheduled to a film unit for a day at our Wood Green studio on the Anthony Newley show, 'The Strange World of Gurney Slade'.  The sequences that were shot at Wood Green that day were on 16mm film using a blimped Arri BL mounted onto the manual Vinten Pathfinder dolly.  As the sole tracker I was very much an outsider as they were superior 'Film' people and I was a merely a 'Telly' person, they made this clear from the start, I was being tolerated.

One shot I remember particularly involved a track-in from Long Shot to Mid Shot.  We rehearsed and I put my marks on the floor then we went for a take. 

"Camera!, Action!" and I pushed the Pathfinder in on cue and timed it correctly so I ended on the right part of Newley's speech although I was about an inch to the right of my mark but directly alongside it, fairly normal.  I had just got there when the camera operator shouted  'Cut, no good!' stopping Newley mid sentence.  He turned round and without looking at the floor said to me, "You're off the mark, we'll have to do it again!".  He was right but this was normal because unlike film, we hardly ever use tracks or rails in television (which would guarantee a set re-position) so I mumbled something like an apology and he said in a flamboyant Prima Donna manner, "Okay then, I'll just have to unlock the pan if that's the best you can do!".  I was furious because no television cameraman to my knowledge before and subsequently since has ever locked the head controls where it could be possible that a misframe would occur. It was and is normal for a cameraman to make small adjustments, actors are not always good at hitting marks, so often compensation in framing is needed.

We did another take and I hit the mark exactly but the operator said nothing to me.  We moved on to the next set-up but at the end of the day's shoot I went home more than a little upset that this had happened.  I was still a trainee and just nineteen at the time so probably over-reacted as one does at that age.  Fortunately I found out that not all Film Camera Operators were the same.  I worked later with the terrific Frank Watts on a promo shoot in a tiny studio in the basement of ATV's Great Cumberland Place office block and he was good enough to show me a lot about how a blimped Arri functioned which more than compensated for my first experience.  I thought better of film people after that!'

 

As has often happened over the past few years, what seems a simple account recalled by someone in good faith is questioned by someone else.  In this case, Phil Ashby reckons the film camera Jeremy describes could not have been a blimped 16mm Arri BL since this didn't come out till 1965.  Having seen the show in question with a group of editors projected on a screen he reckons it must have been a 35mm Mitchell - and who am I to argue?  Jeremy's story is still a good one though!

 

It is perhaps worth reprinting part of an article from 'Practical Television' published in January 1957.  The writer describes a visit to the studio:

 

I drove my car up to the front of the Wood Green Empire - only to find it was not there!  The entire facade, canopy and other front-of-the-house paraphernalia had disappeared, and in its place were brightly-lit dress shops.  As I made my way around a side road to the stage door, I fancied that I heard the ghosts of [the] great illusionists [who had previously performed there] chuckle and say " Abracadabra! "

Fortunately, the stage door was there, quite solid, almost hidden behind a pile of new scenery and stage properties, and the back of the theatre seemed to have been extended. I discovered at once that additions had been made to the backstage facilities, particularly as to make-up, wardrobe and dressing-rooms. The old music-hall atmosphere persisted; there was no dressing-room 13 - instead, there was 12A!  Crossing my fingers as I went under a ladder, I wandered on to the stage to meet Bernard Bibby.  ATV's Chief Engineer of studios and O.B.s.  Mr. Bibby is an ex-BBC man (from Lime Grove and the Alexandra Palace) and he brought me down to earth rapidly with facts and figures, including lighting three cigarettes with one match.

 

What surprises me about the above is that the foyer and main entrance appear to have been sold off and turned into shops by ATV.  One wonders how they handled their studio audiences - some sort of entrance and foyer would surely have been needed.  It does seem likely that there was an entrance in a side street that led to a foyer upstairs.  After all, with no audience in the stalls, only the circle foyer would have been needed.

 

The theatre had its orchestra pit on the camera right side of the auditorium.  However - for one show, designer Richard Greenough thought of another use for it...

 

'At Wood Green I designed a show for Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warris.  There was a sketch with them in a boat.  For this we filled the orchestra pit with water.  A plastic liner was made and this worked very well except I had designed steps to get down into the water but these were made of wood so they floated up!  We also had an inverted periscope to get an underwater shot.  This worked very well during the rehearsal but by the time of transmission the water had become very cloudy.  As this had worked well we did it again in a later show but this time the plastic liner sprung a leak and the water began to get into all the electrical wires under the stage.  Panic!  Bob Craig, the stand-by carpenter, volunteered to go down into the water so I lent him my bathing trunks which were in my car.  Somehow he managed to stem the flow and the show went out live.  We did not repeat this mistake.'

 

 

ATV used the Wood Green Empire through to 29th May 1963 - interestingly, well after all the studios at Elstree had opened.  After that the theatre stood dark for a couple of years before the stage, backstage area and most of the auditorium were demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park.  The façade is just about recognisable today, in the centre of a parade of shops.  Last time I looked it was a branch of the Halifax but the original arrangement of foyer door and an entrance either side can still be made out - as can the typical Frank Matcham grand roofline with two small ornamental domes.

The image below is a rare colour photo of the period taken by Jeremy Hoare.  It shows the Arthur Haynes Show being recorded at the Wood Green Empire in 1962, shortly before ATV left.

 

 

 

Hackney Empire

Hackney Empire, around 1960.  The 'ATV Television Theatre' sign can just be made out behind the trees.

with thanks to Louis Barfe

This theatre dates back to 1901, having opened that year on 9th December.  Built initially for a seating capacity of 2,158 with a further 691 standing, the theatre remained on the variety circuit for some 54 years before closing probably towards the end of 1955.  ATV took it over and made their first programme there on 29th February 1956.  They initially extended the stage 15ft over the orchestra pit, although by 1958 the working area spread over the whole stalls area.

ATV's plan of Hackney. 

with thanks to Richard Greenough

 

The camera and lighting equipment at Hackney were similar to that installed at the Wood Green Empire.

Hackney Empire in 1958.

The old Grand Master lighting control.  Every London theatre had one of these - usually tucked behind the pros arch on a platform just above head height - as shown here.  Its design dated from about 1930.

This still, taken from an ATV film, shows the board still in operation in 1958.

Incidentally, in London's theatres the Grand Masters began to be replaced with electronic preset boards controlling thyratron or thyristor dimmers during the 1960s but there were still some of them in use well into the 1970s.  Others remained in operation in some provincial theatres for even longer.  The Bristol Hippodrome's board was installed in 1948 and was not replaced until 1981!

The trouble was that they were so well-built that there was nothing to go wrong - some might say unlike the electronic consoles that replaced them.

 

Although ATV were the main occupants of the Hackney Empire, the facilities were leased to other ITV companies as and when required.  Indeed before Teddington was opened for television in 1959, ABC used this theatre.  Their most famous show made at Hackney was Jack Good's Oh Boy! and both series were made here.  Rediffusion also hired the theatre from time to time.  At one time Take Your Pick came from this studio - later moving to Wembley.  The Carroll Levis' Discoveries talent show was also made here for a while.  The last programme made here was on 21st December 1960.

Mecca took it over in 1963 and converted it into a bingo hall. The bingo operation closed in November 1986, the building re-opening as a co-operatively run theatre/arts venue just a month later, on the 85th anniversary of its first opening.  It is now a Grade II listed building, and thanks to the Lottery and a high profile fund-raising campaign the auditorium has been restored to its 1901 condition.

 

 

 

 

Highbury studios were to be found at 65A Highbury New Park, Islington.  They were built originally as a music conservatoire in 1890.  The premises included a concert hall capable of seating 600 and a large rehearsal room.  The site was converted in 1926 into a recording studio for the Piccadilly label. 

The building was adapted into film studios in 1933 and bought in 1937 by producer/director Maurice J Wilson.  There was one main stage and a smaller one probably in the basement - one assumes adapted from the original concert hall and rehearsal studio respectively.  The stages were soundproofed and equipped with the RCA recording system.  It seems that for a while Highbury became famous for elaborate special effects spectaculars.

For the two years until the outbreak of war Highbury was leased to independent film producers making quota quickies and some modestly successful films for the British market.  The studios were barely used during the war after which they were acquired by the Rank Organisation. 

Rank established his 'charm school' at Highbury.  Young men and women were trained for stardom - or at least to be stars in J Arthur Rank's films.  Film production continued from 1947 and several titles were made with such stars as Christopher Lee and Diana Dors - both products of the charm school.  However, it was not to last and when the company got into financial difficulties in 1949 they sold off all their properties except Pinewood.  However, they did not entirely give up their interest in Highbury.

In 1950 the studios were purchased by Norman Collins, with the backing of British Lion, The Rank Organisation and Pye electronics.  Collins was an extraordinary gentleman who began his career in BBC radio.  He was the producer of Dick Barton: Special Agent, and by contrast also created Woman's Hour.  He became controller of The Light Programme (the original name of Radio 2) and in 1947 controller of the BBC Television Service at the time it was establishing itself. 

In 1950 he resigned, with the strong conviction that there should be another television channel to compete against the BBC.  He campaigned loudly on this subject and formed a company called High Definition Films, based at Highbury.  The company was led by Collins and Terence Macnamara - formerly head of the BBC's Planning and Installation department.  They intended to make television programmes - initially for the export market but always with an eye to becoming actively involved in the new commercial television, whenever that might begin broadcasting.  It was five years before the plans came to fruition.

 

The technique developed by HDF enabled a 30 minute film to be completed in 48 hours.  Using traditional techniques it would take several days principal photography followed by a few more days editing.  Sound dubbing would also have to be completed and finally captions, dissolves or any other effects added.  It is easy to see how considerable savings could be made.

The method developed at Highbury was to shoot using up to four television cameras, which were cut by a vision mixer.  In other words, the usual technique at that time of making television drama.  However, the cameras would have to produce far greater resolution pictures than the normal 405 lines in order that they could be projected onto a cinema screen.

Initial experiments in 1949 in Cambridge using some American-made cameras had proved disastrous but the Pye electronics company were keen to make the system work.  They employed Bill Vinten (inventor of the hydraulic camera pedestal) as DoP - he had lit the 1949 experiments and by May of 1952 a demonstration film had been produced at Highbury.  Others followed, using  progressively scanned pictures with around 625 - 834 lines.  According to one account, they settled on a resolution of 650 lines.  This may be true but I have been written to by Maurice Fleischer.  He visited the studios and was told that the resolution was around 1120 lines.  I confess, 650 doesn't sound very HD.

However, they may indeed have settled on a less adventurous resolution for most of their work.  Many of the 'filmed' dramas they ended up making at Highbury were intended for the US television market with its 525-line system rather than for cinemas.  The rest were for the UK with its measly 405 lines.  Perhaps there was not much point in creating pictures that were any sharper.  Nevertheless, the overall resolution of the system was said to be an astonishing 12MHz.

 

Greater resolutions were tried out - up to 1,500 lines but the advantages were outweighed by the technical limitations of the components in use.  In fact, publicity around the time claimed resolutions far greater - even up to 3,000 lines but this was just wishful thinking.  Still, it is amazing that these cameras could produce pictures as sharp as today's HD cameras - although of course they were in black and white and suffered the limitations of tubes rather than CCDs. 

The technology was pretty cutting edge for its time.  The cameras used by HDF at Highbury were Pye Photicon types called Photo Electric Stabilised or  'Pesticon' (the engineers named them 'pests').  Apparently when first switched on the picture "emerged over several minutes from a mush at the bottom of the screen".

 

Quentin Laurence - a director of several films made by HDF - apparently demonstrating a Pye Pesticon HD camera. 

Actually, not so.  Dicky Howett has pointed out that this is, in fact, a very ordinary Pye Mk 3 with a 'high definition' label stuck on the side! 

The actual HD studio Pesticon cameras had disconnected turret motors, replaced with a large wheel around the turret rim, enabling the turret to be turned by hand.  This adaption would have looked a bit Heath Robinson if presented by Laurence as the 'latest' camera technology.

The lens turret was originally motorised, which proved slower than the manual lens change of other TV cameras and apparently gave occasional problems when the noise it made was picked up by the boom.  Hence the rather ugly modification.

Stage A in use by HDF.  This still is from a promotional film made by HDF in 1954.  The image itself  is from an HDF camera.  Obviously, we can make no judgement of picture quality as it has been converted to and from various formats before arriving here.

The picture is a little indistinct but it does look to me as though the camera shown here does indeed have the manual lens turret wheel that Dicky Howett mentioned.

 

This photo was sent to me by Dicky Howett and clearly shows the 'steering wheel' manual lens changer on the front of the camera.  Very nice. 

One can certainly understand why HDF didn't want to use one of these cameras for their publicity shots.

 

The techniques for recording the image onto the film were also developed.  This 'telerecording' technique was in its infancy but Collins' company worked closely with Pye to produce the best possible final image using a Moy RP30 film camera filming a low gamma, high definition flat glass display monitor.  The field pulses were generated mechanically with a synchronous motor spinning an aluminium disc called 'The Whirling Spray' which had a small magnetic insert generating a pulse.  The line frequency was adjusted by a variable master oscillator, set by hand.  The film camera was firmly bolted onto a massive bench to prevent the slightest vibration.  It all sounds like primitive stuff but it was cutting edge technology for its day and most importantly - it worked!

The Moy RP30 camera that filmed the image on the high def monitor.

image thanks to Alan Pemberton

 

The apparatus room or 'racks' area.  Each camera was constantly adjusted by an operator and these were overseen by the senior engineer sitting behind.  He ensured that each camera matched the others.

The production control room.  Desmond Davis is seen here in the director's position.  The vision mixer is seated on his right, the PA on his left.  Behind them is the sound gallery - the sound supervisor watches the monitors through the window.

The monitor stack.  Rather different from today's HD monitors - but apparently just as sharp.

The vision mixer's panel.  Up to four cameras could be used.  The fader allowed mixes (dissolves) or wipes to be used.  Captions and rollers could also be superimposed.

All of these effects would be done optically in the lab if film were used so huge cost savings were possible.

 

High Definition Films was for the first few years little more than an experimental laboratory.  Perhaps surprisingly, despite the obvious success of the system it was never used for its original purpose - making cheap feature films.  Instead, by 1954 the company was going all out producing television plays and drama series.  Some were exported to the US but the main aim was to produce a valuable 'bank' of material for the new ITV companies that would begin broadcasting in a year or two.  The programmes were made far more efficiently than would have been possible using traditional film industry techniques but with picture quality much greater than telerecordings made by the BBC using 405-line television cameras. 

Experimental commercials were made too - and these were shown to MPs so they could see what ads on the proposed new ITV channels might look like.

The plays filmed here starred famous actors of the day such as George Couloris, David Tomlinson and Dora Bryan.  Bill Vinten was invited back to light an extract from Macbeth - directed by Orson Welles no less.

Unfortunately, most of the 30-minute dramas were not particularly well received in America.  Undaunted, the company pressed on with making series for the anticipated new ITV channel.  Perhaps surprisingly, these are said to have included early recordings of Double Your Money and Take Your Pick for Associated-Rediffusion.  These series later transferred to A-R's Wembley Studios as soon as they were up and running although Take Your Pick may also have briefly used the Hackney Empire.

 

It seems hard to believe but I have been reliably informed that on at least one occasion the BBC 'lent' a camera crew to Highbury to work on an HDF drama.  Whether the play was subsequently transmitted by the BBC is not currently known.  However, a crew headed by Colin Clews also contained cameraman Ron Francis.  Ron mentioned this to Jeremy Hoare, who was interviewing him and he was kind enough to write to me to let me know.

Another somewhat unlikely series 'filmed' here seems to be Noddy.  Certainly, this was shown regularly in the first months of ATV's transmission and Guy Caplin has written to me with some interesting info...

'Rex Firkin (producer and director Plane Makers and Power Game) told me that he worked on the Noddy series at Highbury for ATV on the High Definition system.  Two versions of 35 mm films were made - one with normal English voices and the other with just an M & E (music and effects) track.  This latter version, accompanied by an English script, was sold all around the world.  Incidentally, the cameramen hated the Pye HD cameras as the viewfinders showed the progressive 25 frame per second pictures which flickered and were really wearing on the eyes.'

I have lit many shows using HD cameras and almost all have been made using interlaced scan.  (That means that the pictures look like 'normal' TV).  I have however, also lit a few sitcoms with the cameras set to progressive scan (or PSF) - to make the end result resemble film.  The cameramen did find it much more difficult to hold focus on moving actors but somehow they coped!  However, modern viewfinders are LCD screens which don't flicker, unlike the CRT viewfinders they had at Highbury.  Working like that every day must indeed have become pretty tiring on the eyes.

 

 

This group of stills is taken from a promotional film made by HDF in 1954.  It shows a car arriving outside the building and someone entering the studios.  it gives us a tantalising glimpse of how the studios looked.  I'm told that dressing rooms were in the house on the left.  In its basement was a small room in which a GPO engineer would sit, checking that the live feed from the studios was OK leaving him.  The studio was behind the house on the right.  The passage between the two houses was used for cricket practice by the crew.

 

Back in 1955, Norman Collins had hoped to gain an ITV franchise in his own right.  His company - ABDC - did indeed win a franchise.  However, he could not secure the necessary finance so his company was forced to merge with the Grade/Littler ITC company to form the 'Associated Broadcasting Company'.  Nevertheless, this did mean that the new company already had a TV studio centre up and running - even though it was equipped with non-standard cameras and equipment.  As it turned out, ATV didn't use the studio to make any programmes until a year later in October 1956.  Highbury was busy making 'filmed' TV dramas produced by Harry Alan Towers and for the time being it made sense to let him complete his contract to supply this useful programming to the company.

 

Harry Alan Towers was the producer brought in by Norman Collins from 1954 to make the 30-minute dramas he would sell to the US and to the new ITV.   He ran a production company called 'Towers of London' and was based at Highbury from 1954-56. 

During their franchise application he had also been brought in by the ITC group to bolster up their film expertise.  He was therefore associated with both companies in the ATV merger.  Towers was commissioned by ATV to deliver 39 television playlets for them under the generic title Theatre Royal ('55 - '56), and longer 60 minute dramas for the Television Playhouse slot.  These were directed by Desmond Davis, who had been poached from the BBC.  Some HDF material even went out on the first night of ITV.  It was an excerpt from The Importance of Being Earnest, made at Highbury with Edith Evans giving her 'Lady Bracknell.'  All this material made by Towers was shot using the High Definition Films system. 

He also booked Marius Goring to play The Scarlet Pimpernel (1955-56) in new television adventures that were commissioned by A-R.  According to the BFI's website Towers is said to have virtually invented the British TV movie with a typical example being a 90 minute special, The Anatomist (tx. 6/2/56).  This drama had Alastair Sim recreating his stage performance as Dr. Knox in James Bridie's play about body snatchers Burke and Hare.

Harry Alan Towers

In 1956 Towers left Highbury when his contracts were concluded enabling ATV to move into the studios.  Richard Greenough recalls that he left rather suddenly around March.  Apparently there was some sort of controversy but Richard can't recall the details.  This did coincide with the period when the ITV companies were in severe financial difficulties and were closing some studios so it could simply be that ATV could not afford to keep Highbury operational for the time being.  It appears in any case that Towers didn't work again in this studio.  However, he did continue to make series for TV under his company's name 'Towers of London' in various film studios around London using traditional 35mm techniques.   An example is Tales From Dickens (1959), with Robert Morley playing Micawber  - whilst Towers also contracted Hollywood star Basil Rathbone to play Scrooge. 

Gerry Anderson worked for him as a director on a couple of episodes of Martin Kane - Private Investigator at ABPC Elstree in 1957, between making Twizzle and Torchy.

Harry Alan Towers died on 31st July 2009 and received an obituary in The Times.

 

 

It has proved quite difficult finding detailed information about the studios themselves.  One couple, Jean and Cliff Ainsworth, joined ATV in 1957 and have given me some information.  They recall one main studio (stage A) and a smaller one in the basement used for experimental and training purposes during the days of HDF.  Richard Greenough - head of design at ATV - also remembers a second smaller studio.  He has provided me with a plan for studio A which I reproduce below. 

Writing this history has constantly thrown up seemingly impossible contradictions that eventually solve themselves, although in some cases that has taken years.  Just when I thought I had the studio here nicely tied down, I discovered copies of the Kinematograph Year Book dated 1942,  1953 and 1954.  In them, Highbury studios is listed as having two stages - one at 113 x 60ft and the other at 60 x 30ft.  This does seem incompatible with the plan above - which I know is certainly the designer's plan for the main studio as used by ATV.  The difference in length could be explained by control rooms being built inside the stage at one end, thus reducing it by about 30 feet but the width is more problematic.  The firelanes are about 3 feet wide so that would make the wall-to-wall width 52ft 6ins.  Possibly, unlikely as it may seem, the old stage was demolished and replaced with this somewhat smaller one in 1954.  No, not very likely I agree.  The only other explanation is that Highbury Studios fibbed about the size of their main stage - 'rounding up' the feet in order to attract business and hoping that nobody would notice.  I can think of no other explanation - unless you can help!

 

Colin Russell has also contacted me - his father was an electrician at the studios and he recalls visiting as a small boy...

 

'I remember that Highbury studio was in a road of large 3 or 4 storey Victorian houses, and there'd be an ATV OB van in blue and yellow parked across the front of the studio building.  The house next door was part of it; it had a flight of wide steps and balustrades up to the front door, (probably the house shown in the images above) and inside a seemingly large hallway with hard linoleum floors, which echoed all the way up the open staircase.  I think the hallway must have been the reception area, with seats and a TV in the 'front room'.  Upstairs were offices and dressing rooms.

Between the two buildings was a gate access wide enough for a vehicle, and walking down the yard there was a scenery dock on each side I think.  The Electricians Workshop was halfway down on the right, down a flight of steps in a basement, somewhere under the studio floor.  At the back of the site was the canteen.

My father was a keen club cricketer, and he gained a reputation for impromptu net practice in the alleyway at Highbury during quiet moments; fielding was difficult if it went amongst the scenery.

Tucked away in a small room was the telephone exchange, which was staffed by lady telephone operators, except on Sundays which seemed to be quiet, the board would be cross-plugged and mostly everybody had the day off.  On Saturdays, or when the board was staffed, my dad would leave me in the care of the telephone staff.  I can remember one young lady showing me how it all worked, and I'd help her do the keys and plugs; I was about 8 years old, her name was Jean, and she was destined to marry my mother's brother and become my aunt.

Of course, sometimes it would be very busy, as everything was done live then, and the atmosphere was like theatre.  As well as Emergency-Ward 10 there were all sorts of programmes from plays to adverts, all going out live, which is why my dad worked funny hours; he'd only get home at night after 'Ward 10' was off-air and everybody had left.  The first time I ever looked at the dead stare of a TV camera was when I went to a transmission of a talent show called Carroll Levis' Discoveries, and I was in the small audience.  It was the forerunner of new talent shows.'

 

A picture from the 1956 TV Mirror Annual, probably therefore taken in 1955.  The caption reads Associated Broadcasting are pioneering a new technique called 'High Definition Films'.  The camera turning on Reg Dixon here is a television one.  A film is taken from the monitor screen, and when the HDF picture reaches your screens it is sharper and clearer. 

Note that it refers to 'Associated Broadcasting' so the book must have gone to print in the brief period before the company changed its name to ATV.  It doesn't say so but the photo must have been taken at Highbury.

 

 

Steve Bailey was a 16 year-old runner employed by ATV.  He worked mostly at Wood Green and Hackney but does recall one day he had here in late 1959 or early 1960...

 

'One Saturday morning I was requested to go to Highbury.  I had never been there before and I remember walking down the road thinking I must be in the wrong street, nothing looked like a TV studio. You can imagine my surprise (and relief) when I saw a large Victorian house with a blue and yellow ATV van parked outside.

My memory is not clear regarding Highbury.  I can remember being asked who I was, and producing my cardboard ATV ID card with my photo on.  I was very proud of that and I think it was the only time anyone wanted to see it.  I remember walking outside between buildings and seeing what looked like a small warehouse or extra large shed in what I presumed was the back garden. The large doors were open and I could see cameras, Pye Mk 3s.  I walked in to find the Floor Manager.

There were sets all along one wall and across the bottom of the studio, with lights and cameras and microphone booms, the whole place looked very crowded.  The production was a play. 

One of my jobs on the show was to lead the actors between sets without tripping up on the cables etc.  The show was being done live to tape (this is an interesting snippet of info!) so unless there was a major tragedy we didn't stop until it was finished.  I also had to do a sound effect in the middle of the studio.  I sat on the floor with a board on which was mounted a large door knocker, and on cue from the Floor Manager I had to do two loud knocks, twice. You can imagine my pride sitting at home with my parents when the play was transmitted waiting for my sound effect.

I mentioned earlier that I had to lead the actors between sets and that there were lights standing on the floor.  This is the only time that I have seen this in a TV studio and wonder if it was because there was no lighting mounted from the roof, I don't remember seeing any, but as I said my memory of Highbury is not clear, which is a shame as it seems to be the one studio that more information is required.'

 

 

To recap - it seems likely that ATV took over ownership of the studios in 1955.  However, they did not make their first programme there until 13th October 1956.  It was an edition of the magazine programme Home With Joy Shelton.  (Thanks to Richard Greenough for this information.  He was head of design at ATV and drew up the daily schedules.)  Thus, in the meantime Harry Alan Towers continued to fulfil his contract to make dramas using the HDF cameras.  However, Towers probably left Highbury around March when his contract was completed.  It is likely that the studio was closed for the next few months as a cost-saving exercise.  ATV were in deep financial straits, as were the other ITV companies, and were looking to save money.

However, fortunes looked up and within a few months the studio was brought back into service using conventional 405-line cameras, at first controlled by an OB scanner parked at the front of building, later the old HDF galleries were fitted out.

 

It is probable that HDF had ceased operating as a company in 1955 when ATV became owners of the studios.  Most of the staff are said to have had their contracts bought and they dispersed within the industry.  Some possibly stayed on to work for ATV.  Pye took over the small studio B for a short while as a demonstration unit for their equipment.  What remained of the HDF Development Group moved into a back room in a Pye radio factory in Tottenham, possibly taking some of the old HDF equipment with them.  However, at Tottenham they used new Pye Mk3 cameras which they blimped with a sound reducing hood to reduce the turret motor noise.  These cameras were capable of operating at 405, 625 or 819 lines.  It seems they also painted these cameras army green for some reason.  (One of them still exists and is owned by Paul Marshall.)  An American entrepreneur had apparently convinced Norman Collins that there was still a market for films made using the HDF system.  Thus the new studio was set up but the project collapsed.  It is unlikely that any programmes or 'films' were ever made at Tottenham.

Andrew McKean has written with an interesting postscript regarding what happened to the HDF cameras and equipment...

 

'By 1962 the Pye factory at Tottenham had ceased all production and it was used by Pye TVT as a base for storing and repairing a number of Mk3 Image Orthicon cameras and an RCA 3 x Image Orthicon Colour Camera and associated equipment. This was hired out with crew to various organisations including Granville Television.  There were about five Australians working there, all from Television Stations in Australia, mainly GTV9 and HSV7.  (See the Granville Theatre section earlier on this web page.)

I remember a large area in the Tottenham factory where the HDF equipment was stored.  I often walked through this area and was amazed at the equipment as I had never seen anything like it before. It was all very solidly built and well designed.  It seemed such a waste of money and effort for it to end up in a disused factory.

I assume that the Pye Mk3 Image Orthicon cameras that we used in 1962/63 were originally part of the HDF inventory.'

 

 

It seems probable that the scanner continued to be used at the front of the building for some time.  However, Euan Downing has contacted me.  He worked at Highbury as an engineer from 1960 and says that when he joined, the galleries in the studio were in use - not an OB truck.  He recalls that one CCU operator racked camera 1, a second racked cameras 2 and 3 and a senior engineer kept an eye on both to ensure picture matching.  (Euan recalls an occasion where a cameraman came into the control room after a transmission intending to punch the operator - he claimed he'd deliberately opened up the camera's iris on shot, causing him to lose focus.  I suggest that possibly he didn't understand that the shot would otherwise have been underexposed!) 

Euan also remembers that there was a film camera based at the studios, used for inserts into dramas.  The film equipment was kept separate from the TV area.  He was part of the team that removed all the ATV kit when the studio closed and he confirms that the cameras were Pye Mk 3s.

One cameraman has told me that he recalls operating Marconis at Highbury but I can only conclude that after all these years he must be confusing this studio with one of ATV's other ones at Wood Green and Hackney, which did indeed have Marconis.  Unlike the Pyes, those cameras could be switched to 525 lines, enabling programmes to be recorded for the US market - something Lew Grade was very keen to do.

All kinds of programmes were made here with quick turn-rounds from one to the next.  Most went out live with some recorded 'as live' from about 1960.  I am told that these included live adverts.  It seems that an advertising magazine programme was a regular booking at Highbury each Saturday.  It was called Home With Joy Shelton.  Paul Faraday has sent me some memories of it...

 

'Home With Joy Shelton' starred Joy Shelton, wife of Sidney Taffler, and her Dog (a Dachshund), was used in the titles. I was very young then and one of my duties, apart from looking after the products and packshots was to take that b****y dog for a walk!  It was like Miss Shelton's (that is how I had to address her) little Baby.  Harry Alan Towers was spoken about a lot though, so either he was still around or had not long gone.'

 

 

Early in 1958 Highbury became the home of the most successful hospital soap for many years to come - Emergency-Ward 10.  The series had begun its life at the Wood Green Empire in 1957.  The show was broadcast live from the studios each Tuesday and Friday at first.  Later, it went out live on Tuesday night and was recorded 'as live' on Wednesday.  That released the studio to make other dramas for the rest of the week.  (I'm told that cocoa was often used for blood as it showed up well in black and white.)  Incidentally, when recording the dramas 'as live' the crew were given an actual break when the commercials would be on so they could, well, take a comfort break.  When Highbury closed on 30th September 1961 with an edition of the popular soap, the programme moved to Elstree.

Emergency-Ward 10.  Click on the image for a larger version.

This photo was lent to me by a cameraman, Sam Morrison, whose father worked for ATV in the early days.  He had assumed that it was taken at Elstree but I'm certain that this is Highbury.  Compare it with the photo of the same programme in Elstree A shown later in this article.  There are no lighting monopoles here - every lamp is mounted on a scaff bar or on the set.  A couple of people who worked there also believe this picture to be of Highbury and an ATV film made in 1958 shows the studio looking just like this.

Until I found a plan of the studio, this photo was the only clue as to the studio's size.  The wall markings are just about visible on the far side at 46 ft max (at least, my teenage son managed to decipher them) and I guessed the depth as being about 70 feet.  I'm therefore rather smugly pleased that the size turned out to be 76ft x 46ft 6" within firelanes.

 

Desmond Carrington - the big heart-throb star of Emergency-Ward 10.

This photo, when I first saw it, proved to be a bit of a puzzle.  It appeared in the ATV Television Show Book published in 1961.  What was he doing in front of a Marconi Mk III camera when almost all the available evidence indicates that Highbury was equipped with Pye Mk 3s?

(I'm told that the ATV engineers thought this was hilarious) - he was apparently taken to the nearest ATV studio, either Wood Green or Hackney, for the publicity photo shoot.  The half-timbered rustic flat in the background is a bit of a clue - not exactly normal hospital décor.

Incidentally, if you're thinking that those letters on the side of the camera look oddly familiar - yes, they really were car numberplate letters.

 

 

Jeremy Hoare recalls his time working on E-W 10...

 

'I worked on 'Emergency-Ward 10' at Highbury as a very junior tracker.  My main memory is when two of the three cameras went down on the live transmission, so the remaining one was faded to black, rushed to the next set, faded up and so the show went on.  It was no doubt considered odd or avant-garde by the public, if they noticed of course!  My other memory is of the lead actress, Jill Browne, who drove an Austin Metropolitan in aqua green and white - wow, was she trendy, sexy and way out of my league!'

 

 

A schedule copied from an Emergency-Ward 10 script.

 

A small postscript...in 2001 George Lucas claimed he was breaking new ground by shooting his feature film - Attack of the Clones - using a high definition video camera.  Well, in some ways of course he was - but fifty years earlier at Highbury they had been attempting to do almost the same thing.

It's been pointed out to me by Mitch Mitchell that George wasn't even the first in recent times.  A handful of films were made in the nineties using the Sony hiVision 1125-line analogue HD system.  One striking example was Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, made in 1991.

I am particularly grateful to Dicky Howett for much of the above information on High Definition Films.

 

 

In 1961 Highbury Studios were demolished to make way for a block of flats - 'Athenaeum Court'.  ATV withdrew from these studios and the theatre in Hackney to concentrate their production at the National Film Studios in Borehamwood.  ATV had purchased the studios in May 1958 but from late in 1960 the four stages were one by one brought into use as superbly equipped television studios - with the cameras and other electronics supplied by business partner Pye.  These studios are now known as BBC Elstree Centre.

 

 

 

The early film years...

The studios had their origins over 100 years ago - in 1914 in fact, when three enterprising potential moviemakers looked for a site near London with a good train service that was free of fog.  An area near Elstree village called Boreham Wood seemed ideal so the studios of Neptune Films were built.  They were said to be the finest in England and the one stage was over 70 ft in length.  It was described as the first 'dark' stage in Europe since, unusually for the time, it had no glazed roof but relied upon electricity for illumination.  This enabled film making to take place every day all year round.  British cinema went into decline during  the First World War (as so many technicians and actors had been killed) and production ceased in 1917, when the site was sold to the Ideal Film Company.

Ideal Films used the premises until 1924.  Ludwig Blattner, inventor of an early sound recording system, took them over in 1928.  Ironically, his studios were the last in Elstree to be converted to sound so they lost a lot of work.  In 1934 the studios were leased by Joe Rock, an American producer, the same year as Blattner committed suicide.  Two years later he bought the studios outright and constructed the main stages that are still in use today as studios C and D.  This major investment ensured the future use of the studios for decades to come.  However, in 1939 the Rock studios were taken over by British National Films.  Their timing was poor as almost immediately the government took over the stages for war duties.  Then British National continued to make films here until 1948 when the studios went dark for five years.  American film actor and producer Douglas Fairbanks Jnr bought them in 1953.

 

The Kinematograph Year Book for 1952 has some interesting information.  It states that the studios had the following:  no stage A; B was 61 x 36ft; C and D were each 112 x 80ft and stage E was 168 x 80ft.  So this suggests that the block that is now studios A and B was once one long stage (E) - which looking at the photo below does make sense. It was almost certainly built some time after stages C and D.   Stage A was probably an old one that had been demolished to make way for newer developments and the old stage B must have been lost in the ATV rebuild.  C and D were more or less as they are now.  The same Year Book for 1942 states that there were 4 stages but doesn't give sizes.  My assumption therefore is that stage E (the present studios A and B) was built between 1942 and 1952, so was built by British National Films, probably just after the war.

 

Fairbanks renamed the studios the National Studios and used the stages to make filmed TV programmes for the American company NBC.  His initial contract was for 39 half hour films as well as many commercials.  He made 155 TV dramas in total - Christopher Lee appeared in 13 of them.  From 1955 Associated-Rediffusion ran a series called Douglas Fairbanks Presents.  It is likely that this made use of the half hour dramas that had been originally made here for the US.  Curiously, in Australia the series was renamed Chesebrough Ponds Playhouse.  Make of that what you will.  Fairbanks ran the studios for about five years before ATV took over.

One of the oldest buildings on site is the two-storey block with the green-tiled roof near to studio D containing dressing rooms and offices.  It probably dates back to the 1930s.  Much later when the BBC took over they named the building 'Fairbanks'.  The man himself visited the site during the 1980s to see what had become of his old studios.

The photo above was taken in 1959 and shows the site as film studios.  Stages C and D are the large buildings in the centre.  Stage E is behind them - this would later become TV studios A and B.  The drawing below shows the site after ATV carried out its major redevelopment a couple of years later.  It is interesting to compare the two.  For example, Stages C and D above are separated but below they are joined by a new link containing control rooms, dimmer rooms and other TV facilities.  Apart from the four studios and the adjoining offices/dressing rooms all the rest of the buildings are new.

 

The arrival of television...

ATV acquired the studios in May 1958.  It seems likely that they originally intended to keep them as film studios - using them to make TV dramas on 35mm.  One of the first series they made was the popular Adventures of William Tell.  It employed many of the features and techniques seen in The Adventures of Robin Hood - purchased by ITC and shown on ATV but not actually made by them.   (That series was made by Sapphire Films at Walton Studios.  Those studios are covered elsewhere on this website.)  Another series was HG Wells' Invisible Man - very much aimed at the US market but also shown of course by ATV.  Individual filmed dramas included The Strange World of Planet X ('58) and Behemoth the Sea Monster ('59).  Although made in these studios after ATV took over, these two were probably intended for theatrical release with their production companies hiring studio space from ATV.

ATV continued to use Highbury, Wood Green and Hackney for TV but realised that they needed a new, properly planned TV studio centre.   Seven and a half acres of  land was purchased in Kennington on the South Bank near the Oval cricket ground - once part of the 17th-19th century Vauxhall gardens - and plans were drawn up.   However, by 1960 they realised that it would take too long for those plans to be realised so they decided to convert their Elstree film stages into TV studios.  Thus they began the enormous task of converting them with telescope (actually 'harp') grids similar to those at Teddington, and control room suites with plush overlooking viewing rooms suitable for all the US TV executives that would be invited to watch programmes being made.  Perhaps inspired by the success of Fairbanks, Grade knew from the beginning that he wanted to make shows that he could export as well as sell to the ITV network.  Many new buildings were constructed to support TV production.  In fact, it was only the stages and existing buildings adjacent to them containing production offices, make-up, wardrobe and dressing rooms that survived from the original film studios.

 

As it turned out, the various filmed dramas made by ITC for ATV were made down the road partly at MGM British Studios but mostly at ABPC Elstree Studios.  This television work over many years arguably kept the latter studios afloat.

 

One can't help wondering whether the ABPC/EMI Elstree film studios would have survived if ATV had stuck to their original plan and built their Vauxhall centre.  ITC's filmed dramas would, as originally intended, have been made at ATV's Elstree studios.  In fact, for many years several of  the ABPC film stages were filled with sets for The Saint, Randall and Hopkirk, The Champions and other popular drama series thus providing an invaluable source of regular work.

When ATV were forced to become Central TV, leave London and move to Nottingham, the old National Film Studios would hardly have been appealing to the BBC without TV equipment so they wouldn't have bought them in 1984.  Thus there would have been no EastEnders - arguably the one series that has kept BBC1 viable in audience figure terms for the past 30 odd years.  Without the huge audiences that EastEnders brings in - could the TV licence still be justified and would the BBC still exist now as a major TV broadcaster???

Whew!  Lew Grade and the ATV board certainly had no idea of the future ramifications when they decided to convert their Elstree film studios into TV studios.

 

Enough 'what ifs' - on with what actually happened...

 

Above is a plan of the original layout of C's gallery suite.  Studio D's was identical.  At some point during ATV's time at Elstree this was altered slightly.  The lighting control was moved into the vision control room - although it was partitioned off by a hardboard wall so that the operator did not actually have to sit alongside the racks engineers.  A corridor was formed running from the top of the studio stairs to the production control room reducing the size of the former lighting control area.

Studio D had sliding doors installed betwen the lighting/vision control room and small corridor.  Sliding doors that trap unwary fingers as I can testify.

The BBC made some further alterations to C's gallery suite for Top of the Pops around the late '90s - the sound control and production control areas were knocked into one large room and became the lighting control room.  In 2014 this area became the News switching hub for elections and is now packed with computers on desks and a huge monitor stack.  Moving all this from Television Centre is said to have cost many millions of pounds.

Studio D's remained largely as ATV left it (albeit with widescreen digital and then flyaway HD kit) until the beginning of 2013.  Then, the lighting control room became a large PCR and the old PCR became a very cramped lighting control room.

 

An architect's model of the Elstree site, made to show how it would look when the work of converting the National Film Studios was completed.  On the right is Neptune House, the 'futuristic' office building.  In the centre are studios C and D and behind them the dark roof is that of studios A and B.  The block behind that with the glazed roof was the new scenery construction building and beyond that the new long low building contained workshops and ATV's OB garage.  (The right hand third of this block is now EastEnders stage 1.) This building is no less than 444 feet long.

The back lot is off the model at the top towards the left.  The low building foreground left contains the canteen and bar.  The whole site was designed to be as pleasant a place to work in as possible.  The grounds were extensively landscaped and planted with flowers and shrubs and the canteen block included a terrace to eat or just relax in fresh air when the weather was good.  ATV's management certainly appreciated how important it was to keep the crews happy.

It is a large and impressive site and was arguably the best equipped of all the ITV studio centres in its day.

Photo thanks to Ronald Wolstencroft.

 

ATV also constructed a large L-shaped office headquarters building on the site, which is still known as 'Neptune House' - named after the original film company.  Viewers of Holby City may be familiar with its appearance.  It was also used by Gerry Anderson in his 1969 series UFO where it represented the secret HQ of  'Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organization'.  Of course.  (UFO was filmed down the road at MGM British studios until they closed, then it moved to Pinewood.)

Staff began to move onto the site during 1960, although the studios would not be ready for use until the end of the year.

The work involved in converting the stages into television studios was considerable and it was not until late in 1960 that any of them was ready for business.  All four studios were equipped with Pye Mk V Image-Orthicon cameras.  These were said to give the best pictures around in their day.  Pete Simpkin tells me that they were also ground-breaking in that the OCPs (operational control panel) for each camera were grouped together enabling one operator to match iris and sit levels, using one monitor.  This is taken for granted nowadays but previously each camera had had a separate racks operator. 

The studios were also unusual in that it was theoretically possible to have three studios operating on different line systems at the same time (405, 525 and 625).  Local generators were also capable of supplying mains power at the US standard of 60 Hz, enabling programmes to be made in NTSC for America.  However, I'm told that when shows were being recorded onto the early generation of VTRs, they had genlocking problems if different standards were in use at the same time so this was avoided whenever possible.

 

The cost of converting the studios was £4m.  This was a huge amount of money in those days but of course by 1960 ATV could well afford it.

The first show to come out of the studios - from D - was a drama called The Man Condemned - which was made on 29th November 1960.  Studio C opened a few weeks later on 3rd January 1961 with a play called The Jason Group

One of the first big LE series at Elstree was a six-part spectacular starring Cliff Richard and the Shadows.  At that time, audience seating was moved in and out of the studios when required but took up much of the useful floor space.  It was not until a few years later that an 'auditorium' would be built behind one of the long walls on studio D. 

Studio A opened on 3rd October 1961 with Call Oxbridge 2000 - an Emergency-Ward 10 spin-off.    E-W 10 itself was in the studio on 6th October, having made the move from Highbury.

Studio B was ready for business a few weeks later on 24th November 1961 and opened with The Warning Voice - a drama I assume.  The studios were soon all busy producing top quality entertainment and drama.  The first of many US co-productions was The Jo Stafford Show, made in 1961.

 

A detail from a sign attached to the door between the grid and the lighting store in studio B.  Note the date.  I wonder if its painter suspected that it would still be there more than 50 years later.  In case you were wondering, it instructs anyone who cares to read it that the door must always be left closed.  When I took this photo in April 2012 it was of course open.

 

Incidentally - there is a very interesting video that was made by ATV/Central just before they left Elstree, which details their history there and includes many clips from shows.  It would appear that quite a few dates on the video are incorrect.  Maybe their research wasn't quite as good as it might have been.  Anyway - Richard Greenough, who organised the studio schedules, has confirmed the above dates and first programmes.  I met him a couple of years before he passed away and he still possessed all the studio schedules for every ATV studio from their first day of transmission in September 1955 to the last day at Elstree on 29th July 1983, when Family Fortunes was made in studio D.  Thus, studio D was ATV's first and last at Elstree.

 

This document dating from some time in 1961 gives clear evidence of  the dates of the opening of the studios. 

The boast that it had the biggest studio floor area was quite right.  By the end of 1961 BBC TV Centre had only four studios open, with a total floor area of 23,000 sq ft.  Even Wembley with its new huge studio 5 had less total floor space with about 25,000 sq ft.

 

ATV's regional programmes came from their Birmingham studios - including, of course, Crossroads.  Elstree, meanwhile, produced a range of drama, comedy and light entertainment for the network - typical examples being The Braden Beat ('62), Hancock ('62), Love Story ('63), Sergeant Cork ('63), The Larkins ('63), The Plane Makers ('63), Morcambe and Wise ('63), Mainly Millicent ('64) and in 1964 the Arthur Haynes Show moved to Elstree from its previous homes at Hackney and Wood Green. 

Popular dramas included The Power Game ('65), Mrs Thursday ('66), Fraud Squad ('69), Camille ('67), Timeslip ('70), Edward VII ('73), Father Brown ('74), The Cedar Tree ('75), Sapphire and Steel ('79-'82) and Shine on Harvey Moon ('81).   One-off major dramas included Hamlet ('70) starring Richard Chamberlain, A Long Day's Journey into Night ('72) starring Laurence Olivier and Antony and Cleopatra ('73).  All of the above were of course shot on multi-camera video.

Comedy included George and the Dragon ('66-'68), Young at Heart ('80-'82) and music shows included Singalongamax ('73 onwards) and specials and series with Des o'Connor ('71) and Val Doonican ('71).  The children's series Inigo Pipkin and Pipkins ran from 1972-1981.

Popular gameshows made at Elstree included The Golden Shot ('67-'75), Celebrity Squares (from '75) and Family Fortunes (from '80).

 

The 'glory days' of ATV at Elstree were full of happy memories for the staff that worked there during the '60s and '70s.  The following sums up the period perfectly, and was kindly sent to me by Colin Russell:

 

'Every year, Lew Grade and his wife Kathy would visit the studios before Christmas, and tour the site giving their Christmas greetings personally.  Everyone would be greeted, and invariably first names remembered. 

They were greatly admired by all the staff and this personal touch gives a hint of Lew's genius and humanity, and why ATV did so well.

A Christmas Party was laid on for the children of staff, and all the resources of the studios would be used.  Putting on a decent show in the studio was easy, with the co-operation of the management and an army of volunteer staff. 

Santa would make a grand entrance into the studio on a silent self-powered sleigh, a testament to the skills of the construction shop and lighting electricians in adapting one of the Lansing-Bagnall tow-trucks normally used by Scenery and Props.  New popular themes would emerge and 'Supercar' made a spectacular appearance one year.

During the 70's, the annual Christmas 'Chippies Party' grew to legendary status among the usual round of Christmas office parties, and is fondly remembered.  It's worthy of a mention because I doubt that its like exists today in any industry, in these politically correct cost-conscious times.  It seemed to grow in scale year by year and was all the more remarkable because it was only funded by a whip round, and all the facilities were provided free by volunteers, with the tacit approval of management. 

The Construction Shop was located on the 3rd floor of the building west of Studios A & B, easily identified by a spiral staircase at each end, and which has a glass roof running the entire length.  The ground floor was the Property Store and the 2nd floor was the stock Scenery Store.  Three large lifts provided access to the covered way facing Studio B. 

The Construction Shop held their own 'office party' in a free space on the construction shop floor, which after the departure of the OB department to B'ham in 1968 included both the OB garages. 

There was a heavy workload in those days (a local contractor would visit up to three times a day in a 3 ton truck to collect scrap scenery) and by December there was a lot of steam to be let off.  Office parties were meant to be a lunchtime drink, and so it was, the construction staff would make the most of it, with a buffet and drinks.  But year upon year it got bigger and better, fuelled by the successful atmosphere at ATV Elstree then, as much as the collective resources available, and which no other department confined to an office could match, no matter their status. 

A set would be constructed of ballroom proportions from stock scenery and props, with a stage at one end with working tabs, and the longest bar available at the back, fully equipped and dressed by the Props and Drapes boys, and lit by the Sparks. We were used to making the most lavish costume dramas and light entertainment shows, and we had the pick of the stock sets. 

Whatever the chosen decor, cowboy western-style swing doors were traditionally used for ease of access every year. 

The Sound Department would provide the mics, p.a. and background music, and the catering department provided the food.

The official lunchtime party was restricted by invitation only, when a show would be put on by a group of carpenters, painters, and labourers.  The degree of creative talent was surprising, providing a decent pool of musicians for the band and singers, and comedy actors for the turns.  One of my favourite memories is of a painter, a labourer, and a prop-maker, on stage dressed in only loincloths, boots, and fez, doing a very funny version of The Sand Dance.

After the show, about 1.30pm, the set was opened to visitors from other departments, when the prop-maker would revert to his weekend profession of disco DJ, and the numbers would swell with guests from other departments. 

By mid-afternoon the place would be heaving, word having spread around the site.

No meaningful work would be done anywhere, and if a studio was in production there'd be a string of visits by the crews and actors to the party, as and when they could slip away.  Year after year, the reputation of the Construction Party grew such that everybody found his or her way there, senior management and actors included.  It has to be said that A Lot of alcohol was consumed, and many interesting relationships could be observed.  Normal social barriers evaporated in the festive spirit, and the most unlikely dance partners would let their hair down, it being the 70's, everyone had long hair - except the skinheads!

The whole spectrum of TV life was there, from management to cleaners, producers to actors, and all the crews and office staff in between, dancing like Cinderella in Ibiza for just one night a year.

Famously, there was once almost an ugly scene when the security department was tasked with stopping the party at 6pm.  It was still in full swing, 'Jumping Jack Flash' was playing for the umpteenth time by popular request, and there was still enough fuel in the kegs to go all night.  Trying to stop the party proved to be a slow process, few were in the mood to go home, and extra time was negotiated and played.

In hindsight, I think the success of the annual Construction Party was a reflection of the wonderful atmosphere in ITV in those days, we all had secure jobs with decent pensions and conditions of work, and staff turnover was very low.    We loved what we did; we worked hard all year, and played hard.

It was truly the Golden Age of Television for the workers.

Colin Russell

 

The site has two large and two medium studios (A-D).  In later years the BBC added one studio converted from workshop space for EastEnders (Stage 1), one regional news studio (G - built for Newsroom South-East which ran from 1989-2001), a small training studio (E) converted from the original band room for studio D, the top floor of Neptune House currently used to film Holby City, and on the back lot they built 'Albert Square' and its surrounding streets.  Until the show moved north, Grange Hill was also based here, and its playground and some school buildings occupied part of the car park alongside Neptune House.  For many years this show had a regular booking for six months of the year in studio B.

 

 

Studio A made its first programme on 3rd October 1961.  It is 66 x 62 metric feet within firelanes - with a corner lost for the gallery suite and technical equipment store beneath.  The opposite corner also loses a few square feet as a doorway protrudes into the floor area.  From 6th October 1961 the twice-weekly drama series Emergency-Ward 10 continued a 10-year run in this studio that had begun in 1957 at the Wood Green Empire, then at Highbury Studios.  When it was axed the viewers made it clear that they missed it, so from 1972-1979 the soap General Hospital was made in A and B.  (Clearly, Holby City is continuing a fine tradition of medical drama on this site.)  During the black and white years ATV used the studio for various entertainment programmes including the David Nixon Show (now there's a name to conjure with) and the Dave Allen Show - live on a Friday night.  The children's show Inigo Pipkin, which after the first series became Pipkins occupied studios A or B from 1972 - 1981.  An astonishing 313 episodes were made!

This studio was never colourised so from around 1970 its galleries were no longer used.  However, programmes continued to be made on A's floor at first using a colour OB scanner and later using B's galleries, which were converted to colour in 1972.

Nevertheless, the studio had briefly seen a colour camera a few years before then - as Jeremy Hoare recounts...

 

'Summer 1966 - England won the World Cup against Germany in 1966 in a never to be forgotten Wembley Final, broadcast by the BBC in B&W as the debate was still going on about line and colour standards.  The very next day the entire England squad attended a live broadcast luncheon, which was set up in Studio D at ATV Elstree.  I had the job in Studio A of getting the first Philips PC60 literally out of its box, mounting it on a tripod set onto a rostrum so the lens height was around eight feet, then operating it so that the players who had been so victorious the day before could see themselves in colour.  It was a great moment for me but the heroes of English soccer didn’t seem impressed.  I didn’t get lunch either.  But at least I get to did operate ATV's own first ever colour camera!'

 

 

Emergency-Ward 10 in studio A.  The lighting rig looks quite different from the photo of the same show seen above in the Highbury Studios section.

Note that the sets are arranged so that the cameras can move easily from one to the next - often with a simple pan.  This was essential in the days of live drama.  Even when VTR machines were introduced in the early 1960s, dramas such as this were recorded 'as live' in one hit.  Re-takes were only ever done in the case of a complete disaster. 

In that case, the recording would be stopped and the tape wound back a little.  It would then be played back to a rehearsed point where recording would resume on a cut.  This technique was often known as 'roll back and cut.'  (The system on the VT machine itself was referred to by Ampex as 'editec').  Of course, you couldn't do this too often or each time you would eat back into the previous recording and then have to re-take that shot too!

A similar technique was occasionally used (although not on simple dramas like this one) called 'roll back and mix' which enabled a dissolve to be used when an effect like a passage of time was called for.

The necessity to record the drama in real time occasionally caught actors waiting for their cue before they began the scene.  The ATV soap Crossroads became notorious for this and Victoria Wood's comedy Acorn Antiques is a fond homage to this period of 'as live' drama.

 

Cliff Hughes recalls that during the '70s and into the '80s it was quite common to do a sitcom in B on a Saturday and then another in A on the Sunday, using the same cameras and of course controlled by B's galleries.

An interesting aside.  ATV briefly considered bidding for the proposed ITV breakfast franchise.  It was to be called Sunrise and studio A would have been its home.  The bid was probably abandoned before any serious work was done on it.

 

As has often happened during the research for this history I have conflicting information about what happened to the studio in the months before ATV left.  I have been informed by an ATV staffer that towards the end of ATV's time here the studio was used as a rehearsal room and for storage.  Certainly, my correspondent is sure he accidentally barged in on a rehearsal to his considerable embarrassment.  However - this may simply have been on a day when a programme wasn't scheduled and the studio was being used for a rehearsal.  Oddly, some evidence seems to suggest that before ATV/Central left Elstree the lino TV flooring was removed as according to a BBC engineering document ('Eng Inf' spring 1984) written shortly after they moved in....

'It has not been used for production for a few years and is unequipped.  It has a wooden floor which makes it unattractive for television use, though it should become a useful BBC film stage.' 

However, according to Richard Greenough, the head of ATV design (who kept copies of the studio schedules), the studio was fully utilised right up to the end and the last programme to be made in A was Blockbusters on 17th May 1983 - only two months before ATV/Central moved out.  Certainly the galleries hadn't been used for many years but what's all this BBC stuff about a wooden floor???

 

Whatever the state of the floor, one of the first uses by the new owners was to hire the studio out as a film stage to the Children's Film Foundation early in 1984.  Later, the studio became the home of a huge model of a city for the sc-fi series The Tripods. ' The City' was and probably remains the largest single model ever built by the BBC, at about 1,200 square feet.  It took an extraordinary 18 months to construct and was largely the work of Simon Tayler, of the BBC special effects department.  During the next few years studio A used facilities provided by OB units or simply to shoot single-camera drama or comedy.  In 1987 Jim Henson returned to Elstree (more on him later) to make The Tale of the Bunny Picnic - a Muppet-based one-off special for children.  This was shot single camera and occupied studios A and B for several months.

 

In 1989 studio A was completely refurbished by the BBC with a new grid and monopoles (the first in any BBC studio as all their others have motorised lighting bars.)  The gallery suite was brought up to the standard of the day including a GVG 200 vision mixer and new dimmers were installed.  The old mechanical dimmers were not removed however and still remain (disconnected) upstairs in the huge dimmer room in their wire cage, the replacement thyristor racks sitting nearby.  The control room still had ATV's old Strand System C lighting console in it, which was carefully removed and - because nobody knew what else to do with it - placed inside the dimmer cage, where it remains to this day.  The dimmer room shared by A and B is now a small museum of television dimmers!  At one end is the huge cage containing several hundred motorised resistor dimmers installed in 1961, next to them are A's thyristor dimmer racks which were state of the art in 1989 and at the other end of the room is a small cabinet containing the digital dimmers for studio B - each one the size of a cigarette pack - which were installed in 2003.  Well, I find it interesting anyway - sad old git that I am.

The old Strand servo-operated resistor dimmers in their cage - and the System C console that controlled them.  This photo was taken in April 2012 so since they have lasted this long - please God, nobody do anything stupid in the future like chucking them all in a skip!

 

A Strand type 'C' lighting control in situ  This photo shows the one in studio C or D but originally all four studios at Elstree were equipped with these.

 

Studio B's System C was replaced with a Thorn Q-File during the 1970s, as were studios C and D but ATV never updated the studio A galleries.  The Q-File in B was removed when the BBC took over.  The room it once occupied became the home of the lighting desk again during the Grange Hill days.  I remember spending a few days in the late '80s working on the show as a console op - surrounded by bare dusty floorboards and the marks on the floor where the old ATV equipment had once stood.

An old wooden desk was found in a deserted office somewhere and the small lighting console placed on it.  A couple of OB colour monitors were perched incongruously in the old ATV monitor rack.  This would be the state of the art lighting control for Grange Hill for 13 years.  When the show went single camera the lighting console moved downstairs into the studio so the DoP (me for the first series of this new style of shooting this show) could keep close to the action.

Grange Hill is now long gone and the lighting for EastEnders is controlled from A's control room.  The wooden desk remains, plus the Larsen cartoons stuck on the wall by Weazel during one of his bored moments one day in the 1980s.  If you knew Weazel you will know that it could have been a lot worse than cartoons!

 

 

Following A's refurbishment, the BBC's intention was then to carry out similar work on the other three studios.  However, the new regime of austerity under DG Michael Checkland (popular nickname amongst staff - 'Michael Chequebook') and his successor John Birt brought an end to all major capital spending, so studios C and D were given the bare minimum to make them useable.  In fact, B has never had its galleries equipped by the BBC and those rooms still sit there in dust much as ATV left them.  Because since the BBC refurbished it A has had the best equipped gallery suite, it has often been used to remotely control programmes being made in the other three studios.

A was used as a proving ground for a couple of new technologies when it was refurbished.  The first was to use existing TV36 camera cables as a BBC-designed enhanced triax.  This proved very problematic and did not last long.

Secondly, the cameras that were initially installed in A were Link 130s along with some NEC lightweight cameras.  The Links were highly sophisticated for their day with automatic line-up processors.  Unfortunately they proved to be very unreliable.  They had been around for a few years in development and the idea was to use studio A as a test bed to try to make them work.  However, they were soon rejected - the software in the 130s was simply too complex for the technology available at that time.  Sadly, this unreliability caused the downfall of the company and the UK lost its sole remaining TV camera manufacturer.  The Schneider lenses were kept - and a camera was sought that they would fit.  This turned out to be the French Thomson TTV-1530 - one of the last tubed cameras.  These were modified by the BBC (surprise surprise) and this variant supplied to the Beeb was known as the 1531.  Around 1994 these were updated with Thomson TTV-1542 CCDs and 1647 lightweight cameras.  The studio went widescreen in 1999 and was equipped with Philips/Thomson LDK 100s.

 

Despite the studio being one of the best equipped in the country (although rather an awkward size), I can find no record of any programmes being made in it from 1989 to 1998.  Of course, its galleries controlled a number of shows made in C and D but apart from Double Dare in 1992, Incredible Games in 1994 and a few occasions when EastEnders spilled into it... nothing.  Any clues anyone?

However, from 1999 the Kilroy programme began a three-year contract in this studio.  Thus TOTP, which had used A's gallery facilities for most of the nineties now had to use an old OB scanner parked in the car park as a control room.  Once Kilroy left, studio A became part of the EastEnders empire.

One other aspect unique to studio A - it was the first studio to be fitted by the BBC with a resin floor.  Previously, studios had floors consisting of lino mounted on asphalt.  However, it was thought that the cameramen might find the resin too hard to stand on all day so lino was laid on top!  To my knowledge, this is the only studio in the UK with both types of flooring.

 

 

Studio B is almost a mirror image of A but slightly longer at 70 x 62 metric feet within firelanes.  It opened on 24th November 1961.  ATV used it for a variety of small dramas and children's programmes.  Originally it was equipped with Pye Mk V image-orthicon cameras but from 1969 it was also used as a 4-waller using a colour OB scanner.  In 1972 it was fully colourised with four Philips PC60s.  As mentioned above, following colourisation the studio was used to make dramas such as General Hospital ('72-'79) and children's series such as Pipkins ('72-'81).  Late in the 1970s four EMI 2001s were transferred from studio D into this studio when D's cameras were replaced with LDK 25s.

Elstree B still going strong in 2012.  Those lighting telescopes are more than 50 years old!  A standing EastEnders set on the right and on the left the floor has been laid ready for a new one.  The doors between studios A and B can be seen open on the far wall.

 

Cliff Hughes has sent me an interesting snippet...

 

 

 

'Studio B was fully equipped in the late 70s and early 80s and in fact had a brand new Grass Valley mixer installed in I would guess late '79 early '80 in preparation for a live action series of "Dan Dare" which never actually materialised as is often  the case!  My memory of this is it was to be heavily a blue/green screen production and Ultimatte was also fitted.  I believe this might have been the first Ultimatte install in the UK. I remember the boys in Tech being very excited about it.'

 

 

B's last ATV/Central programme was I Thought You'd Gone - a sitcom starring Peter Jones - which was recorded on 18th May 1983.  Interesting that a studio this size should be used for a sitcom.  The audience must have been very small.  These days sitcoms are made in studios around 90 x 70 ft and usually have audiences of about 300 people.

Since ATV left it has never been fully equipped by the BBC but treated as a 4-waller.  It did, however, have dimmers installed in 2003 and is currently used as one of the EastEnders studios, controlled by the gallery suite for studio A.

 

B's gallery suite is unique in all London's TV studios.  They were built in 1962, converted to colour in 1972 but since the BBC never equipped them they sit there as they were left in 1983, gathering dust - no carpet on the floor, just the plywood flooring panels.  The production gallery, vision control, lighting control and apparatus rooms still have the original monitor racks dating back to the early 1970s and in the huge vision control room the control desk is sitting there in all its blue formica and polished veneer glory.  Sadly, all the monitors and equipment were removed long ago but one still gets a sense of how these old control rooms looked.  I visited in May 2006 and it was bizarre, walking from room to room in studio A's control suite which is very smart and well-equipped - then walking through a door into B's galleries and stepping back 30 years or more.  I have been back since, most recently in 2012 and it is all still there - although the dust is thicker and the ceiling seems to be about to collapse in one or two places.

The images below were photographed in 2006.  Click on them to see them in high resolution and for some further information...


B apparatus room


B lighting control


B production control


B producer's booths


B vision control


B vision control

Incidentally - the reason that the sound gallery is not illustrated above is that it has become a producer's room for EastEnders.

 

From 1985 studio B was occupied by the set for the Grange Hill school corridor along with its various classrooms, each room being re-dressed to become the art room/ history classroom/headmaster's study etc. as required.  Previously, the show had shot its interiors in a studio at Television Centre and I was occasionally on the camera crewWhen it moved to Elstree, Grange Hill was served by a three-camera OB unit supplied by BBC OBs.  Then in 1998 a new producer, Diana Kyle, was appointed and the show adopted a more contemporary technique - being shot on single-camera Digibeta.

I was involved in implementing this new shooting style and lit many of the episodes that year - including the one where a child fell from a window and died.  I remember how upsetting the scene was and how emotional the cast were.  The sequence involved a fire which we shot in a set built in the scenery construction building as using real fire in studio B was not practical.  Then we moved to the permanent set in the Elstree car park for the actual fall from the first floor window.  Tragically and truly bizarrely the actress who played her, Laura Sadler, suffered the same fate in real life just five years later when she fell from the balcony of her boyfriend's flat.  She had become a regular character on Holby City for three years playing nurse Sandy Harper before her death.

During this seventeen year period, part of the car park next to Neptune House had been turned into the school playground and a permanent two-storey set of a section of the school was built at the end of the 'playground'.  This had an entrance lobby, stairs, corridors and a small classroom at first floor level. with rooms off it.  Another permanent set of a cafe was also constructed at the end of the workshop building opposite the studio site main entrance.

The series moved from Elstree to Liverpool in 2002 when Phil Redmond's Mersey TV took over direct control of it, following that company's loss of BrooksideThe series finally ended in 2008 after 30 years.

 

The sliding doors between A and B.  The corridor that separates the two studios helps to preserve good sound insulation between them.

Studios A and B are medium sized but can be linked.  They have sliding doors about 10ft x 10ft that enable cameras to move between them.  I am told that ATV frequently used the doors for a number of shows when programmes spread across the two studios.  These were controlled from either gallery during the black and white years and from studio B after colourisation.   The pair of studios was used by the BBC in Feb '92 for the last series of Double Dare - the popular kids' gameshow.  The question and answer rounds were played in front of an audience in A whilst the games were played in B.  This saved huge amounts of time as the games could be set up and cleared away behind the closed doors, which then opened to let the cameras through.  This series was one of the first things I lit when I became an LD.

 

The first floor corridor behind the gallery suites to studios A and B is quite interesting.  It has been decorated in NHS blue as an area within a hospital - complete with signs to various medical departments - I had assumed that this was for Holby City but it seems that it was for an EastEnders storyline.  The space is surprisingly large and has a nurse's station and several chairs for waiting patients.  Hopefully eagle-eyed viewers did not notice the old ATV transmission lights above the doors.  The corridor on the ground floor is similarly decorated.

Other areas on site are similarly signed and decorated but these are definitely for Holby - the lift lobby in Neptune House for example.  Studio M and the corridors around it have also been Holbyfied and the old South East regional TV studio on the ground floor of Neptune House is now a hospital ward.  The rear of the exterior of the building at ground floor level is dressed as a hospital entrance complete with space for ambulances.  It is all very convincing!

 

 

Studio C is 102 x 68 metric ft within firelanes.  Again, one corner of the studio is taken up with the overhang from the gallery suite so about 475 sq ft is lost here.   

The first programme was made in C on 3rd January 1961.  During the days of ATV, C was the home of a number of big prestige dramas.  This was the period when more TV drama was made in studios than on location and Elstree made many of ITV's top plays with some of the great actors of the day including Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson.  Occasionally, it was used for audience shows with mobile seating if D was also in use for an LE show.  For example, during a Christmas special recorded for American TV in 1977, David Bowie and Bing Crosby were recorded here singing 'Drummer Boy' in the middle of a July heatwave with the scene doors open because the ventilation system couldn't cope!  In fact, this turned out to be one of Crosby's last ever performances.

I'm told that the record which is still often played around Christmas is the TV recording made in studio C.  Apparently, they did go into a recording studio to do it 'properly' but the performance or recording mix was not as good so the TV version is the one we have.  The ATV staff sound supervisor who mixed it naturally didn't make a penny out of it.

 

The studio was initially equipped with monochrome Pye Mk5 cameras.  Around 1969 the studio was colourised with EMI 2001 colour cameras.  These remained in service until ATV/Central left.  The last programme made by ATV/Central in C on 27th July 1983 was Getting On.

 

C was the first studio at Elstree to be used by the BBC when EastEnders started in February 1985.  Work began on the series in 1984.  The studio was equipped very much on the cheap with old kit from TV Centre that would otherwise have been chucked away.   Any old ATV equipment that was left behind was brought back into use and the missing bits were sought from spares at the Centre.  ATV's old EMIs were considered to be 'past it'.  (I have read they had been left deliberately damaged, along with other technical gear - as the BBC had only bought the building, not any equipment left behind.  Can you confirm this?)  Fortunately, TC4 at TV Centre had just received brand new Link 125s so its 13-year old EMI 2001s were trucked to Elstree.  Amazingly, the venerable EMI 2001's still produced great pictures right up to 1991.  Not bad for a camera designed in the mid-1960s.  By the time they were retired the five cameras in C had seen daily use for some twenty-one years.  In fact - their cool, slightly desaturated and relatively noisy pictures were perfect for the gritty look that EastEnders sought.

The redoubtable EMI 2001s on their last day in Elstree C, July 1991.  They were probably the last examples of this classic camera in regular use by a broadcast TV channel.  They are seen here parked in the technical storage area of the studio in the corner beneath the production gallery overhang.  With thanks to Dave Bowden.

 

The original plan was for the old ATV vision mixer (a Pro-West?) to be replaced with the BBC-designed EP5/512 from TC4.  However, the mother-board was found to be cracked so Ian Trill informs me that a GVG 100 was installed instead - the monitor switching used banks of the old ATV mixer.

In July 1991 EastEnders moved to the newly created 'Stage 1' and Top of the Pops took over residence in C.  The EMI 2001s were deemed unsuitable for TOTP so studio A's Thomson cameras were trundled across the roadway and used each week for most of the '90s.  The production and sound galleries were much better equipped in A so the show was remotely controlled from that studio.  The lighting gallery in C was used, however, and a Celco 90 took up residence alongside a Galaxy.  This was joined each week by the latest moving light console - controlling the ever-increasing number of automated fixtures used on the show.  The cameras were racked from A's vision control room which was a far from ideal situation (back to the old separate ATV arrangement!).

The lighting gallery was very cramped and since the production and sound galleries were unused it was decided in the late 1990s to knock them into one and create a new huge lighting and vision control room.  The camera controls were moved to this room and there was space for every type of lighting control desk you could imagine.  It became the largest and best appointed lighting gallery in the country.  Bizarrely, its walls were painted a pinky-purple - not exactly the neutral grey usually found in such areas - but then this was for Top of the Pops.

In 1999 the Kilroy programme moved into studio A which meant that TOTP could no longer make use of that studio's cameras or sound and production galleries.  An old OB scanner was parked permanently in the car park to become the show's production gallery and its rather long-in-the-tooth Sony cameras were used for the show.  Sadly, the cameras had to be racked from there too so the camera control position in the new control room became redundant after only a few months.   Sound could not use the scanner's control area of course so the gallery in studio D was brought up to spec.  This meant that D could never be used at the same time as C but with TOTP being so loud, its music could be heard on the other studio floor anyway.

 

'Pops' came from the studio for most of the 90s and to my eyes this was the period when the show had some of its best lighting.  (But then as one of its LDs I would say that wouldn't I?)  Much of the PARcan rig stayed in from one week to the next - usually with a colour change and a few tweaks - whilst the ever-expanding number of moving lights were rigged differently depending on which acts were on that week.  For a few years the record companies made a contribution to the lighting budget so that LDs were able to really show off.  Sadly, this practice ended and more modest rigs ensued.  TOTP left studio C in 2001 to tour clubs around the country, then go to Riverside for a few months and was then made each week in TC3 at Television Centre - the set and lighting rig being rigged and derigged for each recording.  EastEnders moved back into C (as well as occupying Stage 1) where it still resides. 

TOTP did not survive well the move from Elstree and audiences began to dwindle.  Under producers Ric Blaxill and then Chris Cowey between 1994 and 2003 it had become a highly regarded show throughout the music industry in this country and indeed worldwide.  Top acts took no persuading to appear on the show - I can remember lighting some shows in the '90s with the most extraordinary line-up of artists sharing the studio.  Chris in particular was highly respected in the music industry.  He also had some ambitious ideas that nearly happened - including knocking the wall down between studio C and studio M - the music studio next door - to create more space for bands to perform.  The two studios were linked by a small door and Chris turned M into a grungy bar area where guests could be interviewed or simply glimpsed chilling out before performing.  When the show moved to TC3 at TV Centre, the Red tea bar was turned into the 'TOTP Star Bar' in an effort to recreate this.

In 2003 Andi Peters took over as producer and his approach was to turn it into more of a light entertainment show.  Unfortunately, under his stewardship the quality of acts diminished - so inevitably did the viewers.  Mark Cooper, highly respected in the music industry, took over as producer in 2005 but sadly it was too late.  The final regular show from TC3 was in July 2006.

 

Despite the expensive refurbishment that was carried out to C's lighting gallery, it is no longer in use.  In fact, none of the control rooms in C are used any more.  EastEnders uses studio A's gallery to control studio activity in A, B and C.  I'm told that directors usually work on the floor, seldom communicating much with the vision mixer as all cameras are recorded on separate iso feeds.  The LD too works on the floor, relying upon the console op to balance the pictures. 

It was never like that in my day!  I was one of the regular LDs on the show for most of the 1990s working on it for 3 or 4 months each year.  We only had 3 episodes a week to make back then so had much more time than now to light the sets and rehearse the scenes.  Most recording blocks usually included at least one day on location too which was a great experience.  Considering the rate at which they now make the show, the production values are extraordinarily high.  In more recent years I often used to copy the lighting for TV Burp for the sketches where Harry Hill appeared to join the action in clips shown on the programme.  Since this involved me analysing how the scenes were lit so I could match them I can say that EastEnders has remained one of the best lit soaps in my opinion.

For a number of years the huge, beautifully furnished lighting control room in C had two rather lonely monitors in its otherwise empty stack and was used as an EastEnders producers' viewing room.  This space has now been taken up with switching facilities for the News department for use during election programmes which will use studio D for the foreseeable future.  These of course used to come from TC1 but all the comms and other facilities had to be removed and rebuilt at Elstree when TVC closed in 2013.  Yet another huge 'hidden' cost associated with the selling off of the Centre.

 

Incidentally, studio C, not surprising given its film history, has a tank beneath the floor.  This did come as a surprise to a workman from the Elgood company in 2001 when the floor was being re-laid.  He was digging up the old lino, which had been laid on the timber film stage floor, when his Kangoo hammer suddenly shot out of his hands and disappeared into a large hole.  Fortunately, he let go.

 

 

Studio D is 98 x 66 metric ft within firelanes, again with a corner lost for the gallery suite.  (TLS studio 1 by comparison is 90 x 68 metric feet plus its audience.  In case you were wondering.)  Built as a film stage around 1936, It re-opened as a television studio on 29th November 1960 and was the first of the four studios to be converted.  The others followed soon after.

Studio D lighting control room as ATV left it and photographed by a BBC engineer before anything was changed there. 

To the right can be seen the partition dividing the room.  This satisfied the unions who were not happy to have the lighting console operator in the same room as the vision controller (the person who adjusts camera exposure.)  It would seem that it was OK to have a window so they could at least make signs to each other.  Actually, I'm told the window was left open most of the time.

The console is a Thorn Q-File - a popular and reliable early memory desk.  Apparently it controlled dimmers with labels reading 'Grand Theatre Leeds.'  Do you know why that might be???

 

The picture to the left shows the other side of the plywood wall - the vision control room.  Next to the window is a position for a technical coordinator.  The lighting director sat next to the console op in the other room.

This arrangement of separating console operator from vision operator or 'racks' was not found in BBC studios and as an ex-BBC man I confess I find it very strange.  Normally I sit with an operator each side of me and we all work as a team to produce the best possible pictures.  Having one operator working remotely from me (as I have to when I light an OB) is never as good.

Within a few days of the BBC arriving, the wall was ripped out and the console op and vision op shared the same room as the LD.

Below is the same view taken late in 2012 shortly before everything was cleared to the concrete walls for the major BBC refurb.  Note the old ATV clock - even the white cupboard in the apparatus room is the same - still with cables hung on its side.  Surely not the same cables?!

This room is now the production control room and lighting have moved across the corridor into the old PCR.

Photo thanks to Andy James

 

Back in the days of ATV, D was used for major showbiz spectaculars starring the likes of Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, Julie Andrews (and Sesame Street), Max Bygraves and many big American names like Liberace,  Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Carol Channing, Tony Bennett, Glen Campbell and Sammy Davis Junior.  The early Morecambe and Wise series were made here between 1961 and 1968.  Of course, The Muppet Show also famously came from this studio.

Some performers were easier to deal with than others.  Jeremy Hoare recalls the occasion when Jimi Hendrix was performing on the Dusty Springfield Show in D and he was working on something in B.  Hendrix's guitar was so loud it could be heard through both studio walls and they had to wait till he had finished his number.  Unfortunately the two dock doors face each other across the covered way and were perhaps not quite as soundproof as they needed to be.

Although mostly used by light entertainment productions, studio D was also often used for dramas by ATV.

 

Apparently, standards converters were such poor quality in the '60s that it was common to record programmes twice - once in 625 line PAL for the UK and then in 525 line NTSC for the US market.

The first colour production was a star-studded benefit show called The Heart of Showbusiness in 1966.  It was made to raise money for the Aberfan disaster relief fund.  A temporary 'colour control room' was built in the technical area on the studio floor beneath the existing control rooms.  The show was recorded and shown in colour in the US and in b/w in the UK.  Three colour cameras were used alongside the normal four b/w studio cameras.  Sounds like a director's nightmare to me!

Studio D, probably in 1961.  Thanks to Ron Wolstencroft who sent me this picture.

Note the similarity of the grid to Teddington's - built at roughly the same time by the same company - Mole Richardson.  The difference here is that it has crossover tracks, but they are pretty slow to use since the lamp has to be unplugged and the cable passed through the grid, unlike the much later design at LWT.  The other main difference is that the tracks run across the studio's width rather than along its length.

The picture below is the same view 45 years later in 2006.  The scopes are the same - and the studio even has a set of Doms (cyclorama lighting units) that go back to the days of ATV.  The blue circles in the grid are the VR targets installed in 2004 for the show Bamzooki.

The obvious difference is that the control room windows are boarded up and painted the same dark green as the studio walls.  This was almost certainly done at some time during the ATV days.  The pop art graphic on the control room dates back to the BBC children's show Hanger 17, made in 1993/94.  For many years nobody had the heart to paint over it but it was eventually painted over in 2010.  Note that the clock has gone from the front of the control room but you can just make out the old ATV 'On Air' sign. 

 

The studio is very well equipped for making big showbiz spectaculars.  It has a permanent seating area with comfortable plush audience seats.  This 'auditorium' was constructed along one of the long walls of the studio around 1968 at the same time as the central technical area.  The width of the seating block is 70 ft, making it the same size as a standard studio audience with about 350 seats, but of course it doesn't take up any valuable floor area.   I'm told that sound supervisors like the fact that the audience is somewhat boxed in like this as it enables a better separation of live sound and audience reaction.  Astonishingly, audiences did not use the seating from 1993 to 2010 - the chairs simply gathered dust hidden behind a black drape, smelling of rats - or so I'm reliably informed.

This area was previously occupied by a plasterers' workshop as Richard Greenough recalls...

 

'The Elstree Studios before we moved in had been film studios.  There was a large shed containing hundreds of plaster moulds of cornices, columns etc.  Television had never had plasterers or used plaster as the film industry did because there was never time to build the set in the studio which was necessary when plaster was used.  Sets for television had to be constructed in the workshop, then broken down and transferred to the studio and re-erected, there being only time to tape joints in flats and touch up.  Mostly, for big shows, three studio days were allocated.  On the first, the set was built, the second day was for rehearsal and the third day to record on videotape.

I tried very hard to keep these plaster moulds to use perhaps for plastic vacuum moulding which had come in.  Unfortunately, I was unable to achieve this and they were destroyed and the shed had to be demolished to make way for the auditorium which we built as part of Studio D.'

 

The audience seating in studio D in 2006 - hidden in the gloom above seen from across the studio, below in a closer view.  The chairs then were a dark brown velvet plush so do not show up at all well in these photographs taken without the houselights on.  In the photo above can be seen the gantry running across the upper part of the open wall.  This was to provide positions for follow spots and was added later by ATV.  The higher gantry is too steep for spots when the artist is standing relatively close to the audience.  This gantry was removed at the end of 2010 - making it possible to get wideshots from the back of the audience similar to those in studio 1 at TLS.

I remember seeing the sponged paint effect being applied to the panels below for Les Dawson's Opportunity Knocks series, made in 1990.  Perhaps despite appearances here - this seating area can look very good on camera under studio lighting.  The front row is several feet above the studio floor.  It would be possible using steeldeck rostra to extend the seating forward for a particular production as happens often at TLS studio 1 - thus increasing its capacity and improving its look on camera.

In fact, if a smaller audience is required - the centre section of seats can be rolled out of position to give a pull-back area for cameras or a Technocrane.

 

The studio also has a groundrow trough sunk into the floor enabling a cyclorama to be lit with an invisible join between it and the floor.  This facility is not available now in any other studio.  (The abandoned TC9 at TV Centre was going to have one and the only other example in the UK is in Studio 7 in the old Central Studios in Nottingham - now part of the local university.)  There was also a counterweight flying system installed but that was not used for many years and has now been removed.

 

Jim Henson's Muppeteers arrived in 1975 from New York to make their first series and stayed for about 6 years.  According to staff who worked there at the time they were very happy days for everyone; a family atmosphere existed throughout the studio site.  The Muppet workshop was established in the equipment store area under the seats and it extended to the area around this area which is now used as a green room, editing suits, a seating area and a small kitchen.  Very rarely did the Muppets leave D, on occasions they moved to B or C for logistical reasons but D was their home, where audiences were treated to sketches and large production numbers featuring big name guests - a different one every week.  The show might use a live orchestra and if so, they'd be out of sight in the Music Studio (now studio E) with Jack Parnell in charge.  Typical guests included Bob Hope, Elton John and Raquel Welch. 

It would be over 30 years before the Muppets would return to this studio.  Well, not actually 'The Muppets' - that name and the original characters now belong to Disney but in 2013 Brian Henson, Jim's son, spent several weeks recording That Puppet Show in studio D for Saturday nights on BBC1.  Some of the puppeteers (Muppeteers?) were the same and when I happened to walk through the studio one recording day it did look as it must have all those years ago.  The sets were raised 4ft in the air and all the camera peds were fully extended, just like the photo below.  Glancing at the monitors one couldn't help expecting to see a green frog or a pink pig but no - these were PUPPETS - definitely not the 'M' word.

The Muppets recording 'Swine Trek' in studio D in 1977.  Note that the LDK 25s have stalks on the pedestals to give extra height.  The Muppets, like many TV puppets, were operated at arms length above the puppeteer's head.  This is obviously very tiring for the puppeteer but also for the cameramen, who have to look up at their viewfinders and also stretch their arms up, particularly when holding focus.  Not so the senior cameraman on the crane.  He could sit in his comfy chair all day.

 

ATV initially equipped D with Pye Mk V image orthicon cameras.  Towards the end of the '60s a few programmes were made in colour using an OB unit but in 1969 the studio was equipped with its own EMI 2001s.  In the mid 1970s these were replaced with dual-standard Philips LDK 25s.  Apparently, the US channels preferred their pictures, finding the EMIs too cool and desaturated.  The EMIs were moved across to studio B, to replace its old PC60s.

In researching this website I have discovered that towards the end of the '60s most TV companies seem to have explored the possibility of making programmes on colour film using combined film and TV cameras.  It seems that ATV were no exception.  Guy Caplin has sent me this...

 

'In 1966? Studio D was fitted temporarily with 4 American style film cameras with TV viewfinders.  The film start/stop mechanism for each camera was controlled by the vision mixer.  Unfortunately the British film labs could not or would not match the American style of overnight developing, neg cutting and printing so that the show could be viewed the following day.  ATV was unwilling to go ahead with this method of production without the full co-operation of the labs and the cameras were removed.'

 

Somebody else has also written to inform me that the 35mm cameras used for this experiment were borrowed from Gerry Anderson's Slough studios where he made Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.  And you thought those series were filmed on little miniature cameras.

Studio D control room during the early days of ATV.  Note that the monitors were above the window so the 'producer' could see what was happening in the studio.  Nowadays this is not considered at all important.  In fact, the windows of the control rooms in D were boarded up when the gallery was refurbished - probably around 1970.

The photo below shows the same gallery in 1984 as ATV/Central left it and the BBC found it.  Ian Trill recalls that when he vision mixed in the gallery here when the studio was used by BBC Training, the window was reopened enabling the studio floor to be seen again.

 

The last show made in D before the BBC arrived was Family Fortunes, on 29th July 1983.  After that, the whole site was left in the care of a handful of maintenance workers until a buyer could be found.

The BBC took over the site at the beginning of 1984 and Ian Dow has sent me some recollections of how he found studio D.

 

'I was involved in the first BBC show from Elstree, which was an OB using their rehearsal rooms as a location for a programme on Noel Gay.  On the recce on 7th Feb 1984 there were still 8 ex-ATV employees looking after the place before the BBC moved in for real.  We did a second recce a month later, and recorded on 20th March 1984.  We went into the big LE studio, with the groundrow pit, and everything had been left just as the crew switched off for the last time and walked out.  Camera peds not locked down, half drunk cups of tea, scripts on the floor.  Boldly we threw the main breaker and everything came on!  Cameras worked, pictures appeared on the monitor stack.'

 

 

For the first four years of BBC ownership Studio D was used as a training studio using the old LDK 25s ATV had left behind.  Dave Buckley worked with the Television Training Dept and he recalls his early days at Elstree:

 

'One item I had to remove from the production gallery was a large heavy duty push button inserted into the top of the desk in front of where the director sat. It was marked 'applause' and when pressed would have lit up signs over the audience! For some years afterwards, this push button assembly was lying round Television Training's maintenance room just off the roadway opposite the canteen/club entrance.'

 

For those who don't realise - this use of 'applause' signs was never found in the BBC where audiences were and are encouraged to clap by the floor manager waving his or her arms about.  To my knowledge it has not been used in the UK for many years and even then was probably only used by ATV.  (Unless you know different!) 

Dave doesn't recall things being left in quite the same working order as Ian Dow does...

 

'In the sound control room, the fronts of the monitor LSs (LS8s I think) had been removed but the cases were still in the wall.  Luckily, the Quad stereo amplifiers which fed the LSs, where one half fed the bass and the other the treble, hadn't been taken.  The main talkback distribution amplifier had its multiway connecting plug damaged, such that I had to replace it, and throughout the studio, any switch that could be turned off (and some were in very odd places), had been!  I heard similar comments about equipment being switched off from studio C, where a couple of engineers had started to install ex-TVC cameras etc ready for the start of EastEnders.'

 

 

The first broadcast BBC show to use Studio D was 'Allo ''Allo in 1988.  This popular programme had been given a unique commission in the history of BBC sitcoms.  No less than 26 episodes were ordered in one series.  Previously the show had been recorded at TV Centre in the usual 6 week runs.  However, there were hopes of selling it to a US network so the set took residence in studio D for several months.  Since the old ATV Philips cameras were well past it and the mixer only half worked a GVG 100 vision mixer was installed and the 18 year old EMI 2001s from TC3 were brought to the studio for the last few months of their working lives.  The village square was built as a semi-permanent set in the end of the garage building - the space that in future years would become Stage 1 for EastEnders.

In the summer of 1989 the studio's sound desk was replaced with a Calrec M series - the previous 20 year old Neve desk was sent to the film and TV museum in Bradford.  The sound gallery itself was extensively rebuilt.  According to the BBC Engineering department's quarterly magazine 'Eng-Inf', Thomson 1531 cameras were also installed.

Going For Gold was in the studio from September of that year.  The show itself ran from 1987 to 1996 - it was first made at TV Centre, later moving here to studio D and series 7 - 10 were made in Studio A, BBC Manchester. 

A few useless Going For Gold facts... The first winner was Daphne Fowler - now of course one of the Eggheads.  The title music was written by Hans Zimmer - now a Hollywood film composer with titles like Gladiator to his credit.  The opening shot of the show was a wideshot behind the audience but this was always the same shot as there was no audience at each recording apart from the friends and families of the contestants.  To record the shot they scoured the Elstree centre to get people from the kitchens, offices, cleaners etc to sit in for 10 mins and the backs of their heads were seen on every show.

 

The new cameras and improved sound facilities enabled the studio to be used for Opportunity Knocks with Les Dawson which was recorded from March to June in 1990.  It followed the three previous series with Bob Monkhouse that had been recorded in TC8.  This show utilised all the facilities of the studio - its floor size and separate audience seating proving ideal for a big Saturday night show.  I was console op on this show - the last few were lit by me when Dickie Higham, the LD, gave me the opportunity to see what mess I could make of it.  (This kind of training seldom happens now sadly.)

The studio had also shown how suitable it was for comedy and between 1990 and 1993 it was used to record You Rang M'Lord? - a spinoff from Are You Being Served set in a stately home and made with very high production values more akin to drama than the typical sitcom of the day.  As a contrast, in 1993 and 1994 studio D was the home of Hanger 17 - a kids music and variety show.  1993 also saw children's gameshow Incredible Games being made not only in D but also occupying A and B.  An unknown David Walliams was the voice of the lift in this series.  I kid you not.  The second series was made at Shepperton.

Jim Davidson's snooker gameshow Big Break was made here from 1991 before moving to TC1 at TV Centre.  Martin Kisner, the LD on Big Break, has informed me that the final edition recorded in D was on 16th November 1993.  This was probably the last time an audience sat in the seating - until 2010.

In 1994 EastEnders went to three episodes a week and studio D was required in addition to Stage 1.  I was LD on EastEnders at the time and had the dubious honour of lighting the first scenes recorded in this studio.  According to my diary, I lit the sets on 18th March and we recorded on 19th.  The programme had to record on different days from TOTP as the noise penetrated from C next door.  EastEnders' own Ikegami HL 79s were used during this period.

In 2001 EastEnders moved back to C.  Studio D was put on a five year hire contract to BBC Children's department.  In 2002 the studio was given a much-needed digital widescreen refurbishment and equipped with four (only four?) LDK-100s. 

In 2004 VR 'targets' were installed in the grid and the children's virtual reality gameshow Bamzooki was made here, as was at least one series of SMart and several series for the CBeebies channel like Tikkabilla.  Around 2005 the studio was hired out as a 4-waller to a production company making a single-camera children's drama.  Often, however, during the five years of Children's TV use, studio D was empty for long periods between productions and 'mothballing' it was seriously considered.

 

The contract with BBC Children's department ended early in 2006 and the studio became available to be hired by any production company for all kinds of programmes.  It was a while before production companies cottoned on to what a superb studio this is and frankly it was very poorly marketed by BBC Resources, the department who then owned it.

The amount of useable floor available is similar to studio 1 at TLS and greater than TC1 with its full audience seating pulled out.  Meanwhile, for sitcoms there is much more space available for sets than in - say - stage 9 at Elstree Studios, studio 1 at Teddington, or TV-two at Pinewood. 

 

In the middle of June 2006 I was lucky enough to light the first show in the studio since its 'reopening'.  It was a gameshow pilot for ITV1 on a huge scale - also using studio E.  Sadly, a series was not commissioned but the production company were very impressed by the studio's potential.  I understand that a panel game series was recorded in the late summer of 2006.  One or two other shows used the studio but none making use of the audience seating for the next few years.  A children's drama was using the studio for several weeks early in 2007.

In 2009 the studio made its first HD multicamera programme - using hired in 'flyaway' kit.  It was the Children's series Relic - Guardians of the Museum.  Some of the series was shot on location but the games and chromakey sequences were recorded here.  Thirteen 30-minute episodes were made over two weeks.

 

The brand spanking new audience seats in studio D.  Very nice too!

Finally, some sense prevailed.  BBC Studios and Post Production (S&PP), who now manage the studios here, discovered rather late in the day that they had a superb studio sitting here doing very little.  D was being marketed more aggressively now and in 2010 won a very interesting booking.  It was a show called Odd One In - a new gameshow transmitted on Saturday nights on ITV1.  It featured a large studio audience so the seating block was at last brought back into use.  Not only that, but some serious money was spent.  The musty old brown chairs were replaced with smart new red ones and the walls of the 'auditorium' were painted black.  For this show there was also seating on  the studio floor and on camera it looked huge - bearing comparison with Studio 1 at TLS.  The sound desk too was replaced with a Studer Vista 5 and 'key customer areas were refreshed.'  These included production gallery, dressing rooms and green room.  In 2010 the studio was also used as a 4-waller for Sadie J and Rock and Chips.

The follow-spot gantry across the front of the audience seating was removed at the end of 2010, opening it all up and improving sight lines and camera shots of the audience.  Further bookings followed.  2011 saw A League of Their Own for Sky 1 in HD, Show Me Show Me for CBeebies, another series of Odd One In for ITV in HD and the return of Sadie J.  2012 was also a busy year.

Above is the audience block in 2012 with the old ATV follow spot gantry removed.   Below is the legendary 'Muppet balcony'.  Before people get too carried away - I'm reliably informed that only a wideshot was used, probably only once (if ever) shooting across the studio audience to the grumpy old men.  Indeed, some people who worked on the show reckon it was never used as the Muppet balcony.  Sorry, but there it is.  All the sketches were shot on a set on the studio floor.  Behind the balcony is a green room that has a comms box with mic sockets on the wall - suggesting that maybe it was used as an operational area more than once.  The room is currently named studio F - although to my knowledge it has never been used as an actual studio.

 

On this website I have banged on rather boringly for several years that this studio is ideally suited to making sitcoms.  Well, fancy that - in April 2012 I was asked to light a new sitcom pilot here - for ITV1 as it happens.  (Lew Grade would approve I'm sure.)  The show was a great success and despite a series not being commissioned I think my point was proven.  Three big sets were spread across in front of the studio audience with loads of space behind to build more if the script had needed them.  In fact, I can't think of any sitcom I have lit where there has been so much space around the sets.  Fingers crossed this is the first of many comedies in this studio. 

 

Early in 2012 it became apparent that following the closure of TV Centre in April 2013, studio D would be one of several studios in Borehamwood that would at least partially hold the fort before TC1 - TC3 reopen in 2015.  In fact, this studio will then continue in use when TV Centre partially reopens. 

In January 2013 the galleries were stripped to the walls and completely rebuilt.  Production and lighting have swapped over and an HD installation has been carried out using cameras and equipment from TV Centre's studio 6.

Studio D has had multiple comms and tie-lines installed enabling it to become the BBC's main 'hub' studio for shows like Children in Need, Comic Relief and general elections.  Its first live show for decades came in August 2013 when the new Doctor Who was announced in a special hosted by Zoë Ball.  The set and lighting were suitably spectacular and the studio looked huge.  The new investment has certainly paid off and it's great to see that London now has this superbly equipped TV studio.

In December 2012 parts of the groundrow lighting trough were filled in and concreted over as part of the major refurbishment of the studio.  The main part of the trough still remains around the area where a cyclorama is most likely to be used.  The floor loading is weak over the trough and this was a problem - particularly where it crossed the dock door.  There is now no longer a weight restriction on what can be brought into the studio.  The floor has been relaid and is perfectly smooth in the area shown here - which is of course very important for camera movements.

Elstree D as it is now.  In the foreground you can just make out the panels covering the cyclorama groundrow trough.

Children in Need, November 2013.  Studio D looking spectacular and huge.  Every bit as impressive on camera as studio 1 at TLS and in some ways more so than TC1.  There is more floor area available for sets than in TC1 although the audience seating capacity is somewhat smaller in D.  It has taken decades for the BBC to realise it but under their noses all that time was a superb light entertainment studio.

 

 

Studio E

During ATV's days at Elstree this space was used as the band room for Studio D so was constructed in 1968/9 as part of the audience seating/central technical area development.  It has a heavy, soundproof door leading into the corner of D and also access to the covered roadway between the studios.  It is about 30 ft square with a relatively low ceiling.  It was originally L-shaped with the extra section separated by a partition.  This was used as a booth for vocalists and backing singers.  The floor had a number of troughs criss-crossing it that enabled microphone cables to be laid round the room without creating too much of a trip hazard.  This was all covered by a very basic vinyl floor when it became a TV training studio.

When the BBC first moved into Elstree in 1984 the Television Training Department moved to the site from their very cramped facilities at Woodstock Grove in Shepherds Bush.  For the first two years or so they used studio D but then E was converted into a fully equipped TV studio.  The lighting grid uses short bars that slide on runners giving a surprisingly good degree of flexibility - although not much height!  The original vocalists' booth was converted into a combined production and sound gallery.  Much of the studio equipment was brought to Elstree from the old studios in Woodstock Grove.

Dave Buckley helped to fit out the studio...

 

'While Studio E was being built, Television Training's handyman had to sort out the cyc cloth. To take the creases out of it, he hung it from a spare cyc track in Studio D. We all had a laugh as the cloth was not more than 15 feet in height and against D's full size cloth, it looked like a pelmet.'

 

 

As well as training the television directors of the future, the studio was on rare occasions used to make some 'real' programmes...

 

'...the first time being in 1987 when Cecil Parkinson MP was interviewed down the line during the General Election programme. (In addition, the studio also took part in the two rehearsals on the Sunday/Monday evenings prior to election day). The other times were for Newsroom South East when their studio wasn't large enough for the item concerned. (When the NSE studio was being refurbished, they moved their cameras into Studio E and presented the programme from there. However, the overall programme was still controlled from NSE gallery in CTA).  The studio was also used for a number of pilot programmes.'

 

 

In 2001 the studio and control room became part of the BBC Children's Department 'production village.'  James Taylor has written to me with his experience of  this period...

 

'We used it for the very last series of Short Change (children's consumer affairs programme like Watchdog) as a 4 waller.  It was the summer of 2005 and with the lights and low ceiling it was ridiculously hot to work in!  We had it kitted out a bit like a cool attic in a converted warehouse with funky Ikea furnature and fake bricks on the wall and a wood-effect lino floor.  The show had previously been filmed in the Short Change office in East Tower, but producers wanted a change - we ended up with Studio E at Elstree because it came as part of the long-term CBBC lease on Studio D, hence much to the delight of the penny pinchers, we effectively got it for free.

 

 

I had the experience of working in there in 2006, making a gameshow pilot with Jerry Springer that used both D and E.  I can certainly vouch for the inefficiency of the air conditioning!

At some time during the CBBC occupation, the control room was converted into an off-line editing suite, which it still is.  The studio is thus now only a 4-waller but holes have been punched through the wall enabling cables to pass to studio D.  Thus, it is possible to use the studio as an annexe of D - or even stand alone using D's galleries if need be.  EastEnders occasionally uses the studio to build a set when they run out of space in the four studios they normally occupy.  On these occasions they treat it as a location and shoot using Betaback cameras.

 

 

Studio M

This was a large music studio situated alongside studio C.  It was capable of accommodating a full concert orchestra and had its own control room with mixing and recording facilities.  It was also connected to the sound desks in all four studios so could work as a band room.

When the BBC moved in it was simply used for storage for a few years but TOTP producer Chris Cowie brought it back into action during the late '90s as an overflow from studio C.  The studio was dressed as a fairly grungy sort of bar - with sofas and odd-looking chairs and it became an interview area for brief chats with the stars on the show.  It was connected by a small soundproof door and often the DJ would go through the door on camera and discover the members of the other acts lounging around in the 'bar.'

When the programme moved back to TV Centre they insisted that they had a similar arrangement so the red assembly area was transformed into the 'Star Bar.'

Studio M is now part of Holby City's empire.

 

Studio G

This was the official name of the Newsroom South East studio that was built on the ground floor of Neptune House.  It was the home of local news to London and the South East from 1989 to 2001.  There was an editorial edict at the time that the local news should not be too London-centric (sound familiar?) but should include stories about the counties surrounding London who also received their TV from the Crystal Palace transmitter.  That all went away when the studio moved to Marylebone High Street in 2001 and was re-packaged by design agency Lambie-Nairn as BBC LDN.  That name did not last long (well I never) and the programme became known very sensibly as BBC London News.  The local news moved again in 2009 and now comes from New Broadcasting House.

The area in the ATV years was a rehearsal room but it was converted into a studio and newsroom - the studio end (next to the Grange Hill playground) had the newsroom as its background as was - and still is - the fashion.  Occasionally, things were rotated 90 degrees and the presenters were backed by a flat.  A drape was used to help muffle the inevitable chat from the newsroom.  The studio had three Thomson cameras - there was also a small (310 sq ft) studio with a single camera in the Central Technical Area for local news bulletins.

Studio G now has a Holby City hospital set within it.

 

Stage 1

This space was originally part of a huge warehouse, used for scenery storage, workshops and an OB garage by ATV.  The building itself is very long (444 ft) and stretches across almost the whole Elstree site, divided into several internal areas, some about 100 feet long or more.  Although it was designed as a workshop and storage space it would later become the location for many thousands of hours of prime-time programme making.  ATV used part of it as a 'studio' between 1963 and 1965.  David Petrie wrote to me and explained how...

 

'One of the better home-grown British dramas of the 60s was ATV's The Plane Makers which told of the life-&-death struggle in the fictitious Scott Furlong aircraft factory.  Created by Wilfred Greatorex, the series was built around the late Patrick Wymark as John Wilder - the company's bullying managing director.  Wymark was a gentle man in real life. His wife once said that he was "the most inefficient, dreamy muddler in the world".   Not a ruthless and dynamic tycoon then.

Wymark himself confessed that he disliked Wilder, calling him "a bastard".  His 12 year old daughter Jane was also unimpressed, claiming the series was boring and adding "I'd rather listen to The Beatles".

The plane featured in the series was the 'Sovereign'.  Viewers wanted to buy it but inside the 5½ ton aircraft was just scaffolding - no engines, no controls and no room for seats.  The only time it ever "flew" was when it was once towed across Hendon aerodrome in a high wind.  It got three feet off the ground and nearly landed on the jeep that was towing it.  After 50 episodes about management and union disputes, ATV boss Lew Grade agreed with Jane Wymark that The Plane Makers was boring.  "Who wants machinery and the noise of a factory when they get home at night? 'Move out of there' I said".  So the action switched entirely to the boardroom, where it improved further as The Power Game in 1965.'

 

The Plane Makers.  Shooting a scene in 1963.  Interesting to note that in the 1960s the equivalent of the Berghaus or North Face jacket was the duffle coat.

with thanks to Jeremy Hoare.

 

The Plane Makers.  Bill Brown on the camera.

with thanks to Jeremy Hoare

 

Within a few years of the BBC's arrival, they too began to use the workshop building for more creative purposes:

At the end of the building nearest the main gate, the cafe set for Grange Hill was constructed and used as an on-site location for a number of years.  Behind that is a badminton court that was used as a holding area for TOTP audiences.  Further along the building is a large space that was turned into a prison for an EastEnders storyline in the late '90s.

Back in 1988 the far end of the building was converted into a studio space by constructing an internal Plettac (scaffold) frame which was padded with soundproofing.  This was in order to create an area where the village square scenes could be shot for 'Allo 'Allo.  No galleries were built but a lighting rig was suspended from the frame and the set built inside.  The reason it was not constructed outdoors was because so many night scenes had to be shot for the 26 episode series.

 

In 1991 it was decided to move EastEnders out of C and into a dedicated studio of its own, equipped with Ikegami HL79s.  These had to be fitted with Promist filters to try to emulate the gritty 'look' of the old EMI 2001s!

The Plettac frame was increased in size, a new roof built and a studio 154 metric feet long by 60 metric feet wide was created.  (These dimensions are within the Plettac frame - the fire lane surrounds this and there are several openings in the frame giving access.  This is, incidentally, a greater working floor area than TC1.)  A resin floor was installed and a suite of small control rooms built alongside on the ground floor.  Beside the studio in the area where the ATV OB scanners used to park a prefabricated block was constructed containing dressing rooms and green rooms for the cast.  This building sits between Stage 1 and the Lot so much time was saved in getting actors to and from sets.

The control rooms were originally used when shooting on Stage 1 and after a year or two also on the Lot - cables and weatherproof boxes were installed all round Albert Square enabling cameras and sound leads to be plugged where convenient.  (Around 2000 another control room suite was built on the Lot so that both areas could be used simultaneously, but the Stage 1 control room is still used in preference.)

The lighting rig on Stage 1 hangs on drop arms from the simple scaffold grid and lamps have to be rigged and derigged via ladders.  This has always been very slow but fortunately the studio has a number of permanent sets in it including the Vic, the launderette, the cafe and for the first few years, the Fowlers' house.  About a third of the studio has sets that come and go from time to time depending on the changing storyline.

 

 

The Lot:  

Amongst London's television studio centres, BBC Elstree is unique in having a large back lot.  For the past thirty or so years this has been occupied with the exterior set for EastEnders.  Three sides of Albert Square were the first part of the set to be built and as it was assumed that it would only be there for a couple of years it was not built to last.  The steel frames of the houses are of course very solid but the facing was only plywood and plaster and after a few years this all had to be refurbished.  The set was extended in several phases until by the end of the nineties it included the tube station, fish and chip shop and other shops/restaurants that have changed hands in the story over the years.

In January 2014 it was announced that the set will be partly rebuilt and increased in size by 20%.  Work will take until 2018 to be complete.  In the meantime, a temporary set will be constructed (one assumes not the entire square!)

 

Most of the buildings are simply facings with no rooms inside.  This has made shooting conversations in front doorways rather challenging.  The shots looking towards the Square are recorded first, then a week later the conversation is recorded all over again in the studio looking the other way into the house.  (Actors are not allowed to change their hairstyles in the meantime.)  Actually, most doorway scenes are shot looking just one way with no reverse angles or people keep their front door almost closed behind them so you can't see into the house.

Scenes in the cafe are usually shot in Stage 1 but in the late nineties the set on the Lot was rebuilt so that in theory it could be used for shooting interiors.  Matching the look of the two sets proved to be the nightmare everyone had said it would be so it has rarely been used this way.  The garage under the railway arch is on the Lot as is the fish and chip shop, the community centre and one or two other shops/restaurants but most interiors are shot in one of the studios.

The Lot in 1984 after ATV left and before Albert Square was built.  The big shed was probably part of the Auf Wiedersehen Pet set and is standing almost exactly where the Queen Vic is today.

Bridge Street in 1985.  The Queen Vic is just to the left of where this picture was taken.  The roofs of the houses in the background are real and can also be seen along the skyline in the photo above.

Compare this camera (Ikegami HL79) and its dolly with the one on Clayhanger 10 years earlier seen below!

With thanks to David Sanders and the Tech Ops website.

 

Walking round the Albert Square set is an impressive experience.  The railway bridges are very realistic but of course the only trains ever seen on screen are added later as a CGI effect.  (This has happened on only a handful of occasions, as it is of course very costly and hardly crucial to the storyline.)  The buildings are all very convincing and the sheer size of the site is astonishing.  The only thing not quite right is the width of the roads and of course the lack of traffic.  (It is perhaps worth noting that the Lot is not open to the public.  Tours are not available and security is very tight!)

Albert Square and surrounding streets.  The Queen Vic is the grey-roofed block on the corner in the centre of the Lot.  It has suffered at least two fires in the story to my knowledge - I lit one of them in the 1990s.  (When I say 'lit' I don't mean...)  After one take the FX chaps switched off the gas that was creating the flames but unfortunately it kept on burning.  The set itself had caught fire.  Fortunately, a real fire engine was parked just out of shot so the firemen were able to put it out.  A few shots were grabbed on the fly and were added in the edit.  Very exciting.  The interior Vic set is of course in a studio - Stage 1 in fact, which is the pale grey roofed area of the large building on the right of the picture.

The first part of this set to be constructed was three sides of the Square and Bridge St, which runs past the Vic towards the bottom of the photo.  The left end of the square was completed around 1990.  This included Pat and Frank's B&B.  In the mid '90s all the zig-zag buildings at the bottom and the road on the right were added - including the tube station, nail bar and fish and chip shop.  These are real sets that can be shot inside - others include the shop, Arches garage and the Community Centre - the brick building bottom right of the Vic with the flat brown roof.  The interior of the Vic is like a Tardis - the set in the studio is bigger than the actual pub and the upstairs rooms are not quite laid out where they should be in order to be architecturally accurate.  This was all done deliberately by the design team when the show began in order to make the studio sets easier to shoot - so far, very few viewers have noticed.

Arthur's allotment can be seen bottom left.  This green area is not often used so I assume this is where the expansion of the set will be made. It is due be substantially rebuilt between 2014 and 2018 and will become 20% larger.

 

Originally a small van known as a  'Studio Insert Unit' was employed as a 2-camera control vehicle when shooting on the Lot.  This was also used for location work off-site for a number of years.  The van was incredibly cramped.  For shooting, the driver's seat was reversed and small uncomfortable chairs were crammed in the tiny cab to provide space for director, PA, vision mixer, sound supervisor and racks engineer.  The legs of the three behind wrapped round the two sitting in front.

It had to look as little like an OB vehicle as possible.  The BBC's outside broadcast department were known to be very suspicious of any vehicle resembling an OB scanner taking what they considered was their work away from them.  However, the EastEnders production department were insistent that they should use the same studio crew for the Lot and location work so this was the way round this little political problem.  A second SIU van was constructed a few years later - ostensibly for use on the location work on 'Allo 'Allo but it saw use on several other comedy and drama series subsequently - much to the chagrin of the OB department at Acton.  Both Studio Insert Units were garaged at Elstree and because of their sensitivity were never officially mentioned or referred to except by those in the know!

The Insert Unit driving round Albert Square, some time in the mid 1980s.

With thanks to David Sanders and the Tech-Ops website.

 

Interestingly, Albert Square is not the first East End set to be built on the lot.  In 1969 ATV made a drama series that they hoped would run and run called Market in Honey Lane.  A cobbled street was constructed but the show did not catch on after all and only six were made.  The cobbled street was rebuilt in 1974 to become Victorian Stoke-on-Trent potteries for Clayhanger.  These roads and buildings were converted into sixteenth century London Streets for the six part major drama Will Shakespeare in 1976.  For this big-budget series a complete Shakespearean theatre was also constructed which was adapted to become the various theatres he worked in during his career.  Finally, in 1983 the lot became the building site in Auf Wiedersehen Pet.  The remains of this set were still there when the BBC moved in.  Eagle-eyed viewers of old repeats will have noticed that Albert Square shares the same skyline as a construction site in a distant German town!

Clayhanger on the Lot in 1974.

Note the EMI 2001 camera!  Hardly the ideal instrument for location work but these were the days before good quality lightweight cameras were available.

Will Shakespeare - 1976

Once again the EMI 2001s were brought out of the studios

This impressive Shakespearean theatre was built on the lot where Albert Square now stands.

 

photo thanks to Jeremy Hoare

 

 

The ATV film department

Glen Cardno was an assistant editor at ATV Elstree and has written to me quite rightly pointing out that the studios were also the base for ATV's film department.  It was responsible for many award-winning network documentaries during the ATV years.  Although the documentary head office was in in Portman Square and then Charlotte St W1, the editing block was situated opposite the canteen at Elstree.  Award-winning documentaries by Ken Loach, Tony Snowden, Antony Thomas, Denis Mitchell and Norman Swallow were made here.

ITV won its first Golden Rose for The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine and that was edited here, as well as the exterior inserts for many studio-recorded plays and comedies in the years before lightweight video cameras replaced film for that kind of work.

 

 

Postscript: 

During the nineties I spent many months at Elstree working on EastEnders, TOTP and briefly, Grange Hill.  In my experience it was a very pleasant and relaxed environment.  Even the air is fresher than in Shepherds Bush.  (Actually, too fresh at times.  Albert Square in January has its own microclimate and I know for a fact that it is the coldest spot on the planet.) 

Elstree was - and still is - a very busy studio centre with an atmosphere quite different from TV Centre.   In the 1990s the management at TVC always seemed to view it with varying amounts of confusion or indeed suspicion.  It was - shall we say - misunderstood.  With the exception of Studio A and Stage 1, for many of the early years it never got the proper investment in equipment it deserved, and relied upon the dedication and good will of the staff based there to make it all work.  During the mid nineties there were management schemes to sell it all off, then to sell only a part of it - with an infamous blue line being drawn across plans of the site.  As the practicality of this was investigated the line moved further and further until sense prevailed and the idea was quietly dropped.

To be fair, in recent years the studios have received quite a bit of investment.  Unfortunately, the lighting grids in B, C and D are still very slow to operate but the control room suites in A and D are well-equipped and are of course now HD.

ATV/Central were making programmes here from November 1960 - July 1983.  The BBC took over in Jan 1984 and therefore have now been at Elstree for an even longer time.  Interestingly, for many years the BBC Studios website made no mention of Elstree, all the information related to TV Centre.  However, from summer 2010 Studio D has been marketed more strongly and with its brand new audience seating is now a very attractive venue for set-standing quiz shows, gameshows or sitcoms.  Since Television Centre closed its existence has of course become even more crucial to London's programme makers.

 

 

post postscript re Channel 5 at Elstree (shock horror!):

Mike Emery has sent me a couple of very interesting documents.  One consists of a written application from Channel Five Holdings to the ITC to take over the franchise for the proposed Channel 5 and the other is a plan of an area within the BBC Elstree Centre that the company intended to occupy. 

In November 1994 an invitation was announced by the ITC, hoping to attract some takers to run the new Channel 5 and there were several applicants who met the deadline of May 1995.  These included Virgin, UKTV, New Century Television and Channel 5 Holdings Ltd - who won.

The document and plan shown below indicate that Channel 5 Holdings were hoping to occupy most of the Central Technical Area as well as taking over the studio that was currently housing Newsroom South-East.  They also, it seems, intended to occupy three floors of Neptune House.

The document includes the following paragraph...

'The centre will contain a dedicated studio (Studio 1) with a useable floor area of 964 sq ft capable of fulfilling all presentation and promotion commitments, together with any live current affairs or other production if required.  A small single camera studio, (Studio 2) with a floor area of 310 sq ft will also be available to the presentation control room.  We will also have access whenever required (my emphasis) to a 5,795 sq ft studio adjacent to our own premises.  This studio is indicated as Studio D on the plan.  A number of other large studios on the site are available for hire as required when studio D is in use.'

Note that they seriously underestimated the size of studio D.  It is about 8,000 sq ft plus the audience rostra.  In fact BBC S&PP now refer to it as 11,800sq ft!

As a BBC staffer I had absolutely no idea that this was in the wind, even though I was working regularly at Elstree on EastEnders and Top of the Pops at the time.  However, it turns out that most of the Newsroom South-East people did know about it.  That programme occupied their studio (G) at Elstree from 1989 - 2001 so they would certainly have been affected.  However, it seems that moving the local news out of Elstree in the available time before C5 needed to move in proved impossible, so the idea went away.  It wasn't until 2001 that they moved from here to Marylebone High Street.

It is interesting though that Channel 5 saw themselves not just as a publisher but as a maker of programmes too.  If they had had studio D available to them, the channel might have ended up rather different from the three Fs it did become.  You work it out. 

 

Note that as well as taking over studio D, this applicant for C5 apparently planned to occupy 'studio 1' in the bottom right of this plan, a small 'studio 2' in the CTA and, it would appear, move into three floors of offices.  Imagine if it had happened.  Actually - it might have been a very good thing!  At least the excellent studio D might have seen some proper use over the following years.

click on the plan to see it in higher resolution

 

 

 

Final postscript...the end of BBC Elstree?  Not quite yet.

During the summer and autumn of 2007 stories began to circulate that the BBC was seriously considering selling Elstree to developers.  These were not just rumours but were supported by articles in the Metro and the Sun, no less.  The story was that most of the site was to become housing but the old Fairbanks building would have to be retained as it is listed.  This unfortunately came as no surprise, since following a disappointing licence settlement the BBC had to find several millions to pay for all its plans.

This, it seems, coincided with a need for EastEnders to replace much of its technical equipment which was worn out after many years of continual use.  The programme also planned to move into High Definition and to a system of tapeless recording and post production.  In addition, the exterior Albert Square set on the lot was apparently in urgent need of refurbishment.  It seems that a choice had to be made either to spend a great deal of money on new sets and new HD equipment and stay at Elstree, or to do the same and move elsewhere.  Since the first option would only cost money but the second would also raise money from the sale of the site it is not surprising that the latter was looking quite attractive.  However, the cost of rebuilding Albert Square and renting new studio space over the coming years would also have to come into the equation so it was not quite that simple a sum.

The timescale was not said to be immediate but possibly within the following two years.  Setting up a new base and reconstructing Albert Square would itself take about a year.  Pinewood was said to be the most likely option - there is plenty of space on site for constructing a new exterior set and three existing stages would be converted into TV studios to take the interior sets.  I became aware that discussions were indeed taking place with Pinewood in the autumn of 2007 and the various options costed up.

Regarding Holby City, the plan apparently was for this to move to Cardiff to join Casualty which transferred there from Bristol in 2011.

These stories re-appeared in national newspapers in February 2008.  However, an article in Ariel, the BBC's staff newspaper (19.02.08), attempted to clarify the situation.  The official line was that EastEnders and Holby City 'are not about to be relocated.'  The paper stated that 'it is likely to be at least another year before final plans are known.'  Zaril Patel, group finance director, was quoted as saying...

 

'...selling up is just one proposal under consideration.  At the moment there is no buyer on the horizon and even if there were, it would have to be at the right price.  If someone was offering £500m I'd think about it; if they were offering £10m I'd say "try again mate."  It's hard to speculate but my guess is that, given the credit crunch, nobody is going to pay fancy money [for Elstree] in the next couple of years.

It's also a planning matter and if a buyer or developer comes along, Borehamwood council will want a say in the future use of the land.  One very credible option is to stay exactly where we are.'

 

So - maybe eventually - but not yet.

In fact, in March 2010 new Sony HSC-300 HD cameras were ordered.  These have allowed EastEnders to move over to tapeless HD production.  Interestingly, they use triax cables - enabling the existing infrastructure between control galleries and the Lot to be retained as well as the cabling within the studios themselves.

Most significantly, a new five-year resources contract was signed by the production with BBC Studios and Post Production.  This suggested that Elstree would remain the home of the programme until at least 2015.

Perhaps with this date in mind, Studio D was refurbished in the summer of 2010 with new audience seating and smartened-up galleries, dressing rooms and green room.  Then of course the galleries were completely rebuilt in 2013.

 

An interesting story emerged in September 2011.  It was reported that the BBC had for months been in secret negotiation with the Olympic Park Legacy Company over taking over part of the International Broadcast Centre after the games.  This, it was said, would have included moving EastEnders there from Elstree.  However, the BBC said that they could not commit to that site in the medium term and that there were no plans to relocate any time soon.

 

In January 2013 the BBC announced that they planned to rebuild a large part of the EastEnders exterior set on the Lot.  It will be increased in size by 20%.  While the work is being done a temporary set will be built to enable production to continue.  This new set will be very large!  It is in fact, the whole of Albert Square and Bridge Street and will occupy the area in the corner of the BBC Elstree site currently taken up by the entrance hut and two car parks.  (The studio site entrance will be moved.)  It extends right up to and including part of the BBC Club/canteen block and from the site boundary to the end of the 'Stage 1' block.  (The plans are available on the local council's planning department website.)  It will no doubt take many months to construct before any work can commence on rebuilding the original set.

Once the new set is open, the 'temporary' set may be opened as a visitor attraction.  However, don't hold your breath - work is not expected on that to be complete until 2018!  What this does of course confirm is that the BBC will remain at Elstree for the foreseeable future.  Having invested that much on the EastEnders facilities there is little chance they will move it to another site for - well let's say at least 2025.  That also means that Holby City is likely to remain at Elstree and that S&PP will retain the use of studio D.

Some of the papers had a typical anti-BBC rant when they discovered that the cost of rebuilding Albert Square was likely to be around £15m.  To be honest, I don't think many journalists appreciate how expensive TV drama is.  The new exterior set will probably have a working life of at least 20 years before any significant work needs to be done on it.  Much of the existing set is 30 years old and needs replacing.  Considering the number of hours of television that EastEnders represents, that seems a pretty reasonable amount to spend on it as far as I am concerned.

Now, why not create a 'stage 2' for EastEnders alongside stage 1 and make studio C available to independent production companies to help alleviate the desperate shortage of studios?

 

 

 

 

Before leaving ATV I must make a brief mention of Foley StreetI have been contacted by several people - all somewhat miffed that originally I hadn't included Foley Street in this history.  The main reason was because I have tried to limit it to medium to large studios.  However, it seems that the studio punched well above its weight and produced a significant output - not just continuity announcements.

plan thanks to Richard Greenough

Foley Street opened in 1955 and its studio made its first programme on 24th September.  It was ATV's playout centre.  The building was called 'Britallian House.'  There was indeed a small studio here which was originally intended to be used for continuity.  One source states that the studio was only 23 x 25 ft but Richard Greenough has passed me a plan (see above) that shows its size as being 37 x 27 ft, which is not exactly tiny, although it certainly had very limited headroom.  It opened with two Pye Image Orthicon cameras plus a spare and 20kW of lighting on 24th September 1955.  The building was a central hub of switching between studios and contained several telecine machines manufactured by EMI and Pye enabling films of various gauges to be shown.  The following from a 1957 edition of 'Practical Television' is an example of how Foley Street operated:

 

Here, for instance, is the control which enabled Granada's "My Wildest Dream" to be televised from the stage at Hackney, via Highbury, Foley Street and the Museum Telephone Exchange, up to AR-TV at Wembley, where it was telerecorded. The tele-recorded film was later put out at various l.T.A. stations at different times.

 

What is particularly interesting about the above is the level of cooperation between the different companies.  For this one programme - Granada, ATV and Associated-Rediffusion all seem to have been involved in various ways.

Paul Faraday has sent me an interesting recollection of the studio...

 

'When we started there it was only two cameras - The 'Jack Jackson Show' was done there, how I don't know as they had dancers!  After a while they removed a wall into a corridor, making the studio wider by three feet and installed a third camera.  When video recording arrived there was no room in Foley Street so the machines were installed in a building around the corner in Ogle Street.  We were told that our Advertising Magazine was the first programme to be video recorded by ATV and as there was no playback available in the Foley Street control room we all trouped round to Ogle Street to view a playback but the men in white coats wouldn't let us in - they said it was a 'clean area' and nobody else was allowed in there!!'

 

Veteran lighting director Bill Lee has sent me his recollection of a visit to this studio...

 

'I was an enthusiastic admirer of the 'Jack Jackson Show' you mention and was astonished to find, when I had reason to visit Foley Street one day when it was in rehearsal, that it came from such a small studio of such limited space, as they continually found ways to give the impression of it taking place in a major production centre.'

 

 

Guy Caplin has also informed me that this studio produced a live Saturday night horror serial in the late '50s.  Euan Downing has pointed out that there were actually two studios here.  The second was truly tiny and was used for continuity at weekends.  He recalls that the guest artists appearing in Sunday Night at the London Palladium used the studio to promote their appearance.

Foley Street was closed in 1968 when ATV lost its London weekend franchise although the studio made its last programme quite a bit earlier on 5th June 1962.

Foley Street master control in 1966

 

 

 

I wrote earlier that of the four big ITV companies that provided network shows when ITV began, three had their main studios in London with the fourth - Granada - building a brand new TV centre in Quay St, Manchester.  This is partly true, and the first studio in the Granada centre opened on 3rd May 1956.  (The same year the foundation stone of the main block at BBC TV Centre was laid.) 

By 1958 they had five studios open including studio 12, which for many years remained one of the largest in the country at 98 x 70 ft within firelanes.  (This was the studio regularly used for example by Stars in their Eyes.)  The head of Granada, Sidney Bernstein, decided to number his studios with even numbers only, to give the impression that they had twice the actual number.  Thus, in Manchester were studios 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12.  So where was studio 10?  Studio 10 was in London and was actually a theatre known as the Chelsea Palace in the King's Road.

 

For once, this building was not designed by Frank Matcham but by the architectural practice of Wylson and Long.  It had opened in 1903 and was a very successful variety theatre in its day.  It had a large auditorium - one source states a capacity of 1624, another 'about 2500'.  It fell under the ownership of Granada Theatres in 1951 when the company that ran it came under the control of Bernstein.  Granada was of course a cinema chain - however, the Palace was never converted into a cinema but remained as a theatre for a few years. 

In August 1957 Granada decided that they had to have a London studio to stage the acts that would or could not make the journey to Manchester, so conversion began for TV use.  Granada used it for shows such as The Army Game and, perhaps surprisingly, some advertising magazine programmes or 'admags.'  However, it was best known for its popular variety show - Chelsea at Nine.  A typical early programme from Chelsea included Yehudi Menuhin, Charles Laughton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, a skiffle group, vent act Edgar Bergen and 'Charlie McCarthy', choristers, chorus and a ballet.  Whew!  Sounds like they got their money's worth in those days.   Several one-off spectaculars were made here including a concert in 1963 featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Incidentally, Dennis Weinreich has informed me that Edgar Bergen was Candice Bergen's father (fancy that) and that he and his puppet Charlie were a very successful radio act between 1937 and 1956.  And you thought that Peter Brough and Archie Andrews had it all to themselves.

It seems that some plays were also made here.  (Not an ideal studio acoustically for drama I would have thought.)  The picture below shows The Iceman Cometh in rehearsal and was sent to me by sound man Michael Harrison.

When Michael Harrison sent me this pic, which he took himself all those years ago, I rather rudely questioned whether it was in fact the Chelsea Palace as the grid seems quite low and doesn't look what one would expect in a TV theatre.  However, the image below, definitely of The Palace, has a similar rather surprising arrangement of scaffolding cross-bars linking the main over-stage lighting bars and the lamps in use appear to be identical.

The Chelsea Palace stage had an area of 2,373 sq ft and was extended forward over the original orchestra pit and first few rows and to the back of the stalls on camera left.  This additional area of 820 sq ft was to allow space for cameras to track in front of the performers.  The audience was thus restricted to dress circle and gallery, giving a total capacity of 669.

The Chelsea Palace during rehearsals for a typical show.  On the left, a Mole crane operating exactly as the one used to do in the BBC's TV Theatre.  I can't help noticing that there is no safety cage behind the cameraman's head.  In the BBC's theatre this was added to the crane in case the swinger craned the jib up whilst an enthusiastic tracker was driving back too fast - thus crushing the cameraman against the front of the dress circle.  I assume Granada's trackers were thought to be better drivers.  (Before you write to me - I tracked or swung the Mole at TV Theatre on a few occasions many years ago and having had one or two near-misses am very glad the safety cage was there!)

Note the pit on the camera right of the stalls under the dress circle - this was a space for the orchestra.

with thanks to Michael Harrison

Looking towards the audience - obviously.  The new orchestra pit can just be made out behind the Mole crane.  Looks like the audience didn't get much of a view behind all those 4-lights.  Michael Harrison, who sent me this pic, tells me that the person delivering the warm-up is Bernard Braden.

with thanks to Michael Harrison

 

The lighting arrangements were extensively changed. As a music hall, the total lighting load was 50 kW. This was increased to 150 kW. with 20 kW available in direct current for arcs. The old liquid dimmer pot switchboard was superseded by a Strand Grand Master switchboard and a saturable reactor dimmer board. This gave a total of 60 dimmable circuits. The lights used were almost wholly Mole Richardson incandescent units - mostly 2Ks, scoops and 4-lights, from looking at these photos.

Pye 3in. Image Orthicon cameras were used at first, three being operational and one spare, with a fifth retained for maintenance rota.  (Following a refurb, probably in 1959, the cameras were replaced with Marconi Mk IIIs.)  Houston pedestal camera dollies and a camera crane were used.  Sound channels were by Pye, with an assortment of different types of moving coil and ribbon microphones of various makes. There was no telecine or slide equipment.  A high quality cable route was utilised to the Museum Telephone Exchange, for connecting vision, sound and control circuits with Granada's Manchester headquarters and also the lTA network.

The original sound mixer seen here with James Goldby at the controls.  It was later replaced after a big technical refurb but for the first few years this was it!

The mixer was in  a cubby hole just to the right of the stage. The equipment was Pye OB kit, and the sound supervisors of the day only had 16 channels to cope with full orchestra, two booms and small music groups.  The shortage of channels was coped with by replugging microphones - the plug board can be seen on the left.

Mike Roberts mixed most of the shows and he showed enormous skill and a cool head by re-plugging during live and very expensive top-class shows.

with thanks to Michael Harrison  

There was a permanent staff of 70 at the Chelsea Palace.  Sydney Berstein is said to have taken a close interest in the appearance of the studio - insisting that it looked 'spick and span' at all times.  A report in the February 1958 edition of 'Practical Television' describes a visit by its reporter.  He is most impressed by the 'smart grey-shirted uniforms of the camera and floor crews.'   However, David Hounsell has written to me and denied all knowledge of this!  He worked there between 1958 and 1963 so he should know.  The photos above certainly seem to confirm this.  Maybe the crew uniforms only lasted a few days from when it opened or more likely it was just the ushers and usherettes who had to dress up.  However, one of Bernstein's ideas I have had confirmed was that each member of the studio audience was presented with a stick of peppermint rock after each show.  Naturally, it had the word 'Granada' running through it.

The studio was in operation until the mid '60s.  When Granada left the site it was sold to developers who built a Heal's furniture store.

 

Incidentally - there was a period of about six weeks, probably in 1959, when I am told that Granada moved its London operation to the Metropolitan Theatre in Edgware.  This was to enable a technical refit and the reconstruction of the control rooms to take place at the Palace.  (Six weeks is an astonishingly short time for such major work to take place.)  The Met was originally a music hall, opening in 1862 but extensively reworked by Frank Matcham in 1897 with a capacity of 1,855.  It survived until April 1963, when it was demolished to make way for a road scheme.  The interior can be seen during a scene in the classic Ealing film The Blue Lamp.

 

 

 

 

1968-1981

Back with the ITV story... big changes happened in 1968 when the Independent Television Authority (ITA) renewed the franchises.  The midlands were now to have ATV all week and in the north Granada would also broadcast every day.  Thus ABC Television lost both its franchises.  The north region was split into east and west and Yorkshire TV began to broadcast from Leeds with Granada looking after the north west from Manchester.

ATV lost its weekend London franchise but decided to stay on at Elstree, making many big entertainment shows there for ITV and under the entrepreneurship of Lew Grade exporting many to the USA.  They also changed their name to 'ATV Network'.

London Weekend Television was the new company in town.  ATV had been thought to be going a bit downmarket by the ITA, and LWT were seen as being likely to be more highbrow and produce better quality programmes.  Fancy that.

Surprisingly to many people, particularly themselves, Rediffusion (they had dropped the 'Associated' in 1964) lost its London weekday franchise.  Rediffusion were not only very upset at losing it, they were forced into a merger with ABC to create Thames but with only a 49% stake, so were the underdogs in the partnership.  They were thus hardly in the mood to be cooperative regarding handing over their studios.  There was a period of several months after the announcement when they seemed to be reluctant to dispose of their Wembley studios to LWT, who were desperate for somewhere to make programmes in the short term.  There were ugly words exchanged in the press with LWT blaming Rediffusion for being difficult.  However, others claimed that this was all a smokescreen and it was LWT who were being slow in deciding where to go.  Insiders suggested that they really wanted Teddington (and ABC's staff) - but there was no way that ABC would give all that up.  Eventually the ITA banged heads together and LWT moved into Wembley.  It was only to be a short term occupancy anyway.  They always planned to create a purpose-built centre of their own and as soon as it was ready they would be off.

Thus LWT leased the Wembley studios from Rediffusion, moving in on 6th May 1968 - less than three months before they began broadcasting.  Meanwhile, plans progressed for their new studios on the South Bank, next door but one to the site earmarked for the new National Theatre.  (The NT opened its first auditorium in 1975.)  Many Rediffusion staff stayed on at Wembley and became the core of the new LWT. 

The opening night of LWT's broadcast from Wembley did not go well.  Within seconds of their first big comedy show beginning, the staff walked out on strike.  A strike that was to spread to most of the other ITV companies, giving the BBC a big advantage just when LWT needed to make its mark on weekend television viewing.  After a shaky start, which saw a number of senior managers come and go, the company began to establish itself with a mix of popular drama such as Upstairs Downstairs, variety shows starring Tommy Steel, Rolf Harris, Dickie Henderson and Ronnie Barker and successful comedies such as Doctor on the Go, Doctor at Large, Please Sir, The Fenn Street Gang and of course - On the Buses.  Several of these series eventually transferred to the new studios on the South Bank.  More serious programmes included Aquarius which later became The South Bank Show.

Other programmes made here between 1968 and 1972 included the regular studio debates and current affairs programmes Frost on Friday, Frost on Saturday and Frost on Sunday. David Frost (no, really?) was a key member of the team that set up LWT and his influence over it was crucial to its eventual success.

 

Peter Middleton recalls that LWT hardy ever used the big studio with the doors open.  In fact, he can only remember one occasion - the night of the first moon landing - when the old studio 5 was used as it was originally intended.  He recalls Cliff Richard (for it was he) at the far end of the studio and tracking the Mole crane up the studio towards him.  He could not believe how long it took to reach him.  Some might wonder was it worth the journey but I couldn't possibly comment.

LWT began broadcasting on 30th July 1968, only a relatively short time before the official launch of colour on ITV in November 1969.  They therefore found themselves with the huge expense and upheaval of converting the Wembley studios to colour, as they could not wait until 1972 when they would be moving into their new South Bank studios which were designed for colour from the outset.

 

Four studios were colourised - 1, 2 and 5A & 5B.  (LWT renamed 5A and 5B '3' and '4' respectively.)  Twelve EMI 2001s were shared between these studios with a further four being installed in an OB unit - which Rediffusion had helpfully ordered for themselves in 1967.  Studios 1 and 2 shared four cameras and 3 and 4 had four each.  Converting each studio to colour was a massive undertaking which another source states was carried out between January and August 1969.  Each studio gallery suite was naturally unavailable for use during the work so studio 4's gallery was used as a remote operation working in monochrome until each gallery was complete.  In fact, the floor of the old studio 4 was used as the control room for World of Sport, which came from studio 2.  I hope you're keeping up with all this.

Unfortunately, the conversion to colour did not go smoothly.  From November 1970 to February 1971 there was an industrial dispute by ITV technicians relating to working in colour.  Thus, programmes made and transmitted during that period were in black and white.  Upstairs Downstairs was a victim of this and the glorious sets and costumes were all seen in monochrome for the first six episodes.  The first episode was later remade in colour for the export market - rewritten to sum up the plot lines of the other episodes which overseas TV companies refused to buy since they were not in colour.

The exterior of Wembley studio 5 with the LWT logo painted on it.  This would be their home for just four years.

This photo was probably taken in 1971.  I see the parking situation was as bad then as it is now.

Click here to jump forward to the next section on Wembley

 

The new South Bank Television Centre opened in 1972, equipped with the EMI 2001 colour cameras which had been transferred from Wembley.  Studios 1, 2 and 3 had four each, studio 4 (presentation) had one and there was one spare.  They saw several more years of sterling work. 

Between 1980 and 1982 The EMIs were replaced with Marconi Mk IXs (not liked by all), then between 1989 and 1991 Hitachi SK-F710s (very nasty pictures in my opinion) and from 1997 Ikegami HK388W (very nice indeed.)  Studios 1 and 2 received new Sony 1500 HD cameras during 2009. 

 

The studios are currently marketed as The London Studios and although owned by ITV plc they are rented to many independent production companies making programmes for all the main channels including the BBC.  TLS is unusual these days in that almost all of the crews are staff with relatively few freelancers working there.

The building was actually owned by Coal Pension Properties - LWT took out a 100 year lease.

On 13th November 2012 it was reported in the press that ITV had decided to leave their HQ on the South Bank despite having 56 years left on the lease.  The owners had put the building up for sale and the Independent later reported that 40-50 potential bidders were interested.  ITV was said to be looking at three potential sites 'to move their studios to'.  In fact the truth behind the story was rather more interesting. 

On January 28th 2013 it was announced that ITV had bought the freehold of the property from Coal Pension Properties for some £56m.  ITV issued the following statement: 'The purchase gives ITV flexibility in its property strategy as it continues to transform and rebalance the company.'  This statement gave rise to rumours that ITV were planning to move from this site and in order to do so they had to buy the freehold first.  They may indeed be intending to move at some point.  There have been rumours of a move to join BT Sport in the old IBC building at the Olympic Park (now known as 'Here East') but these have so far come to nothing.  Other plans have apparently involved demolishing the Prince's Wharf warehouse and building new studios there but then selling the existing ones.  Any move away from these superb studios would be a disaster for the TV industry in general as they are so well designed and equipped - and consequently in so much demand by independent production companies making programmes for all the main channels.

 

 

The familiar tower seen above was originally known as Kent House.  The studio centre built in the podium around it was initially called the 'South Bank Television Centre'.  In the early 1990s the building was confusingly renamed 'London Television Centre' when LWT Production Facilities was created.  However, not long after - apparently in order to attract BBC productions - the studios themselves were marketed as  'The London Studios' thus still ensuring that cab drivers would forever have to ask twice which studios you mean.  Although this has been the official name for many years, the studios are still referred to by most people in the industry simply as 'LWT.'   (Useless fact number 27b - apparently, at the planning stage, the building was known as 'Kings Reach Studios' and, in support of this, many of the lines carrying signals in and out of the building are prefixed 'KRS'.)  However, for the sake of accuracy I shall henceforth refer to the studios as 'TLS'.

TLS has two main studios (1 & 2), which are 88 x 67 feet within firelanes.  That's real feet - not 'metric feet' which almost every other studio centre uses as a measurement.  (In metric feet of 30cm that would be 89.4 x 68.  This is about 6 inches shorter and 2-4 feet narrower than the similar studios at Television Centre or stages 8 and 9 at Elstree.)  Studio 1 has the advantage of a permanent audience seating area extending along one of the long walls of the studio which, when supplemented by pull-out seats, gives an audience of about 600 - a huge advantage over other studios.  There is also a medium sized studio (3 ) at 53 x 43 feet alongside on the ground floor.  This has often been used for current affairs programmes like Jonathan Dimbleby's show or various magazine programmes.  Since September 2012 it has been the home of Daybreak, which it shares with Loose Women and Lorraine.

 

Studio 4 was the original small continuity studio.  When LWT began broadcasting they had in-vision announcers like most ITV companies at the time.  The only one I remember is Peter Lewis but if you're desperate there's a website somewhere that lists all 23 of them.  Steve Jones has contacted me and added three more names to the list - Barry Haynes, Alec Taylor and Pam Rhodes.  In down-time, it was also used for 'down the line' political interviews for ITN and by other regional ITVcompanies without studios in London.  By the 1990s ITV announcers were only heard, not seen.  The studio itself remained for a while and was used for out-of-vision announcements.  Duncan Stewart has written to inform me of its fate...

 

'The original studio 4 was rebuilt into the new LNN Transmission area in 1992.  Several years later, just weeks before ITV2 launched, they announced to LNN that they wanted to do two handed in-vision continuity, at this point the new transmission area had been completed and the associated voice over booth built to a fairly lavish standard.  The booth couldn’t have been more than 120 sq ft.

Promptly the booth was stripped, a perimeter of scaff fixed around it and some lights nicked from other departments. There weren’t many widescreen capable cameras around LNN at this time, I recall Sony lent us one to demo (it was later stolen). There were no dimmers, just some hastily run hot power, so you just went in and turned the lights on.  Studio 4 was reborn.  Over the next few months a proper installation was done with 12 dimmer channels and a selection of “Day” and “Night” cues.  It was completed shortly before ITV2 dumped in-vision continituity and it was all removed again.'

 

This tiny studio was located within a department known as The Southern Transmission Centre (STC), together with another voice-over studio used for ITV1 continuity.  ITV transmitted many ITV regions and 'macro regions' from this building, together with GMTV, ITVs 1, 2, 3 and 4 , CITV & ITV Play.

In 2007, this playout operation was outsourced to Technicolor Network Services in Chiswick which is owned by Thomson.  (The BBC similarly outsourced its playout operation to Red Bee in 2005.)

 

Three small to medium sized studios are to be found around the site...

Studio 5 in the main tower block is 54 x 42 ft wall to wall.  The area the studio occupies was originally intended to be a rehearsal room but it was turned into a studio whilst the building was being completed.  In fact, there was another rehearsal room opposite on the same corridor.  That room was used as an office for the Planning & Installation department, until it was converted - first into offices and film editing rooms, with a new mezzanine floor being used as a store for the VTR Library - and latterly (upon the arrival of GMTV) into control rooms for studio 5.  Before that, studios 3 & 5 shared the same control rooms - on the ground floor. 

The studio was used from  January 1993 to August 2010 by GMTV for their daily breakfast shows - some 17 years.  

Coincidentally, a previous long-term occupant of studio 5 also 'lived' here for 17 years.  This was Dickie Davies' World of Sport which ended in 1985.  The programme itself began in 1965 and was originally made by ABC at Teddington - presented by Eamonn Andrews.  (Note that it was ABC - not ATV, the London weekend franchise holder.)  Dickie Davis became presenter in 1968 when LWT replaced ATV. 

This must be one of only a handful of programmes that survived the franchise change.  The show specialised in the sports that the BBC's Grandstand didn't - including most famously wrestling, introduced by Kent Walton.  However, it also covered football: On the Ball - and horse racing: The ITV Seven.  Its coverage included minor sports such as women's hockey, netball, lacrosse and some less obvious sports like the World Barrel Jumping Championships (!) and Ice Speedway.  Towards the end of its life it showed a great deal of snooker.  Incidentally, Bank Holiday Monday editions of the show were Thames' responsibility so came from their Euston studios.

Studio 5 was also used for Saturday Scene - after it had moved out of Studio 4 (Presentation), and for Police Five.  Some early editions of Night Network were also made in this studio.  It was the home of The Saturday Morning Show and The Big Match.  When the satellite broadcaster BSB first started, the studio was used to make some programmes for them.  These were made in 'component' (a better quality system of encoding the colour information in the picture) and so a special control room was built for the studio in a Portacabin on the 3rd floor roof.

The studio was equipped with Philips LDK 200 cameras.  These replaced the previous Hitachi SK-F3s in 2003.  The Hitachis were installed ready for use by GMTV in 1993.  It has now been converted to HD.

Studio 5 had a long-term booking by Al Jazeera television that ended in 2012.  The studio was used for the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two show during the autumn of 2013 and 2014.

 

Studio 7 is 68 x 40 ft wall to wall and is known as the 'skyline studio' with views over the river through its windows.  It was constructed in 1992 to begin operation in January the following year.  It was the home of London News Network.  This took over from the old Thames News on weeknights and LWT's 6 O'Clock Live and LWT News.  LNN was a jointly owned (Carlton/LWT) company set up to provide the local news and a transmission service for both broadcasters; this later became STC.  LWT had previously attempted to come to some sort of arrangement with Thames for transmission - LWT's Presentation Suite stood empty for most of the time - but to no avail.  So, following the demise of Thames, LWT got together with Carlton - and LNN was born.

Studio 7 is unusual at TLS in that it was fitted with Sony cameras.  Originally it had Sony BVP-70s but it was re-equipped for widescreen in the late 1990s with five Sony BVP-950s.  The lighting grid is a fixed height with luminaires hung on short bars which can track on rails.  Thus, it is pretty flexible in how it can be rigged. 

The studio is in the Podium Block - two floors up from the Studio Cafe.  It was a new build - an extension to the original building on the podium's roof and included dressing rooms, make up etc. - all on the 3rd floor.  The old first floor canteen was converted into the newsroom.  The old servery area of the canteen was converted into Studio 7's control rooms also on the first floor.  The very large kitchen area became edit suites and News Exchange.

 

LNN was closed down in 2004 and the local news operation became part of ITN's brief.  London's local ITV news now comes from their studios in Gray's Inn Road.  It is surprising that following the demise of LNN the studio was not booked more often by productions wishing to capitalise on the view.  Studio 7 was often used however by productions as a 'normal' studio using a conventional set and it was regularly used by ITV Sport.

In September 2010 it became the home of ITV's new breakfast show Daybreak - its spectacular view not turning out to be quite so visually appealing first thing on a cold autumnal grey morning.   Who'd have guessed?  The studio was refurbished for the series and the lighting rig replaced almost entirely with LED fittings.  As well as producing very little heat, thus keeping the studio cooler, they also enabled the LD to adjust the colour of the keylights to cope with the changing colour of the daylight outside.  The windows were coated with a film that can be remotely adjusted so that more or less daylight is seen through the windows, thus helping the lighting balance.  This was very important as Daybreak often began in darkness and - because the studio faces East - the sun was seen to rise behind the presenters during the show.

The studio ended its booking with Daybreak in September 2012 when it moved into studio 3 with a more conventional set.

the superb view (on a nice sunny day in the afternoon) from studio 7's window

 

For a couple of years there was also a small studio (about 200 sq ft) in the same area which LNN called Studio 9.  It was converted from a V/O booth in 2002 in connection with ITV's World Cup Coverage.  Apparently part of the coverage was coming from Studio 7 and this interfered with the regular news bulletins.  It was therefore decided to set up a simple one camera capability to allow the local bulletins to go ahead unhindered.  It had a ChromaKey backing and was used occasionally for news headlines.   Duncan Stewart has sent me some more info...

 

'Studio 9 was indeed another LNN converted voice over booth, with its associated gallery the largest edit suite (Edit 1).  The main problem was it was so tiny that you couldn’t even open the door without intruding on shot, however despite this it was used a fair bit and certainly bailed LNN out of impossible situations a number of times.  There was one redeeming feature – LNN worked on minimal staffing requirements out of hours and the unmanned studio 7 was two floors above the gallery which involved a lot of running around for the duty engineer – Studio 9 was just behind the gallery which made life much easier!'

 

Studio 9 is no longer with us - it was lost when the whole of that area was rebuilt to house the new non-linear (tapeless) edit facilities of ITV Creative.

 

 

Studio 8 is 58 x 51 ft wall to wall.  It is located in an old warehouse building used for scenery storage in Princes Wharf, situated between the main LWT block and Gabriel's Wharf.  Fronting the road is a mock-Tudor building now called 'The Younger's Building' which, not surprisingly, used to be owned by Younger's Brewery, along with the industrial buildings between it and the river.  This site was acquired by LWT some time after they moved into their main building.  The studio was created in 1996 for the show This Morning with Richard and Judy when they moved to London from their original studio in Liverpool's Albert Dock.  They later transferred to C4 with their own show but the ITV series continues to come from this studio.  It too has views over the river and its large windows on the first floor can be seen from the riverside embankment walkway that passes outside.  You won't see much inside though - the windows are coated in a reflective film.  The studio has also occasionally been used for other programmes including Champions League

Studio 8 was initally equipped with 5 x Ikegami HK-323P portable 2/3-inch tube cameras transferred from Granada Television's Albert Dock.  These lasted for about a year or two when Hitach SK-F710's were moved to it when they became surplus from the 'main' studios (1, 2 & 3).  Ikegami HK-388's were installed around 2000/2001.  The studio is now fully HD.

Studio 8 will be replaced by a new studio in a redevelopment of the building if the rumours are true!

 

 

It is perhaps not that widely known that there was once a studio 10 at LWT.  It was built on floor 10 of the main office block during 1988 and was often referred to as the 'tenth floor studio'.  Despite its small size it was equipped with five BTS LDK 90 cameras which were later updated by the 91/93 version.  This 950 sq ft studio (33ft x 29ft wall to wall with an 8ft grid height) was originally created for a new kind of on-air presentation which, for the first time, exploited the views across London.  This was marketed as The Weekend Live and began on 13th January 1989.  The idea behind this new presentation style was to consolidate LWTs identity 'as a broadcaster for London, broadcasting from London' (it says here) - and to underline this with a live view of the Thames.  Ironically, some might say, to steal the thunder of ITV weekday broadcaster Thames TV, who despite their name only ever showed a stylised photo graphic of the river.  Continuity links were moved to this studio for certain parts of the weekend - although apparently not using the usual continuity announcers.  Mike Smith, the radio DJ, was one of the new presenters.

I'm told that the programme department responsible for 'The Weekend Live' ordered all the technical equipment for the studio themselves without involving the LWT engineering department as they might 'complicate things.'  Inevitably, after several disastrous breakdowns on air it was all ripped out and replaced with better kit a few months later and the floor plan of the studio and control rooms was redesigned.

Studio 10 was used in 1990 as a call centre for ITV's Telethons, plus some of their other network programmes involving phone-ins.  I'm told that it was also used for Cilla Black's Surprise Surprise for some live inserts.  The studio became home to Police 5, Crime Monthly, LWT News, 6 O'Clock Live and a range of other local programmes including The Sunday Match.

6 O' Clock Live followed on from the popular 6 O'Clock Show, which had been made in studio 2.  It ran from 1990 to the end of 1992 and was presented at various times by Danny Baker, Jeni Barnett, Frank Bough and Joanna Sheldon.  When LNN began broadcasting from the new studio 7 in 1993, studio 10 was used less and less.  It was never digitised - although it did have some widescreen capability through a sub-mixer.  Studio 10 was eventually to become home to Talk TV - one of the early new Granada channels, and later to EuroTransMed which, for many years, broadcast medical discussion programmes to hospitals throughout the world.  Channel Four's Business Daily also came from this studio for a while.

Studio 10 was converted back into offices around 2002/2003 but its original location can still be seen if you look at the north east corner of the building from outside as the windows it used are a slightly different shape and colour from all the others.

 

 

If you are wondering about studio 6 - it is the name of a very pleasant restaurant and bar close by in Gabriels Wharf.  No, really.

 

 

Naturally I am biassed, but to me the most interesting part of the building is occupied by studios 1-3, which are to be found side by side on the ground floor.

The three main studios are very well designed with particularly clever lighting grids.  These utilise monopoles (telescopes) but the track system has several crossovers enabling 'scopes to be quickly moved from track to track.  This gives the LD a great deal of flexibility if things change during rehearsals and lamps need to be moved.  Rigging, which is done from gantries each side of the studios, is also very quick enabling fast turn-arounds from one show to the next.  The much older grids at Teddington are almost as good but do not have crossovers - 'scopes have to be inserted by hand which can be done but is somewhat slower.  At BBC Elstree the grids are very similar to Teddington but do have some crossovers.  However, these take much longer to operate because cables have to be unplugged first.

The photo above shows the excellent grid in the three main studios at The London Studios.  Lighting tracks are spaced 2 feet apart and between them are tracks for monitors and speakers.  Across the studio run three transfer tracks enabling monopoles to be moved easily from one track to another without having to unplug the lamp.  This is very clever!

 

A feature of the three main studios is that the gallery suites are all on the ground floor.   This is so sensible that it is astonishing that it took so many years for studio architects to realise the fact.  Most of the studios built in the following decade or so copied this (Limehouse, Maidstone, HTV Cardiff, Central Nottingham etc.)  In fact, when the BBC refurbished TC6 in the mid-nineties they moved its galleries to the ground floor because they knew that they had to compete with LWT for studio hire to independent companies.  However, inexplicably, the brand new studios at BBC Glasgow and MediaCity in Salford both have their galleries even higher - at gantry level, two floors up!  What were they thinking???!!  Certainly, from the point of view of the director and LD - both of whom often have to nip onto the studio floor several times a day, the absence of a long staircase to climb each time is very welcome. 

It is several decades since it was considered important for the production team to be able to look through a window onto the studio floor.  Many existing windows in various studios are now blocked off anyway.  It's actually quite surprising to me that back in the '50s and early '60s when so many studios were built it was felt to be essential.

The control galleries share a feature with the somewhat older ones at Teddington.  They are designed on a 'fan' layout with the desks set on a curve so the director can clearly see every person in his or her own gallery plus those in sound and lighting through large windows.  Some of course might say that this is a mixed blessing but I couldn't possibly comment.

In my view, in many respects these are possibly the best-designed television studios in the country - although they do have one serious weakness, only having one scene dock door and no direct access to outdoors.

 

 

During the early years of the building, some of the technical equipment in it had been manufactured by a company called Dynamic Technology Ltd. (DTL).  This was an offshoot of LWT that made equipment that had been partly or wholly designed by LWT engineers.  The gear was was built to LWT's specifications and even included dimmers and lighting consoles.  These were given a slightly different badge - 'DaTaLite'.  These dimmers were sold to Thames TV and are still in use in Teddington's studio 1.

The consoles and distribution amplifiers etc were sold to other broadcasters too - including BBC Northern Ireland and some overseas companies including SABC in South Africa.  It seems that LWT had a contract to provide equipment and engineering support to the latter for a few years.  (A somewhat controversial association at that time, I would have thought???!!!)  DTL Broadcast Ltd still exists as a manufacturer of DAs and has branches all over the world.  One assumes they no longer have any connection with ITV.

 

 

The London Studios, when run by LWT, were famous for a mix of drama, comedy and entertainment.  The dramas included such classics as Upstairs, Downstairs - whilst the comedy included popular series such as Please Sir, Mind Your Language, and the various 'Doctor' series.  However, they also made more sophisticated series such as The Two of Us with Donald Sinden and Elaine Stritch, A Fine Romance with Judi Dench and Michael Williams and No - Honestly with Pauline Collins and John Alderton.  Other notable comedies included Thick as Thieves by Ian La Frenais and Billy Liar by Waterhouse and Hall.

It's a shame that for a number of years ITV rather lost their way when it came to comedy.  The last sitcom series made at TLS for a long while was Al Murray's Time Gentlemen Please between 2000 and 2002Perhaps surprisingly, that series was made for Sky OnePrior to that, the last sitcom series was probably Gimme, Gimme, Gimme - and that was made for the BBC in 1999-2001.  During this fallow period I lit three sitcom pilots here - one was called Sister Frances (2004) and starred Jo Brand, another was called Hibbert and Long (2007) and the third was Above Tbeir Stations (2009) and curiously was made by ITV Studios for BBC 3.  Unfortunately none of them was commissioned.  Must have been the lighting.  Good sitcoms do very well in the ratings and ITV has had much success in the past so it is perhaps surprising that the channel seemed to abandon this genre for so long. 

Of course, this all changed in 2013 when Vicious was recorded here in studio 1.  Birds of a Feather followed at the end of that year but at least one other sitcom was made here - Catherine Tate's Nan for the BBC.  This was a pilot but was transmitted in January 2014 as it was so well received.  A series may yet follow.  With TV Centre closed and Elstree not being on a tube line so less easy for audiences to get to, these studios are bound to pick up a lot of comedy work in future.

 

The LWT studios were the home of one of the most original performers in his day - Stanley Baxter.  From 1972 he began a relationship with LWT that would last for more than a decade.  His later shows were usually an hour long but we had to wait a year for each one.  This long wait was usually worth it and his impersonations of various film and television characters were always spot on.  Sadly, ITV dropped him from 1982 because his shows were so expensive to make.  He was welcomed by the BBC for a year or two but they too discovered how much his shows cost and his last special was made by them in 1986.  It's worth pointing out that it wasn't him who was expensive - indeed he claimed in a documentary that he made much more money when he was in the children's series Mr Majeika.  It was the elaborate sets, costumes and the number of days it took to make each show.

 

The studios were the base for Melvyn Bragg's The South Bank Show until the show was axed by ITV in 2009.  A particularly poignant edition was the final interview with Dennis Potter in 1994 shortly before his untimely death.  Those who worked on the programme still talk of what an extraordinary experience it was - both uplifting and emotionally draining.

 

Perhaps amongst the general public the LWT studios are best known for the many popular entertainment shows that have taken full advantage of the superb facilities in studio 1. 

In the '70s, LWT's fast moving answer to TOTP was called Supersonic and was famous for its gallery shots of director Mike Mansfield cueing the next act.  With its wide double tier of audience seating, studio 1 soon became a familiar sight on our TV screens with shows like An Audience With... and Game for a Laugh - a tradition that has continued with various specials featuring A-list performers and ITV series such as Ant and Dec's Saturday Takeaway and Al Murray's Happy Hour - and The Graham Norton Show and QI which are made here for BBC1.  For more than thirty years the studio produced some of the most popular Saturday night series such as Blind Date, Surprise Surprise, Pop Stars - the Rivals and ITV's version of Parkinson.

Studio 1 was given new seating in the summer of 2009 - in a tasteful charcoal grey.  I'm afraid I think I preferred the old red seats and carpets personally.

Studio 2 was converted to HD with Sony HDC-1500 cameras in the summer of 2009 with Studio 1 receiving its upgrade around Christmas that same year.  Studio 3 reopened with a refurbished gallery and HD cameras in the summer of 2012.

 

 

 

LWT's OB fleet had also been based at Wembley studios (as had Rediffusion's.)  In February 1971 they moved to a site not too far away in Stonebridge Park.  It had previously been the headquarters of a company called Intertel.  This company had owned a couple of OB units and had also built a studio on the site in 1966 that could be serviced by their OB cameras and scanners.  Intertel had been around for several years but in September 1970 they merged with TVR to become TVI and shortly after left the site, enabling LWT to move in.

Intertel's staff lighting director, John Burgess, became one of the UK's first freelance LDs - subsequently working at Ewarts Studios amongst other places.  Anyway, this studio in Northfields Industrial Estate, Wembley became the property of LWT.  It remained in service for another 13 years and was known by LWT staff as Wycombe Road

 

Before looking at the studio itself, it is worth examining the story of Intertel.

Intertel (VTR Services) Ltd. was established in 1962 to service the increasing demand by American television networks and independent producers for electronic production facilities in Europe. They were initially based at a site in Ealing where they parked their scanners and also had a small studio.   The Ealing premises were called Plant House and were in Longfield Avenue.  Peter Dearing tells me that the place was a bit 'rough and ready.'  He remembers Peter Sellers coming to shoot something in the studio and commenting that the building "looks like Steptoe's back yard."

Chris Patten recalls...

 

'...at the time I joined them they had two 4 camera monochrome scanners - an EMI 203 and a Marconi MK IV one.  They also had a massive two unit scanner based in Switzerland, which later got moved to Ealing.  We then built the Marconi colour scanner and then the PC 60 one.  They ran out of room at Ealing and started looking for a new site.  They found the site at Stonebridge Park while it was still under construction as a warehouse. They managed to get the building design changed during the construction stage and raised the roof of the building and added the cafeteria.'

 

As mentioned above, at first, the camera and videotape facilities were monochrome, but by 1964 - when the Innsbruck Winter Olympics coverage for ABC TV was undertaken entirely by the Intertel group of companies - the demand was gradually changing to colour.

In the UK, only Marconi had produced a working colour camera at this time - the BD848.  This had been developed from an earlier RCA design in the US.  In fact, Peter Dearing recalls that it was known by Intertel as a TK-41, the RCA reference number.  Much had been learned during the BBC's colour experiments at Alexandra Palace from 1955 and later at Lime Grove.  The camera in 1964 was still based on image-orthicon tubes but by then was very different from those early models.  It now utilised technology developed for the Marconi Mk IV monochrome camera.  It was still large and relatively unstable but could produce perfectly acceptable pictures.  However - it was clear that the image orthicon tube was not the way of the future for colour TV.  Early in 1964, Philips announced its development of the Plumbicon camera tube and later in that year, the design and prototype manufacture of the PC60 camera channel that used three of the new tubes in each camera.

Although the PC60 was smaller, lighter, and required only approximately a 50% increase in scene illumination compared to its monochrome counterparts, the reaction by European broadcasters was lukewarm, since colour standards had yet to be agreed upon. Philips themselves were said to be not particularly helpful and were prepared only to forecast a probable delivery of PC60s in mid-summer 1966.

This situation placed Intertel in something of a cleft stick - a good 75% of their business came from the US networks and affiliates on the West Coast. If they could not meet the demand for colour programming facilities in Europe, the business would be lost.

This left them with no option but to purchase four BD848 cameras from Marconi and to quickly build a scanner to accommodate them. Because of the sheer bulk and weight of the camera control units the front suspension of the vehicle had to be reinforced.  The cameras needed a very long warm-up period - Peter Dearing recalls a show made in Maurice Chevalier's house in Paris when he had to go in at 5.00 am to switch them on and sat there on his own for hours surrounded by priceless Renoirs and Picassos.  The Marconi cameras would also suddenly leap out of registration, when a sharp blow to a particular capacitor seemed to do the trick.  Peter remembers doing this on a live show from the Palladium.

Although many of the programme assignments which Intertel subsequently undertook for its American clients were outside broadcasts, winter sports etc., the majority were in fact indoors, and this posed a whole raft of new problems concerning lighting, the like of which neither Intertel, nor for that matter any other television company in Europe, had encountered before. To put the matter in perspective, monochrome 4.5" Image-Orthicon cameras in regular studio usage in the mid 1960s required between 1000 lux to 1500 lux to produce good quality pictures.  (Today we light at a level of about half that).  By comparison, the BD848 using 3" Image-Orthicon tubes needed a minimum of 3500 to 4000 lux to produce usable pictures - about 5 times today's lighting levels!

In an attempt to resolve this problem, Intertel built a massive lighting generator - with an overall output of 1200 Amps @ 240v., nearly 300kVA, single phase - to supply scanner, VT truck and lighting too.  Apparently, Big Bertha, as the generator came to be known, on occasion provided standby power at the BBC TV Centre. After serving Intertel well, it was probably finally put to good use by their new owners, LWT, as an emergency power source at their new studio centre on the South Bank in London.

This ad from 1968 reads ' John Osborne's Luther shot at Stonebridge Park Studios'  The camera is a PC60.

When the UK adopted the PAL colour system (the US using the more basic NTSC system) Intertel had to modify its cameras so they could be used to make programmes for the domestic market.  Peter Dearing tells me that Peter Johnson, resident lighting director and 'technical genius' built some PAL encoders from scratch since it was not possible to get hold of any without waiting months for delivery.

During its relatively short life from 1965 to 1968 - OB1C, as the Marconi BD848 colour unit was known, covered many programme commitments including Sunday Night at London Palladium, Hippodrome in 1966 for Associated-Rediffusion at studio 5 Wembley, Ski Jumping at Innsbruck and the Moscow State Circus in Minsk amongst many others. By 1968 however, its operational role at Intertel had diminished considerably. They had taken delivery of the first four Philips PC60s in the summer of 1966 and installed them in a new vehicle.  These would be used in their new studio.  Then when a further four PC60 camera channels were purchased in 1968, the Marconi cameras were no longer a viable proposition, and were given to various training colleges, such as Ravensbourne College in Kent.

The OB base contained a studio, originally intended to be a warehouse but adapted during its construction. - 99 x 75 ft wall to wall.  It had very narrow firelanes at each end giving a working space of 95 x 65 feet.  There was originally only one control room - for lighting - the production and sound control were in an OB scanner.  Production and sound galleries were added later by LWT when they took over.

 

click on the plan above to see a larger image

The plan oddly omits a door that was top right at floor level.

 

A lighting grid was installed which, perhaps surprisingly,  was made partly of Dexion.  I found this fact hard to believe until I saw it for myself on a visit in 2006.  The grid allowed monopoles to be used with tracks spaced 2ft 6ins apart.  (The same spacing as studios TV-one and TV-two at Pinewood, by coincidence.)  There were no crossover tracks.

I gather that the management originally planned to use eggboxes stuck to the walls for acoustic insulation with every member of staff being expected to spend a number of hours sticking them on.  Surprisingly, they weren't too keen on the idea and an alternative solution was found.

The top right corner of the studio, as drawn on the plan above.  Seen here in 2006, the studio is being used as a warehouse by Lee Lighting.  However, the grid, lighting gantry, track letters and footage markings all betray its history as a TV studio.

On the plan above is marked a small door and the legend - 'lighting control.'  In fact, nowadays that door is the one through which one enters from the main reception area.

The grid, which was indeed constructed largely of Dexion!

Intertel installed a good mix of lights, including some new large softlights called Northlights.  These were designed by Des Chalcroft, who it is said also designed the original grid.  He formed a small company to manufacture the Northlights - Ballancroft Engineering. 

These excellent lights eventually ended up in Lee's stock and were frequently hired for use on many dramas at Television Centre during the 1980s.  A smaller, 2.5kW version was developed which was then sold to Teddington Studios.  These softlights are still in regular use today - by me amongst others.  Despite their age they are often to be seen lighting sitcoms in the very latest studios in BBC Glasgow and MediaCity Salford.

 

Incidentally, not all the crew were staff - some were employed on a daily basis, moonlighting from their regular job at the BBC or ITV company.  I have been told that it was not uncommon for individuals to sign with names such as Mr M Mouse in order to receive £25 cash in hand for a day's graft.

Almost all of the programmes made in the studio by Intertel were for the US market.  Most are lost and forgotten. One of the earliest bookings in 1966 was for the David Frost Show which was made here for ABC Television.  In the same year,  Frank Dunlop's production of The Winter's Tale was recorded here in colour, starring Laurence Harvey, Jane Asher and Jim Dale amongst many others.  Giles Chapman has informed me that an episode of Hammer Films’ 1968 TV filmed series Journey To The Unknown was shot here.  It was entitled The Madison Experiment, and the Intertel facilities get a credit at the end.  Another episode of that series was called Somewhere in a Crowd.  It was filmed in 1969 and features the studio and the OB scanner.

 

a report in Kinematograph Weekly - August 4th 1966

 

The Beatles performed here in 1966 and were recorded in colour on videotape.  There was also another production made here by the Stones in December 1968 that has become almost legendary.   It was the result of a project to create a rock concert tour staged in an 'experimental' mix of music and circus.  The tour never happened but a film was shot.  Called The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, it was a kind of concert by the Stones within a circus tent set and with many special guests. 

The show included performances by The Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithful, Yoko Ono and 'The Dirty Mac', a group that was the first musical context in which John Lennon performed before an audience outside The Beatles. The Dirty Mac was Eric Clapton (lead guitar), The Rolling Stones’ own Keith Richards (bass) and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience (drums) with Lennon on guitar and vocals.  It was also the last time guitarist Brian Jones performed with the Stones.  A few months later he had died.  A DVD of this production is now available and is highly recommended!

The cameras for this programme were not the usual Intertel ones.  They were a curious hybrid of 16mm film camera and black and white video camera.  The cameras were operated in a TV style, using electronic viewfinders and mounted on Vinten peds and a Mole crane.  They were supplied for this show by a French company and apparently were highly prone to breaking down.  The delays in filming caused the show to overrun until 5.30 in the morning. 

Amazingly, the processed film rushes were not edited at the time.  It seems that despite the success of the show the Stones decided to remake it at the Colosseum in Rome.  (Why not?)  Perhaps not surprisingly, it proved to be impossible to get permission to film there so the project foundered and the film rushes were left in cans in the Stones' office.  When they moved offices some time later the film cans were moved to a barn owned by the road manager and forgotten.  He died some twelve years later and his wife rediscovered them.  They were finally edited and turned into an extraordinary film in 1996 that is a unique snapshot of the world of rock thirty years earlier..

This still of The Who shows the French hybrid TV/16mm film cameras hired in to make the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.  The cameramen are framing using a video CRT viewfinder.  However, on the top of each camera is a magazine for film reels.  The image was split and passed to the video camera to enable the shot to be previewed and also to a film camera enabling the image to be recorded.  Thus the show could be directed and cut using TV methods but the final print would be on colour film and capable of being shown anywhere in the world.

This French system was probably called 'Adder-Vision' but a British system using similar techniques was developed by Rank called Gemini.  It was used successfully at the Granville and Ewarts Studios for a few years and the BBC carried out some experiments with Gemini cameras at Riverside in 1968.

 

From 1967 the studio was hired on several occasions by - rather surprisingly - Yorkshire TV to record drama productions.  They began broadcasting to the new  ITV region  in 1968 but their studio centre in Leeds opened with only three relatively small studios.  Therefore, until their main studio 4 opened in 1969 they regularly booked this studio.

Wycombe Road in the LWT days.

The blue doors were for scenery access, the central bricked area was the BFBS technical area - the single door was a fire escape.  Above the blue door was the canteen, the rest of the first floor was offices for BFBS.  The top floor was make-up, wardrobe etc.

The small building on the left was originally owned by a company called 'Caterers Buying.'  There was a relatively narrow passage between it and the LWT building causing inevitable problems getting the large OB vehicles between the buildings to the yard at the back.  Oddly, the building was bought by LWT but left empty and not demolished.  This did happen much later, probably when the site was owned by Lee Lighting.

 

In September 1970 Intertel merged with TVR to form TVI.  They left the site and LWT moved in.   Patrick Neil has also noted that the studio was rented by LWT from Intertel before they actually owned it.  Some episodes of series 2 of Ronnie Barker's show, Hark at Barker, were recorded here in June 1970, some months before LWT took over.

In 1973 they refurbished the studio - installing production and sound control rooms - and bought some new cameras.  Unfortunately, these were EMI 2005s, which were equally unpopular with cameramen and engineers.

LWT's South Bank centre did not open until 1972, so this studio was used as a back-up to their Wembley studios at first (using an OB scanner for facilities), then continued in use for many years even after their brand-spanking-new studios opened.

It does seem odd to me that LWT should not only spend millions building their new centre on the South Bank but only the year after it opened be spending a not inconsiderable sum on this studio too.  They could have continued using it as a basic four-waller, utilising a scanner for technical facilities - but no.  They built new galleries and bought new cameras.  One has to wonder why.  The studio was never really busy during its time in service.  They must have anticipated a regular use that never transpired.

For most of the time that LWT operated the studio it was used as an overflow space to cope with busy periods.  Crews came from the South Bank and only a skeleton staff maintained the studio between bookings.  Amongst the programmes made here was a big Julie Andrews special that included the Muppets as guests.  This show was mainly intended for the American market.  Oddly, a very similar programme is said to have been made by ATV at Elstree although that was a Muppet special with guest - Julie Andrews.  Spot the difference?

VT engineer Andy Backhouse has confirmed that an Andrews/Muppet special was indeed made here but he continues...

 

'...the best thing was that in the early 80s, LWT used to rent the studio to the mega bands and artists as a rehearsal space prior to moving into Wembley Stadium.  Whilst working on the most lucrative part of my career at BFBS, I and my colleagues spent many a night on the lighting mezzanine watching and listening to virtually private performances by the likes of Dire Straits, Rod Steward, Madness, Boomtown Rats, Tina Turner etc etc.  They even built the entire lighting and stage rigs in the studio!'

 

Other shows recalled by LWT staff include a sitcom set in a railway station called The Train Now Standing starring Bill Fraser, The Death of Adolf Hitler (1972) starring Frank Finlay - and in 1973 a daytime soap about a magazine called Marked Personal with Stephanie Beacham, Tony Anholt, Lewis Collins and Dinah Sheridan.  There was also a Hoover commercial and several plays for US television directed by Terence Donovan. 

LWT also rented the studio to other companies including Anglia for some Tales of the Unexpected.

Apparently the studio was a popular place to work and had excellent catering.  (You may have noticed that this is a recurring theme throughout this history.  All I can say is that when you are working a fourteen hour day there is nothing more depressing than going to the canteen for supper and finding that everything on offer is inedible.)

 

 

BFBS

On the ground floor of the office block on site was a small studio (about 350 sq ft) used by the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).  This was not much more than a continuity studio, used to link the programmes broadcast to British forces overseas.  They had their own crew, except for one LWT electrician scheduled from the South Bank on a daily basis.  This contract ran from 1976 to 1985.

BFBS television then moved from Wycombe Road to a purpose built centre at Chalfont near Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire.  Those studios were run for several years by a charity called Services Sound and Vision Corporation or SSVC.  They are currently owned by the Arqiva group.

 

Arqiva own ten small TV studios in Soho, Feltham and Chalfont.  Five of them are VR studios.  Of the 'normal' studios, studio W1 is 950 sq ft (36 x 20ft) and is located in Soho.  At Chalfont they have two studios - studio 2 is 1,250 sq ft (39 x 32 ft) and studio 3 is a VR studio and is 880 sq ft (32ft 6ins x 27ft).

In the summer of 2006 Camelot began a long term booking in studio 2 to use it for the live Lotto draws.  Previously these usually came from TV Centre but following the 'invasion' by Fathers for Justice during a live Jet Set in TC4, Camelot looked for a more secure studio.  They don't come much more secure than this one.

In 2013 Camelot left Chalfont to go to Pinewood - an equally secure studio.

 

A Google Earth image of the Wycombe Road site in 2006.  The office block is at the bottom of the frame and the old studio is clearly seen at an angle just above it, dominating the buildings all around.  The triangular area between the buildings is occupied by rooms at ground and first floor level - the control rooms were on the first floor.

The large trucks seen here are those of Lee Lighting.

Wycombe Road in the Lee Lighting days - 2006 in fact.

LWT's EMI 2005 cameras and all the gallery sound and vision equipment soldiered on from 1973 to 1983 when LWT began seeking a joint venture with a facilities company to modernise the studios.  They were probably hoping to attract work for the newly-opened Channel 4.  This unfortunately came to nothing.  In September 1984 the studio was sold for £1m to Joe Dunton Cameras but they didn't actually move in until the following year.  LWT's OB fleet transferred to new premises in Acton in March 1985 and, as mentioned above, BFBS moved to Chalfont.

 

Joe Dunton Cameras was a division of Media Technology International (MTI) in which Lee Electric held a stake of 52.53 per cent.  This business specialised in camera rental but the studio gave them the opportunity to expand their business.  They spent £300,000 refurbishing the site - including the construction of a new camera rental facility.  Their original intention was to use the studio as a 'day-shoot four waller' but along came a request from a production company who were making a show for Channel 4.  The show - ECT - needed a large studio for a 10-week booking.  The programme was a live heavy-metal based music show.  Apparently everything on the set had an appropriately sleazy futuristic look - even the camera cowlings and their operators and the heavy metal audience were dressed to suit.  Facilities were provided by Trilion.

Joe Dunton became very enthused about the show and realised that with the studio's links to the Telecom Tower it filled a very useful gap in London's facilities - particularly for Channel 4 or the emerging satellite channel market.  However, whether there were any further TV bookings is not yet known, but any were probably few and far between.

Joe Dunton occupied the site between 1985 and 1989. 

 

In November 1989 Lee Electric transferred their lighting hire business here to Wycombe Road from Barlby Road, off Ladbroke Grove, where they had been for about three years. 

The studio became the warehouse for much of their lighting stock.  Two large doors were knocked through one of the long walls and mezzanine platforms built within it.  Incidentally, although the technical equipment in the studio had been scrapped, the lighting monopoles still had plenty of life left in them.  It seems that via a circuitous route they eventually ended up at Pinewood in the two TV studios there.

 

When I visited the studio in May 2006 the first impression was of a warehouse, with mezzanine floor and two large doors for access.  However, evidence of the studio's history remained.  I entered from main reception through a soundproof studio door and along the walls the footage markings could still be seen.  The grid still covered the whole space and the track identification letters hung from one end.  The lighting gantry surrounded the studio and was partly used for storage of seldom-used lights. 

In 2008 Lee Lighting merged with AFM to become Panalux and left the site.

Richard Smith contacted me in the summer of 2009 to let me know the sad news that the buildings on the site had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Looking across the studio from the lighting gantry in the corner above the original door to the lighting control.  The new access doors can be seen - as can the mezzanine floors to increase storage space.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, back in Wembley, after LWT left in 1972 the studios were unoccupied for a few years.  Early in 1978 the Lee brothers bought them and proceeded to turn them back into film studios.  During the following eight years they were known as Lee International Film Studios.

The images above show Wembley as ' Lee International Film Studios'.  The photos were taken during the 1980s and were kindly sent to me by Maurice Dale.  The lower picture shows part of the original buildings that belonged to the film studios to the left of studio 5.

Below is a shot of that building being demolished in 1989 after Limehouse took over - taken from the roof of studio 5.  I would love some photos of the film studios in use - particularly during the Rediffusion years.  Can you help?

 

During their period of occupation, Lee removed most of the television equipment - returning the old studios and studio 5 to film stages.  All the TV lighting bars were removed, leaving the grids bare.  The stages were renumbered or rather 're-lettered' if there is such a term.  Thus the old studio 5 became A and B stages, studio 1 became stage C,  studio 2 became stage D and studio 4 became stage E.  How very confusing.  One further small stage (F?) was upstairs (memories of those who worked there are a bit vague about where exactly it was.)  This latter one was mostly used as a photographic studio.  The painted 'A' and 'B' on the present studio doors almost certainly date back to the old Lee days.

The old TV control rooms were left in place but of course were not used for that purpose.  They were apparently useful on at least one occasion when a blue movie was being shot.  I'm told that a number of individuals made their way to the gallery suite and crawled towards the window where they observed the proceedings - the window apparently affording an excellent view.  The gentlemen in question did see the funny side of there being a row of heads peering over the bottom of the window frame, enjoying the view.  In fact, Clint Thomas, a relative of the Lee bros, has written to me to confirm that this story is true.  He has even told me who was involved...

'...the culprits watching "the action" were in fact Benny Lee, my father Dyfrig Thomas and the studio manager Dennis Carrigan - who were caught out by my brother who was then invited to watch with them!!'

 

Having spoken to one or two of the chaps who worked there at the time it seems that the studios had a very happy atmosphere.  One electrician remembers treading on Charlton Heston's foot and, remarkably, surviving to tell the tale.  There were apparently two bars on site which were both very popular with the crews.  So popular that detailed memories of what actually went on in the studios are said to be a little hazy.  I'm quite sure they are exaggerating.

 

The stages were used for various filmed dramas for TV and of course for commercials and pop promos.  The Professionals was based here - although almost all of it was shot on location.  However, the studios also attracted at least one major feature each year.  These included The Who's Quadrophenia ('78), The Elephant Man ('79), The Awakening ('79), Silver Dream Racer ('80), Time Bandits ('80), Yentl ('82), The Bride ('85), The Princess Bride ('86) and Terry Gilliam's surreal epic, Brazil.  The latter was filmed in 1984, which seems appropriate considering the subject matter.  Perhaps most surprising is that some of The Empire Strikes Back was filmed here in 1979.  (Most was filmed at Elstree.)  Odd to think that Darth Vader may once have stood on the same spot as Simon Cowell when he judges The X-Factor.  Then again...

In 1984 the Lee brothers bought the much larger Shepperton Studios for £3.6m, also rather confusingly naming them 'Lee International Studios'.  (Shepperton is covered on the 'independent studios' page on this website).

The company kept both Wembley and Shepperton on for about two years whilst upgrading the facilities at Shepperton.  They left the Wembley site in July 1986.  This move was not anticipated by the staff.  I spoke to one electrician who had a nasty surprise when he returned from his family holiday to find the building locked and empty!  In fact, the company had moved its lighting hire business to new premises in Barlby Road, at the top of Ladbroke Grove, in the old Sunbeam car factory.  This was also at that time the base for The Bill.  Thames Television occupied the left hand end of the building for several years before moving to Merton.  (The original base for The Bill was in Wapping before moving to Barlby Road.)  As is documented elsewhere on this site - Lee Lighting moved from Barlby Road to the old LWT studio in Wycombe Road in 1989.

For the next three years, once Lee's had moved out the studios remained empty, although apparently still owned by them.  It seems likely that there was a local planning condition that they had to continue use as film or TV studios but nobody was interested in purchasing them.

 

 

In 1989, Limehouse Television took over the Wembley site.  They had previously occupied a fashionable studio centre converted from a warehouse at the eastern end of Canary Wharf. 

The story of Limehouse Studios is to be found elsewhere on this website.  This highly regarded enterprise had found themselves without a home early in 1989 when the building they had converted into a state of the art TV studio centre was needed for redevelopment.

After a short spell at the Trocadero - Trilion, the parent company of Limehouse, purchased Wembley Studios on 9th June.  They bought the whole site announcing that they were going to demolish the old film studios and replace them with a 'media village'.  Ten to fifteen commercial units were going to be built for production companies.  John Turner, Trilion's manager of resources, was quoted as saying:  "It's likely we'll  be building more studios to support independents who we want to attract to Wembley."  Of course.

Guess what.  The old film studios were indeed demolished but replaced with - a retail park.  (Interestingly, Trilion and Limehouse were in turn part owned by the Brent Walker Group, who around this time also bought Elstree Film Studios, demolished most of the film stages and built a Tescos.  Fancy that.)  Actually, perhaps even worse, they just demolished the old Wembley Park film studios and used the space as a car park for a couple of years.  Ian Trill worked on The Word in November 1991 and remembers parking amid the rubble of the old studios.

 

Of course, all the TV equipment in studio 5 at Wembley had been removed by Lee or was completely obsolete.  Thus Limehouse had to completely re-equip the studio.  A great deal of kit had been removed from Docklands and was in storage.  This ended up in the big double studio - including the motorised lighting bars.  The first programme was recorded on 6th October 1989.   The new Limehouse Wembley was back in action - although I'm told the first few shows had to use an OB scanner for facilities as there was so much to do to bring the studio back into use for TV.

More work was done on the site by Limehouse over the next few months - including constructing the workshop and storage areas that surround the studio buildings.  Trilion operated some OB units and these moved here (now with 'Limehouse' painted on the side) around the end of 1990 once the work was finished.

Some of the highly regarded staff had remained with the business (although understandably others had taken the opportunity to go freelance) and they did their best to bring the atmosphere of the old studios to the new ones. 

 

Well-known shows made here at this time included Food and Drink (previously made in the old Docklands studios) and The Word ('90-'92).  Hat Trick had been using Limehouse in Docklands for most of their shows and this continued at Wembley.  Whose Line is it Anyway? was recorded here, as were the early series of Have I Got News For You?  The second series of Bruce Forsyth's gameshow You Bet moved here from Shepperton for one series in 1989.   The studios were used for a number of music shows, including various editions of MTV Unplugged with Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins, Paul McCartney and the Cure.  Some Queen promo videos were also filmed here in Feb and May '91 just before Freddie Mercury died.  Other shows recorded at Limehouse-Wembley include Harry Enfield's Television Programme ('90-'92).

I'm told by one of the engineers at the time (Steve) that a regular booking was a pop show for Fuji TV in Japan.  They insisted on live injects from a presenter in the UK so they needed two satellite hops. The engineers used to chat to their counterparts in Japan during the ad breaks and one day decided to loop the forward and backward links so they could see their own pictures.  After four hops and two 1980s technology standards converters the pictures were so soft they were almost unrecognisable.

 

Limehouse had made a considerable sum of money in moving from Docklands, (about £16.5m) as the compulsory purchase compensation was very generous.  They also sold off the old film studio part of the Wembley site, which would itself have raised a tidy sum.  It is perhaps surprising therefore that so soon after moving, the company found itself in financial difficulties.  However, Trilion - the owners of the business, were not on solid financial ground.  Despite the best efforts of everyone working for Limehouse, Trilion folded in December 1992 taking Limehouse with them.  Of course they were not alone.  At this time the UK was in the grip of recession. 

Nick Jenner was an electrician working for Limehouse at the time.  He had joined the company very soon after they took over the studios - he remembers that the TV floor had just been relaid - and he helped with the installation of the ex-docklands studios lighting hoists.  He tells me that when Limehouse folded as a company the studios rather surprisingly continued in operation - at least for a while...

 

'...The studios did not close after the receivers mo