This section covers Paintworks, Bottle Yard and Feeder Studios.
Endemol West/BBC S&PP at Paintworks – Bristol (2004 – 2013)
One development on the regional studios front was the move of Endemol to Bristol, thus creating Endemol West. This happened in 2004 when they moved into an old paint factory in the centre of the city. Endemol is an international media business that owns several TV production companies making gameshows, quiz shows, entertainment and drama. They decided that for the kind of programmes they planned to make here – long-running gameshows and quiz shows that take up a great deal of studio time – it would make sense to own their own studios rather than hire them. Thus over a few years they steadily converted parts of the old factory into no less than seven multicamera studios, controlled by up to four production gallery suites – although these were put together using temporary flyaway kit, as and when required.
The studios had chipboard TV floors and very basic scaffold or trussing lighting grids. Endemol didn’t need anything more flexible as they were used for shows with standing sets which, once lit, could stay in position for weeks, months or in the case of Deal or No Deal – years. The buildings Endemol West occupied were part of the ‘Paintworks’ development. This is a large, trendy, Victorian industrial complex that contains a number of other media companies and some very small businesses such as artists and designers. It includes an art gallery, bars and restaurants and is described as ‘Bristol’s arts and media quarter.’ It is considered locally to be a great success and benefit to the community.
Between 2004 and 2009 these studios were busy making a number of Endemol shows including Brainteaser for Channel 5, Efourum for E4, Art School for BBC2, Gala Bingo for Gala TV, The Restaurant for BBC2 and C4’s huge hit Deal or No Deal which began in October 2005. At their busiest, the studios reportedly transmitted eight hours of live television every day. The operation here employed between 80 and 300 staff, depending on the work in hand. However, Endemol’s operation here was scaled back during the early part of 2010 and for much of that year Deal or No Deal was the only show being made here.
The ‘studios’ were as follows:
studio 1 – 5,200 sq ft
studio 2-3 – 3,000 sq ft
studio 5 – 2,000 sq ft
studio 6 – 7,000 sq ft
studio 7 – 1,600 sq ft
In a surprise development that frankly very few people would have seen coming, in October 2010 it was announced that BBC Studios and Post Production (S&PP) had taken over the management and operation of these studios, working for and with Endemol. Deal or No Deal continued but no other shows booked space here. Post production for that show continued to be done by The Farm on-site in a separate part of the building. S&PP was the BBC-owned company that operated BBC TV Centre in west London. However, this certainly wasn’t seen as a possible site to move to when those studios closed. This contract was simply a way of increasing revenue for the S&PP business when Endemol were looking for a company to take over the responsibility of running the studio.
Paintworks is owned by London-based firm Verve Properties. From the autumn of 2013 they expanded the Paintworks site. This involved the demolition of some unused buildings and the construction of a large number of new ones in the style of the existing old industrial units. The building containing the studios was retained but there were no longer any studios in it.
BBC S&PP then took over part of a warehouse in The Bottle Yard – a 4-waller studio complex on the outskirts of Bristol (see below.) Deal or No Deal was made there from October 2013 – 2016. The technical equipment from the old studio was moved to the Bottle Yard and a new TV studio was created for the show within the warehouse space.
Verve were also in negotiation during 2009/2010 to buy the old HTV Bristol studios from ITV, which are situated nearby on the Bath Road in Arnos Vale. These were unused for some years, except as a base for the local ITV Westcountry news, although some office space was also let to a few media and software companies. The local council apparently stipulated that the site had to be used for entertainment purposes so it couldn’t simply be sold off for offices or housing. Having said that, in fact the main studio was converted to offices some years ago. A 125 year lease was begun in 1958 with the then ITV company TWW. It seems that ITV failed to sell the property to Verve.
I understand that the sale did however go through later with another developer and the building was gutted and extensively refurbished by them to create contemporary office spaces. ITV retained their news studio facilities on the site.
The building became known as Bath Road Studios. However, I am informed by Drew McLellan that the name changed early in 2018 to ‘HERE.’ Yes, you read that correctly – HERE. I wonder how much someone was paid to come up with that one. Anyone could have thought of the name of course – but it’s the capital letters that make it a stroke of genius. I can imagine the conversations with cab drivers – ‘Where to mate?’ ‘Here please.’
The Bristol studios as built for TWW consisted of Studio 1 (90ft x 65ft) and Studio 2 (30ft x 20ft). Intriguingly, the main studio (which was a very useful size anyway) also had a ‘back projection tunnel’ which added another 1,100 sq ft. This was an extension to the studio enabling a projector to have sufficient throw to display a large image onto the back of a cyclorama. To my knowledge, this ingenious design is unique in all the UK’s TV studios (although the HTV Cardiff studio also had an extension about 15 feet deep on one wall which was sometimes used as an audience area so perhaps this could have partly been its original purpose.) As well as adding some extra useful floor area at other times this BP area could also apparently be used as a small studio in its own right.
Mike Emery informs me that the main studio was converted to colour in April 1970 with EMI 2001s – they were replaced in 1981 with RCA TK-47s. These cameras were reportedly disliked by the cameramen due to their length and in 1990, when HTV closed their studio in Mold (North Wales), the cameras from there made their way to Bristol. These were Sony BVP-360s and BVP-3 portables.
In the early 1970s the studios were refurbished by HTV and a new studio (53ft x 33ft) built for the local news operation. This was apparently a temporary conversion of part of the vehicle garage. The studios were also renumbered so the original large studio became Studio 5 and the new studio was called Studio 7.
Studio 5 was decommissioned in April 1996 to make way for a £3m digital news and transmission centre. Regional production studios were out of fashion in those days so like many others it had to go. The whole building was extensively reconstructed and the result was a large open-plan office area with top-lit atrium and a 2,000sq ft news studio, located where the back-projection tunnel used to be. The first news broadcast from this new facility was on 23rd April 1997.
The Bottle Yard Studios – Bristol (2010 – present)
In 2010 yet another film/TV studio complex that was previously an industrial plant was opened. It was originally the main bottling plant of Harvey’s – famous for their Bristol Cream sherry since 1882, although the business itself was established in 1796. Unfortunately for those working for them, they decided to move their operation away from here around 2008.
The city council took over the site after it was empty for a couple of years with the hope that it could become used as studios for shooting TV drama – although there was no intention to invest heavily in any conversion of the spaces into conventional sound stages. What they do have is thousands of square feet of warehouse space – unusually with relatively high ceiling height – and four large buildings with very high ceilings called ‘Tank Houses.’
I visited the studios in May 2015 and was very impressed with what had been achieved with relatively little investment. The whole site was busy with various productions. Two of the Tank House stages had large standing sets from US musical comedy series Galavant and one had just finished shooting Poldark and was expecting a new booking shortly. A new stage had been created within the warehouse space for a children’s drama and at one end of the building a complete very realistic supermarket set was being restocked for the next series of Trollied. Meanwhile, in another part of the huge warehouse was the TV studio and all its surrounding facilities created by BBC S&PP for Deal or No Deal. Sets for various productions were neatly lined up in storage in other areas.
A number of highly regarded drama and comedy single camera TV productions have made use of these facilities. These include Trollied, The Fear, Frankie, Inside Men, Dirk Gently, Five Daughters, Excluded, Public Enemies, Hit the Road Jack, New Worlds, Poldark, Sherlock, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, Wolf Hall, Broadchurch, Ill Behaviour, Three Girls, The White Princess, Crazyhead, The Living and the Dead, Golden Years, The Mimic, The Spanish Princess, Sanditon, The Pale Horse, The Trial of Christine Keeler, Hellboy, Fortitude, The Festival, Eric Ernie & Me, The Salisbury Poisonings, The Offenders, The Last Bus, Becoming Elizabeth, The Pursuit of Love and The Pale Horse. Stephen Merchant’s comedy thriller The Outlaws shot two series back to back at The Bottle Yard in 2020/21.
A number of support companies are also located here including 180 Rental, Filmscape, TR Scaffolding, Grip Services, Location One and several more.
A well as huge areas of warehouse space, the facilities on offer include:
Tank House 1 – 112 x 100ft approx (12,400 sq ft)
Tank House 2 – 157 x 100ft approx (17,000 sq ft – includes a 90m long green screen/cyc)
Tank House 3 – two areas, one 69ft wide, the other 56ft at a length of 102ft. The first area has a roof height of an impressive 65ft!
Tank House 4 – an irregular shape of about 21,700 sq ft.
Studio 2 – 18,350 sq ft
Studio 3 – 9,400 sq ft including 5,000 sq ft Green Screen area
Studio 6 – 9,400 TV studio with unequipped galleries
Export Warehouse – 15,900 sq ft
In 2013 one of the warehouse areas was converted by BBC S&PP into a fully equipped TV studio for Channel 4’s Deal or No Deal. This show moved here from The Paintworks – also in Bristol. The new studio opened in October 2013. The studio was larger than the one they left in the Paintworks – 93 x 87 metric feet (about 9,400 sq ft. gross). It is surprisingly high – around 9m – which is unusual in converted industrial units. It does have 4 pillars within the working area but these were incorporated into the set design. S&PP built a well-equipped control room suite with support facilities and a 9 suite post production area was run by The Farm.
Deal Or No Deal was axed in 2016 and BBC S&PP removed all its kit from the studio. They no longer has any connection with The Bottle Yard. However, the galleries were brought back into operation using hired in equipment for two weeks in January 2017 for C4’s Cheap Cheap Cheap and then later in the year for The Crystal Maze. The main sets were built in warehouse space and the final room with the ‘dome’ was in the old Deal or No Deal studio.
Due to the lack of available studio space in and around London, in March 2018 ITV’s daytime gameshow Tipping Point moved into this studio. It was here for several months so when Crystal Maze returned, they had to use another space within the building. Tipping Point was also made here during 2019, 2020 and 2021.
The lighting grid consisted of a widely spaced trussing mother grid from which other trusses were suspended and there was a basic chipboard floor. Other associated facilities were very good indeed – and still exist for users of this space. There is a large production office, wardrobe, make-up, meeting rooms, audience handling area, contestant green room, canteen and rest area.
In October 2016 the studios were given £692,000 investment by Bristol City Council to pay for new roofs, production offices and IT infrastructure.
In January 2021 The Bottle Yard announced that they had secured funding of over £11.7 million from the West of England Combined Authority. This has enabled them to purchase an industrial property at Hawkfield Business Park, half a mile from the existing site. Three sound stages are being created within the building measuring 20,000, 15,000 and 6,800 square feet. This brings the number of stages on offer to 11. Improvement works are also being carried out to the existing facilities.
Feeder Studios – Bristol ( from Spring 2021)
Following the UNESCO City of Film award given to Bristol in 2017 and indeed building on the success of the Bottleyard, another studio site converted from industrial premises was announced in 2020. This one is called Feeder Studios and was due to open in Spring 2021. It has two shooting spaces, which according to their website have been ‘treated for sound and light.’ The ‘Main Studio’ is 148 x 131ft (19,400 sq ft) and the ‘Crane Room’ is 148 x 65ft (9,600 sq ft). The site also has areas earmarked for production offices and a large secure backlot. The studios are a short walk from Bristol Temple Meads station.