West London Film Studios

1997 – present

(revised December 2020)

 

These studios were created within some industrial units at the corner of Springfield Road and Beaconsfield Road, Hayes.  There is much conflicting and confusing information around so it has been difficult to establish exactly what facilities were available in the early years and when they were created.  However, I believe the information below is the most likely:

 

hds logo

The company HDS was originally based in Reddich and specialised in scenery construction, building a number of sets for all the main broadcasters, including BBC Pebble Mill apparently.  The name ‘HDS’ is derived from the initials of the men who owned it.  Later they moved to Hayes.

Initially there were a number of large workshops – some used for constructing and storing scenery with three of them being used as film stages for commercials, pop videos etc. In 1997 these three were converted into TV studios for the new Channel Five soap Family Affairs.  The three studios shared two control room suites.

The studios were remarkably well equipped, with 10 Sony 570 cameras shared by the studios.  The two production gallery suites were fitted with BTS vision mixers and all the facilities one would hope to see.  The main shortcoming was the grids which were very basic fixed beams.  These limited the studios to relatively inflexible lighting rigs and prevented rapid turnarounds and relights.

There were dubbing and editing facilities here and optical links to the BT Tower for live broadcasts.  Scenery construction was also carried out in a 40,000 sq ft workshop. 

No doubt to to the considerable disappointment of the owners of the studios, Family Affairs only stayed here for two years until 1999, when it moved to TalkbackTHAMES’ own studios in Merton to join The Bill.

 

In 2000, after Family Affairs had left, Sky’s business division took over studio 2 and built three small studios within it – A, B and C.  They also constructed two new control galleries.  They began broadcasting from the studios in September of that year.  In addition, elsewhere in the building there was a small news studio (20 x 20ft) with its own control gallery and a ‘pack shot’ studio (14 x 10ft) with a chromakey cyc.

‘Sky Travel Shop’ occupied Studio A for 1 day a week as a live production.

Studios B and C were used for ‘The Automotive Channel’ and ‘The Pub Channel’ – which was aimed at publicans and not available to the general public. (Non-stop hints and tips from Al Murray, one assumes.)  Actually, I’m told that the channel was live for most of the day giving tips on how make your bar / pub / club better and included items such as cooking demos.  The Automotive Channel broadcast to the motor trade from 8.30am to 1.30pm every weekday.

When the Pub and Automotive channels finished broadcasting their live output, the use of the studios and galleries quickly switched to ‘At The Races’.

 

The two galleries occupied by Sky were equipped with Snell and Wilcox 1524 vision mixers, Calrec sound desks, an Aston concept, 3 Sony Betacam SX machines and digital Sony cameras.  There were four cameras per studio with Vinten peds – each with a Radamec pan/tilt head.  The cameras were rolled to new positions marked on the floor by the floor manager.  I’m told that the sets were partly chromakey and used a ‘virtual’ system to fill in the gaps.

hds tv studio 450p
One of the three TV studios created by Sky.  This is thought to be the current prop store 4C so probably the original home of the Pub Channel.

 

From 2001 two more stages (4 and 5) were marketed along with their own production offices, makeup, wardrobe and dressing rooms.  They could be linked to either of the original production gallery suites.

The business seems to have got into difficulties around the end of 2003 and ceased operation on 29th April 2004.  My understanding is that that the Pub and Automotive Channels were closed down and At The Races moved to Teddington, with Sky Travel Shop becoming a pre-recorded package and going to studio 7 at Sky’s HQ in Osterley.

 

In 2007 a planning application was made to convert the studio site into a mixed use development including function halls, cinema, ten pin bowling, restaurant, health club and multi-level car park.  One can get an idea of the size of the site from this alone.  That application had the total floor area of the studios at 75,000 sq ft. which must have included the scenery construction workshops and other facilities.  The planning application was refused by the local council and by the Mayor of London’s office and went to appeal where it was also turned down.

The studios were therefore closed and put up for sale. However…

 

 

Pending redevelopment, the studios were taken over by The Collective – a company offering locations for film and TV shooting.  They carried out some basic improvements to the facilities but only offered the stages as a simple dry-hire location, with minimal support and management.  However, stage 3 was refurbished and made soundproof.

The stages were used for filming commercials and a number of single-camera TV dramas including ITV’s Lewis and the BBC’s Born and Bred.  Other bookings included New Tricks, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, Miss Marple, Misfits, The Last Weekend, Hunted, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, Him and Her, Hunderby, Derek and Toast of London.

Some feature films also used the stages here to shoot scenes. These included The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Imitation Game, Bridget Jones’ Baby and Bollywood thriller Rush.

 

 

chak89 logo

In April 2013 it was announced that the studios had changed their name (albeit briefly) to Chak89.  This followed the acquisition of the site by Frank Khalid, the owner of Elbrook Cash and Carry – a leading food and drink wholesaler with an annual turnover of a reported £129m.  He also owns Chak89 restaurant and banqueting hall – a highly regarded dining place that regularly attracts Bollywood stars and many other famous celebrities.  This company also specialises in organising weddings and banquets – not just in their own premises but in many prestigious locations around London.  Mr Khalid said he was intending to run the site as a film studio for the foreseeable future and has been investing in improving the facilities here – which is extremely welcome.  Perhaps not surprisingly given the new owner, there is now excellent on-site catering for example.  It is no secret that after HDS left, much of the site was poorly maintained and in need of some considerable tidying up.

 

hds stage 3 450p
Stage 3 with its permanent cyclorama.
west london stage 6 450p
Stage 6

It seems pretty clear that at some point most of the stages have been renumbered.  The sizes and numbers do not tally between those when they were owned by HDS and those advertised now.  I assume this is because some of the stages are an irregular shape so it depends how you measure them. 

According to the best information I can find, during the HDS days the studios were as  below :

 

Studio 1: 8,000 sq ft (92 x 76ft working area)

Studio 2 – in 2000 converted into three TV studios:

A: 2,000 sq ft

B: 1,800 sq ft

C: 1,900 sq ft

Studio 3: 11,000 sq ft (!)

Studio 4: 7,000 sq ft approx

Studio 5: 6,530 sq ft (85 x 70ft working area)

 

west london site plan 2020 450p
The studios in 2020
with thanks to the West London Film Studios website

 

However, according to  the West London Film Studios website,  the  stages  are now as follows:

stage 1: 6,240 sq ft (88 x 68ft)

stage 2: 5,300 sq ft (78 x 68ft)

stage 3: 7,100 sq ft (97 x 73ft)  This stage has a permanent cyclorama.

stage 4A: 1,291 sq ft (50 x 25 ft)  Currently marketed as a props store.

stage 4B: 1,291 sq ft (50 x 25ft)  Currently marketed as a props store.

stage 4C: 1,700 sq ft (50 x 33ft)  Currently marketed as a prop store.

stage 5: 7,100 sq ft (113 x 62ft)  Was a workshop but now upgraded to a stage with soundproofing .

stage 6: 9,400 sq ft (145 x 65ft)  This stage has new sound dampening material on the walls and has recently been expanded.

 

In the summer of 2014 the name changed yet again – to West London Film Studios, although the owner remained the same.  The studios also now contain some realistic hospital sets run by The Hospital Location (handily replacing those lost when Wimbledon Studios closed.)

Productions since the studios changed their name include Churchill’s Secret (ITV), Fungus the Bogeyman (Sky), Top Coppers (BBC), The Halcyon (ITV), Liar (ITV), The Reluctant Landlord (Sky), Killing Eve (BBC), Strike (BBC), There She Goes (BBC), Mum (BBC), Episodes (BBC), Horrible Histories (BBC), Hold the Sunset (BBC), The Capture (BBC), People Just Do Nothing (BBC), Good Omens (Amazon/BBC), Trying (Apple/BBC) and feature films Stan and Ollie, The Aeronauts, Judy, Last Christmas and  he Gentlemen.  These studios are always very busy with TV drama and comedy, music promos and commercials.  It’s interesting to see how many BBC dramas and comedies have used these studios in recent years – the list above is just a fraction.

 

Late in 2020 the studios announced that they would be expanding onto a site 150 metres down Springfield Road. The area is currently a large square of waste ground and will be developed in an ecologically friendly manner.  Four stages will be built – these will be fully soundproofed and higher than the existing facilities, with proper lighting grids and gantries.  There will also be four workshops, offices and all the usual wardrobe and make-up rooms.  These purpose-built facilities will enable more ambitious productions to take place than can use the existing stages, which were of course conversions from industrial premises.  Construction will commence in 2021 so we can look forward to them being available in 2022.  This is all great news!

 

If you have worked here and can let me know any more about the studios I’d appreciate it. I would particularly like to hear from anyone who worked on Family Affairs.