1924 – 1958
(revised March 2020)
The great producer/director GB Samuelson purchased an old aircraft hangar in Gladstone Road, Southall in 1924 with the intention of making silent films there. For whatever reason, the studio appears to have been little used for the first few years but then started making a number of quota quickies.
(Of course, if there was a hangar, there must at one time have been an airfield which is hard to imagine now in that very built-up area just south of the Great Western railway line.)
In the early 1930s ownership changed hands a few times. Unfortunately the main stage was burned to the ground in 1936 but was replaced with 3 stages of 75 x 50ft, 50 x 50ft and 50 x 25ft.
It is likely that the stages were used for storage during the war, as were many around London. In 1946 Southall became part of the Alliance Film Studios group who also owned Twickenham and Hammersmith (Riverside). Many films were made here at this time, starring popular British actors of the period such as Richard Attenborough.
Television began to play an important part in the studios’ history from as early as 1952. Three pilot episodes of Colonel March of the Yard were filmed starring Boris Karloff along with Joan Sims, Patricia Owens and Dana Wynter. This is interesting – I wonder who was the intended customer? The BBC made all its own programmes and the first ITV companies would not be on the air until 1955. However, people were talking about the new commercial television for several years before then so maybe Southall made these three episodes in order to create interest in prospective customers as soon as they were awarded franchises. In fact, just in case, the three episodes were also re-edited to form an ‘anthology’ feature film called Colonel March Investigates so the money spent on making them would not have been completely wasted.
In 1954 another 23 episodes were shot so they must have found a customer by then. These included such names as Christopher Lee, Anthony Newley, Alfred Burke and a very young Richard O’Sullivan. The series was produced by Hannah Weinstein who also created the very popular Adventures of Robin Hood at Walton Studios. Both productions used very efficient shooting techniques enabling a rapid turnaround of episodes.
Other TV dramas were also made here. However, there were still features being shot. For instance, Hammer made Life With the Lyons here in 1954. This is quite interesting as they already owned Bray Studios by then so why use Southall? I have checked and in 1954 no less than 8 films were shot at Bray, which was a relatively small studio. I can only assume that they couldn’t fit that movie in so it was made here. The Lyons Abroad was also made at Southall in 1955 – probably for the same reason. These films were spin-offs from the popular radio comedy show Life With the Lyons.
By 1956 the studios were listed as a television production centre. Commercials became a regular source of work. Pearl and Dean (yes, sing the tune now) made many ads here to be shown in cinemas.
The final title made here in 1958 was The Trollenberg Terror – aka The Crawling Eye. This was first filmed as a TV series then remade as a horror movie. Directed by Quentin Lawrence it starred Forrest Tucker, Janet Munro and, er, Warren Mitchell (better known as Alf Garnett) as Professor Crevett. IMDb describes it thus – ‘A series of decapitations on a Swiss mountainside appear to be connected to a mysterious radioactive cloud.’ Perhaps a small studio in Southall isn’t the obvious place a movie like this might be shot but the film was considered pretty chilling at the time.
The studios sadly closed after making this epic and were demolished. The area is now an industrial estate.