St John’s Wood Studios

st john front building 450p

St John’s Wood film studios:  1957 – 1973 approx

Transvideo:  1980 – 1982

Carlton Television:  1982 – 1992

Carlton Broadcast Facilities:  1992 – 1995

CTV Facilities:  1995 – 2000

Corinthian TV Facilities:  2000 – 2004

 

This striking grade 2 listed building at 87A St John’s Wood Terrace was constructed around 1840 as the Connaught Chapel for the Congregational Church.  Sadly, its grandeur was not matched by the attendance of its congregations and it closed in 1922.  It was subsequently used at various times as a carpenters’ workshop, a ballet school and as squash courts.

In the late 1950s the building was converted into a film studio with two stages – one at 1,725 sq ft and the other about 1,500 sq ft.

Several films were made here but most are now forgotten.  Perhaps the best known is Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s black comedy Bedazzled (’67).  Other features included 30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (’67), The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (’70) and Secrets of a Door-to-Door Salesman (’73).

When the studios closed in the early 1970s, I’m told they were used for a while to store scenery and props for pantomimes.  Make your own joke up here.

 

 

1980 1982: Transvideo

 

Transvideo was a small business that owned a small truck containing VT editing facilities.  They were the first company in the UK to have 1-inch VTRs which were much quicker and easier to edit than the old 2-inch machines that everyone else had.  They provided a service to cover sport but they were mostly involved in recording and editing pop videos.  If you think about the famous pop promos from that period, the chances are that they were made by this little company.

They formed a close working relationship with several directors, including David Mallet.  Typical examples of their ground-breaking work included Ultravox’s Vienna and Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes.  Transvideo had no HQ as such – for much of the time the edit truck was parked up in the grounds of the Novatel Hotel, Hammersmith.

 

Barry Johnstone was working in the music industry at this time – associated with many of the leading pop stars of the day, responsible for their publicity and marketing.  He spent every Wednesday evening at TV Centre in the Top of the Pops studio, looking after one or more of the acts.  I probably saw him standing there in the corner behind the cameras, while I was swinging or tracking one of the camera cranes.  He grew to love TV and everything that went with it and some of his acts used Transvideo to make their promos.  In 1980 he joined the company and was soon running it.

Barry decided they needed somewhere they could permanently base themselves that had a studio but more importantly, plenty of room to expand the editing and post production facilities.  The vacant St John’s Wood Studios seemed ideal.  Towards the end of 1980 they began renting these premises, using the main stage as a studio; at first with their truck parked outside on blocks – a hole was knocked through the wall to connect cables.  After a few months, editing suites were installed and the truck was released to do OB work again.

Around this time, Transvideo was involved in a 10-part entertainment series for Channel 4.  However, music promos were their main activity.  Music and Video Week had a poll of the top 20 pop videos and this company had done the post production on 13 of them.  A promotional video for an Adam and the Ants tour also made a particular impact.

 

Now, strap in and pay attention closely – this all gets very complicated!

During the 1970s, Carlton Studios Ltd was a photographic business, making the pictures used in mail-order catalogues.  This company was purchased by Michael Green (for it is he) along with three other businesses.  His group of companies was called Tangent and by 1981 its turnover had reached just under £20m.  In 1982 Green decided to move into the world of TV so he made an unannounced visit to St John’s Wood.  Barry was told there was a strange bloke wandering around outside looking at the place so he gave the instruction ‘Tell him to piss off.’  It was pointed out that he had arrived in a Bentley so he was invited in. 

 

Following negotiations, Green purchased Transvideo and was going to call it ‘Carlton Video.’  Barry was horrified, saying that it sounded like a wedding video service.  Green telephoned Charles Saatchi and simply said ‘Carlton Television.’  Whatever Saatchi said, Green was satisfied and agreed to name the new company Carlton Television.  Barry Johnstone stayed on to run it.

In 1983, Michael Green floated a grouping of Tangent’s businesses on the stock exchange as Carlton Communications plc.  Potential backers and analysts were transported in minibuses to St John’s Wood to see pop videos being edited and they were impressed!  When trading got under way, the value of the shares in Carlton Communications increased rapidly.

During the process of purchasing Transvideo, Green had met Mike Luckwell, who owned and ran the Moving Picture Company (MPC) – a post production and special effects facilities house based in Soho.  Luckwell had been an assistant director on a number of films and had worked with Ray Harryhausen.  MPC was very profitable – more so than Transvideo/Carlton TV.  Green began to ask his advice on how he could make his company more successful.

They formed a very effective working relationship and Luckwell strongly advised Green to purchase the UK arm of a company called IVC.  The US branch was in trouble but the UK business had started making their own very cleverly designed kit.  This included a PAL version of a digital automatic time-base corrector, which they called ‘Genlock.’  This device went on to be used by every TV and broadcast business in the UK and within a few months had made a huge profit.  Green now owned 51% and MPC 49%.

Working on the IVC purchase had brought Luckwell and Green together and in 1983 a friendly takeover of Moving Picture Company by Carlton was agreed.  Mike Luckwell became Carlton’s managing director with Michael Green as chairman and chief executive.  MPC moved to different premises in Soho and its studio, which had been doing similar work to the one here in St John’s Wood, was closed.

 

Much  of the above information taken from ‘Independent Television in Britain: ITV and IBA 1981-92: The Old Relationship’ by P Bonner and L Aston and ‘Greenfinger: The Rise of Michael Green and Carlton Communications’ by Raymond Snoddy.  Also, from my conversations with Mike Luckwell.

 

 

1982 – 1992: Carlton Television

st john original logo 350p

 

From 1982 Carlton Television invested heavily in the facilities at St John’s Wood with the intention of creating a video post-production business along with a studio to be hired for small-scale productions, pop promos and ads.  (Similar to the set-up at Molinare and Trilion in Soho.)  Channel 4 launched in 1982 so there was a growing number of independent production companies who needed this kind of facility house.  The larger stage at the front of the building was the studio and the other had mezzanine flooring installed and various edit and dubbing suites were fitted out.

The studio was equipped with 4 cameras and other facilities included two 1-inch VTR edit suites and telecine.  Control rooms were also installed.

 

st john carlton studio plan 450p

 

Several well-known pop videos were made using the studio here – including Radio Gaga by Queen.  Carlton were also involved in producing the famous Dancing in the Street video with Bowie and Jagger.  According to Barry Johnstone, the two of them met up on a Friday evening with no idea what song they were going to sing.  They went into a record shop in Soho looking for a classic single to cover.  They selected Dancing in the Street and went into a studio and with their voices doing all the instruments as well as the vocals, recorded a backing track.  They then went to the location in docklands where they mimed to the track they had recorded and it was filmed over a few takes.  The following day in a recording studio they recorded the song properly with Bowie’s band, using their original backing track for timing.  Meanwhile, David Mallet had been working on the edit at Carlton all through the night.  The new music track was rushed over when it was ready and replaced the working one.  The finished product was then sent to the BBC for transmission – the whole thing taking just 48 hours from start to finish.

 

Carlton expanded into the business of channel playout when new cable and satellite channels began to emerge.  Four or five channels were based here, including Fox Kids.  Gary Hughes tells me that when he joined in 1995 the studio was doing live links for The Children’s Channel, which operated between 1984 and 1998.

In 1987 the IBA voiced concerns that London Weekend Television was not properly fulfilling its obligations to provide local news at weekends.   Thames News was highly regarded but this only went out in the London area between Mondays and Thursdays.  Ever since they had launched in 1982, LWT had been relying on very basic bulletins read by continuity announcers on Saturdays and Sundays, while on Fridays they had been broadcasting the 6 o’Clock Show, which was more entertainment than news.  It did include a local news slot but this was produced not by LWT – but by Thames!

So, responding to the IBA’s requests, LWT agreed to broadcast local news but decided to outsource it.  After a contest, the contract was awarded to the news agency Screen News, who set up their studio and newsroom here at St John’s Wood Studios.   LWT News ran from January 1988 until the end of 1992, when it was replaced by London News Network, which was based in the new studio 7 at LWT’s HQ on the South Bank.

Incidentally, a casualty of the new LWT News was LWT’s own 6 o’Clock Show, which had been really popular and was greatly missed by many viewers – including me, as it happens.

 

st john carlton broadcast fac 450p

Between 1992 and 1995 the name of the business changed to Carlton Broadcast Facilities but was still owned by Carlton Communications.

 

 

 

1995 – 2004:  CTV Facilities, later Corinthian TV Facilities

st john 95 - 2000 350p

 

In 1995 there was a management buyout of the St John’s Wood business led by Barry Johnstone, who had been running things there since it began.  His company was called Telstar but they needed a name the industry would recognise.  Everyone knew them as CTV for short so they rather cheekily kept the name, hoping that Carlton wouldn’t mind.  For legal reasons they had to officially change the name so in very small print the company was now called ‘Corinthian Television Facilities Ltd’, named of course after the striking columns at the front of the building.  (See the publicity image above – you can just make out the official name at the bottom!)  Fortunately, Carlton either didn’t care or were too busy running the ITV weekday franchise which they had taken over in 1992.

Also in 1995, The Disney Channel launched in the UK on the Sky platform.  Its playout was initially from Teddington where it also used their studios.  In late 1996 Disney moved its HQ to Stephen Street.  In September 1997 Disney decided to make more of the continuity links between programmes.  CTV won the contract to use the studio here for these sequences – the channel playout remained at Stephen St.  These interstitials became ever more elaborate and were initially known as Disney Channel UK Live.  This was relaunched as Studio Disney on 23 April 2001. Studio Disney ran on weekdays, usually from 4pm to 7pm in direct competition with the same sort of presentation on CBBC, CITV and Nickelodeon UK.  The show featured a team of between two and six presenters who came on air between programmes, giving viewers the opportunity to phone in and win prizes or appear as part of the small studio audience.

 

 

In 1999 the OB arm of the business was sold off.  CTV remains one of the most successful OB companies in the UK and its trucks can be seen at many events.  In 2000 Corinthian became part of Thomson Multimedia and were simply known as Corinthian Television Facilities.

 

 

Barry Johnstone realised that their company would make a lot more money if as well as supplying the studio links for Disney, they were to look after all the requirements of the channel including post production and playout.  There was insufficient room at St John’s Wood so having won the contract, in 2002 Corinthian took out a lease on a £15m purpose-built facility in Chiswick Park and the Disney Channel relocated there, with Corinthian responsible for everything.  (See separate entry in this section.)

St John’s Wood continued in use for a while but it was not as profitable as the new Chiswick Park facilities so in January 2004 they announced that they would be leaving this building.  Mike Silverman, CEO of Corinthian (Chiswick Park) was quoted at the time as saying ‘We tried to make it viable but couldn’t make it work.’  The early business had relied upon long-term contracts and without that, the walk-in post production work could not generate sufficient income, especially with so much competition in Soho.  He blamed the location, not the company.

 

It seems likely that the building was unused following the closing down of Corinthian’s activities here.  A planning application was approved in 2011 to convert it into a single very large house.  Another was granted in 2014 to convert it into 5 luxury apartments but this lapsed.  An application for a similar scheme was approved in March 2019.  I have yet to establish whether that work has been carried out.

 

I am very grateful to Neil Wilson and in particular to Barry Johnstone for much of the above information.