1970 – 1999
Battersea was an independent facility that was owned by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). It was originally an old school located in Thackery Road and occupied a surprisingly large site that has been described to me as being about the same size as Teddington Studios. The two studios themselves were relatively small but the building and its history are unique so deserve a mention here. ILEA was the education authority for the 12 inner London boroughs in London from 1965 until its abolition in 1990. Educational needs are now handled by the boroughs themselves. However, in its early days it had a relatively large budget and one area it decided to move into was the provision of television programmes made specifically for its own schools. In this way the children from the schools themselves could get involved and programmes could be made that had a direct relevance to the target audience.
The Inner London Educational Authority Television Service actually began in a converted school at Highbury corner. It was opened by Christopher Chataway in September 1968. The Highbury studio was used for a couple of years whilst the main base in Battersea was being prepared. (These are not to be confused with the Highbury Studios used by HDF Films and ATV, which were demolished in 1962.)
This studio was also used to recreate Baird’s first television play for the 1968 Ideal Home Exhibition. The original play – The Man with the Flower in His Mouth – had been broadcast from Baird’s own studio at 133, Long Acre by the BBC in 1931.
Battersea thus came into operation in 1970. The studios were commissioned by the Television Service’s chief engineer Walter Kemp, who had been the first chief engineer of Television Wales and West and had commissioned their Cardiff and Bristol studios.
Production standards at Battersea were always high and the equipment was broadcast quality. Children can be a most demanding audience and soon get bored if they sense they are being patronised so every programme had to look as good as those being made by the BBC or ITV.
The studio centre comprised three buildings – a Studio block, a Production block and later a Publishing block.
On the ground floor of the studio block were the master control, Ampex VTR editing and transmission suites, studio maintenance workshop, a scene dock, scenery construction workshops and an industrial lift to take scenery to the two studios on the first and second floors.
The floor area of each studio was said to be about 1,100 square feet. The studios were constructed in the gutted shell of the old school building and each studio was initially equipped with three EMI 203 cameras, a Fisher boom and the usual floor monitors etc. Each studio had a sound control room with a 24 channel Neve desk and a production control room which also contained the lighting console.
In addition to studio A, the first floor also housed props storage and a make up room. On the second floor was studio B, a rehearsal room and a training studio. The third floor housed the Film Unit and the stills photographic unit and dark room. In later years one of the two production studios was re-equipped with Sony BVP3 cameras. The second studio then became a 4-waller studio, retaining its lighting grid and was often used as an ancillary to the other studio and for scene storage.
The second building contained the admin and production offices and a canteen. The film editing suites were sited there as well as the graphics/studio design suites. The OB unit offices were also in this building. The mobile unit was later equipped with two or three Link 110 colour cameras. The third building was used by the publishing unit which produced teaching materials for London schools. It can be seen that the ILEA’s Television and publishing service was not a small operation.
Programmes made by the studios were initially distributed around London’s schools via a multi-channel cable network run by the Post Office. The programmes were transmitted and repeated at set times, to fit school timetables. Three channels were used for ILEA programmes. When VHS machines became commonplace around 1979, the cable network was closed and programmes were sent to the schools on cassettes.
Colin Grimshaw has been kind enough to contact me. He worked as a director at Battersea for a while. He explained that a fourth cable TV channel was used by University of London Audio Visual Centre for student programming. Their studio was at 11, Bedford Square and they normally recorded their programmes before transmission. All the programmes made at Battersea were also recorded (on 2 inch videotape) but around 1976 Colin suggested that they make some live programmes for the Student Television of Imperial College (STOIC). These consisted of lunchtime magazine programmes, often including interviews with well known celebrities such as Barry Norman, Terry-Thomas, Mel Brookes and Barry Humphries as Edna Everage. He tells me that the studios were initially black and white equipped but had converted to colour by 1980.
On the demise of ILEA in 1989 the studios continued operating independently for about ten years after a staff buy-out as ‘Battersea Studios’. I can find no record of any programmes made in this period. Can you help?
Early in 1999, they were purchased by property developers and made into gated luxury apartments. I gather that Liz Mansell, Operations Manager of Battersea Studios, was shown over an expensive apartment by the sales person from the developers. On being shown one of the apartments with other clients, she apparently said “Oh this used to be the ladies toilets”.
I’m grateful to Derek Brady, who has sent me much of the above information. If you have any photos or can add any corrections or details to the above, I’d appreciate it. It would also be nice to have the names of some of the programmes made here.
Incidentally, there is currently a facility that is marketed as ‘Battersea Studios’ that is nothing to do with the above. This is a development in Silverthorne Road, constructed relatively recently, that contains ‘studio’ type office space. There are also two small TV studios within the building – TV1 and TV2 – that I understand have been used at various times by Middle Eastern News and NutsTV. Quite an interesting contrast.