Riverside Studios

(Revised  July 2020)

 
riverside painting 450p
This atmospheric painting is by Annie Ralli.  It’s from her ‘London Series.’  She used to be one of the first four scenic artists at the BBC but is now a freelance artist.  Visit her website on www.annieralli.com to find out more about her work.  She deserves congratulation on finding beauty in what (let’s be honest) was one of the most ugly buildings in London. However, to coin a phrase, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and this curious mishmash of construction spanning over 100 years was the home of some of the best work of many creative people in the worlds of cinema, theatre, dance, music and television.

 

 

The film  years

 

Riverside Studios were (and in fact still are, in a new form) on the north bank of the Thames near Hammersmith bridge.  They began life as an industrial building in the 1800s.  In 1903, it was bought by ‘Gwynnes’, an engineering and foundry works specialising in manufacturing water pumps.  The company was taken over in 1927 by Foster & Co, developers of the first tanks – who subsequently moved to Lincoln in 1930.

riverside gwynnes poster 350p
These were the kind of pumps made here by Gwynnes – although, according to this advert, the photo actually shows the company’s Lincoln works.

 

The studio areas were originally open-sided constructions supported on a steel frame.  Later, walls were built, windows added and the whole area enclosed.  Along Crisp Road was a row of tiny cottages and between them and the large sheds was a three-storey Victorian warehouse/office building which later formed part of the studio site.

In 1933 Triumph Films bought the site and converted it into a relatively compact film studio complex with two stages (1 – 105 x 75ft and 2 – 80 x 60ft) a large dubbing theatre and various other supporting areas.  The internal walls of the cottages were knocked out to create a workshop area.

To form the larger stage a wall and steel columns had to be demolished between the two ‘sheds’.  A box truss was inserted into the roof structure to support the area where the two roofs joined.  The roof line at this point was thus relatively complex and drainage could very occasionally be a problem in heavy downpours.  In the summer of 2005 I saw rain come pouring in to studio 1 during a particularly spectacular storm.

riverside demolition studios 1 and 2 450p
This photo was taken during the demolition of the site in January 2015.  It shows the original structure of the building rather nicely.  We are looking at studio 2 on the left and studio 1 on the right.  The dividing wall has been demolished so the space is as it was in the days of the engineering works.  The red box truss that supported the roof in the middle of studio 1 can be seen. This was where a wall once stood before it became a film studio.
All the BBC grid has been removed – a significant amount of steel.  The scrap value alone must have helped a bit towards the cost of the new building!
photo thanks to Duncan Stewart

 

 

Following construction there was a short period of modestly successful film-making but around 1937 it was bought by Julius Hagen, the owner of Twickenham Studios, with the idea of using Riverside as an overflow for making quota quickies.  However, by 1939 his company had gone into liquidation.  The studios were purchased by famous song and dance man Jack Buchanan, although he did not appear in any films made here.  Around this time the site was known as Hammersmith Studios.

One source states that the studios were ‘bursting with activity’ during the war.  In fact John Logie Baird’s son (apologies for name-dropping) Malcolm Baird has written to inform me that The Mancunian Film Corporation used them to make Lancashire comedies including Somewhere in the Camp (1942), Somewhere on Leave (1942), Somewhere in Civvies, (1943) (I spot a kind of ‘Carry On’ trend here) and Demobbed (1944).  This company presumably rented the premises from Jack Buchanan.  After the war, Mancunian moved to a cheaper studio in Manchester and continued to make the same sort of films until the late 1950s.  Their films were apparently aimed purely at the north west market and only shown in cinemas in that region.  According to present day reviewers the ‘B’ movies made by Mancunian were pretty grim. 

In fact I am informed that the Manchester studio they used was the converted church the BBC later occupied and used as its TV studio – the one where Top of the Pops began.

Despite the previous account, another historical source claims that for most of the war the studios were hardly used, except for a little overflow work from other places – such as the model work for One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing.  (I can recommend the DVD – the model of the German town being bombed is very realistic.  It must have been huge.)  Towards the end of the war and into the post-war period some well-regarded films were made here such as The Seventh Veil, which filled British cinemas for no less than ten years.

 

In 1944-45, none other than John Logie Baird was taken on by Jack Buchanan as a consultant to Hammersmith Studios working on a ‘cinema television’ project.  This was an invention of Baird’s that would enable live TV to be transmitted to cinemas where it would be shown on a large screen.  We take this sort of thing for granted now, with boxing matches, operas and plays from the National Theatre being shown live in cinemas, but in those days the idea was revolutionary.  Sadly for Baird, it was not taken up by the industry at this time except in an experimental way.

 

However, in the astonishing way that these things sometimes happen – 63 years later, on 8th March 2008 the BBC held a live screening of a rugby match at Riverside Studios.  The unique aspect of this was that it was in 3D and was the first live 3D high definition screening of a sporting event via satellite in the world.  Three camera rigs using pairs of Sony HDC-950 cameras were used.  The audience viewed the screen with lightweight 3D glasses and the result was said to be ‘a true immersive like-being-there sensation.’  Just before he died in 1946, Baird had been working on all these technologies – 3D television, high definition television and large screen TV for displaying sport in cinemas.  It is astonishing that it was over sixty years before the work he started was eventually adopted.  I wonder how many of those involved realised the significance of holding that experiment in these studios.

 

In 1948 Jack Buchanan sold the studios to the new owners of Twickenham Studios – Alliance Films.  The two sites provided sufficient studio space for a number of successful movies.  The period from about 1945-1954 was the most productive in Riverside’s history.  However, the decline in film-making affected these studios like all others.  In the early 1950s studio time began to be hired by the BBC film unit and by the end of 1954 movie-making had ended here.  The last feature film made at Riverside was Father Brown, starring Alec Guinness.

 

 

 

The BBC  years

 

In 1954 the BBC took over ownership and decided to convert the two stages into TV studios.  Studio 1 was to be a replacement for each of the Lime Grove Studios as they were taken out of service for refurbishment and upgrading with the latest equipment.  Studio 2 would simply become additional studio space.  However, the studios would also form an experimental test bed for the design of Television Centre.  The layout of galleries and the suspension, dimming and control of lighting – all of these were tried out at Riverside.

riverside ext photo of bbc times
Riverside in the late 1950s following the BBC alterations.  The three parts of the building can clearly be seen.  In the foreground the ugly concrete and brick BBC addition, behind that the original Victorian warehouse and beyond that the end of one of the old storage sheds, modified during the Triumph Films days to become the stages and dubbing theatre.

 

Considerable alterations were made to the buildings. The row of cottages along Crisp Road were demolished and a box-shaped construction was erected which on the ground floor contained a workshop and scenery dock, dressing rooms and a boiler room with a ventilation plant above.

In the arts centre years the workshop and scene dock area became ‘studio 3’ – a small studio theatre – and the rest of the space formed the arts centre foyer and coffee bar. In fact, in 2006 studio 3 actually became a television studio when it was adapted to be used for C4’s weekend show  T4 .

 

riverside google earth 460p
A Google Earth image of Riverside Studios in 2006.  The two big ‘sheds’ dominate the site.  The complex roof-line over studio 1 can clearly be seen. The large flat-roofed area top centre was the dubbing theatre – later becoming the cinema.  Note the 1980s office building at the bottom of the image.  This too was demolished in 2015 and the whole site redeveloped to become the new Riverside Studios.

 

The two studios were named R1 and R2. R1 was 6,000 sq ft gross which was approx 68 x 65 metric feet within firelanes.  R2 was 4,400 sq ft gross or about 62 x 52 metric feet within firelanes.  The conversion of studio 2 was relatively simple.  It was within the structure of one of the original sheds and the roof steels were considered strong enough to support the proposed lighting grid.  The roof was thus a complex web of old original steel supports dating from when the roof was first constructed, some (one assumes) from its time as a film stage and below all that the huge red-painted I-beams installed by the BBC.  The weight of all that lot must have been colossal – before you hung anything on it.

Studio 2’s control rooms were constructed within the warehouse building that joined the studio.  Windows of course were installed as in those days a clear view of the studio floor from the control rooms was considered essential.

riverside studio 2 gallery windows 450p
R2’s gallery windows with shutters down.  I took this photo after the studio had closed in 2014 whilst it was being cleared of all its kit
riverside studio 1 gallery windows 450p
The control room windows of R1 from the studio floor.  They could still be seen in later years but were boarded up
 
Studio 1 was much more of a problem. The control rooms at first floor level would have to occupy some of the space within the existing film stage but would be extended outwards through the stage wall to the site boundary.  Dressing rooms and make-up areas would be built beneath them.  However, the roof construction was not strong enough to support the TV lighting grid so a separate ground supported structure was designed.  This would not impose any load on the roof steels which would remain an entirely separate construction.
 
riverside section through r1
A section through R1.  The box girder can be seen in the roof where the dividing wall between the old sheds used to be.  The control room suite extends beyond the original wall to the site boundary with the ventilation plant above.

 

Huge pits had to be dug to form the foundations for the steel supports.  Many problems were encountered – partly through having to clear buried iron and steel waste from the old foundry days and partly due to the close proximity of the river.  Looking back, it seems extraordinary that so much effort went into creating a studio that was always intended to be temporary.  Nobody back then would have imagined that the studios would still be producing television programmes up to 2014.

riverside studio 1 pcr 450p
R1’s ‘vision control room’.  Or production control room as we would now call it.  Nobody knew whether it was better to put the monitors over the window or have them in a stack on the wall with the window to one side – so they tried it each way in the two studios.
riverside r1 pcr from sound 450p
Above – the gallery suite of R1.  We are in the sound control room – through the window is the ‘vision control’ room and beyond is the apparatus room.  “So where is the lighting gallery?” you may ask.  There wasn’t one.  The console was in the apparatus room in this studio along with all the camera controls and engineers.  The lighting director (not that he was called that back then) however, sat in the vision control room near the director.  Very curious.
When the galleries were rebuilt in 2003 the lighting gallery occupied the area that was formerly the sound gallery, the PCR was more or less the same and the sound gallery and green room took up the space that was formerly the apparatus room.  A corridor linking the rooms ran next to the studio wall.  The blocked up window was behind the wall in the lighting gallery – to be honest, it might have been quite handy on occasions if that had been opened up again!

 
riverside studio 2 pcr 450p
‘Vision control’ in R2.  In this studio the monitor stack was to the side of the window, which proved to be a better arrangement so was adopted in all the new studios at TV Centre.
 
 
The lighting grid was for its day revolutionary.  79 motorised hoists were installed in R1, 62 in R2.  These consisted of a aluminium bar, 8ft 8ins in length (why that exact length?) with the ends 2 feet apart from the next hoist.  They were spaced across the studio 6 feet apart.  The normal rig was 4 lamps – two 2K fresnels and two ‘scoops.’  These were round softlights specially developed for the purpose.  The 2Ks too were specially ordered as they had to be much lighter in weight than the previous very sturdy model in normal film and TV use.  It was also possible to hang another bar a few feet below the lights.  This was said to be for additional lights or scenery.  Hard to see quite how that would have worked.

The hoists were all removed after the BBC left the site but their fixing points could still be seen in the grids of both studios.  The frame and pulleys for one of them was directly in front of the theatre lighting control position on the gantry in Studio 2 and (as I noted whilst working on a play in January 2010) a label proudly displays the fact that it was made in Cardiff.  I have been informed that a lot of metalwork including the copper from the hoist motors was allegedly stripped out of these studios during the time the building was owned by Hammersmith council but before it reopened as an arts centre.  It would appear that this was not done with the official knowledge of the council.  The fact that the council’s refuse depot was sited next door was of course purely coincidental.

Long bars similar to this were duly installed in the first five studios at TV Centre (TC2, TC3, TC4, TC5, TC7) having proved their worth here at Riverside.  They were also installed in studios D, E and G at Lime Grove and at TV Theatre as each of those were refurbished in the late ’50s/early ’60s.

 

There were several types of dimmers available at the time.  It was not known which was the most suitable for TV use so R1 was fitted with 166 variable resistor and auto-transformer dimmers, remotely controlled by an electro-magnetic clutch system.  R2 was fitted with 96 electronic xenon thyratron dimmers.  Both studios had a Strand type ‘C’ console enabling a limited form of recording and recalling lighting states.  Perhaps surprisingly, the old resistor dimmers were preferred and the first four studios at TV Centre (TC2 – TC5) were duly fitted with these.  (TC2 and TC3 still have huge, almost empty dimmer rooms, built to fit all the original mechanical dimmers.)

The best position for the lighting console was not agreed by all in those days.  Some felt it should be in the ‘vision’ gallery which is where the director and vision mixer sat.  Others felt it should be in the apparatus room where the vision operator racked the cameras.  Clearly, the lighting affects the camera exposure so arguably it made sense for the two operators to sit side by side (as is current practice.)  However, in those days there was no lighting director – the lighting was the responsibility of the Technical Operations Manager (TOM).  He sat close to the director in the ‘vision’ gallery so one can understand why he would want to have the console operator nearby rather than on the end of a phone.  The experimental solution at Riverside was to have the console in the apparatus room in R1 and in the production (or ‘vision’) gallery in R2.

 

In fact, when Television Centre opened in 1960 neither arrangement was adopted but a dedicated ‘lighting and vision control’ room was created where the console op (‘lighting and vision control supervisor’ or VS) and the racks op (‘vision operator’ or VO) sat together, sharing a bank of monitors.  It was the TOM who had to move – coming out of the production gallery and sitting where he should have been all the time – between the two operators.  This meant that his assistant now sat in the production gallery and was given the responsibility for organising the technical aspects of the programme.  He became known as a ‘Technical Manager 2’ (TM2).  The TOM became a ‘TM1’ and was solely responsible for the lighting design.  Around 1980 the TM1 post was renamed ‘lighting director.’

 

The studios were fitted with Marconi Mk III cameras.  There were 4 cameras in R1 and only 3 in R2. Each studio had an MPRC Mole crane and a Vinten Heron dolly as well as the usual Vinten HP peds.  R2 opened on 4th June 1956 and R1 on 25th September 1956.  In their day these were the most technically advanced studios in the country – and considering that the BBC had wide resources for R&D in those days – possibly the most advanced in the world. 

The original cameras were in turn replaced with Pye Mk5 cameras in the early 1960s.  In some people’s opinion, for picture quality these were the best cameras of their generation.  However – they were not loved by everyone.  Mitch Mitchell sent me his opinion…

‘…PYE cameras – I operated them down at Riverside in its BBC days – the main problem with those motorised turrets was that the relay or switch would jam and the lens would keep rotating thus making the camera unusable.  It happened to me a few times but once on air on something called The Paradise Makers – some sort of spy thriller thing – can’t remember much about it but it is burnt into my memory because of the PYEs.  They were hellish slow too – we all preferred the Marconi Mk IV or the green EMI.’

 

Popular programmes made here included Six-Five Special, Z-Cars, Dixon of Dock Green and Dr WhoSix-Five Special began in 1957 and was a live music show with artists playing mostly rock-‘n-roll and skiffle.  It started at Lime Grove – shortly afterwards transferring to Riverside.  The show was produced by Jack Good and was the first in the world to feature music aimed at teenagers.  Bizarrely it was also a magazine programme, so would cut from a song with Marty Wilde or Tommy Steele rocking in the studio to a worthy item on film about rock climbing in the Lake District.  It was therefore an odd mixture of TOTP  and Blue Peter before anyone had thought of either of those programmes.  It was one of the first programmes to break the BBC’s ‘toddlers truce’.  This was a gap in broadcasting between 6.00pm and 7.00pm that had enabled parents to put their children to bed.  Extraordinary.  (Of course these days CBeebies is still transmitting right up to 7.00pm.)

 

riverside dixon tech ops ron green 450p
Dixon of Dock Green
Unmissable viewing in its day, it went out at 6.30 on a Saturday evening, attracting audiences of around 14 million in 1961.  It ran from 1955 – 1976, most of the early series being made here at Riverside and transmitted live.
It always began with a filmed sequence of PC George Dixon (played by Jack Warner, seen centre of this photo) in a street at night, walking up to the camera, gently saluting and saying the immortal words “Evenin’ all.” He’d then have a chat with us about the latest case he’d been working on. They then cut to the live studio for the rest of the episode.
Jack Warner was the ripe old age of 80 when the final episode was recorded at TV Centre in 1976.
this photo is from the collection of the late Ron Green and is gratefully copied from www.tech-ops.co.uk
six-five special at riverside
Six-Five Special.
This photo shows a CPS Emitron Mk3 10764 camera.  The problem is that these cameras were never in use at Riverside.  However – the show began its life at Lime Grove so that is almost certainly where this picture was taken. You might wonder why this image is therefore being shown here, rather than in the Lime Grove section and I would say that that was a very good question to ask.  However, Six-Five Special was made here at Riverside for much longer than at the Grove so that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
I am informed by John Liffen that the guy in the Fez is Don Lang, trombone player and leader of his group, the ‘Frantic Five’.  They were, in fact, the programme’s house band.  Many thanks to John for that but – why a fez?  OK, it was good enough for Tommy Cooper.
 
Six-Five Special  had a regular house band whose members included several well-known musicians.  They would, it is said, go to the pub over the road after the dress run and only return as they saw the opening titles roll on the pub’s TV They would often go back to the pub during the show if there was a performance or an item on film when they were not required to play and continue their pint, returning to the studio just in time for the next song when they were needed.  This would sometimes happen two or three times during the show.  The director would phone any notes to the pub if required.  Now that’s class.

In fact, the pub (‘The Chancellor’s’) was in such regular use by artists and studio crews that the landlord had a sign mounted on the door saying ‘studio 3’ in BBC lettering.  The pub is still there – I lit a location sketch for Russell Howard’s Good News there in May 2013.  It looked like nothing much had changed for several decades, with the walls proudly displaying photos of the various TV stars who had performed in the studios over the road.

riverside pub 1967 roger bunce 450p
A nicely turned-out Crew 16 – the cream of the BBC’s camera and sound talent – waiting for opening time outside ‘studio 3’ some time in 1967.
(Wasn’t that the year of flower power, long hair and everyone wearing kaftans and beads?  No sign of such fripperies here.  Looks more like 1957.)
With thanks to the tech-ops website and Roger Bunce.

 

Mike Du Boulay also has fond memories of The Chancellors…

‘…It’s amazing how music of the day triggers my memory. Whenever I hear “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” by the Stones I think of the pub across the road from Riverside…Riverside 3!  I was in on the taping of “Hey You Get Off Of My Cloud” and “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown” again by the Stones.  These were fun times.’

Some Riverside programmes recalled by Derek Donoghue include Alma Cogan, It’s Magic (David Nixon), Charlie Drake, Off the Record, Solo for Canary (6 part drama) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Rudolf Cartier. 

 

Mike Du Boulay worked on the following in 1965…

Muses With Milligan (R2), A ‘ Three Day Play ‘(R1), The Sky At Night (R2), Take It Or Leave It (R2), Anatomy Of A Film (R2), Mogul (R1), The Roy Kinnear Show (R1).  Mogul was a popular glossy drama series about an oil company that ran for some time in the sixties.

 

Brian Cuff has also reminded me that the popular series Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School was made here.  The show ran from 1952 to 1961 (49 episodes) – the early series came from Lime Grove.

Ivan Burgess recalls meeting an ex-engineer called Lionel Morris at Riverside some years after the Beeb left…

‘…It was the one time that Lionel really came alive.  I remember him telling me that the reason that PC (Later Sergeant) Dixon always started off on film on the steps of Dock Green Police Station was because they had to clear Six-Five Special before they started the live drama in the adjacent studio.

When VT recording did come in, he told me of an embarrassing evening when they could not record Oscar Peterson at the Centre for an edition of  Jazz 625.  The VT operators made the mistake of thinking the programme was originating in 625 lines when Riverside was still running on 405.’

You need to read the second paragraph a couple of times to follow the mistake the VT engineers back at TV Centre understandably made.

 

During the ’60s Blue Peter mostly came from Lime Grove or one of the black and white studios at TVC but towards the end of the decade it was often made here at Riverside.  I have been told that the famous elephant incident occurred here but it seems more likely that it took place at Lime Grove.  However – Peter Harris recalls a programme with a pig that sounds almost as chaotic…

‘…I remember one Blue Peter with a pig in the studio, which squealed at PPM-busting level every time they tried to “interview” it, and made a dash for the darkest part of the studio (occupied by the cameras, floor monitors and booms and thus most of the crew.)  They had to light the whole studio area in the end, and I still remember the sight of an AFM taking this pig for a walk along the tow-path to tire it out before transmission.’

 

Blue Peter was probably the last live programme to be made here by the BBC – around March 1970.  In fact, all programmes were transmitted live from Riverside during the early years including the dramas that were rehearsed during the day and performed in the evening.  Some were performed ‘as live’ but telerecorded on film by a camera looking at a monitor.  This is how we still have some recordings of these early shows although most have sadly been lost for ever.

 

There are many crew anecdotes about mishaps during live performances of Z-Cars including cameras in shot, actors pushing cameras out of the way with their feet and inevitably the back projection (BP) for the car scenes running out.  More than once the BP film continued to play when the vehicle was supposed to be stationary and an actor stepped out of the car – seemingly whilst travelling at high speed (the actor attempting to cover the gaff with a ‘don’t bother to stop – I’ll jump out here!’)  Apparently rehearsals were not taken particularly seriously, with much larking about from the actors and playing practical jokes on each other.  The camera crew often found that the positions of the actors in the live transmission were not quite what they had been expecting, which made for a terrifying half hour for any inexperienced cameraman.

Z-Cars was live from 1962-1965 and was one of the last live dramas made by the BBC.  Later series were recorded – it ran until 1978, the last few series being made at TV Centre.  It was hugely popular and ran for 799 episodes.

 

Roderick Stewart has sent me a couple of recollections…

‘…The programme they were making on my very first day was Playschool, in monochrome of course (Pye image orthicon cameras with motorised turret lenses), the presenters being Brian Cant and Valerie Pitts.  (Ms Pitts later became Lady Valerie Solti when she married the conductor Sir Georg Solti).  I also remember Z-Cars, because it was the first time I’d ever seen half a motor car on springs with a BP screen behind it and couldn’t believe at first it was that crude.  There wasn’t even any glass in any of the windows, and everything in Newtown Police Station was very roughly painted in matte emulsion!

I recall the canteen with fondness because although it was built to service two working studios, on empty days there would be just two or three engineers in the whole building.  On those days the canteen would have a staff of one young lady, who would simply phone us mid afternoon to ask us what we wanted for tea, and then phone us again later to tell us when it was ready.  Service like that is rare.’

 

The third in the very popular Quatermass series was made at Riverside.  (The previous two were made at Alexandra Palace and Lime Grove respectively.)  Quatermass and the Pit went out on Monday evenings from December 22, 1958 to January 26, 1959 – live with pre-filmed scenes shot at Ealing and on location.  This was the first major series to have scenes shot at Ealing after the BBC took it over as the base for its film department.  The series was also telerecorded and at the time was the BBC’s most expensive production ever.

 

Several drama series were made at Riverside throughout the BBC’s residence.  A number of episodes of the first five series of Dr Who, starring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, came from here.  It is said that Dr Who shared his police box Tardis with Dixon of Dock Green, also shot at the studios.  Hmmm.  Maybe.

riverside dr who plan
A corner of a 1966 plan of Dr Who episode – Tenth Planet.  The set in the corner of the studio is a Cyberman spaceship.  Obviously.
The three symbols above represent the following: 2A is a Mole camera crane, A3 is a sound boom and 3A is a camera ped.  These positions were worked out by the director for each set so that the cables did not have to cross each other when moving between sets and get tangled up.
In all BBC studios ‘wall 1’ is the wall which has the control rooms behind it.  The others follow in clockwise direction.  Thus the wall at the bottom of the plan is wall 4.
Later users of Riverside will notice that the main door from the bar did not exist in the BBC days.  It was situated in the bottom left of this plan. That doorway replaced the fire exit shown here on Wall 1 which at some point was bricked up.
plan thanks to David Harper

 

R1 and R2 were separated by large dock doors.  These were occasionally opened for major dramas linking the two studios.  Roger Brunskill recalls that ‘a western called A Town Has Turned To Dust starring Rod Steiger was made at Riverside.  The typical wild western street ran through these dividing doors.’  Now, according to the IMDb, this play was made in 1958 and was part of the ‘Playhouse 90’  series.  For some years on this website I stated that this show was directed by John Frankenheimer and its cast included William Shatner.  The rest of the series appeared to have been made in the US by CBS so why this one was made at Riverside by the BBC was a mystery.

Fortunately, David Aley has solved the puzzle.  He informs me that two versions were made – one in the US by CBS and the other by the BBC.  It turns out that the makers of the original series felt that ‘executive interference’ had prevented it from being as powerful as intended.  Following contact between the producers and the BBC, agreement was reached that a new production would be made in London for a UK audience, with greater artistic freedom.  This is the show seen below which was transmitted in the Sunday Night Theatre series on 3rd July 1960.

riverside western (1) 11
A Town Has Turned to Dust – in R1 and R2.  I am assured by Roger Brunskill that the man with his hands in his pockets walking away from us is Rod Steiger.  From his body language he doesn’t look too keen that Hammersmith turned out to be in drizzly old London, not Arizona.  He’s probably just off to fire his agent.
The crane foreground right is a Baby Transantlantic – hired in for the show from a film grip company.  It has two seats – the second one would be used by the focus-puller when a film camera was used.  In the television industry the focus is ‘pulled’ by the operator – even using today’s high definition cameras.

 

As well as being the base for much of the BBC’s drama it also became the home of one of the most successful sitcoms ever – Hancock’s Half Hour.  This series also starred Sid James, who had appeared in at least one film made here before the days of television. 

More than 500 editions of Play School were shot at Riverside before it moved to TC7 at TV Centre in 1968.  I have been sent a nice bit of background to the show by Malcolm C Walker, its first director…

‘…We started Playschool there (I was its first director) and I was unused to studio operations in London having come from Current Affairs and Sport in Scotland.  The first drama came when I started to talk about lenses in inches rather than degrees.  OBs in Scotland had always dealt in inches.  The second was that coming from OBs I was used to cameramen offering shots.  Shotlists were a total novelty to me.  So on morning one I was a tad demoralised when all the cameras stayed facing down to the floor and not a shot was to be seen.  However, one learned quickly, and within a short time we developed a mixture of shotlisted material and offered shots which seemed to work!

The business of going ’through’ the assorted windows was required by the producer to be a complete surprise to the presenters and so it was always left to the Heron crane to make the fateful decision.  Bets were placed in the gallery and as director I made enough for regular pints.  Maybe that was my downfall as a children’s director as after a few months I was shipped off to Bristol to start another children’s prog and for a degree of rehabilitation!!’

 

Soon after BBC2 opened in 1964 it was decided to broadcast an alternative to sport on Saturday afternoons.  This show, transmitted from Riverside, was known as Open House and as its title suggests it was an arts show with a very broad remit.  Amongst its many guests were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones – although sadly not on the same show.  Now that would have been worth watching.  It is interesting though how going right back to Six-Five Special the studios were often the home of contemporary music programmes.  Even after the BBC officially left, they were used for a while to make several editions of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and a youth culture show called Riverside – both using an OB truck for facilities.  In 2001, for a few months Top of the Pops was recorded in Studio 1 after the show left Elstree, again using an OB unit.  The 2013 Christmas TOTP was recorded here, as TV Centre was of course closed.  As we will see, this musical tradition continued almost to the studios’ end.

 

Chris Jones has sent me couple of anecdotes from his days as a Technical Assistant in the late ’60s.   On one occasion he was showing a visitor round the CAR and was asked what a particularly unusual looking switch did.  Chris replied that it used to be for switching between 405 and 625 lines but wasn’t used any more.  Giving it a quick flip to demonstrate, he now admits to tripping every camera in the studios.  He also recalls a ‘God Spot’ programme one Sunday in R2 when an act of God caused the turret drive motor on one of the cameras to burst into flames to the obvious consternation of all the clergy assembled.

 

I have concentrated on the studios themselves above for obvious reasons but Brian Cuff has asked me to mention the two Mechau flying spot telecine machines that were on site.  He reckons that these were situated in a small ‘foyer’ at the top of a flight of stairs.  (The ones that led to the cinema in later years.)  Intended to be used for playing-in filmed inserts into studio productions, he admits that they probably weren’t used that much and TK machines playing down the line from Lime Grove were often used in preference.  Anyway – job done, they are now included!

riverside r1 grid 350p
The original lighting rig in R1. Two 2Ks and two scoops on each bar.
riverside mole crane 350p
As can be seen here – the rig was modified for each production.
riverside r2 lx console 350p
The Strand lighting console in studio 2.  I originally thought this was a Type C but David Bertenshaw used to work for Strand and informs me that it was a different type of console, linked to the Thyratron dimmers in this studio.  (Studio 1 did have a Type C.)  It was in a corner of the vision control room or production gallery as we would now call it.
riverside st 2
R2 during the BBC days.  After many years of other activities this studio returned to regular TV use in September 2013 for just one more year before demolition.

 

 

When exactly did the studios close and the BBC leave?…

 

The precise date, or even the year when the BBC left Riverside has proved to be one of those puzzles that has occupied far too much of my time writing this website.  During the 1960s Riverside is not mentioned in the annual BBC handbooks except obliquely.  Thus, they might state that there are 8 studios in Television Centre plus ‘a television theatre and six further major production studios in the London area.’  Of the six, one assumes 4 at Lime Grove and 2 at Riverside.  Most annual handbooks also give a list of the total number of BBC studios in London.  This figure of 15 continues up to the 1971 book – so refers back to 1970. 

 

Mitch Mitchell has dug up his old diaries and discovered that up until 13th September 1967 he was working on Z-Cars regularly in R1.  After that he has a few entries for staff training days in R1 up to December 1969 but no ‘real’ programmes.  Following that date he has no entry for that studio.   Jackanory and Playschool shared a studio day in R2 until 13th July 1968 when he worked on Play School in TC7.  However – Jackanory continued in R2 until at least 10th Oct 1968.

Bob Buckler’s diaries go a bit further.  He has some Blue Peters in R1 in December 1969 and into January 1970.  The last is 15th Jan.  I have incidentally heard a story that Biddy Baxter, famous editor of BP, objected to the extra cost of using colour studios so she kept Blue Peter in black and white for as long as possible.  Eventually, her budget was increased and the show went into colour.  (BBC1 officially went colour in November 1969 but BP remained in black and white for several years after that.)

Bob’s diaries for R2 have a Jackanory on 14th November 1968.  After that he has some training days – the last being 28th Feb ’69.  Studio engineer Peter Harris reckons that when he was posted to Riverside in October 1969 only R1 and the music studio were working.  He believes that the studios ceased operations in March 1970.

 

Roger Neal – a vision supervisor in BBC OBs – recalled an ice show that was made here in colour using an OB unit in the late 1960s (Riverside was never colourised by the BBC.)  This has been confirmed by TA Chris Jones and sound supervisor John Holmes.  The programme was called International  Ice Cabaret and was recorded in R1.  A stage was built, flooded up to 2″ and then frozen and the studio was used for nothing else during the run.  Terry Hughes was the director (he went on to direct Golden Girls in the US) and the show was introduced by Ray Allen and his vent puppet “Lord Charles”.  It probably ran for about a dozen shows.

This series is listed as being broadcast in October 1968 and was recorded in June/July of that year.  John’s recollection is that the studios had been empty for a few months before and studio 2’s equipment had been dismantled.  This doesn’t quite tally with Bob Buckler’s diary mentioned above or Mitch Mitchell’s diary – which has Jackanory in R2 in October ’68.  On the other hand, John says that the canteen was closed by then so they all went to the Chancellor’s just across the road.  Mind you, did an OB crew need an excuse?

Roger Prior also worked on the Ice Show.  He recalls that the crew went to great lengths to arrange for a feed of a drama being made at TV Centre to be sent to their viewfinders.  The drama was called Nana and was apparently incredibly bawdy.  (Nana was made in 1968 so that confirms the year.)  Apparently every BBC region and OB around the country had also asked for a feed of the studio which stretched the resources of CAR at TVC considerably.  (I’m quite sure this sort of thing would not happen now.)  The solution at the Riverside OB to avoid rolling pictures was to synchronise the scanner to TC5.  Roger recalls that in the other studio the Gemini cameras were in storage.  More on these below.

Some time later, Bernie Davis remembers working on refurbing a couple of old OB scanners (MCR 15 and 16) that were going to be sold to Greek TV.  They were parked in one of the studios and the year was probably 1972.  The studios were apparently being used for equipment storage at the time.

 

Anyway, this all seems to suggest that R1 and R2 ceased making broadcast programmes in 1970 and 1968 respectively.  I am told that during 1969 there was a strike over extra pay for working in colour.  This caused a backlog of work which it is said led to R1 being kept open for longer than had originally been planned.

After the studios themselves had closed, the site did remain in use for some time as an inject and co-ordination point for the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race – thanks to the many permanent lines to TVC with video, audio and comms circuits in both directions.  Its terrace provided an excellent location for a camera with fine views up and down the Thames.

What is perhaps surprising is that the building seems to have remained in BBC hands long after programme-making had ceased there. Eventually it was taken over by the local council.

 

 

An interesting development related to Riverside around April 1968 was known by some as the ‘Gemini Project. ‘ However, officially it was called ‘Video Film Recording’ (VFR) and Keith G Palmer has written to let me know that he worked on the project and never heard it called anything other than VFR.  Duncan Thomas was project engineer at the time and he tells me he only knew it as VFR too.  I’m now wondering who told me it was known as Gemini.

It was an experiment using combined film and TV cameras rather like those used at the Granville, Ewarts Studios and the French system hired in to make the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus at Intertel’s Wembley studio in the same year.  Rediffusion and ATV also carried out experiments with similar systems.  It seems that the BBC were interested in trying out this technique too – thus ending up with a colour 35mm filmed programme by using television multicamera techniques.

The cameras at Riverside were 35mm Arriflex with Siemens Vidicons looking through the lens.  Unfortunately, from the outset there were staff problems – the electricians wanted ‘film rates’ which were not forthcoming.  Apparently Strand Lighting were eventually asked to provide a crew who set the whole thing up ‘with a man and a boy.’  Other working practice issues became apparent – with the studio engineers insisting that they make exposure adjustments which had to be done under the instruction of another specialist engineer who was part of the VFR project.  He was not allowed to touch the controls himself.

Apparently several versions of an edition of Troubleshooters were filmed – but not with the original cast – and the results were said by some to be excellent.  They were filmed on Eastmancolor stock.

 

According to the then Head of Engineering, Television Studios – the plan was to carry out ‘full scale tests of the production and operational techniques involved.’  Following the tests the system was to be installed in TC4 early in 1969.  Of course, this never happened.

It is said by some that the system was unreliable and in some way difficult for the cameramen – although quite what those difficulties were is hard to establish.  There are various rumours of smearing images from the Vidicon tubes giving focus errors and problems with running up the film camera prior to it being cut up.  Keith Palmer disagrees – he says that the results were excellent.  What seems most likely is that the issue of film vs TV working practices and resulting payment for the crew was a can of worms that simply wasn’t worth opening in the end.

One might wonder what the point was of trying to develop ways of shooting multicamera 35mm film when multicamera colour video could be recorded very successfully on videotape.  The answer is that this system appeared to solve two problems.  Firstly, programmes that were likely to require a lot of editing were much easier to make on film, as videotape was at the time very difficult and very expensive to edit.  Secondly, around the late ’60s/early ’70s, standards converters were of very poor quality.  US networks were reluctant to accept programmes that had been made in 625-line PAL and converted to 525-line NTSC.  A 35mm colour film, however, could be played in a telecine machine anywhere in the world – or even shown in a cinema.

 

Incidentally – a similar system using three 35mm cameras had been developed in the US many years before and was how sitcoms like I Love Lucy (’51-’57) and Sergeant Bilko (’55-’59) had been filmed.  The technique was still in use in America for filming some studio-based sitcoms right up to around 2010.  (HD Digital cameras are now always used.)  It was briefly resurrected at Teddington in this country for the first series of Lenny Henry’s sitcom Chef! (’93) but subsequent series were made on videotape.

 

 

So – it seems likely that the building was owned by the BBC until some time around 1974.  By the time the corporation quietly slipped away from Riverside they had removed all of the television equipment and the studios became the property of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

 

 

The Arts Centre Years…

 

In 1975 it was decided to turn Riverside Studios into an arts centre and they were leased to a trust.  After some refurbishment and the removal of a number of internal walls including the old dimmer rooms to form a bar area, the studios were used as performance and rehearsal spaces.  The first in-house theatre season began in 1978 when Peter Gill became artistic director.  The dubbing theatre had been converted into a very nice cinema in 1976.  After refurbishment in 1987 it began to operate as a successful repertory cinema and quickly became highly regarded by film buffs.  It enjoyed this reputation right up to the end and the new building includes a cinema with a similar remit.  The cinema had both 35mm and digital projectors in its final years – the 35mm projector was going to be re-installed in the new building but sadly this proved impractical.

In 2011 I had the privilege of lighting a production in studio 2 directed by Peter Gill.  It was subsequently transmitted on Sky Arts as part of their Playhouse Live strand.  He was an extraordinary man – elderly of course but still with great energy, passion and attention to detail – who showed great patience working with a relatively inexperienced cast.  He encouraged some impressive performances from them.

 

The dubbing theatre had been used during the forties and fifties to record the background music for many films, not just those made here.  A BBC technician found several scores including that for The Cruel Sea behind the cinema screen one day during the late 1950s.  The room was said to have an excellent acoustic and continued to be used as a music recording studio by the BBC until they left.  I’m told that the theme tune for Dad’s Army  was recorded here.  It was constructed as a floating box so it was never affected by external noise.  Duncan Stewart described to me how he went exploring and discovered the gap between the wall of the cinema and the wall of the building – he could put his arm into it.  Very impressive and slightly disturbing.

 

Here’s an interesting little aside.  In 1984 Roger Fox rescued this fibrous plaster panel from a skip at Riverside.  He reckons it had been removed from the old dubbing theatre/cinema which must have been having some work done in it.  It clearly dates back to the original Hammersmith Film Studios days and depicts a camera on a tripod with spirals of film stock.  I think it looks terrific so I’m glad he saved it.  He tells me he donated it to the archivist at Riverside Studios when the new development was happening – so I hope it has found a home somewhere in the new building.

 

From the eighties right up to 2012 when the Arts Council grant was removed, Riverside Studios developed a reputation for staging highly regarded innovative theatrical and dance productions.  The studio environment lent itself to a ‘black box’ style of production that was a complement to the more conventional facilities in the West End or at the National.  Overseas theatre and dance companies were welcomed here on a regular basis.

 

A critically acclaimed production of Sondheim’s musical Company was recorded here as an OB for the BBC in the late eighties in Studio 1.

Some TV production also continued from time to time in Studio 2.  A conscious effort had been made to market that studio to television companies.  Obviously, without fully equipped galleries, cameras and permanently installed TV lighting it was difficult to attract much regular work.

However, some programmes were made here from time to time, using OB scanners for facilities.  The Biko Inquest was made for C4 in 1984, starring and directed by Albert Finney.  Ian Dow recalls working on a Parkinson in R2 during 1979, The Old Grey Whistle Test in Jan ’82 and in the autumn of 1983 a ‘yoof’ series appropriately called Riverside.  (Oddly, series 2 and 3 were made elsewhere but kept the same name.)  I have also been told by Glenn Aylett that Peter Powell hosted a pop series around 1982/83 – I wonder if this may have actually been the Riverside  series, although he isn’t credited as hosting that show on the IMDb.  In 1987 a National Youth Theatre production – The Ragged Child – was recorded as an OB.  Bernie Davis recalls that the chief electrician at the time was Darryl Noad.  He went on to become a successful TV lighting director in later years.

 

Mark Mumford has written to me.  He worked on the electrics team at Riverside in the 1980s.  They were struggling at the time to build a decent stock of house equipment.  Somebody heard that the Talk of the Town nightclub in Leicester Square was being refurbished and a load of perfectly good kit was being skipped.  Dave Richardson – at the time chief electrician at Riverside – managed to purchase at a very reasonable price a number of dimmer racks which were subsequently cannibalised to build 3 or 4 racks for studio 2.  These remained in use here for many years. Mark also reckons that’s where the Galaxy console for studio 1 came from via a circuitous route.

Rod Allen tells me that he attended the opening party for Channel 4 at Riverside in 1982.  (He was the original editor of Broadcast magazine, then moved to LWT where he tells me he ‘discovered’ Andrew Neil.)  Anyway, he recalls most of the London media glitterati being there, including of course Jeremy Isaacs, whom he describes as being ‘proud but exhausted’.)

 

In 1993 William Burdett-Coutts took over as artistic director.  The centre closed for six months in 1994 for major refurbishment, including a new entrance and foyer area.  Riverside Studios had developed severe financial problems and amongst many changes the new director decided to market Studio 1 as a TV studio once again.  Studio 2 became the primary theatre space.  He hoped the larger studio would prove more attractive to television companies. 

The show that put Riverside back on the television map was Chris Evans’ Channel 4 show TFI Friday which ran from 1995 to December 2000.  The production used an OB unit for its technical facilities.  The ‘bar’ in which he held his interviews was one of the old BBC control rooms in Studio 1.  The guests would perform in the main studio, then scramble up the old metal staircase through the gallery door to meet Evans.  The little cast-iron framed window with its view overlooking the river was there until 2003 when it was replaced with a very boring white double-glazed unit.  It was odd in the 2000s sitting in the green room that occupied that space with its posh sofas and smart pictures on the walls to imagine that this was the same grotty old room that was the focal point of that iconic show for so many years.

 

 

‘Riverside  TV  Studios’

 

Riverside Studios continued to be used as an arts centre right up to the closure in 2014 but in 2002 the administration of Studio 1 was taken over by a small company named Riverside TV Studios.  At first, they carried out a basic refurb of the facilities – with most of the equipment coming from the Lock Keeper’s Cottages and associated studio in Bow which had previously been the home of Planet 24’s C4 show, The Big Breakfast.  (The BB ended on 29th March 2002.)  Throughout July/August lorries trundled between Bow Locks and Hammersmith and the R1 floor was completely covered with stuff.  Everything was taken – even the doors and toilets at Riverside had previously been at Bow.  However, the Big Breakfast cameras and Digibetas were sold.  I mentioned that everything was taken from Bow but apparently the sign for dressing room 3 was lost somewhere en-route.  Thus there was no dressing room 3 at Riverside.  Don’t believe me? It’s true.

R1 reopened under Riverside TV in November 2002.  The initial fit-up was something of a compromise with some bits left unfinished – it was mostly basic infrastructure and at first comparatively few shows were made.  The studio was approximately 6,000 sq ft – about 68 x 65 metric feet within firelanes so not as large as most medium studios but big enough for many types of comedy, entertainment and music shows.  It could seat an audience of around 300 and looked very good on screen.

I was there in August 2003 lighting a commercial which was supposed to look like a TV gameshow.  I do remember that technically things were pretty basic back then.  However, what did stick in the memory was that the place nearly burnt down.  I don’t think I can be personally held to account – however, the strong smell of burning was for a while blamed on ‘something to do with the lighting.’  At least, until someone went into the scene dock and saw flames pouring out of the waste container.  We all left the building and witnessed a dramatic scene with firemen, hoses, all the trimmings.  An hour later and we were back at work.  It transpired that the caterers had thrown away the little oil heaters that kept our lunch warm whilst they were still hot.  Ah well, it could have been much worse and if it hadn’t been for someone wondering where the strange smell was coming from it’s quite possible that the studios would not have lasted beyond that date.

 

 

In 2003 a major upgrade came about when Riverside secured the CD-UK/SMTV contract.  This led to a considerable investment in sound facilities and the purchase of Digibeta VTR’s.  R2 was also cabled back to R1’s galleries.  The analogue sound desk installed in R1 at that time was unique.  It was a Drake desk, but only a prototype and one production model were ever made: TV-am had one in Studio B and Planet bought the other for Bow.  Riverside took both and fused them together to make a 48ch desk.

The old BBC control rooms in R1 were rebuilt and fully equipped and seven Sony E-10 digital widescreen cameras installed.  Interestingly, none of these new control rooms had a view of the studio through the windows.  Quite a contrast to the BBC days when this was considered absolutely essential.

A lighting grid was installed using scaffold pipes linking the main steel beams supporting a number of sprung pantographs for the lights.  This was not as flexible an arrangement as that found in most TV studios and rigging could be very time-consuming.  However, for regular series – once the rig was in it stayed in along with the rigs for any other shows that happened to be using the studio at the time.  Lights were pushed up to the grid at the end of recording and the next working day the lights for that show were pulled in to height.  Not a perfect arrangement but it worked. 

Quite how the grid supported the weight of all that metalwork remains a mystery but fortunately it never collapsed and we lived to tell the tale.  Often the rigs for three different shows were hanging in the studio – you could almost hear the steel beams groaning under the strain.  Sometimes the weight of the lights would make the scaff bars bend – the gaffer’s solution was to apply a ratchet strap to something solid above in the grid and bend it back.  Problem solved. I was regularly assured that everything was perfectly safe – which fortunately, it was.  Interestingly, Studio 2 had a rather more sophisticated motorised bar system that spanned the whole studio, running along the steel runway beams enabling them to be positioned wherever they were needed.

riverside grid 450p
The grid in R1 during its last years. This must have been a quiet period – I saw it far more cluttered than this!

 

Once R1 became a fully-fledged TV studio once again, regular shows included CD-UK and the trendy BBC2 cooking show Full On Food.  Both these programmes sometimes featured the old brick wall that was a unique characteristic of this studio.  It took light very well and provided an attractive and cost-free backing to a set.  Quite when the acoustic padding was removed from the studio walls is a bit of a mystery but is likely to have been during the early arts centre days – probably in order to help give the studio a bit more life to the actors’ voices.  (Incidentally, the new studio 1 has a similar brick wall, which is an excellent idea!)

In 2004 whilst the hoists in TC2 at TV Centre were being maintained, the set for CBBC show X-Change had to be removed for a month or two.  The programme moved to R1 and many of the transmissions took place on the riverside terrace.

 

Studio 1 continued to have its facilities upgraded.  In 2006 it was fitted with a new studio floor and it received improvements to the air conditioning, replacement vision/audio router, digital sound throughout and 6-channel EVS hard disk video server.

I understand that the TV company worked very closely with the arts centre management so that occasionally R1 was used as a theatre or rehearsal space.  Similarly, R2 was used as a TV studio when required.  Programmes made in R2 were controlled from studio 1’s galleries.  In January 2010 I was asked to relight Simon Callow’s excellent one-man Dickens show, Mr Chops and Dr Marigold, for TV.  The cameras were simply wheeled in from R1 and a matinee and evening performance recorded with a normal paying theatre audience.  The resulting recording was thus available to be offered to TV channels like Sky Arts and BBC4 and a DVD was made at minimal cost.  No other theatre in London could do that.  (Well, except perhaps for the Royal Opera House, which has its own cameras and TV facilities.)

The last edition of SM- TV, when Ant and Dec returned for a final show, came from Studio 2.

 

In 2006 an interesting development took place.  There was then an R3!  Not the Chancellor’s pub but an actual TV studio.  The workshop area next to the foyer that had been turned into a small studio theatre in 1994 became available to be used occasionally by Riverside TV.  The studio was 43 x 38ft wall to wall.  Early in 2006, Channel 4’s T4 and Popworld programmes relocated to Riverside.  Initially R1 was too busy for T4 presentation links so Studio 3 was turned into a TV studio.  A considerable amount of money was spent on sound-proofing the studio due to its roadside location and a new TV floor was laid.  The studio had retractable audience seating for 156.  It could be controlled from Studio 1’s gallery or via an OB scanner parked outside.  It was still mostly booked as a studio theatre or rehearsal room but it was also used for recording Richard Hammond’s links for the BBC’s Total Wipeout in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when studio 1 was busy.

riverside studio 3
the ‘new’ 2006 Studio 3
with thanks to the Riverside TV website

 

Riverside was truly a very pleasant place to work.  The arts centre atmosphere gave it a unique quality amongst TV studios, and the age and history of the building enhanced its attraction.  CD-UK occupied the main studio on and off for much of the year from 2003-2006 and in 2005 Bremner, Bird and Fortune moved here from Fountain.  Each year from 2006-2013 studio 1 was used for the Apprentice – ‘You’re Fired ‘ discussion show that followed every edition of the popular docu-soap.  Other shows included Re:Covered for BBC3 , The Nokia Green Room for C4 , Showbiz Poker for Challenge TV Russell Howard’s Good News for BBC3, Celebrity Juice for ITV2, Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show for BBC3, Derren Brown’s ‘Lottery prediction’ for C4 and  That Sunday Night Show with Adrian Chiles for ITV1.

An example of Riverside’s continued relevance as a TV studio centre was sent to me by Duncan Stewart.  He pointed out that on Saturday 1st April 2006, simultaneously BBC2 transmitted The Mighty Truck of Stuff live from R1, ITV1 transmitted the pre-recorded  CD-UK  also from R1 and Channel 4 transmitted Popworld from R3.  Not bad for a 50 year old facility.

 

 

This old building is sadly no longer with us.  Redevelopment plans were in discussion for a number of years.  However, in the final few years the facilities underwent several improvements.  The bar was redecorated in the autumn of 2010 – and very smart it looked too.  Studio 1 had a new floor laid and was updated with HD infrastructure, receiving 6 new Sony 1500R HD cameras in March 2011.  The production gallery was refurbished early in 2012.

And as for the slightly dodgy old Galaxy lighting console – this was going to be replaced by a brand new desk but frankly most console ops still preferred the Galaxy.  Fortunately, when Barcud Derwen closed down their north Wales studio in 2010 their Galaxy ended up on eBay – and Riverside bought it – so most of the console became Welsh… and worked perfectly right to the end.

A big disappointment came in March 2011 when the Arts Council announced its future funding plans.  Riverside Studios lost its annual grant of around half a million pounds which was a huge surprise to many.  This meant that Riverside could no longer originate its own theatrical productions.  However, it continued to be a receiving venue staging plays, music, comedy and dance and the cinema of course remained.  The lack of a grant did not affect Riverside TV Studios Ltd as this was a separate company operating within the arts centre.

Studio 1 continued to attract plenty of bookings including That Sunday Night Show, Celebrity Juice, Russell Howard’s Good News, Total Wipeout links, Lee Nelson’s Well Good Show, The Apprentice: You’re Fired, Sweat the Small Stuff and from the autumn of 2013 moving from the closed down TV Centre – Never Mind The Buzzcocks.  C4’s The Last Leg was also a regular booking in the final months.

 

Due to the reduction in theatre performances, in April 2013 it was announced that studio 2 would be returned to use as a fully equipped TV studio.  The old BBC galleries which for decades had been mostly used for storage or meeting rooms were refurbished and equipped with all the latest HD kit.

Studio 2 was equipped with 5 Sony HXC-100 HD cameras but of course all the cameras and other kit from studio 1 were available to supplement as and when necessary.  The studio was about three-quarters the size of studio 1 and was ideal for panel shows, stand-up shows, quizzes etc.  It could seat around 250 and still have plenty of useful floor space left.  Riverside had to turn away a lot of work in the last few years of the old building and the demand obviously increased hugely with the closure of BBC TV Centre.  Studio 2 closed as a fully equipped TV studio in 1968 and reopened for business in September 2013.  It closed again in August 2014, having operated as a TV studio for only a year but almost repaying its investment.

 

In September 2014 I was invited by Duncan Stewart to have one last look round the studios before they were closed for good.  These are some of the photos I took – click on them to see in greater detail:

 

 

The redevelopment

riverside new entrance 300p

 

The writing had been on the wall for the future of the building for a number of years.  Charming though it was in its grunginess, it was a nightmare to maintain and keep the rain out.  From 2009 the trustees who ran Riverside were in negotiation with the owners of the empty 1980s office block next door and various developers.  The intention was to demolish both buildings and start again.  The larger available area would enable all the existing facilities to be rebuilt, plus more space for restaurants and bars – and above all that the luxury flats that would pay for it.  After several near misses, the deal was finally done – and Riverside closed at the end of September 2014.  Appropriately, the final show made in R1 was The Last Leg.

It was hoped that the new studios would open in April 2018 but many unforeseen problems ensued – which I’m sure must have been deeply frustrating for Duncan Stewart and Bobbi Blackman, who had to keep turning away bookings.  Eventually, after a great deal of very hard work, the new Riverside Studios opened for business in November 2019.  And they really are very impressive indeed!

riverside new actual plan 450p

 

There are 3 main studios as before, plus a very nice cinema (in the basement) and various rehearsal/meeting rooms.  Studio 1 is managed by Riverside Television and is intended to be used as a TV studio for most of its time.  Studio 2 is shared between arts centre activities of theatre/dance/music and TV.  Studio 3 is primarily a theatre space but like anywhere in the building it can very easily be connected to one of the two fully equipped gallery suites.  In fact it was used as a TV studio during the summer of 2020.

Even the cinema has 4 lighting bars spanning the space, and cabinets with connectivity to the gallery suites, so could easily be used as a TV studio for a stand-up comedy show or acoustic music concert for example.

The large foyer area outside the studios has more A/V connection points and a lighting bar running all round it making it ideal for a break-out area or second studio for a main show in studio 1.  Even the outside terrace has fibre sockets concealed in nearby pillars so links or interviews could easily be done there with Hammersmith Bridge as a background.

The detailed planning that has gone into the whole building is really impressive and shows what can be done when a studio centre is designed by people who have actually worked on shows themselves, rather than using consultants.

riverside new seating 450p
The new studio 1 with its very impressive seating block.  This can seat more people than the BBC Studioworks studios in Elstree.

 

Studios 2 and 3 are approximately the same size as the old ones (5,000 sq ft and 2,000 sq ft) but studio 1 is quite a bit larger.  About 9 feet longer and 6 feet wider in fact.  Officially its gross size is 6,500 sq ft.  It has very impressive audience rostra built in – seating a maximum of 400.  The units have been designed specifically for this studio – so they can fold back without removing the hand rails, which saves a great deal of time and effort.  The front 3 rows can remain folded back to increase the floor area – still leaving a good number of seats.

Studio 1’s grid is densely packed with 147 lighting hoists.  These are very close to each other so lighting directors will not suffer the same compromises as in other studios that have widely spaced bars.  Above the hoists is a ‘Skydeck’ tension wire grid.  It is thought to be the largest in the UK.  The first of these in the UK were fitted in the Vanbrugh Theatre at RADA and Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead in 2000.  I was involved in the planning for Norden Farm and lit a few productions there soon after opening.  The first time you step onto the grid is somewhat alarming, walking in mid-air with the floor some 30 feet below but you get used to it really quickly.  It’s an excellent solution for this studio, enabling easy access to anywhere over the floor.

Rather than tracking scene hoists there are 16 individual chain hoists available, with power sockets all around the grid.  These can be fixed to the I-beams above the wire grid or cross rigged so that an accurate spot can be dropped.  The cable simply passes through the grid, using a custom made protective sleeve.  A truly ingenious solution!  Small panels using traditional rope cleats can also be laid on the wire grid anywhere for loads up to 50 kilos.

The two gallery suites and apparatus room are downstairs and are very well equipped. Studio 1 is 4K capable, with Sony HDC-4300 cameras.

 

riverside new brick wall 450p
The new brick wall in studio 1.  The old wall was so popular with set designers that it was decided to recreate it in the new studio.  It is in fact made of textured panels but is so realistic that it is completely convincing even when examining it closely by eye.  It was made by the same people who fit somewhat smaller ‘brick walls’ in high street coffee shops and was the largest project they had ever undertaken.

 

Regarding the building itself, one very impressive factor is the acoustic isolation.  The three main studios are physically separate, with corridors between them.  They consist of sealed concrete boxes, sitting on rubber pads, preventing sound from being transmitted through the fabric of the building.  This impressive attention to detail was tested in the autumn of 2019 when the Brits party was held here – which I am told was very loud.  No music was heard outside the studio – most notably by the occupants of the very expensive flats which sit alongside and above the studio.  The old studios had to be very carefully programmed avoiding a theatre production in one while a loud music show was happening next door.  This is no longer necessary.

riverside dock door 450p
This is a terrific idea – in fact, Duncan Stewart’s idea.  The external dock doors have a pattern of tiny holes drilled in them that form an acoustic waveform pattern.  But it’s not just a random pattern – it is in fact a Dalek saying ‘Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!’  Many episodes of Dr Who were of course recorded at Riverside during the 1960s.
photo thanks to Dave Griffiths

 

There is a great deal more that I could add about this excellent project but people will find out for themselves when they work here or visit as members of an audience.  I am sure the studios will be very busy indeed.  Studio 1 opened on 22nd November 2019 but the opening of studio 2 was delayed by Covid-19 and was due to receive its first booking in the autumn of 2020.  Studio 3, however, produced its first TV show (in UHD, no less) on 22nd June – both gallery suites were up and running.  One of the first productions made here with Covid-19 restrictions, starting on 6th June 2020, was BBC1’s Saturday night entertainment series, Peter Crouch: Save Our Summer.  The 2020 series of Have I Got News For You? was also made in studio 1.

Good luck to all at Riverside – and congratulations on bucking the trend of closing TV studios.  This proves it can still be done!