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old (and present) ITV studios
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.
page looks at each studio in turn as it relates to the history of
I know that technically TV-am and GMTV are not part of ITV but they
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.
and dates listed below in the
order they appear:
Viking Studio (early
film days, Associated-Rediffusion, BBC studio M)
Granville Theatre (Associated-Rediffusion,
days to Associated-Rediffusion, Rediffusion London)
days to ABC to the demise of Thames)
Green Empire (ATV)
film days, High Definition Films, ATV)
(early film days to
ATV, Central, BBC Elstree Centre)
London Studios (LWT, ITV)
Road (Intertel, LWT,
Joe Dunton Cameras)
(Lee, Limehouse, Fountain)
section on Lenton Lane, Nottingham)
history 1993- present
Barnes Trust, Pinewood)
- 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!
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.
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.
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'
(or, now more accurately, 'ITV1') 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.)
Viking Studio. Not a bad size but with a big chunk taken out
of the corner to fit in the production gallery suite.
thanks to Richard Greenough
on it to see it in greater resolution
The studio was 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 the Viking
Studio was 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. 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.
Viking Studio during A-R training.
pilot for Strictly Come Dancing perhaps?
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.
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 his 'Ollie Octopus' thing, 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.
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!
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.
on Earth did they rehearse all this stuff???
on the schedule to see it in greater resolution
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.
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?
Burgess has written to me to confirm the following:
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.
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.
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.
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.' 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.
why studio 'M'? The obvious explanation of course is 'M' for Marconi.
M' during the transmission of Tonight.
cameras are Marconi MkIIIs
thanks to David Petrie)
moved to Lime Grove in 1960, when the opening of TV Centre freed up
studio space at the Grove.
is not known for sure what happened to the Viking Studio after the
BBC left. It is listed as a film studio again in the British
Film and Television Yearbook for 1968. 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!
original building was demolished in the mid 1990s and replaced with
a development containing apartments and offices. It seems that
David Frost's Paradine Productions may currently be based here.
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.
had also bought an old 1898 Frank Matcham 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.
forbidding exterior of the Granville. Frank Matcham at his
thanks to Louis Barfe
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.
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.
theatre probably remained the property of Associated-Rediffusion for
a year or so but it was not used.
Granville Theatre - ITV's first operational studio. Not the
largest or most sophisticated but - the first! It began making
programmes on 7th August 1955.
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
1957 the studio was purchased by Pye/Mole Richardson, who carried
out an extensive refit. 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', it was set up as a collaboration with Pye/Mole
to act as a demonstration studio for their equipment. Avalable
for hire as a fully working studio - '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.)
Granville in 1960 during the Mole/Pye days.
can just hear the LD screaming 'Get her away from that cyc!'
thanks to David Petrie
is patchy as to who owned and operated it over the following years
but I have discovered a few clues...
studio was probably bought by the Robert Stigwood Organisation some
time later and was used to make a few music-based programmes and
various ads. 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.
advertisement printed in the 1961-62 British Film and Television
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!
the clock and 'On Air' sign.
thanks to Louis Barfe
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.
Kaye has been researching the history of the Central Office of
Information. She contacted me with the following information:
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
cameras used to make these COI films were dual Marconi Mk IV video
cameras optically linked to Mitchell 16mm film cameras. This
system was 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.
of the Gemini cameras in use
thanks to David Petrie
it seems that some programmes continued to be made on video and
recorded on tape using hired-in video cameras rather than the Gemini
film cameras. Andrew McKean recalls...
worked for Pye TVT 1962 -1963, based in London and recall the
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.
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.
main memory though is of the strict union control at the site.
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.
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.'
cannot recall the Gemini cameras, we brought along our own Pye Mk3
Image Orthicon cameras and set them up in a makeshift control room
overlooking the stage.'
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..
advertisement from Kemp's International Film & Television
love the expression 'colour lighting.' I assume that means
they had bought a couple of rolls of red and blue gell.
I do know it actually means that they had sufficient power and
lights that were bright enough for the Gemini cameras.)
to Geoff Hale for sending the
seems that at some point in the mid 1960s a company called Granville
Television was formed by William (Bill) Stewart and Peter Lloyd who
both originally came from ATV. 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
Stewart's daughter Jane has kindly written to me with her memories...
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.
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.'
television making ended at the Granville. The Gemini cameras
were bought by Ewart Studios who also took over the COI work.
Granville Theatre was demolished in 1971.
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
(This building also became the first base for the studios of ITN.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
picture above is thought to be of the main ITN studio in Television
House. Certainly, the sloping wall seems to suggest that it is
in the roof.
Television House was closed in 1969 ITN moved to a building in Wells
Street. Here they had two studios of 2000 sq ft and 700 sq ft
respectively. They were equipped with EMI 2001 colour
came from the larger one.)
When Thames took over Television
House in 1968 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.
man in the street's view of the Today programme being broadcast.
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.
main production centre back in 1955 was to be at Wembley
taking over a film studio site then owned by 20th Century Fox and
quickly converting the old stages into four TV studios.
early film years...
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!)
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. As luck would
have it, this was destroyed by fire in 1929.
'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.
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.'
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.
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.
the war the studios were brought back into commission and used by
the Army Kinema Corporation and the RAF to make training films.
Rather carelessly, stage 2 was destroyed by fire in 1943 and it too
was subsequently rebuilt. Following the war some film-making
continued by independent film makers. In 1947 Wembley was said
to have 2 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.
arrival of television...
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.
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 heights 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 believable.
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.
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.
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.
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. This was
remarkable progress - especially since there was a national shortage
of bricks at the time (no, really) and construction was
hampered by discovering some of the very solid foundations of old
Wembley Exhibition buildings.
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.
thanks to Maurice Dale
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.
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. It 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 (i.e. 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.
will be recounted later in this article, all that remains of the old
Wembley studios is this large
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
you haven't got Google Earth on your computer then shame on
you! It's the most fascinating and absorbing free software
available. Download it today!
used Wembley Studios for such iconic shows as Hughie Green's Double
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
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. Rediffusion also created two shows that were the
predecessors to Monty Python - Do
Not Adjust Your Set
Last the 1948 Show.
Other popular programmes included
('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.
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?
Dale was in the audience on November 1st, 1961. Thanks to him
for keeping the ticket stub!
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.
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.
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
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.
thanks to Maurice Dale.
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!
still is courtesy of Lester Cowling who was in the audience that
day. She's probably standing right where the Big Macs are
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 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.
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.
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...
animals were from Chipperfields circus. I honestly
dont 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.
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!
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.
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.
folk didnt 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 didnt ride, backed into the bear. Oops.
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.
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!
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.
no sane director would attempt a 3 hour live show of that magnitude
involving so many unpredictable animals. It was a wild experience.'
set plan for An Arabian Night. Click on the image to
see a larger version
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.
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.
thanks to the STLD and Bill Lee.
- the series that seems to really have made the best use of the size
of the studio is Hippodrome. This was a series 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!
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
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 BD 848 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.
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.
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.
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.
thanks to Bill Lee and the STLD
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 showbiz 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.
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.
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...
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
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 last 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.
here to jump forward to the next section on Wembley
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.
service began in 1956, five 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 also owned 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. For its Manchester base, ABC converted a
cinema it already owned - the Capital Cinema in Didsbury. This
contained one reasonably sized studio - large enough for the first
series of The Avengers - and two very small studios.
(ABC kept this site on until they lost the franchise and became part
they 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 important to their operation
and each company concentrated their main productions in their other studios.
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.
popular studios are now part of the Pinewood Studios Group and the
home of many well-known sitcoms and other big entertainment
shows. The site contains two large production studios used to
make many programmes for all 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
are also six small studios around the site: Studio 3 (2,098 sq
ft) has a long history of children's programmes including Magpie and Rainbow,
and has been used more recently by a couple of shopping channels and
as the base for a roulette-based gambling channel. It currently
(2011) is fitted with a hard infinity cyclorama which can be painted
white, green or blue. The cyc extends around almost all four
sides with one corner open. It is probably the only studio in
west London with this very useful facility. Studio 4 (1,475 sq
ft) was originally built as a music studio and band room and since
conversion to a TV studio in 1994 has been booked by various
satellite channels. From early in 2008 to September 2010 it was
the home of CBeebies continuity. Studio 5 is a continuity
studio used by the Chinese Channel, 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 continued to air for a while on Channel
5). The studio currently has an infinity cyc at one end
enabling it to be used for chromakey. Meanwhile studio 8 used
to be edit 1 and is now a continuity studio for Turf TV. Since
the autumn of 2007 Teddington has 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 BBC Comedy department from time to time,
Teddington is the playout centre for several digital channels.
However, its origins were far removed from all this...
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.
thanks to Paul Burton
early film years...
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.
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 popular comedy films. They stayed for three years
before moving on to another studio in Kew. A new company -
Master Films - took over in 1916. This company built a silent
stage in the grounds measuring some 60ft by 40ft. This was
probably where Studio 2 now stands. Master made many films but
apparently they weren't up to much and in 1925 the company went
bust. The studio was unused for a few years and eventually the
stage burnt down in 1929.
1931 the studios were renamed Teddington Film Studios by Henry
Edwards and E G Norman, who built a new sound stage on the site -
this eventually became the present Studios 2 and 3. The stage
was T-shaped and capable of being divided into two stages (A and B)
if required. When used as one stage it was said to be 130 ft long.
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 today's
studios 2 and 3 this is hardly correct. Weir House can be seen
almost as a tiny model behind it. Note the viewing theatre in
the foreground in the space currently occupied by studio 3's green
room and control room.
is the interior of the original stage at some time during the
1930s. Those familiar with the current studio 2 will recognize
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
is now 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.
mystery - in the post fire photograph shown a page or so below,
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, at first glance there
doesn't seem to be any sign of it in this picture. My theory is
that the door is closed in this picture and the sliding inner door is
the same colour and texture as the studio wall so in this poor
quality photo it is invisible. Convinced? No, neither am I.
the lighting grid. What those hanging 'teeth' were and how
they worked I have no idea!
on the image to see it larger
2 in 2005. The lens on this camera has a narrower angle than
the picture above but some similarities can be seen. The
lighting bridge separating the two parts of the studio is obvious and
one of the steel pillars can be seen. There are black drapes
around the studio so unfortunately the walls cannot be seen
here. The grid of course now has telescopes to support the
lights. This studio has been home to many popular series and
its unique shape is actually quite useful, the 'small' end of the
studio forming a natural position for audience seating when required.
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 bought the studios - 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 present Studio 1) with
associated dressing rooms, offices, scenery construction workshops
etc as well as the admin block facing Broom Road.
war broke out Teddington remained busy making films for Warner and
other production companies. It was unusual in remaining open -
most other film studios had been requisitioned by the government for storage.
of the stages on the site is somewhat confusing. The first
stage was subdivided into A and B. The later stage - currently
studio 1 - was called Stage 2
at which point the original stage was called Stage 1. In other
words, the opposite of how we now refer to studios 1 and 2.
Confused? Don't blame me.
the evening of July 5th 1944 at 8.10pm a V1 flying bomb bounced off
the corner of the powerhouse and and landed in the space between the
admin block and Stage 2 (the present studio 1). Curiously, the
photo below seems to suggest that the blast happened at the back of
the stage near the present 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 manager, Doc Salomon, sadly lost
their lives. It might have been many more but since the bomb
fell in the evening most people had 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, which had
escaped damage and was hastily soundproofed.
2 (studio 1) after the V1. The bomb seems to have exploded
close to where the main exterior dock door is now 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. Hmmm -
what do you think?
on the image to see it larger
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
the present studio 3. Studio 2 became the T-shape it is today
and the scene dock door was moved right a few feet onto the next wall.
1946 rebuilding began. Oddly, government regulations insisted
that reconstruction had to retain the size and appearance of the
original buildings. 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 near the river.
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!
restored studios were re-opened by Danny Kaye in 1948. For a
brief period they were busy but by the early 1950s the British film
industry was in crisis. In November 1951 the studios 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?)
- I have discovered no record when the large 'production block' that
runs across the back of the site near the river was built.
One assumes that its construction dates from some time between
1934 and 1939, the Warner Bros era. It
is not shown on an Ordnance Survey map dated 1934. I
have read that originally the ground floor was used as a garage for
film location vehicles . Observing it now, one can make
out the frames of
two or three large doors (now bricked up) across the front of
the building. It is also referred to as the 'property block' in one
document I have read. Later, a mezzanine floor was added and
the building became purely an office block. This may
happened when the new scenery workshop was built in the area between
the production block and the studios in 1973. The production
block and scenery workshop
now owned and occupied by Haymarket Publishing and has been
completely gutted and refurbished.
arrival of television...
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
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
actually died. The rest of the cast carried on like troupers
and improvised their lines to keep the show going to the end.
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 production 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 shows would not have to be transmitted live any more.
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.
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.
might be interesting at this point to compare the approach of the
three London-based ITV companies to live and recorded programmes.
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!) It was only later from 1960-61 when they moved to
Elstree that they began to record their drama 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.
also 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
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.
studios 2 and 3 were converted - flat floors were laid, telescope
lighting grids installed and a control room was built alongside Broom
Road in the area formerly occupied by the viewing theatre. This
initially serviced both studios 2 and 3. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
familiar with studio 2 now will note the slightly different
arrangement of the studio doors.
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.
middle Marconi Mk III has had its covers removed. That doesn't
bode well for a trouble-free recording!
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.
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.
is still a film stage at this date - 1959. The scene dock door
is clearly visible - it no longer raises today but the old runners
can still be seen on the wall. The current door is mounted on
the outside of the studio and slides to the left.
studio walls in this photo are pre their 'bottle green' paint job
and there is no small door in the corner of the studio as there is
today. This was apparently added during the TV conversion.
The curious large box-shaped structures against the walls are part
of the original ventilation system. The one on the right is
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
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!
Baxter has wriiten 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.
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 believe the sockets
may still be there - though probably a little rusty and of course
connect to nothing at all now.
programmes over the years including Magpie shot items in the
car park or on the riverbank. The car park and area outside
studio 1 is still sometimes used to record sketches for Harry
Hill's TV Burp, although these are either cabled directly from
the studio or more usually recorded with a Betaback camera.
the most famous riverside sequence to be shot was The Beatles'
arrival at the studios by boat, probably in 1963 (can you confirm
the first phase of construction was up and running, the major
building 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. An 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 is now studio 4 and was converted to a TV studio in 1994.)
early 1963 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
probably The Avengers. The first two series had been
made at Didsbury and transmitted live but series 3 was recorded at
Teddington. (From 1964 onwards this popular drama moved to ABPC
Elstree studios and was shot on 35mm film.)
203s in 1967. This could be studio 1 or 2.
show is Tempo - an arts programme, with Daniel Barenboim seen
here at the piano.
1965 the restaurant block was built overlooking the river, providing
excellent catering and social facilities for staff and visiting
artists. There was more major building work on the site in 1973
when a new office building was constructed, 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 an actual office
again. I wonder if the people working in there realise...?
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 has the smallest parking bays with the
least amount of space for maneuvering between them of any in the UK.
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.
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
converted by ABC into the control room suite for studio 3. Just
above studio 1 is the area of the paint frame on the first floor with
scenery store below.
indicates more or less the areas now occupied by Haymarket Publishing
(above) and Pinewood Studios Group (below).
indicates approximately where the office used as a location for Ricky
Gervais' The Office was situated.
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 are still in use. Although an
excellent purchase in their day - and very well maintained since -
they are very much showing their age and must be the oldest cameras
in any major TV studio in London. Sadly, this says as much
about the way the studios have been run by both owners since Thames
left as it does about the cameras.
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 have
still had to be hired in when an HD production was being
recorded. If a proper HD installation had been carried out in,
say, 2006 the company would probably have saved huge amounts of money
over the years. That's what happens when companies only think
Studio 2 soldiers on with its ancient Ikegamis - as does Studio 1
when a programme is made in standard definition - and the very dated
control rooms of both studios are used by film companies looking for
'period' TV studio locations.
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.'
year is 1969 and the show is Cooper
8? In 1969? Who are they kidding.
course Teddington Studios eventually became the headquarters of
Thames Television (more on that later) and was the home of many
classic series including This
is Your Life, The
Des o'Connor Show,
Tommy Cooper ('73 - '74), Opportunity Knocks ('64 - '77),
The Kenny Everett Video Show ('79 - '81), children's series like 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.
often remembered for its popular light entertainment and comedy
shows, Thames made several highly regarded studio dramas here.
These included Special
Branch ('69 - 70) and
Van der Valk ('72
- '73). 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.
a long time the studios have 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 situation comedy in studio 1 that
continues to this day. Thames produced many popular
sitcoms including Father
Dear Father ('68
- '73), Bless
('71 - 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.
recent productions are listed in the section about the studios
towards the end of this web page.
has one feature that is shared by only one or two other studios to
my knowledge. Studio 1 is said to be haunted and several
sightings have been made - even up to 2005. 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 ago 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 photograph that used to be on the wall of
the corridor outside the control rooms shows 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 photo. Some
photos of the ruins of the building after the V1 explosion seem to
show a figure (studio manager Doc Saloman?) amongst all the
rubble. I understand there is even a spectral dog - but no
figure with his head under his arm you'll be relieved to hear.
have been written to by Pete Rogers who experienced something
'interesting' in April 2007...
Wednesday, I was in the audience for Brian Conleys Let
Me Entertain You recorded in Studio 2.
was situated on the second of two rows on the studio floor arranged
around a semi-circular platform. The crew were operating behind
me and the main audience seating was situated in a raked fashion
further behind the crew. As I was watching an act on the
platform, I felt something flick the top of my head. It felt
like the sort of thing a headmaster might do to you if you were in
trouble! I quickly looked behind me (I wondered if e.g. the
corner of an autocue had just caught me as a camera was tracking
past) and I also checked the floor to see whether it was something
that had fallen on me. Nobody or nothing was in any proximity
to me whatsoever at this time. It was not a ventilation related
phenomenon, either, because the "flick" was distinct,
impactful and very localised. However, I resolved to disregard
the incident and thought to myself, if the same thing happens
again I'll have to put it down to a studio ghost!
I thought this, the same thing happened again. It was a
distinctive flick of the head/hair. I wasnt
scared in a way it seemed quite
friendly and I continued to enjoy the show.'
has a small permanent staff and a core of regular freelancers who
make most of the shows here. (Plus, of course, the
ghosts.) In my view it is one of the nicest places to work -
partly because of the location but mostly because of the dedicated
staff and regular freelance crews who make everything so easy.
here to jump forward to the next section on Teddington
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the orchestra pit on the right of the stalls - it is not too clearly
marked on the studio plan.
thanks to Richard Greenough
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). Within the auditorium were five lighting bars, each
on a motorized 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...
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 wouldnt have dared with the Pyes.'
currently writing a book which will no doubt be well worth a read
when it is published. He has also told me about his experiences
with the original Pye Mk 3 cameras...
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.'
Brown on the camera at Wood Green.
thanks to Jeremy Hoare
machine was also installed at Wood Green.
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 is still in use.
floor of the Wood Green Empire in 1958.
still and the ones below are taken from a promotional film made by ATV.
production control gallery - called the 'vision control room' on the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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!'
is perhaps worth reprinting part of an article from 'Practical
Television' published in January 1957. The writer describes a
visit to the studio:
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! "
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.
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.
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...
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 facade is just about recognizable
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.
image below is a rare colour photo of the period taken by Jeremy
Hoare. It shows the Arthur
being recorded at the Wood Green Empire in 1962, shortly before ATV left.
Empire, around 1960. The 'ATV Television Theatre' sign can
just be made out behind the trees.
thanks to Louis Barfe
dates back to 1901, having opened that year on 9th December.
Built initially for a seating capacity of 2158 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.
plan of Hackney.
thanks to Richard Greenough
The camera and
lighting equipment at Hackney were similar to that installed at the
Wood Green Empire.
Empire in 1958.
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.
still, taken from an ATV film, shows the board still in operation in 1958.
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!
trouble was that they were so well-built that there was nothing to
go wrong - some might say unlike the electronic consoles that
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
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.
to be found at 65A Highbury New Park, Islington. They were
built originally as a music conservatoire in 1890, becoming a
recording studio in 1926 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 -
not very large - and a smaller one probably in the basement.
For the two years until the outbreak of war they were leased to
independent film producers making quota quickies and some modestly
successful films for the British market. They were barely used
during the war after which they were acquired by the Rank Organisation.
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
films 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.
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 the BBC should have a competing television
channel. He campaigned loudly on this subject and formed a
company called High Definition Films, based at Highbury.
He planned 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 his plans came to fruition.
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.
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.
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. They settled on a
resolution of 650 lines. This may not sound that sharp but it
is not that much short of today's standard of 720 progressive
lines. The overall resolution of the system was said to be an
resolutions were also 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 3000 lines but this was just
wishful thinking! Still, it is amazing that these cameras were
almost 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.
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".
Laurence - a director of several films made by HDF - apparently
demonstrating a Pye Pesticon HD camera.
not so. Dickie Howett has pointed out that this is, in fact, a
very ordinary Pye Mk 3 with a 'high definition' label stuck on the side!
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.
lens turret was originally motorized, 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.
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.
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
Dickie Howett mentioned.
photo was sent to me by Dickie Howett and clearly shows the
'steering wheel' manual lens changer on the front of the camera.
can certainly understand why HDF didn't want to use one of these
cameras for their publicity shots.
techniques for recording the image onto the film were also
developed. This 'telerecording' technique was initially 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 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. All primitive stuff
but it worked!
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
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.
monitor stack. Rather different from today's HD monitors - but
apparently just as sharp!
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.
of these effects would be done optically in the lab if film were
used so huge cost savings were possible.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.'
it happens, I have lit many shows using the latest 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 productions using progressive scan HD cameras. The
cameramen did find it much more difficult to hold focus on moving
actors but they coped! However, working like that every day
must indeed become pretty tiring on the eyes.
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 building looked.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
(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.
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
(1959), with Robert Morley playing Micawber - whilst Towers
also contracted Hollywood star Basil Rathbone to play Scrooge.
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.
Alan Towers died on 31st July 2009 and received an obituary in The Times.
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.
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 added at one end, thus
reducing it by a few 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!
Russell has also contacted me - his father was an electrician at the
studios and he recalls visiting as a small boy...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.'
mentioned above, 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, which one assumes were now owned by ATV.
He was executive producer on a series called Theatre Royal - a
series of 'filmed' plays that were made at Highbury between 1955 and
1956. However, as mentioned above, Towers probably left
Highbury rather suddenly around March when this 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.
fortunes looked up and within a few months the studio was brought
back into service using conventional 405-line cameras, controlled by
an OB scanner parked at the front of building.
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,
probably 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.
McKean has written with an interesting postscript regarding what
happened to the HDF cameras and equipment...
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.
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.
assume that the Pye Mk3 Image Orthicon cameras that we used in
1962/63 were originally part of the HDF inventory.'
seems probable that the scanner continued to be used at the front of
the building for some time. Nobody who has contacted me can
remember the old HDF control rooms being converted to 405 lines and
brought into use. The Pye cameras were employed for a number of
years. However - more than one source has also indicated that
the studio was at some time equipped with Marconi cameras. One
cameraman, Jeremy Hoare, is convinced that he only ever operated
Marconis at Highbury. (He joined ATV as a junior tracker in
1959.) However, the photo below clearly shows a Pye Mk 3 and
Stephen Bailey, quoted above, is convinced that when he did a day or
two at Highbury early in 1960 the studio had Pye cameras.
whole area has proved to be a bit of a minefield! However, by
sifting through the clues it does seem likely that some time around
1960 the Pyes were replaced with Marconis. This seems an odd
decision and would certainly not have been welcomed by the board of
Pye, who were part owners of ATV. However, I am told that a
possible reason for this was because Lew Grade was keen to export
material to the US, and the Marconi cameras were switchable to 525
lines, unlike the Pyes. Thus Highbury, Wood Green and Hackney
all received new Marconis.
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 certainly 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
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.'
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. It was rehearsed at the De Walden rehearsal rooms, St
John's Wood. When Highbury closed on 30th September 1961 with
an edition of E-W 10 the programme moved to Elstree.
10. Click on the image for a larger version.
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.
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.
Carrington - one of the stars of Emergency-Ward
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 all the
available evidence indicated that Highbury was equipped with Pye MkIIIs?
to people writing to me it is probable that at some time around 1960
the studio was re-equipped with Marconis.
if you're thinking that those letters on the side of the camera look
oddly familiar - yes, they really were car numberplate letters.
Hoare recalls his time working on E-W 10...
worked on 'Emergency Ward 10' at Highbury as a very junior tracker,
and I am sure the cameras were Marconis with the hand crank lens
change and upside-down beer pull focus handle, the only ones I ever
worked with. 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!'
schedule copied from an Emergency-Ward 10 script.
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.
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.
am particularly grateful to Dickie Howett for much of the above
information on High Definition Films.
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
early film years...
studios had their origins in 1914, 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.
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.
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
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.
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 an astonishing 39 films as well as many
commercials. It is not known how many he actually made but by
the end of his first two months he had completed six 26-minute
films. From 1955 Associated-Rediffusion ran a series called Douglas
Fairbanks Presents. It is
likely that this used many of the half hour dramas that had been
originally made here for the US. Fairbanks ran the studios for
about five years before ATV took over.
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.
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 stages and the adjoining offices/dressing rooms
all the rest of the buildings are new.
arrival of television...
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.
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
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.
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,
and other popular drama series thus providing an invaluable source of
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???
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.
'what ifs' - on with what actually happened...
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.
D had sliding doors installed betwen the lighting/vision control
room and small corridor. Sliding doors that trap unwary fingers
as I can testify.
BBC made some further alterations to C's gallery suite for Top of
the Pops around the late '90s but studio D's remained largely as
ATV left it (albeit with widescreen digital and then flyaway HD kit)
until the beginning of 2013.
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.
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
is a large and impressive site and was arguably the best equipped of
all the ITV studio centres in its day.
thanks to Ronald Wolstencroft.
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'.
Obviously. (UFO was filmed down the road at MGM British
studios until they closed, then it moved to Pinewood.)
began to move onto the site during 1960, although the studios would
not be ready for use until the end of the year.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
document dating from some time in 1961 gives clear evidence of
the dates of the opening of the studios.
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.
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.
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.
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.
gameshows made at Elstree included The Golden Shot ('67-'75),
Celebrity Squares (from
'75) and Family Fortunes (from '80).
'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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the chosen decor, cowboy western-style swing doors were
traditionally used for ease of access every year.
Sound Department would provide the mics, p.a. and background music,
and the catering department provided the food.
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.
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
mid-afternoon the place would be heaving, word having spread around
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!
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.
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.
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.
was truly the Golden Age of Television for the workers.
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 (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
and on the back lot they built 'Albert Square' and its surrounding
streets. Until the show moved north, Grange
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
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!
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.
the studio had briefly seen a colour camera a few years before then
- as Jeremy Hoare recounts...
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.
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 didnt seem impressed. I didnt get lunch
either. But at least I get to did operate ATV's own first ever
in studio A. The lighting rig looks quite different from the
photo of the same show seen above in the Highbury Studios section.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 floor was being used for a
rehearsal. Oddly, the 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....
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.'
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???
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 1200 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
B still going strong in 2012. Those lighting monopoles 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.
Hughes has sent me an interesting snippet...
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.
believe this might have been the first Ultimatte install in the UK.
I remember the boys in Tech being very excited about it.'
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.
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.
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.
images below were photographed in 2006. Click on them to see
them in high resolution and for some further information...
- the reason that the sound gallery is not illustrated above is that
it has become a producer's room for EastEnders.
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 crew.
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.
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.
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.
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 Brookside.
series finally ended in 2008 after 30 years.
sliding doors between A and B. The corridor that separates the
two studios helps to preserve good sound insulation between them.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 Crosby's last ever performance.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
huge, beautifully furnished lighting control room in C currently has
two rather lonely monitors in its otherwise empty stack and is used
as an EastEnders producers' viewing room.
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.
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.
D lighting control room as ATV left it and photographed by a BBC
engineer before anything was changed there.
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.
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???
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.
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.
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.
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
room is now the production control room and lighting have moved
across the corridor into the old PCR.
thanks to Andy James
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 Morcambe and Wise series were made here between
1961 and 1968. Of course, The Muppet Show also
famously came from this studio.
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.
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!
D, probably in 1961. Thanks to Ron Wolstencroft who sent me
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.
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
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.
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.
area was previously occupied by a plasterers' workshop as Richard
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
last show made in D before the BBC arrived was Family
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.
BBC took over the site at the beginning of 1984 and Ian Dow has
sent me some recollections of how he found studio D.
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.'
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:
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.'
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!)
doesn't recall things being left in quite the same working order as
Ian Dow does...
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.'
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 LDK-100s. In 2004 VR 'targets' were
installed in the grid and the children's virtual reality gameshow
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.
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.
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 - TC8 at TV Centre, studio 1 at Teddington, or TV2 at Pinewood.
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.
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.
brand spanking new audience seats in studio D. Very nice too!
some sense prevailed. BBC Studios and Post Production
(S&PP), who manage the studios here, discovered rather late in
the day that they had a superb studio sitting here doing very
little. The studio 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.
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.
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.
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.
in 2012 it became apparent that when TV Centre is closed for
reconstruction in April 2013, studio D will be one of several studios
in Borehamwood that will hold the fort while the builders are busy at
the Centre. 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. The assumption
is that this studio will continue in use when TV Centre reopens in
2015 with only three studios. In the meantime, and probably
afterward, Elstree D is likely to be very busy indeed!
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.
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
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
Buckley helped to fit out the studio...
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.'
well as training the television directors of the future, the studio
was on rare occasions used to make some 'real' programmes...
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.'
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...
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.
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!
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.
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
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.'
the programme moved back to TV Centre they insisted that they had a
similar arrangement so the red assembly area was transformed into the
M is now part of Holby City's empire.
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
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.
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".
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.
Plane Makers. Shooting a scene in 1963.
thanks to Jeremy Hoare
to note that in the 1960s the equivalent of the Berghaus or North
Face jacket was the duffle coat.
Plane Makers. Bill Brown on the camera.
thanks to Jeremy Hoare
a few years of the BBC's arrival, they too began to use the workshop
building for more creative purposes:
the end of the building nearest the main gate, the cafe set for Grange
Hill was built 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.
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.
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!
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 new 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.
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.)
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.
London's television studio centres, BBC Elstree is unique in having
a large back lot. For the past twenty-five 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. The site is now effectively full so it is unlikely that
any more construction will take place.
of the buildings are simply facings with no rooms inside. This
has made shooting scenes in front doorways very tricky! 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.
Lot in 1984 after ATV left and before Albert Square was built.
The big shed was probably part of the Auf
set and is standing almost exactly where the Queen Vic is today.
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
this camera (Ikegami HL79) and its dolly with the one on Clayhanger
10 years earlier seen below!
thanks to David Sanders and the Tech Ops website.
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!)
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.
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!
Insert Unit driving round Albert Square, some time in the mid 1980s.
thanks to David Sanders and the Tech-Ops website.
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
on the Lot in 1974.
the EMI 2001 camera! Hardly the ideal instrument for location
work but these were the days before good quality lightweight cameras
again the EMI 2001s were brought out of the studios
impressive Shakespearean theatre was built on the lot where Albert
Square now stands.
thanks to Jeremy Hoare
ATV film department
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
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.
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!)
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 plans to sell it all off, then to sell only a
part of the site - with an infamous blue line being drawn on plans
down the middle. As the practicality of this was investigated
the line moved further and further until sense prevailed and the idea
was quietly dropped.
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.
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 gameshows or sitcoms.
postscript re Channel 5 at Elstree (shock horror!):
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.
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. (Which begs the question - if they won, why did they not
move into Elstree?)
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.
document includes the following paragraph...
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.'
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. I wonder how many of
the Newsroom South-East people knew about it. That
programme occupied their studio at Elstree from 1989 - 2001 so they
would certainly have been affected. One wonders in fact just
how many people actually knew that the BBC were planning to sell off
part of one of their studio centres to a rival broadcaster. I
do remember that around that time there were rumours of part of the
site being disposed of but none of us suspected that it would be to
you shed any more light on this? In particular, why did Five
Elstree after all???
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 past decade.
on the plan to see it in higher resolution
postscript...the end of BBC Elstree? Not quite yet.
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.
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.
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.
the plan apparently was for this to move to Cardiff to join Casualty
which transferred there from Bristol in 2011.
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...
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.
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.'
- maybe eventually - but not yet.
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.
significantly, a new five-year resources contract was signed by the
production with BBC Studios and Post Production. This suggests
that Elstree will remain the home of the programme until at least 2015.
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.
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 the Olympic Media 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. So what will happen to Elstree and
for that matter EastEnders and Holby City after 2015
remains a mystery. My guess - but don't quote me - is that
Elstree is safe for a number of years yet.
leaving ATV I must make a brief mention of Foley
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.
thanks to Richard Greenough
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 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:
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.
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.
Faraday has sent me an interesting recollection of the studio...
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.
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!!'
lighting director Bill Lee has sent me his recollection of a visit
to this studio...
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.'
Caplin has also informed me that this studio produced a live
Saturday night horror serial in the late '50s.
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.
Street master control in 1966
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 is
still one of the largest in the country at 98 x 70 ft within
firelanes. (This is the studio regularly used today for 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.
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.
August 1957 Granada decided that they had to have a London studio to
stage the acts that would not make the journey to Manchester, so
conversion began for TV use. Granada used it for shows such as The
and, perhaps surprisingly, some advertising magazine programmes or
'admags.' However, it was best known for its popular variety
show - Chelsea
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chelsea Palace stage had an area of 2373 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.
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!)
the pit on the camera right of the stalls under the dress circle -
this was a space for the orchestra.
thanks to Michael Harrison
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.
thanks to Michael Harrison
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
thanks to Michael Harrison
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 another gallery - probably that of studio 4 -
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. Hope you're keeping up with all this.
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.
exterior of Wembley studio 5 with the LWT logo painted on it.
This would be their home for just four years.
picture was probably taken in 1971. I see the parking
situation was as bad then as it is now.
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 had one and there was one
spare. They saw several more years of sterling work.
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
are currently marketed as The
and although owned by ITV plc they are rented to many independent
production companies. TLS is unusual these days in that almost
all of the crews are staff with relatively few freelancers working there.
is actually owned by Coal Pension Properties - LWT took out a 100
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.' In other words, ITV are planning to move from this
site and in order to do so they had to buy the freehold first.
We can probably expect an announcement on this within months rather
than years but whether it will be just the office block that is sold
or the whole site including the studios remains to be seen.
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'.
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.) 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.
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...
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 couldnt have been more than
the booth was stripped, a perimeter of scaff fixed around it and
some lights nicked from other departments. There werent 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.
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.
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.)
small to medium sized studios are to be found around the site...
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!
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.
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.
studio is 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.
5 currently has a long-term booking by Al Jazeera television.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
studio ended its booking with Daybreak in September 2012 when
it moved into studio 3 with a more conventional set.
superb view (on a nice sunny day in the afternoon) from studio 7's window
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...
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 couldnt 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!
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.
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 is also occasionally used for other programmes
including Champions League.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
you are wondering about studio 6 - it is the name of a very
pleasant restaurant and bar close by in Gabriels Wharf. No, really.
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.
three main studios are very well designed with particularly clever
lighting grids. These utilise monopoles 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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
a shame that in recent years ITV have rather lost their way when it
comes to comedy. The last sitcom series made at TLS was Al
Murray's Time Gentlemen Please between
2000 and 2002.
surprisingly, that series was made for Sky One.
to that, the last sitcom series was probably Gimme,
Gimme, Gimme - and
that was made for the BBC in 1999-2001. It's a long time since
a sitcom was made here for ITV. I have 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 seems to have abandoned
this genre for so long.
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.
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.
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.
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 Ant and Dec's Saturday Takeaway,
Al Murray's Happy Hour, Comedy Rocks and
The Graham Norton Show which
is made here for BBC1. For more than thirty years the studio
has been producing some of the most popular Saturday night
series such as Blind Date, Surprise Surprise, Pop
Stars - the Rivals and
ITV's version of Parkinson.
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.
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.
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
1965 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.
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
looking at the studio itself, it is worth examining the story of 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."
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
ad from 1968 reads ' John Osborne's Luther shot at Stonebridge Park
Studios' The camera is a PC60.
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.
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. 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
on the plan above to see a larger image
plan oddly omits a door that was top right at floor level.
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.
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. There
were no crossover tracks.
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.
which was indeed constructed largely of Dexion!
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 eighties and
nineties. 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.)
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.
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. Possibly other
episodes were made here too.
Beatles performed here in 1965 and were recorded in colour on
videotape and there is one production made here that has become
almost legendary. In December 1968 an extraordinary programme
was made that 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!
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!
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..
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
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.
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.
Road in the LWT days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 as guests - the Muppets. 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?
engineer Andy Backhouse has confirmed that an Andrews/Muppet special
was indeed made here but he continues...
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!'
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.
also rented the studio to other companies including Anglia for some Tales
of the Unexpected.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
trucks seen here are those of Lee Lighting.
in the Lee Lighting days - 2006 in fact.
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.
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.
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 bookings were probably
few and far between.
Dunton occupied the site between 1985 and 1989.
November 1989 Lee
their lighting hire business here to Wycombe Road from Barlby Road,
off Ladbroke Grove, where they had been for about three years.
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 and are
now in the two TV studios there.
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.
2008 Lee Lighting merged with AFM to become Panalux and left the site.
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.
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.
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.
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. They were demolished to make way for a retail park in the
late 1980s once Lee had left.
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.
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...
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!!'
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.
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.
1984 the Lee brothers bought the much larger Shepperton
for £3.6m, also rather confusingly naming them 'Lee
(Shepperton is covered on the 'independent studios' page on this website).
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.
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.
took over the Wembley site. They had previously occupied a
fashionable studio centre converted from a warehouse at the eastern
end of Canary Wharf.
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.
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.
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.
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
new 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.
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.
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.
shows made here at this time included Food
(previously made in the old docklands studios) and The
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
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).
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.
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.
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...
studios did not close after the receivers moved in. We
actually had The Word running at that time and Planet 24, Sir
Bob bless him, told the receivers in no uncertain terms that the show
must go on. So the, by now, ex Limehouse staff worked for
Planet 24 and got on with the broadcast.'
seems that The Word continued for some weeks - probably until
the ownership of the studios passed into the hands of Fountain.
Then most of the technical equipment was removed from the studios -
possibly being sold to pay creditors, although I have heard stories
of some who were owed money simply helping themselves to various items.
Word, incidentally, moved to Teddington until that show's demise
new Wembley resident, Fountain
was waiting in the wings to move in but they had a huge job ahead to
make the studios operational. The Fountain website describes
how the galleries and studios were in such a bad condition when they
took over in 1993 that it took six months round the clock working to
get them in a fit state.
picture shows the condition of the technical areas when Fountain
took over the studios in 1993. Looks like the final Word
wrap party took place in this room.
thanks to the Fountain website
already owned a small studio in New Malden, Surrey, which they had
opened in 1985. They continued operating both studios for a few
years. They took over Wembley studios in 1993, taking six
months to complete the refurbishment and opening in 1994 with Esther
Wembley under Fountain has made several medium scale shows, such as Bremner
Bird and Fortune
but is best known for the programmes that have made full use of the
studios' huge size when the doors between them are opened. Talking
was an early success after Fountain took over and since then they
have been host to Don't
Try This at Home ('99),
Winning Lines, Pop Idol,
The Cube, Over The Rainbow ('10) and several editions of Test
In 1998 an episode of Friends
was filmed here - which took so long to make that at three o'clock in
the morning the audience were still there - having been provided with
pizzas to keep them going.
2006 a show called Petrolheads was made here. This
light-hearted motoring-based quiz had a conventional set involving
two panels of celebrities with a chairman seated between them.
This was positioned in one of the two studios along with the
audience However, one of the rounds involved a blindfolded
parking challenge and this was recorded in the other studio.
The camera panned to the right and with the huge dividing doors open
we saw a space large enough to drive a car around in. It's hard
to see how this could have been staged in any other television studio.
Studios converted to digital widescreen in the late '90s with
14 Sony BVP 500 cameras. In 1999 Fountain won the
Broadcast Award for Best Studio facilities - a considerable
achievement considering the history of the building. In 2007
they took the plunge and began the expensive conversion to HD -
purchasing ten Sony HDC 1500 cameras. A ProBel Sirius HD
router was purchased soon afterwards and in July 2008 a Sony HD
vision mixer was installed in B's gallery. The production and
lighting galleries are equipped with Ikegami HD CRT monitors.
The first HD production here was a sitcom - Clone - which was
recorded in July 2008. The first live HD show was Noel's HQ
in January 2009. The studio became fully equipped for HD with
its own kit during 2009.
3rd July 2006 it was announced that the owners of Fountain - Medal
Entertainment and Media - were selling the studios to a secret
purchaser. An announcement was made early in September that the
new owners were investment holding firm InvestinMedia.
According to a press release they bought the studios for £6.8m.
website states the following:
is an investment holding company quoted on AIM which owns a 49 per
cent stake in Complete Communications Corporation Limited (Complete),
one of the UK's most successful independent media and entertainment
companies with interests spanning television and radio production,
digital interactive entertainment and music publishing. Part of
the Complete group are Celador Productions and Celador International,
leading producers of light entertainment programming and licensors of
international intellectual property including the renowned 'Who Wants
To Be A Millionaire?'. InvestinMedia also has a 20.74 per cent
stake in Medal Entertainment and Media plc (MEM).'
matter how often I read the above paragraph I still can't quite
grasp what it's on about. It appears to be saying that the
owners of the studios have sold the company to another company that
owns part of the same company. Anyway, none of this appears to
have affected the operation of the studios - except that the new
owner was able to raise the money needed to buy new HD cameras.
have worked in the studios myself on a few occasions - for example,
covering the regular LD on a couple of X-Factors, a few
editions of Over The Rainbow and lighting a sketch show series
with Al Murray in the summer of 2008. The sheer scale of the
studio is quite something. For example, on the sketch show the
designer was able to fit in no less than 8 sets (some very large) as
well as a studio audience. Unfortunately, I wasn't paid any
more for having to light about twice the number of sets I normally
would for such a show!
- I had thought that Teddington was alone in having a supernatural
presence but I have been told that the grid of Studio A is believed
to be haunted. It is occasionally much colder than the other
grid and several people have reported feeling that 'they were not
alone' up there! One ex-electrician who worked there in the
late '90s told me a story of how he was in the grid doing some
maintenance on a quiet day and the handle of the steel door
connecting the grids between the studios moved up and down and
rattled. He thought he was alone in that part of the building
but called out to the only other person on duty that day. There
was no reply and when he descended he found his colleague in another
room in the studios. In fact, it turned out that nobody could
have moved the handle as they discovered that the door on the
opposite side was locked. (This is a pair of doors with a gap
of about a metre between them.) He doesn't believe in ghosts
but admits that the incident left him shaken and has no explanation
as to how it could have happened. There is, it seems, a story
that someone fell to their death from the grid in the days of Lee
International although I have no way of confirming this.
Back in 1968
the ITA had a problem. They had decided to award the weekend
London franchise to LWT. ATV would still remain in business -
servicing the midlands but now 7 days a week. Thus ABC lost its
weekend franchise. It also lost its weekend franchise in the
north as the ITA decided to give the north west to Granada and the
north east to new company Yorkshire Television.
The public had
seen both Rediffusion and ABC as popular and successful companies so
the ITA were reluctant to lose them. They were, however, not
impressed with the way that Rediffusion had neglected the local
element of its responsibility, particularly with local news.
Thus, the solution was to force them into a 'shotgun marriage' to
form a new company. That company of course was Thames.
had happened was that ABC was in effect promoted into getting the
lucrative London weekday franchise. Rediffusion found itself
subsumed into the new company and lost its Wembley base to the new
company LWT. Many people there were very unhappy at this
outcome - particularly as they were the company that had kept ITV
going back in the dark days of 1955/56.
over the Teddington site and for a while also kept the old
Rediffusion headquarters at Kingsway. An understandable rivalry
was said to exist between the old Rediffusion staff there and the old
ABC staff at Teddington. The 'Thames' logos at the end of
programmes were even different depending on where the show had been
made. In effect, most Thames entertainment, drama, comedy and
children's programmes continued to be made at Teddington by the old
ABC staff whilst a far smaller number of ex-Rediffusion employees
made the current affairs programmes at Kingsway. This obviously
did not make for a happy relationship between the two parts of the
new company. (The ex-Rediffusion staff at Wembley were, of
course, making the entertainment shows for the new LWT.)
1969 the Kingsway operation moved to new studios in Euston
next to the Euston Tower. This became the home of Thames
current affairs, local news, schools programming, religious
programming and most of the company's admin and sales personnel.
The building was officially known as 'Thames Television House'.
There were two main studios at Euston, plus a 200 sq ft continuity
studio (Euston 4). The largest studio was Euston 5 at 59 x 30
ft wall to wall. Euston 6 was attached to studio 5 and was
slightly less than 30 x 20 ft. The numbering began at '4' as
studios 1-3 were at Teddington. The studios opened using huge
Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.
7, which opened much later in autumn 1980, was 44 x 34 ft wall to
wall. Euston 7 was converted from a viewing theatre and was
rigged permanently for Thames News - but a few Help!
programmes with Joan Shenton were squeezed in. The studio was
also used to produce promos for Thames and the network, as it had a
small VO cubical. As it was separated from the main building a
connecting bridge was built on the first floor. The studio
itself, however, was on the ground floor. Rather surprisingly
it had a large pillar in the centre of the studio. This was
planned to be removed but at the last minute a structural engineer
warned that the bulding would probably collapse so it was sensibly
(if annoyingly for those who worked there) retained.
plan above is a CAD drawing of the ground floor of the Thames Euston
headquarters. Studio 5 is in the main block but studio 7 is in
a separate building shown here below it. Studio 5 took up two
floors in height but studio 7 was squeezed into only the height of
the ground floor. Thames Television occupied five or six floors
of these large office blocks.
thanks to Brian Turner.
on the plan to see it in higher resolution
is an image from an old marketing brochure dated May 1986 that shows
6 attached to 5 but in the centre of the plan of 6 is printed
'not available until further notice.' Studio 6 was
closed partly to create more space for lines and presentation
areas where its galleries were originally situated on the first
floor. The studio itself became used as a store room come scene
dock. Originally, studio 6 was the home of the Today programme.
the early 1980s the main studios were re-equipped with four Link 110
shows made at Euston included The Time The Place, Good
with Mary Parkinson and Afternoon Plus with Mavis Nicholson
and Elaine Grand. Amongst many other things, Bill Grundy's
infamous interview with the Sex Pistols took place in December '76
during the Thames daily local news show - Today
('68 - '77). Today
was replaced by Thames
- 81) and then Thames
('81 - '92). Current Affairs programmes This Week ('68 -
'92) and TV Eye ('78 - '86) were also based here.
is perhaps a shame that the Today programme is only
remembered for the one edition that took it off the air. Many
people fondly remember Bill Grundy's warm style and those who worked
with him recall his professionalism. I have been told about the
times when the guests had not arrived or none of the inserts were
ready as the show went live. Fortunately there was a piano
still in the studio from a music recording, so Bill just played the
piano he was said to be 'a great bloke'.
Thurlow, an ex-Thames sound man, confirms that studio 5 is where the
Thames version of This is Your Life began. Despite its
small size - it had an audience capacity of only 100 - several shows
were made here, including some live 'pick-ups' where the guest was
brought to the studio immediately following the hit. These
included Lulu and Arthur Askey. The show itself was sometimes
also live, following a live pickup. (Now that must have been
scary!) Apparently Eamonn Andrews, the presenter, wanted
a larger studio audience - hence the move out of the studio to the
Royalty and Teddington.
5 produced many other programmes including Sooty (with
Harry Corbett), Rainbow (also made at Teddington studio 3), This
Week, Reporting London, Money Go Round (consumer prog, with Tony
Bastable), Tea Break, Whats
My Line (Angela Rippon), Looks Familiar (Dennis Norden)
and Quick on the Draw - a cartoonists gameshow with Bill Tidy
as the regular guest, hosted by Bob Monkhouse and later Michael
Bentine. Rod Hull and Emu made a series here and Susan Stranks
(ah yes - those of us of a certain age remember her...) presented no
less than 182 editions of Paper Play - a show for young
children with puppet spiders called Itsy and Bitsy. Eamonn
Andrews also presented a live late night money programme as well as Today
and 'Life'. Bank holiday sport programmes came from here
presented by Dicky Davis (yes, Euston - not LWT), plus many other
sport shows. There were also elections, the Seoul Olympics and
many more. It was apparently one of the first studios to have a
30 line phone-in set up, which they called 'The Fish Bowl'.
Road studios also produced the daily Last Programme for many
years. This was made by Thames Features and Religious
Department. LWT also transmitted the show so it was unique in
that it was the only Thames programme to go out at weekends.
Royalty Theatre, Kingsway was for a period frequently used for 'Life'
with facilities provided by a Thames OB unit. Sound and vision
circuits were installed between Euston Road and the theatre.
The Royalty had been built in the basement of an office block
constructed in 1960 on the site of the Stoll Theatre. This new
auditorium seated 1000 but was never very successful. It was
therefore often available for use by Thames for This is Your Life.
It is now called the Peacock Theatre and since 1996 has been the
West End home of the Sadler's Wells dance company.
who worked there were understandably proud of the amount of work
that was transmitted on Thames TV that these two small studios
produced. At one time they were said to have the highest live
output of any studio in Europe.
studios closed at the end of 1992 when the Thames franchise
ended. The building, however, remained under long-term lease to
Thames - which still existed as an independent production
company. Brian Turner tells me that it took at least a year to
clear the building and move from 2,200 employees to 120. During
the period following the loss of the franchise Brian tells me that
they started UK Gold from the old Thames News studio - Euston 7.
The channel had the ground and first floors of Euston West and were
there for at least a year. Eventually he got two parties - the
BBC and Associated Newspapers - ready to take on the building.
unexpectedly British Land were forced to take the building back on
November 5th 1994 as the area was to be redeveloped. The main
part of the building was demolished in 1996. The space formally
occupied by studios 5 and 6 is now tarmac.
picture above shows studio 7, the Thames News studio at Euston Road
in 1991. The cramped conditions can clearly be seen. The studio
not only has a very low ceiling but a pillar in the middle of the floor!
Road Studios were in a rather bland 1960s office block next to the
Euston Tower. They were conversions, not purpose built, and
were arguably not as well-designed as some similar centres like the TV-am
The big change
that happened in 1981 was that ATV had to fight hard to hang on to
its Midlands franchise. In their proposal to the IBA, ATV
suggested moving their base to new studios in the region but
continuing to operate Elstree as a separate production centre under
the name 'Elstree Television Centre Limited.' They stated the
following in their application document...
have discussed with other major ITV companies the possibility of
using Elstree studios, which are an important asset to ITV as a
whole, as a collective production centre for the additional
programming likely to be required for the Fourth Channel.
Should this prove to be a practicable proposition the studios might
be leased to a jointly owned operating company. Elstree
Television Centre can be expected to seek to widen the basis of its
business by attracting overseas producers, advertising agencies and
other potential users of television studios. It should also be
capable of providing many, if not all, of the production facilities
being sought by independent producers in connection with the Fourth Channel.'
IBA were having none of it. Under pressure that they had
'neglected' the east Midlands ATV had to completely dispose of
Elstree, move their main production base up to the region and sell
49% of their shares to local interests. There was also a name
change - to Central.
Central stayed at Elstree for a couple of years until their new
studios in Nottingham were built. Those studios provided
replacement facilities for Elstree as well as some expansion at the
Birmingham studio centre.
left Elstree they took everything of any value with them to
Nottingham. The future of the studios was very much in doubt
but fortunately they were bought by the BBC in January 1984 for a
'song'. This unplanned new facility enabled the BBC to create a
new soap - EastEnders.
Studios, Lenton Lane, Nottingham - 1983-2004
these studios are not exactly in London, I am including this brief
mention as many of the staff and crew moved there from Elstree when
studios were built to a high specification and were much loved by
those who worked there. They began operation in the autumn of
1983. As well as local news studios there were three main
production studios - studio 6 (72 x 46ft), studio 7 (89 x 88ft) and
studio 8 (89 x 79ft). They had motorised lighting bars and
studio 7 had a groundrow trench in the floor for lighting 'infinity'
cycloramas. It's worth pointing out that both 7 and 8 are much
larger studios than the 'norm' at, say TLS or TV Centre. About
the same length as most studios but very usefully nearly 20 feet
wider. There was also a music studio that later became studio
11 (53 x 40ft gross) and studio 8X (43 x 35ft gross) that was
converted from part of the scenery store in 2001.
first they were very busy making local and networked programmes but
Central was a very different company from ATV and the big spectacular
entertainment shows that made ATV famous worldwide were simply not
made any more. By 1990 drama too was no longer shot in TV
studios but on location or in film stages. However, some
sitcoms such as The Upper Hand and Barbara were made
here. Lenton Lane particularly became known for its gameshows
such as Blockbusters, Catchphrase, Family Fortunes, The Price is
Right, Supermarket Sweep and Bullseye.
Squares was revived here too between 1993 and 1996.
Matthew Hadley has kindly pointed out some other shows - The Midas
Touch with Bradley Walsh ('95-'96), The Freddy Starr Show ('94-'98),
Crazy Cottage ('96-'98),
Mad For It ('98-'00), Body Heat ('94-'96) and
Pot of Gold - a
talent show fronted by Des O'Connor between 1993 and 1995.
1994 the studios became part of Carlton's empire - a company that
apparently had little interest in making programmes themselves and
running a studio centre was not something they particularly wanted or needed.
2001 the studio utilisation was relatively low but a lifeline came
was recommissioned after many years. All the production studios
except 7 were used for this show with high quality permanent sets -
parts of the exterior of the centre becoming the famous motel.
Unfortunately, that show was axed in 2003.
writing was on the wall and the owners of ITV were ruthless in their
disposal of what to them seemed surplus property. The site was
sold to Nottingham University, the deal being completed in March
2005. The last shows to be made here in 2004 were Doctors
and Nurses - a sitcom for BBC1 by Phil Hammond, starring Ade
Edmonson and David Mitchell and Beat The Nation, a quiz for C4
with Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor.
the motorised lighting bars or 'boats' from studio 8 were purchased
by AFM (now Panalux) for possible installation in one of the two TV
studios at Pinewood. However, perhaps following a lukewarm
response by various lighting directors at the prospect, this never
happened. (Most LDs prefer monopoles, which is the system in
use at Pinewood.) The current whereabouts of the studio 8
hoists is unknown.
of the studios are now lecture rooms or used for storage but studios
6 and 7 still exist as 4-wallers and can be hired - but apparently
seldom are by TV companies. The galleries for studio 7 are
still there but all the equipment and monitors have been
removed. The lighting bars still exist, with some lights on
them but what condition they are in is unknown. Studio 7 is is
used as an exam hall and occasionally for conferences but has been
used by Question Time. I have not heard of any other TV
show being made there in recent years but it has been used
occasionally for filming. I'm told that holes have been knocked
through the walls for cabling through to an OB scanner and/or generator.
6 in September 2010
thanks to Rich Holleworth
7 in September 2010
thanks to Rich Holleworth
of the giant eggcups that adorn the roofline of the studios in Camden.
thanks to www.tv-am.org.uk
also saw the creation of a new 'breakfast' franchise. After a
very hotly contested competition, TV-am
won. When they were setting the company up, at one point they
considered using Ewarts Studios in Wandsworth but in the end they
constructed a studio centre in Camden
unimaginatively called the Breakfast
Television Centre which quickly
became known as 'Eggcup House' due to the rather eccentric
architectural adornments along its roofline. Terry Farrell, who
would shortly go on to carry out a similar job adapting a warehouse
in Docklands into Limehouse Studios, converted the building at a cost
of £7m from a 1930s Henley's garage.
original Henley's garage - pre the Terry Farrell touch
thanks to www.tv-am.org.uk
what a bit of sheet steel and a lick of paint can achieve.
thanks to www.tv-am.org.uk
itself was arguably London's first post-modern design. Its
exterior was completely transformed from the original garage and the
interior too was highly distinctive.
The centre had
three studios; A was 60 x 50 metric feet within firelanes and B 34 x
22 metric feet. There was also a small presentation studio - C
- which was about 16ft x 12ft. The studios were originally
equipped with Marconi Mk IXB cameras. Studio A contained the
main set with its famous sofa and B was used mostly for news.
However, there was also enough space in A to house Timmy Mallett's Wide
Awake Club ('84-'89) and Wackaday ('85-'92)
of these studios is covered below.)
A in 1983 with the set for Good
thanks to www.tv-am.org.uk
very short history of what became the most successful
breakfast TV company in the world...
began as a news-based service and had several well-known presenters
of the day who fronted it. However, the BBC decided they had to
offer a show too so they began broadcasting Breakfast
from Lime Grove on 17th January 1983. TV-am did not begin until
a fortnight later, on 1st February. Unfortunately for them the
BBC show, fronted by Frank Bough and Selina Scott, proved much more
popular and TV-am entered a crisis. The public did not just
want news with their breakfast but something a little lighter
too. The high profile presenters who had started the company
all left and were replaced with Anne Diamond, Nick Owen and famously
Roland Rat. Audiences began to recover but the company was
still making a loss.
1984, Bruce Gyngell - an Australian with a no nonsense approach to
business - took over as chief executive following the early period of
deepening financial crisis. His approach included reducing
technical crews to a minimum in order to save costs. This put
him at odds with the unions and a 24 hour strike was called.
The management locked out the strikers - who were never to
return. After a long period of waiting on the picket lines they
Marconi cameras mentioned above proved vital in the fortunes or
otherwise of the company. The Mk IX was very advanced and had
an automatic line-up procedure. This meant that only a very
basic technical knowledge was required to enable the camera to
produce acceptable pictures. Without this facility it is
doubtful that the studio could have continued for more than a few
days with nobody in the building able to carry out a full camera
line-up. Secretaries operated the cameras and later, non-union
cameramen were brought in - most from overseas.
shambolic results proved popular at first for all the wrong reasons
but the viewers stayed and increasing advertising revenue turned the
fortunes of the company around. By doing away with many
technical staff and traditional working practices TV-am became the
most profitable television company in the world in turns of
turnover. Bruce Gyngell became a great friend of Margaret
Thatcher - which made the result of the franchise renewal all the
The next twist
in the tail came at the end of 1992. Under a new 'sealed bids'
round of franchise renewals introduced by Margaret Thatcher, Thames
unexpectedly lost its bid along with the by now highly successful
TV-am. Conspiracy theorists say that the government wished
revenge on Thames for screening the documentary Death on the Rock.
We may never know whether there is any truth in this rumour.
However, there is little doubt that the government were horrified at
the loss of TV-am, a company that operated in all the ways they held dear.
When GMTV took
over the franchise in January 1993 they decided to use studio 5 at
LWT's base on the south bank. 'Eggcup House' was therefore left empty
but shortly afterwards it was bought by MTV,
who are still there. The main studio was initially used for
MTV's output but later other companies booked it too. For
example, the sketches for the 2004 series of The Frank Skinner Show
were recorded here and during 2005 the Saturday morning show Top
of the Pops Reloaded was based in studio A. Other shows
made for various channels included UK Music Hall of Fame,
Britain's Best Home, Ruby, Classic Comeback and The Joan
Rivers Position. In March and April 2007 the BBC's Castaway Exposed
series was also based here and Five's kids' series Milkshake
was booked for a second series.
studios were busy during the 1990s, the next decade saw rather less
activity. MTV no longer used them to make shows for themselves
- their channels not including studio based programmes or live
performances any more. They were still hired out to various
production companies but rumours of the imminent closure of the
studios began to circulate around the industry in 2007/2008.
However, with Capital Studios closing in the summer of 2008, they
began to pick up some of the work that might have gone there.
For example, The BBC's Missing Live came from MTV in the
spring of 2009 and 2010 and Crimewatch Roadshow
also made here. Angela
and Friends - daytime magazine programme for Sky 1 - was based
here from November 2009.
MTV's management decided that the studios were not part of their core
business and it made more sense financially to close their offices in
Oxford Street and Rathbone Place and bring the 300 staff here.
The building is being redeveloped and the studios will become
offices. The last programme made here was at the end of January 2011.
built this small studio on the first floor of a building in
Leicester Square with windows overlooking the square. The
studio and its facilities were converted from a nightclub and opened
after a planning appeal in the summer of 2004. The reason for
opening the studio was because the very popular US version of the
channel had a studio overlooking Times Square so it was felt that the
UK should have something similar. The studio was only 450 sq ft
- the main floor being just over 37ft long but only about 6ft 6in
wide (!) and with a mezzanine 56 x 14ft.
Leicester Square was originally used for MTV's Total
show which included performances by live bands. Despite all the
effort in getting the studio built for the show, TRL
proved not to be a great success in the UK and the show folded in
December 2005. From September 2006 to March 2007 the studio
became the base for the BBC's Saturday morning kids' show TMi.
However, the cost of keeping the studio open with so little use led
to its being disposed of later in 2007. (The following series
of TMi was made in TC9 at TV Centre.)
Carlton took over the London weekday franchise but decided not to
have its own large studio centre - choosing instead to hire studio
space as and when required for each programme. Significantly,
this was also the beginning of the period when ITV companies became
free to take each other over - so, for example, Central was purchased
by Carlton in 1994. The midlands area thus became 'Carlton
Broadcasting - Central Region'. Carlton therefore found itself
owning studio facilities after all. As ITV ownership contracted
to two main companies - Carlton and Granada - this consolidation saw
many studios around the country deemed to be uneconomic by their new
owners. Some were sold off to independent operators, others
simply redeveloped. Some of these are briefly covered at the
end of this section.
1993 Teddington was kept on by Thames - now simply a production
company - and it was marketed as an independent facilities house
simply called 'Teddington Studios' - the senior management being
Richard Dunn (Chairman), Ewart Needham (Managing Director), Steve
Gunn (Marketing Director) and Alan Tingay (Technical Director). Programmes
made around this time included Des O'Connor Tonight ('77-'02)
and his version of Take Your Pick ('92-'98).
Television was bought by Pearson plc in 1993 and initially continued
to be based at Teddington. However, in 1996 they decided to
move all their operations to a large office block
in Stephen Street,
just off Tottenham Court Road, which contained two small production
studios of 2600 sq ft and 1500 sq ft respectively. Since 2001
Thames has been part of the Fremantle Media group and following its
merger with Talkback Productions now operates as the highly
successful 'Talkback Thames'.
operation moved to central London in 1997 but the studios had already
been sold to Barnes Trust Media in late summer 1996. This
company had previously been a post production business based in
Soho. Teddington Studios were reportedly sold to Barnes for
Barnes Trust sold the whole site for a reported £10m to a
property company - Howard Holdings - but leased back the studios and
other areas such as the scenery store, admin building, car park and
restaurant block. The lease for running the studios was said to
run for 25 years. Howard Holdings had plans to create a 'media
village' including luxury flats and riverside restaurants on the land
occupied by the production block and outdoor car park. Despite
several attempts to obtain planning permission, the plans came to nothing.
making continued in studios 1 and 2 with the smaller studios being
given over to some of the digital channels that were beginning to
spring up. Unfortunately, although these small studios were
refurbished and equipped to attract the new operators, the two main
studios received little investment throughout the period that Barnes
Trust ran the business.
thanks to the Pinewood Group website.
2004, after several failed attempts to redevelop the site with a mix
of luxury flats and 'media' offices, Howard Holdings, the property
company owning the Teddington
sold it to Haymarket Publishing. They spent about 18 months
refurbishing the old production office blocks and took over about
two-thirds of the scenery storage area. They also constructed a
large photographic studio on the site. They began moving in
during January 2006. All of the refurbished offices are for
their own use but the television studios are operating as usual
alongside this activity. Parts of the multi-storey car park
remain available for the use of studio workers but it is always very
crowded during the week.
the restaurant overlooking the weir is no longer in use. It
has not been occupied since 2004. Fences went up around it and
work on refurbishing the exterior and removing asbestos began in
March 2007. This was completed by the summer of 2007 but the
interior appears to be unchanged. It remains empty and its
future use by Haymarket is unknown. What a waste!
old powerhouse in the corner of the site has been converted into a
cafe/bar with a mezzanine floor. The hospitality boat, the 'Sir
Thomas More' also slipped its moorings during the late '90s leaving
the landing stage sadly empty. The good news is that the
Anglers and the Tide End are still both within a few yards of the
studios. Both have been refurbished within the past few years
and are just as popular as ever.
Teddington Studios Ltd were busy during the early 2000's, in 2004
they lost several key contracts. The Kilroy
series was dropped by the BBC; The Shopping Channel, which occupied
Studio 3, went bust; The Racing Channel also closed and Today
With Des and Mel
moved to TLS for its second series. A great deal of money had
also been spent on building a second studio for the Racing
Channel. The company went into administration owing money to
several freelance operators, electricians and supply companies.
About a week later on April 1st 2005 the lease for the studios was
taken over by Pinewood-Shepperton for £2.6m. Although
initially it was reported in the press that the 50-odd staff would
all be retained, at the end of April several were in fact made
redundant. More staff losses occured in the spring of 2006.
in April 2005, almost immediately following the takeover, the two
main studios began to attract new work and the company were said to
be having difficulty fitting in all the bookings. These
included several sitcoms and other shows in studio 1 and the new Trisha
series for Five in studio 2. (After a year this moved to
Maidstone.) Almost all the small studios have since been in
regular use by digital channels - including studio 7, which was built
from scratch in six weeks in the summer of 2005 for the Quiz Call
channel. It occupies the old studio 2 prop store area and
studio 1's green room, further reducing the storage space for
productions using the main studios.
Pinewood Studios Group, the present owners, have been carrying out
some much needed refurbishment to areas such as reception, corridors,
dressing rooms, production offices and toilets. However, the
two main studios are still in desperate need of major
investment. A few HD cameras have been purchased for use in any
of Teddington's or Pinewood's TV studios but the galleries of studios
1 and 2 look the same as they have for the past twenty years or more
and their monitors, vision mixers and the sound desks are well
overdue for replacement.
June 2009 a further three HD cameras were purchased (Sony HDC-1000s)
bringing the total number available to 8. Three of the original
1500s were however sent to Pinewood to be used on a long-running
children's series (ZingZillas) - the three new ones being used
for My Family, which was forced to move here from its usual
home at Pinewood due to clashing bookings in the studios at
Pinewood. At one time it looked as though the floor of studio 1
would receive a long-overdue replacement in the summer of 2009 but
oddly TV-two at Pinewood was replaced instead, despite being a
relatively new resin floor. I gather that there are still no
plans to refurbish the galleries at Teddington or purchase a new HD
vision mixer and monitor stack, which would surely have been cheaper
in the long run than hiring it all for the past few years.
all the ups and downs of the studios, they remain popular with many
programme makers. Comedy shows in particular regularly occupy
the past fifteen or more years, several sitcom series have been made
in Studio 1, produced by independent production companies like Alomo,
Hartswood Films, DLT Entertainment, Shazam, Big Bear or Avalon.
Popular comedies like Birds of a Feather,
Goodnight Sweetheart, Men Behaving Badly
were made in the '90s and '00s. Critically acclaimed series
have also been made here. The last two specials of Judi Dench
and Geoffrey Palmer's BBC comedy As Time
Goes By were recorded here in 2005,
rather than at TV Centre and the Only
Fools and Horses spin-off series The
Green Green Grass was made here in
2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 - using high definition cameras.
Also, in 2006 and 2008 BBC Comedy department chose Teddington to make After
You've Gone - starring Nicholas Lyndhurst.
recent comedies have included The IT
Crowd, Not Going Out,
Teenage Kicks and
Reggie Perrin. For
much of 2009 the studio was occupied by My
Family, which moved here from
Pinewood. This did mean that at least one regular production
company was forced to find alternative studio space and bookings from
them are probably unlikely in the near future. Since then the
studio has been less busy than before but did see the return of Reggie
Perrin and was booked for
entertainment series A League of Their
The Rob Brydon Show. Will
Mellor's sitcom White Van Man was shot in studio 1 in Nov/Dec
2010 using 4-walled sets but with a live studio audience, unable to
see any of the action, except on monitors. Studio 2 sadly
remains empty for much of the time (I wonder how many production
managers actually know it exists?) but was used for a few weeks in
2010 for Britain's Best Dish and
and Dom's Funny Business,
which returned in January 2011.
shows in the past decade have included This
Is Your Life (ending in 2003), eight
series of the award-winning Harry Hill's
TV Burp (now made at TV Centre) and Extinct
for Endemol - whilst as a complete contrast, Trisha's daily show for
Five was made in studio 2 during part of 2005/6. Studio 2 was
also the home of Brian Conley's daytime entertainment contest Let
Me Entertain You in 2006/7 and several
series of Bremner, Bird and Fortune
have also been made here. The first series of Today
With Des and Mel had its home in
of course considered Teddington his second home for many years.
He had his own dressing room and Des
O'Connor Tonight was made regularly in
studio 1 each year until only a few years ago. In fact, as his
website modestly states (yes, I actually had a look at his website)
'Des has had his own primetime TV show for 44 consecutive years,
longer than anyone, anywhere on the planet.' Well, you can't
argue with that, can you?
to the future of Teddington, this has sadly become somewhat
questionable. In January 2011 many of the small studios around
the site were not booked - only The Chinese Channel and Turf TV
remaining as long-term residents. Studio 2 continues to be the
industry's most closely guarded secret and studio 1 - in the recent
past with a pretty full diary - had relatively few bookings for the
year ahead. Studio 3 has been fitted with a hard infinity
cyclorama which can be painted blue, green or white making it an
incredibly useful facility - but who knows this even exists?
Studio 7 also has a similar green screen area at one end now.
2010 and into 2011 there were rumours of problems between Haymarket
and Pinewood over the lease, partly concerning who owns what in the
studios. From an outsider's perspective Teddington appears
poorly marketed with few production managers seemingly aware of what
the studios offer. This is even more surprising considering
that Pinewood's two TV studios were booked by movies for much of 2010
and 2011. One would have thought that this would have been a
golden opportunity to refurb one or both of the main Teddington
studios and then really push it hard.
lease was due for renewal in September 2011 and it was rumoured
throughout the industry that Pinewood would call it a day here.
However, they decided to renew the lease for a further three years -
although they said that there would have to be some cost-cutting and
a few redundancies My guess - and this is purely a guess - is
that Pinewood are waiting to see what happens to the studios at TV
Centre when that building is sold. Apparently, they don't
anticipate spending any money on refurbishing these studios during
the next three years and there is even talk of some of the equipment
being transferred to Pinewood if bookings are sparse. However,
2012 looked reasonably promising - so we can't write the studios here
off quite yet. My guess is that Teddington will pick up quite a
bit of work in the next couple of years once TV Centre closes.
lease runs until December 2014. As for extending it beyond
that date, Ivan Dunleavy was quoted in November 2012 as saying that
Pinewood 'will evaluate that with the landlord.' (In other
words, Haymarket Publishing.) However, he also made it clear
that their priority was with their own studios at Pinewood, in which
they are investing heavily.
To round off
the ITV story - whilst the following hasn't affected the studios in
London it is worth noting the change that happened to ITV in October
2002. This was when the names of the regional companies were
dropped from on-screen idents and the channel simply became
'ITV1'. In London, Carlton and LWT logos continued to appear at
the end of programmes until 31st October 2004. Following the
merger of Carlton and Granada all programmes made in-house carry the
'Granada' logo, although oddly for a while the copyright symbol still
said LWT in very small letters on a few shows. Even more
curiously, this reappeared on the end of I'm A Celebrity Get me
Out of Here - transmitted in November 2006. How or why this
was classified as an LWT programme is a mystery yet to be solved.
in 2006, following a major refurbishment of the reception area at the
'London Television Centre' on the South Bank, the walls were proudly
decorated with a giant mural of actors and performers from ITV's long
history. There were two illuminated logos mounted one above the
other on the mural - one was 'ITV', the other was 'Granada'.
Who would have thought in 1955 that Sidney Bernstein's company would
one day take over the whole ITV network?
someone thought that was all a little too much for the soft
southerners to stomach - and that ITV's history was, well,
history. Around 2009 the foyer was refurbished again, the
famous faces were painted over and all that can be seen now are flat
screens showing all four ITV channels and a few signs with the latest
information: As on the rest of this website - please do not
use or ask permission to use any of these images in books or other
publications or on TV programmes or commercially run websites.
Many of the illustrations are copyrighted by their respective
copyright holders according to the original copyright or publication
date as printed on the artwork or publication and are reproduced here
for historical reference and research purposes. If you do own
the copyright to any image displayed here and wish it to be credited
or removed, please contact me and I shall of course be happy to oblige.
apology - firstly for all those
errors which are almost certainly still sprinkled throughout the
above. I shall do my best to put them right when I discover
them or when somebody contacts me with the facts!
Secondly - I am very aware that I have almost completely ignored
sound in all my comments about studio equipment. It's not that
I'm not interested, rather that I am far better informed about
cameras and lighting and frankly there is very little information out
there about which sound mixer was installed in what studio and
when. That's my excuse anyway.
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