Introduction

(revised January 2021)

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London has dozens of spaces that are marketed as ‘TV studios’.  Some have been converted from existing buildings with an industrial past, or are simply rooms within office blocks.  These range from those with proper lighting grids, flat resin floors and the latest HD or even 4K technology to those that are little more than a basic 4-waller.

However, this website ignores many of the smaller versions of the above and instead deals mostly with the larger studios that have a history that in many cases go back to the origins of ITV and the BBC.  I have included independent TV studios if they have produced a variety of work, and film studios if they also have TV studios on site or have been used to make a number of television dramas and/or other programmes on their stages.  (Hence Denham isn’t included – I believe they only made feature films there.)  I have also added the studios Gerry Anderson created for his TV series in the 1960s.

In order to put a limit on things I have left out the many small studios that can be found all over London – most of them making programmes for non-PSB channels (news, shopping, bingo, porn etc).  Some others available for hire are often little more than a black-painted room with a scaffold grid, a white or green cyclorama and maybe a couple of dressing rooms and a green room.

 

This website focuses on the buildings and facilities of the various studios over the years.  I’m aware that too many dry facts could be very boring indeed so I also cover the programmes, the artists and some anecdotes associated with the studios whenever I am able to offer up a nugget of human interest.  However, I would strongly recommend what might be considered a companion volume to this website – Louis Barfe’s truly excellent history of British light entertainment – Turned Out Nice Again.  It’s a glorious wallow in all those performers who never seemed to be off our screens from the mid ’60s into the nineties and in some cases well beyond.  If you have worked in the industry you will also know many of the names behind the scenes that he mentions.

 

A television studio is a factory floor.  It is simply the most efficient way a particular type of television programme can be made.  If it could be made cheaper anywhere else it would be – and these days often is.  However, don’t believe those who say that TV studios are no longer needed because of the sophistication of current cameras and ‘flyaway’ or ‘derig’ technology.  Using a warehouse or very basic film stage might at first look cheaper but once you have installed a lighting grid and all the lights, dimmers and cabling, paid for several days of rigging, booked a generator, laid a TV friendly floor, discovered that the roof leaks and the walls let in the sound of local traffic and aircraft, there is no local catering and you have to put most of the crew up in a hotel – many a line producer or production manager has discovered that the fully equipped TV studio looks incredibly good value for money after all.

 

I normally update this page each January – since the website was launched in 2006 there have been quite a few changes.  2020 was of course a year like no other but despite the industry having to cope with Covid restrictions and many productions being postponed or cancelled, ways were found to work around the problem and by the autumn most studios were as busy, if not busier than ever.  The normally quiet time of January and February is also looking relatively busy, with the backlog of shows filling the studios.

2020 also saw the UK film and TV drama industry continue to expand with around 123 new film stages either under construction or planned to open within the next 3 years.  Just let that extraordinary figure sink in. If you’re wondering how it can possibly be that many, here’s how:  Pinewood 15, Shepperton 17, Dagenham 12, Shinfield 18, Sky Elstree 13, Elstree Studios 2, Troubadour Meridian Water 6, The Wharf Barking 6, Garden Studios Park Royal 3, Ashford 4, Space Studios Manchester 2, Belfast Harbour 6, Liverpool 2, Hartlepool 1, Mercian Birmingham 6, Versa Leeds 4, Bottle Yard Bristol 3, Feeder Studios Bristol 3.

All the above on top of the very busy stages already existing at Pinewood, Shepperton, Leavesden, Elstree, Twickenham, Bray, Three Mills, West London, Black Island/Duke’s Island, OMA Enfield, Longcross, Arborfield, Rebellion Oxfordshire, Cardington, Sharp Project/Space Studios Manchester, Manchester Island, Studio 81 Leeds, Peregrine Yorkshire, Bottle Yard Bristol, Dragon, Seren, BBC Roath Lock, Bay Studios & Wolf Studios – South Wales, Titanic & Belfast Harbour – N Ireland, Wardpark & First Stage – Scotland… and about half a dozen ex-military airfields with converted aircraft hangars all over England. The film and high-end TV drama industry has never looked so healthy and vital to the British economy.

Incidentally, a company called Stage Fifty announced at the beginning of 2021 that they had developed a system of constructing fully soundproofed film stages – with grid, ventilation and power supply – that can be erected in just 4 months.  They plan to construct 50 stages in the UK over the next few years, hence their name.

 

Most of Britain’s multicamera studio-based television is still made in or near London, despite the desire by Ofcom to force programme makers to be less London-centric.  This is because for many years, talented people from all over the UK have moved to live in or near the capital.  However, studio space in London is now very limited as it has lost many of its best designed, best equipped studios in recent years.  This is mostly because the owners decided that the land they occupied would make more money having luxury flats built on it.  (Sadly, many of these flats have yet to be built.) 

 

Setting aside those studios permanently making soaps, news, sport or daytime magazine shows – London’s medium-to-large (6,000 sq ft and over) fully equipped available production TV studios as of January 2021 are at TV Centre (1), BBC Elstree (1), Elstree Studios (2), Pinewood (2) and Riverside (1).  TC3 at TV Centre is unavailable as it is permanently occupied by ITV Daytime, so only TC1 can be booked.  Elstree’s ‘George Lucas’ Stages 1 and 2 have no lighting grids or TV floors but they do have a suite of control rooms and cameras that can be used for Stage 2.  (Stage 1 has a long-term booking with The Crown.)

 

London lost 4 superbly equipped 8,000 sq ft studios when TV Centre closed in 2013.  Teddington’s 9,000 sq ft studio closed at the end of 2014 and Riverside in September 2014.  Fortunately, Riverside’s new 6,500 sq ft studio 1 opened at the end of 2019.  The closure of Fountain at the end of 2016 along with the superb facilities at TLS in April 2018 presented the industry with even greater problems.

However, a solution to staging very large-scale entertainment shows was found in 2018 when ITV built a ‘temporary’ stage on Bovingdon airfield. This has no permanent technical equipment or facilities but has proved very useful for shows like Dancing On Ice, The Masked Singer and The Wheel.

 

So, in January 2021, there are only 7 fully equipped London studios over 6,000 sq ft available for typical TV comedy/entertainment.  4 are run by BBC Studioworks, 2 by Pinewood and 1 by Riverside.  And astonishingly, that’s it.

 

 

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  Park Royal TV Broadcasting Studios opened in 2020.  These contain a 10,000 sq ft studio and a smaller green-screen studio.  The large studio is fitted out with permanent sets suitable for interviews, magazine programmes or a presenter to camera.  It’s a clever idea, enabling programme makers, news providers or corporate hirers to make classy looking programmes without the cost of building expensive scenery.

The Tank Factory opened in Acton in 2020 and will complete fitting out in 2021.  This centre offers 4 medium-sized studios, currently used mostly for commercials and photography but the owners have made an arrangement with Prolink to supply technical kit enabling multicamera shows to be made here. 

Meanwhile, Versa (the operating name of Allied London) are opening a 10,000 sq ft TV studio also in Acton in 2021.  This will be fully equipped and appears to be a very useful space.  Versa is the company that also runs The Manchester Studios and some new film studios in Leeds.

And a few miles up the M4 near Reading, the local university is intending to open a fully equipped multicamera studio at Thames Valley Science Park in Shinfield.  I gather this is being planned in cooperation with BBC Studioworks so it will certainly be well designed and equipped when it opens in 2022.

 

 

In London there are a few small studios remaining, such as Cactus Clapham and IMG.  Riverside’s studios 2 and 3 are available when not being used for theatre and music performances.  The One Show studio at Broadcasting House is often used for other daytime programmes, with a quick turnaround ready for the live broadcast at 7pm.  The BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House has televised some radio and red button concerts and hosted a few stand up comedy series for BBC 3.  However, despite having excellent sound facilities and a well equipped lighting grid, the studio has no permanent television facilities – it all has to be hired in for each booking.

Sky’s studio centre in Osterley contains a number of small studios used for news and sport plus a long and narrow 5,500 sq ft ‘double’ studio that opened in 2011 in their Sky Studios building.  This is very occasionally used for making entertainment shows but is mostly booked with sport programming.

 

Very sadly, the h Club studio (Hospital Club) closed in June 2020 due to the Coronavirus.  The smaller studios at TLS were of course lost in 2018 along with the main ones. The Princess studio also closed at the end of 2018.  Teddington closed all its small studios in the summer of 2013 and TV Centre’s small studios were also lost in the same year.  Although TC2 at TV Centre has reopened it is permanently booked by ITV Daytime, Peston and Sunday Brunch so is unavailable for other bookings. 

Between 2008 and 2011, a number of other small but very useful studios closed including 124, Capital, Molinare, MTV, Technicolor (Disney) and Stephen St.

 

 

Outside the capital are a few medium/large (6,000 sq ft and over) multicamera studios available – in Salford (2), Glasgow (1), Maidstone (2) and Norwich (1).  Studio 1 at Manchester Studios reopened as a 10,200 sq ft 4K studio in June 2020.  The old Granada studios 8 and 12 are due to reopen as fully equipped studios in 2021, along with the smaller studios 2 and 6.

Of the studios at MediaCity in Salford, only two of these are suitable or available for typical comedy and entertainment shows but they are both now pretty busy much of the time.  The BBC’s HQ at Pacific Quay in Glasgow has an excellent 8,400 sq ft studio that is used for gameshows, kids shows and comedies but I gather is not as busy as it could be. 

The studio in the old BBC HQ in Cardiff (Llandaff studio C1) closed in March 2020.  The new BBC HQ in Cardiff contains a 3,500sq ft TV studio but this is intended for local programming, although it is occasionally used for Crimewatch Live.  The BBC’s drive-in studio in Belfast is mostly used for local programming but is now also the home of Mastermind.  The BBC drama centre at Roath Lock in Cardiff makes single-camera drama although it has been used to record one series of Only Connect using an OB unit for facilities. Wales currently has one independent studio in Cardiff – the 4,800 sq ft Enfys studio – mostly making local material but is also the regular home of Only Connect.

 

 

Several years ago the BBC declared that by 2016, half of its output would be made outside London.  The question is – are London-based entertainment productions prepared to make their shows in Salford or Glasgow?   The answer is – yes, because they are made to do so by Ofcom’s regional production policy.  ‘Producer Choice’ no longer exists and several London-based programmes have been forced to move to Glasgow or Salford whether they liked it or not.   Unfortunately, paying for travel and accommodation for heads of department and artists adds a cost to the budget that doesn’t apply when making a show in London.

 

This rule that certain programmes have to be made outside the M25 is imposed by Ofcom – many have questioned its fairness and even its legality but it does appear to be legitimate.  It does seem very unjust that you can or cannot work on a production depending on whether your home happens to be one side or the other of a motorway but believe it or not, this is the case.  If you live in Manchester you can work on any show in London but if you live in London, you may not be permitted to work on a show in Manchester.

 

Definitions:

There is understandable confusion about the difference between a studio and a stage.  In the movie world a ‘studio’ can mean a company that makes feature films (Universal, Disney etc) or it can mean a site with a number of large rooms in which films are made.  The site is usually referred to in the plural – thus ‘Pinewood Studios.’  However, each large room is not commonly referred to as a studio but is called a ‘stage’ and if it is soundproofed it is more accurately called a ‘sound stage’.  Confusingly, in the television world a studio is what the large room itself is called. 

A site containing several television studios is, I suppose, referred to as a ‘studio centre’.  Thus, Television Centre now has three ‘studios’ but Shepperton Studios has fourteen ‘sound stages’.

To be really picky, one should refer to a show being made IN a television studio and ON a film stage.

 

Even more bafflingly, ITV Productions changed its name to ‘ITV Studios’ several years ago, followed in 2016 by the BBC’s in-house programme-making department, which is now called ‘BBC Studios’.  ‘BBC Studios’ do not own any actual studios.  They are free to make their shows wherever they wish – which for a number of years used to include ITV’s own TV studios, which were called The London Studios.  Sadly, these no longer exist so ITV now make many of their programmes in the BBC studios at Television Centre.  I do hope you are keeping up with all this. 

The BBC’s TV studios in London are run by a company called BBC Studioworks – and they often hire their studios out to programmes that are being made not only for ITV but also for Channel 4 or Sky.  Confused?  I’ve hardly started.

 

I have defined a television studio as one with a flat lino or resin floor upon which camera dollies can move freely without using tracks.  It will also have a control gallery suite with all the necessary electronics and communications but not necessarily its own cameras.  One or two studios prefer to hire these in on a day to day basis. 

The studio will in most cases have a lighting grid with monopoles (sometimes called telescopes) or motorised bars (sometimes called hoists or ‘boats’) enabling fast pre-rigging and easy changes to the rig on the day.

 

A great deal of television drama is shot using a single digital camera and interiors are frequently shot on film stages.  Within the remit of this website, this does not make such stages ‘television studios’ – they still remain film stages.  I hope this makes some sort of sense as a film stage is a far more basic and simple space than a television studio.  A sound stage is in essence a soundproofed large room with a power supply available for lighting, and a simple but very strong overhead grid – usually steel ‘runway’ beams several feet apart – although many stages converted from industrial premises don’t even have this.  The floor may be wooden or concrete but certainly not smooth enough to run a camera dolly along without tracks.

Having said the above, I have included many such studio centres as television drama is so important to our economy as well as our culture – especially with the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ in recent years.

 

Incidentally – I do on occasions refer to an OB ‘scanner’.  This is industry jargon for an outside broadcast control vehicle, which contains production control, sound control and vision control for several cameras.  However, it is a term that is hardly used any more – most people now refer to these vehicles as OB ‘trucks’.

 

 

 

Measuring studios

Film stages are usually measured in feet and square feet, possibly due to the historic influence of the US film industry.  A film stage is basically an empty box, in which sets are built and  then lit.  The position of the set within the space is not absolutely critical – unless it will only just fit or has to line up with things like a tank in the floor or variations in the grid height.

TV studios work differently.  The lighting rig is put in before the set is built.  The lighting director will have designed the rig, working from scale drawings given to him or her by the set designer.  It is therefore essential that the set is built in the studio exactly where the LD expects it to be. 

To assist the scene crew, most TV studios have footage markings along each wall.  In some newer studios these are in metres or half metres but most older studios have markings in ‘metric feet.’  This curious measurement was invented by the BBC in the 1960s and is an ingenious way of enabling scenery to be built using metric measurements whilst retaining the concept of ‘feet.’  Each metric foot is 30cm long.   You may recall your old school ruler having 12 inches on one side and 30cm on the other.

bbc foot ruler 450p

An old BBC ruler indicating 300mm metric feet.

 

TV studio sizes are still almost always measured in feet and square feet.  Confusingly, the gross size of a studio is usually stated in actual square feet but length and width are usually measured in ‘metric feet.’  This is because most TV studios have a clearly marked fire lane running around the outside of the working area.  This is normally about 4 feet (1.2m) wide.  The working area is measured in metric feet – so might be 90 x 70 (a very useful size.)  In fact, a studio marked as being 90 metric feet long is actually only about 88ft 6 inches. But let’s not worry ourselves over that.

 

Please note that when I refer to a TV studio on this website as being, say, 100 feet long I am using metric feet (30cm) and referring to the working area within firelanes.

 

There are a handful of very large TV studios in England that are much in demand, mostly making big shiny-floor shows.  TC1 rejoined this list in September 2017 but at around 10,800 sq ft it is quite a bit smaller than the rest of these.  NB – Elstree (‘George Lucas’) stages 1 and 2 are technically film stages but are often used for TV as they share a well-equipped suite of control rooms and cameras that are owned by BBC Studioworks.  Stage 1 is semi-permanently booked by The Crown, so only stage 2 is currently available for TV productions.

In January 2016 it was announced that Fountain had been sold to a property developer.  The 13,400 sq ft studio closed at the end of that year.  (It remains in use as a theatre but was used by BBC Studioworks for a TV show in November 2020.)  LH2 – a large building originally designed for rehearsing rock music tours – was brought into service as a TV studio in 2017 and has effectively replaced Fountain for some shows.

In 2018 ITV constructed a stage at Bovingdon airfield primarily for use by  Dancing on Ice.  It has no technical facilities or lighting grid – these are hired in but it is very large at about 220 x 106 ft.  In June 2020, Manchester Studios’ studio 1 reopened as a fully equipped multicamera studio (but with no TV lighting grid).  It had previously been used by Dragon’s Den as a 4-waller.

 

 

TC1

Maidstone studio 1

Salford dock10 HQ1

Manchester Studios, studio 1

LH2

Elstree stages 1 & 2

ITV studio, Bovingdon

approximate gross sq feet

10,800 sq ft11,600 sq ft12,500 sq ft10,200 sq ft plus 3,300 sq ft annex14,800 sq ft useable floor area15,800 sq ft23,300 sq ft

typical shows

Jonathan Ross Show, Graham Norton Show, Russell Howard Hour, The Last Leg, Later With JoolsSupermarket Sweep, Take Me Out, Jools' Annual HootenannyThe Voice audition rounds, Let it Shine, Pitch BattleDragon's DenThe Voice finals, X-Factor, The Greatest DancerStrictly Come Dancing, Britain's Got TalentDancing on Ice, The Masked Singer, The Wheel

Most multicamera comedy/entertainment studio productions are designed to fit into a space around 90ft x 70ft.  Although the BBC converted two stages at Elstree Film Studios for TV use, they are not able to turn productions round as fast as they could at TV Centre.  It is only really practical to have two different shows per week on those stages (although three have occasionally used the same stage within a week using overnight re-rigs) and standing sets are preferred.  BBC Elstree D is also a slow studio to turn round from one show to the next. 

The 3 studios of this size lost at TVC have thus not been replaced like for like and following the closure of Teddington and TLS there has been a serious studio shortage of the most popular 90 x 70ft size.  It is worth noting that BBC Glasgow and MediaCity Salford (dock10) each have only one studio of this popular size, although the old Granada studio 12 will be available again in 2021.

Although TC3 has reopened, it is now permanently booked by ITV Daytime so despite being the magic 90 x 70, it is unavailable for anything else.

 

These 90 x 70 studios are used for entertainment programmes of all kinds including music shows, gameshows, panel shows, chat shows, sitcoms, sketch shows, standup shows, magazine programmes, kids shows, quizzes, current affairs debates etc.  Of course, they are no longer used to make TV drama.  The last example of this on the main channels was probably The House of Eliott, made at TV Centre from 1991-1993.  (The exception in London is EastEnders, which is still made using traditional techniques in multicamera studios at BBC Elstree but those studios are purely dedicated to that programme.)  Sky, however, briefly broke this trend – producing a season of live multicamera dramas from their studios in the summer of 2009 and again in 2010 for their Sky Arts channel. Good for them!

 

 

Below is a table showing the 90 x 70ft (approx) studios in Britain in January 2021 and their relative strengths and weaknesses.  Elstree Studios stage 8 is the same as 9 except that the galleries are on the first floor.  Pinewood TV-two is the same as TV-one (they share galleries).  I have included the old Granada studio 12 as it is due to reopen in 2021 as part of ‘Manchester Studios.’  I have also included Riverside 1 even though it is slightly smaller than the others but it is now doing a lot of the work that would have been done in the old 90 x 70 studios.  I have in addition included the new Versa studio that opens in Acton this year.  Although it is 10,000 sq ft, it is likely to pick up the same type of shows.

Some people may disagree with me on some individual categories below – they are purely my opinion.  After all, how do you define when a toilet is ‘near’ or ‘far’ from a control room? (I think when you need to go, you probably know.)

 

green = goodred = not so good, black = neither good nor bad.

 BBC Glasgow studio PQA Manchester Studios (Granada) studio 12dock10 MediaCity HQ2 Television Centre TC3 Elstree St udios stage 8 and 9BBC Elstree studio DPinewood TV-one and twoRiverside studio 1Versa studio, Acton
Gross area (approx) in actua l feetPQA 8,400 sq ft8.000 sq ft7,650 sq ft8,000 sq ft7,500 sq ft7,800 sq ft (11,800 sq ft inc audience area)8,800 sq ft6,500 sq ft10,000 sq ft
Within firelanes (30cm metric feet)90 x 70 ft98 x 70 ft97 x 68 ft90 x 70 ft88 x 68 ft100 x 64 ft (minus one corner) plus built-in audience area106 x 74ft
77 x 70 ft
117 x 73 ft
Scene dock doors

2

1

1

2

1

1

1

1 door to studio but 2 to scene dock1 door to studio but 2 to scene dock
Direct access to outdoors?via scene dockvia scene dock

no. access via long internal corridor

yes, directly across scenery runway

yes

via covered way

yes

via scene dockvia scene dock
Easy access to studio for delivery vehicles?

yes

yes

no. see above

limited parking and restricted delivery times

yes

no. covered way with limited access for vehicles

yes

yes

yes

On-site scenery storage near studio?

yes

no

very limited

yes, but not much

no

yes

very limited

no

yes, but not much
Dedicated prop storage/prep area for studio

yes

no

no

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

shared with scenery storage
Dressing rooms nearby on same floor

no

yes

no

in basementshort walk across covered way

yes

up stairsin basementup stairs
Galleries near studio floor?

no, 2 floors up

1st floor

no, 2 floors up

1st floor

st 8: 1st floor,st 9: ground floor

1st floor

yes!

one floor down

yes!

Toilets near galleries?

yes

?

no, very long walk down corridors and risk of forgetting pass and getting locked out!

yes

no, long walk to costume/make-up block

down stairs

yes

yes

yes

Dimmers

on bars

dimmer room

in grid

dimmer room

dimmer room

dimmer room

dimmer room

on bars

yes
Audience seating

Mobile, stored in studio

mobile, ex TLSmobile

built-in (folds away)

mobile

permanent

mobile

built-in (folds away)

yes
'Basic' lights provided with studio?

yes

yes, ex TLS

yes

yes

yes

yes

no, all lights must be hired from MBSno, all lights must be hired from PRGno
Well-stocked nearby ex tra lighting equipment store?

yes

no

no

no

no

no

on site (MBS)

no

no

Lighting gridbars

monopoles

barsbars

monopoles

monopoles

monopoles

tightly spaced bars

truss rig with motorised ladder beams
Production lights over fire lane?

bars

no

no

bars

no

no

no

no

no
Electric scene hoists?

yes

?

yes

yes

mobile

no

no

yes, 16 chain hoists available.no
Good public transport nearby for audiences?

yes (bus)

?yes (tram)

yes (tram)

yes (2 tube lines plus Overground)

no

no

no, but on-site parking for audiences

yes (3 tube lines)

10 min walk from Park Royal tube

All the above studios have the following: flat TV floor, at least 6 HD or 4K cameras, fully equipped galleries, lighting grid (bars or monopoles), green room, production office, make-up room, wardrobe room, audience handling facilities – but some are much better than others.  (NB, exact technical fit-out of refurbed Manchester Studios and Versa studio Acton yet to be confirmed.)

Many sets are designed to fit into a 90 x 70ft studio so a studio that is even a few feet larger is very handy as it provides extra room.  The two Pinewood studios are particularly useful in this regard, as will be the Versa Acton studio.  Any with a width less than 70ft can create problems if a set was previously designed for another studio.  BBC Elstree D is relatively narrow at 64ft but it has audience seating along one wall which more than compensates for this.

 

Only having 1 scene dock door slows down rigs and derigs as all scenery, steeldeck, props, hired lights, LED screens, prompter kit, camera cranes etc. have to pass through the same door.  Having easy access to the studio for deliveries is essential – a door opening directly to outdoors where large trucks and smaller vehicles can unload is ideal.

 

Dimmers mounted on lighting bars or in the grid are difficult to access for fault-finding or resetting tripped circuits so this is not good.  They are much better in their own dimmer room.

Monopoles are preferred by most LDs over motorised bars as they enable lights to be positioned closer to where they need to be.  However, a rig with many dual-source lamps on bars is sometimes quicker to cope with short-notice production changes on the day.  This is known as a ‘saturated rig’.  Bars usually have DMX and/or ethernet data points too, which speeds up the rigging of automated lights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre TV...

 

Before the Second World War there was only one television studio centre in London – Alexandra Palace – but there were 21 film studios, each with several stages.  By the early 1960s the number of film studios had dwindled to a mere handful but on about half a dozen sites around the capital television was thriving. The decline in the film industry coincided with the dawn of television so a number of studio sites were ready and available to be converted to the new entertainment medium.

The film studio capacity had exceeded the demand and many closed – either to become television studios or to be lost to redevelopment.  Amongst the most famous was Denham, which in its day was the largest studio in the country with 7 stages.  It closed in 1951. (Apparently, the BBC briefly considered siting its new Television Centre there, rather than at White City.  I gather that the Post Office couldn’t guarantee to get the necessary sound and vision cables laid in time so it had to be rejected.) 

 

Many film studios had been built to accommodate the system of quotas introduced by the government in 1928.  This stipulated that at least 20% of all films shown in cinemas in the UK must be made in Britain.  The Hollywood studio companies therefore made hundreds of ‘quota quickies’ in studios all round London – usually very cheaply but crucially giving invaluable experience to actors and crew members.  After the war the quota was dropped and a tax was introduced on cinema ticket sales.  These two things combined to create a rapid decline in the UK’s film industry and the inevitable result for many studios was closure.  A contributing factor of course was television itself.  People were not so inclined to go to ‘the pictures’ once or twice a week if they had a TV set in their own living room.  This was particularly true from about 1955 when the ITV companies began broadcasting.

 

Those old film studios that found a new life with television included Lime Grove (Shepherds Bush), Riverside (Hammersmith), Teddington, Highbury, Wembley Park and National Studios in Elstree (which in 1938 were owned by Joe Rock).

map-of-early-british-film-studios 500p

The map shown above is taken from the International Motion Picture Almanac of 1937-38.  It is thus a fascinating snapshot of the industry shortly before the war and so in industry terms, just before television changed everything.

Of the 21 studios shown, only five are still making movies – Pinewood, Shepperton, Twickenham, Ealing, ABPC (Elstree Studios) – of which two currently also have TV studios – Pinewood and Elstree Studios. Six became purely television studios – Wembley (A-R, later Fountain), Joe Rock Elstree (ATV now BBC), Shepherds Bush (BBC Lime Grove), Hammersmith (Riverside), Highbury and Teddington.  Of those, four – Highbury, Lime Grove, Teddington and Fountain – have since closed.  Riverside reopened in 2019 following redevelopment.  Beaconsfield incidentally is now the home of the National Film and Television School.

The map is far from accurate.  For example, Teddington is shown south of the river and Twickenham appears to be right in the middle of the Thames!  In case you were wondering – Bray did not open until 1951 and Leavesden made its first film in 1994.

 

 

The arrival of television...

 

The table below shows the year each studio opened. The chart only covers London’s TV studios.  It is interesting to note the two main clusters of construction – around the launch of ITV and then during the early to mid 1960s.  News/presentation and small studios are not included unless they have special significance or are part of a larger complex.  Studios marked in red are no longer in use. 

Studios marked ‘TC’ are at BBC Television Centre, ‘LG’ were at Lime Grove and ‘TLS’ are at The London Studios.

Studios marked with an asterisk* were converted into a TV studio from previous use as a film stage.

 

1935  (180 lines, then 240 lines)

Crystal Palace 1, 2, 3 (Baird's regular transmissions began in February although the studios were in use for trials and experiments for at least a year before this. From November, resolution increased to 240 lines)


1936
BBCtv begins   (240 & 405 lines)

Alexandra Palace A and B (Began in November. A was 405 line EMI system, B was 240 line Baird system. Baird 240 line system ended in Feb 1937. Then B converted to 405 lines.)


1950

Highbury A* (b/w high definition cameras from 1950-1956); LGD*, LGG*


1951

1952

LGH*

1953

LGE*; TV Theatre

1954

1955
ITV begins  (405 lines)

Viking*; Granville; Television House 7-10; Wembley 1-4*; Wood Green Empire; Hackney Empire

1956  Riverside opens

Riverside 1*& 2*; King's Theatre Hammersmith

1957

Chelsea Palace

1958

1959  Teddington opens

Teddington 2*& 3*

1960  TV Centre opens. ATV Elstree opens

ATV Elstree C*& D*; Wembley 5 (later Fountain); TC2, TC3


1961

ATV Elstree A*& B*; TC4, TC5


1962

Teddington 1*

1963

1964
BBC2 begins  (625 lines)

TC1

1965

Hillside 1 and 2; TC7

1966

Elstree Film 8, 9 (Built as film stages with monopole grids, flat floors and space for control rooms but not equipped for TV); Pinewood J & K  (Built as film stages with monopole grids, flat floors and space for control rooms but not equipped for TV); Wycombe Road


1967
colour on BBC1 & ITV

TC6  (first colour studio in UK),  TC8

1968

Ewarts Wandsworth A & B  (later Capital, then Marjan TV)

1969
colour on BBC2  (625 lines)

Thames Euston 4, 5, 6; Golders Green Hippodrome; N1, N2 (later became TC10, TC11)

1970

Battersea A and B

1971

1972  LWT South Bank opens

TLS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

1978

Molinare 1

1979

Greenwood Theatre

1980

1981

Thames Euston 7

1982
C4 begins

1983
TV-am begins

Limehouse 1 & 2; TV-am 1 & 2  (later MTV)

1984

1985

Fountain New Malden

1986

1987

1988

LWT 10

1989
Sky TV begins

Sky 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; BSB 1, 2, 3, 4 (later QVC);  Merton 1, 2, 3(later called Wimbledon Studios. They are now 4-waller film stages)

1990

1991

BBC Elstree Stage 1 (for EastEnders)

1992

Lock Keepers' Cottages

1993

TLS 7

1994

124 Studio; Teddington 4  (formerly music studio);  Bow Lock studio

1995

TC0  (formerly music studio)

1996

TLS 8, TC9 (formerly make-up store);  Disney Chiswick A and B (mothballed in 2005, occasionally used around 2008/9 but now closed.)

1997
Channel Five begins

Stephen Street 1 and 2;  HDS 1, 2, 3, 4 (now 4-wallers and called West London Film Studios.);

1998
Sky Digital & OnDigital (now Freeview) begin
16:9 widescreen available

Sky 6, 7 (now called F and G)

1999

2000

Pinewood TV-one* & TV-two*  (fully converted to TV studios from stages J & K); TC10 (formally N1); Mediahouse 1;  HDS A, B, C    (TV studios converted from what was then studio 2 - now 4-wallers)

2001

Cactus Kennington  (closed in 2012, reopened in 2014 as Kennington Film Studios); HDS 5, 6

2002

TC11 (formerly N2)

2003

The Hospital Club  - now called 'h Club London' (first colour HD studio in UK);   Princess Studio

2004

Kentish Town 1; Teddington 6 (formerly viewing theatre/meeting room);  TC12 (formerly music studio control room - closed in 2008);  1 Leicester Square  (MTV studio - closed in 2007)

2005

Teddington 7  (formerly prop store area);  Teddington 8 (formerly edit suite); Sky A, B, C, D  (news studios)

2006
HD available  (1080 interlaced lines - service available via Sky or Virgin cable - Sky One and BBC trial HD channel amongst others.)

2007  (C4 HD channel begins via Sky. BBC HD Channel officially begins.)/span>

The One Show studio, White City

2008
Freesat begins in May   (All BBC, ITV and C4 channels available via free satellite service with BBC and ITV offering HD channels - ITV only some programmes via 'red button')

Kentish Town 2

2009

2010
ITV1 HD begins simulcasting all programmes from April, some in HD. Five HD from July, BBC1 HD channel launched in November.

2011

Wimbledon stage 1 converted into TV studio.  Now a 4-waller film stage again. Sky Studios 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

2012
Netflix launches its streaming service in the UK

Cactus 1 (Clapham)

2013
TV Centre closes.  BBC HD Channel becomes simulcast BBC2HD in March. BBC3HD, BBC4HD, CBeebiesHD, CBBCHD, BBC NewsHD begin in Dec.

BBC NBH A, B, C, E, F, G, H, J, K; BT Sport 1 & 2; Cactus 2; Wimbledon 3 rebuilt; Elstree stages 8 and 9 converted into TV studios; IMG Stockley Park 1, 2, 3, 4; Elstree Studios George Lucas stage equipped with TV galleries;  Riverside 2 reopens as TV studio; Pinewood TV-three opens for Lottery

2014
Netflix begins streaming some shows in 4K UHD

The One Show moves to NBH; BT Sport 3; Riverside closes. Teddington closes.

2015
BT Sport launches UK's first 4K UHD channel in August

BBC Elstree stages 2 & 3 (EastEnders)

2016
4K UHD available via Sky Q

Fountain closes.  LH2 becomes available as TV studio using fly-away kit.

2017

TC1, TC2 and TC3 reopen. TC1 is UK's first studio with 4K HDR.

2018
Netflix begins streaming some shows in HDR

TLS closes at end of April.  ITV opens 4-waller stage at Bovingdon.

2019

The new Riverside 1 opens in November.

2020
Some shows available in HDR via Sky Q box

First TV shows made in Riverside 2 & 3.

It is worth mentioning that although HDS Studios closed as TV studios, they were kept on as dry-hire 4-wallers.  They have now been taken over and are marketed as West London Film Studios.  Also, Capital closed for redevelopment in 2008 but in 2010 the studios were reopened by an Iranian TV channel (Marjan TV Network) and were used by them.  The studios closed in 2014.  Then, Marjan moved to Wimbledon Studios and refurbished the site – they occupy most of the offices and studio 3. Stages 1 and 2 are now available again as 4-wallers.  Capital Studios have yet to be redeveloped and are currently a cinema and entertainment venue.

 

 

 

Incidentally, if you are wondering who actually invented television – click on the button at the top of the page.

Finally, I have taken the liberty of copying a superb sketch drawn in 1995 by Dicky Howett.  Dicky is a very knowledgeable expert on the history of British television cameras.  He owns dozens of them – most of which he has returned to full working order.  He and a colleague, Paul Marshall, run Golden Age Television Recreations  – a company that rents out period television equipment for use as working props in films and TV programmes.  Their expert knowledge has been called upon several times by me in the writing of this website.

Anyway – below is a drawing of the principal monochrome television cameras in use in London’s studios from 1937 to the beginning of colour in the late ’60s. Despite at first glance looking like a rough sketch it is in fact incredibly accurate and I have often found it invaluable in identifying camera types.  It was originally printed in 405 Alive magazine and I hope the people associated with that publication and Dicky himself won’t mind me copying it here…

dickie howett camera sketch