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Elstree Studios
Elstree Studios - geograph.org.uk - 1184042.jpg
Elstree Studios at Shenley Road, Borehamwood
Elstree Studios is located in Hertfordshire
Elstree Studios
Location within Hertfordshire
General information
Type Film and television studios
Country England
Coordinates 51°39′31″N 0°16′33″W / 51.6587°N 0.2758°W / 51.6587; -0.2758Coordinates: 51°39′31″N 0°16′33″W / 51.6587°N 0.2758°W / 51.6587; -0.2758
Website
Official website for the Shenley Rd facility

Elstree Studios is a generic term which refers to several film studios and television studios based in or around the towns of Borehamwood and Elstree in Hertfordshire, England. A number of studios have existed in this area since film production began in 1914. Some of those studios no longer exist, but several studios still survive today. They are all owned by different organisations and produce both motion pictures and television programmes. For example, the BBC has studios in Elstree, named "BBC Elstree Centre", whereas another company, Elstree Studios Limited, owns a separate site known as "Elstree Studios". As a result confusion often occurs.

History and facilities[edit]

Despite being called "Elstree Studios", only one studio has ever been located in Elstree itself, the remainder residing in the adjacent town of Borehamwood. When the studios were being established, Elstree was significantly larger than Borehamwood. Nowadays, Borehamwood is the larger, but the old names have remained in use.

The civil parish that contains the town was called "Elstree". The local railway station was originally known as "Elstree"[1] (nowadays, it is called "Elstree & Borehamwood"). The local telephone exchange was also called "Elstree".

Clarendon Road Studios, Borehamwood[edit]

Early years[edit]

The Neptune Film Company opened the first studios in Borehamwood in 1914. It contained just a single small windowless stage (the first "dark stage" in England), relying entirely on electricity from a gas-powered generator for lighting.

Production ceased during 1917 and the studio was sold to the Ideal Film Company who used the site up until 1924.

During 1928, the studio was sold to Ludwig Blattner who connected it to the electricity mains and introduced a German system of sound recording.

The Blattner Studio was leased to Joe Rock Productions during 1934 and two years later it purchased the site. Rock Productions built four new large stages and began making films including the drama film The Edge of the World (1937), directed by Michael Powell.

The studios were owned by British National Films Company between 1939 and 1948, although during this period a large portion of the studio was taken over by the British government for war work.

During 1953, the studios were bought by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., mainly for television production[2] (including the Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents series (1953–1957) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents[when?]) but were sold to Lew Grade's Associated Television (ATV) in 1958.

The ATV period[edit]

The original intention of the new owners was to use the facility for production of the affiliated ITC filmed series, and The Adventures of William Tell (1958–59) was produced here, but ATV's existing television studios were insufficient for their requirements. A 7.5 acre site on London's South Bank had been purchased, but it was realised that completion of a wholly new complex would be some years in the future, while the need for more studio floor space was urgent.[2] As a result, the Clarendon Road centre was re-equipped as an electronic TV complex and most of ATV's live and recorded shows were made there. The series made by the affiliated ITC, such as The Saint, Gideon's Way, and The Prisoner, were shot on 35 mm film at the neighbouring studio complexes or elsewhere. In 1966, ATV recorded the first colour TV programme, a charity event in aid of the Aberfan disaster.[3]

Originally some ATV programmes were made at the Aplpha studios in Aston, Birmingham, but after 1970 programmes such as Crossroads were made at the new Birmingham studios at the Alpha Tower. Larger scale productions, including many drama programmes, continued to be recorded at the Elstree facility for the rest of ATV's existence. In the period of their occupation of the Elstree complex, the smaller Studios A and B were used for schools and sitcoms, while Studio C was a drama studio. Studio D, with permanent audience seating, was used for light entertainment programmes[4] such as the ATV Morecambe and Wise series (Two of a Kind, 1961–68) and The Muppet Show (1976–81).[5]

The BBC period[edit]

When ATV was restructured as Central Independent Television in 1982, one of the conditions of their licence renewal by the governing body of the ITV network, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, was that ATV should leave any London-centric facilities and become more focused on the Midlands, the part of the United Kingdom that they broadcast ITV programmes to. They remained in operation by Central up until July 1983 (the final production under Central ownership being a Max Bygraves-era episode of Family Fortunes), when its new main production centre in Nottingham was completed. When the BBC bought the Elstree site in 1984 to produce their new soap opera EastEnders (first aired on 19 February 1985), it did not purchase the equipment within the building. As a consequence, studio technicians were instructed to make the equipment inoperable. When the BBC moved in it repaired the less-damaged equipment, sometimes using spare parts from the same pieces of equipment that the BBC inherited. The EMI 2001 television cameras used in studios 3 and 4 at BBC Television Centre, Shepherd's Bush, were moved into the newly renamed "BBC Elstree Centre", along with ATV/Central's old EMI 2001s that were repairable. Meanwhile, the BBC replaced the BBC Television Centre studio 3 and 4 cameras with Link 125 tube cameras. Elstree kept the EMI 2001s up until 1991. Elstree's first new cameras were to be Thomson TTV-1531s, one of the last plumbicon-tubed cameras to be made - being replaced in the mid-1990s with Thomson TTV-1542 and TTV-1647 lightweight cameras using, the then-new camera technology of CCDs. Widescreen was introduced in 1999 using Philips/Thomson LDK 100s.

In addition to EastEnders, many other programmes have been made there including Top of the Pops, 'Allo 'Allo!, You Rang, M'Lord?, Grange Hill, Hangar 17 and Holby City.

In early 2014, the BBC announced their intention to rebuild the Eastenders set on the existing site. A letter to local residents stated that plans had been submitted to Hertsmere Borough Council and an exhibition and open day for immediate neighbours was held in March 2014.

Elstree Studios, Shenley Rd, Borehamwood[edit]

British International and Associated British[edit]

The Main Gate entrance at Shenley Road (late 1990s).

British National Pictures Ltd. purchased 40 acres (16 ha) of land on the south side of Shenley Road and began construction of two large film stages in 1925. After discord among the partners, which by this time included Herbert Wilcox, their solicitor John Maxwell invested and was able to gain control of the company.[6] The first film produced there was Madame Pompadour (1927).

By 1927, Maxwell controlled all the stock, and the company was renamed British International Pictures (BIP) and the second stage was ready for production in 1928. Maxwell placed Alfred Hitchcock under contract in a 3 year, 12 picture deal, and after several silents, he was responsible for Blackmail (1929), the first British talkie released, which was produced at the studios. At the end of the silent-film era, six new sound stages were built; three of these were sold to the British and Dominions Film Corporation (see below) with BIP retaining the remaining stages. Elstree Calling (1930), made by BIP, was reputedly Britain's first musical film.[7][8]

BIP became Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) around 1940 after the death of John Maxwell.[9] During World War II, the studios were used by the War Office for storage.

In 1946, Warner Brothers acquired a substantial interest in ABPC, appointed a new board and decided to rebuild the stages. This was completed in 1948 and work began on Man On The Run followed by The Hasty Heart starring Richard Todd and Ronald Reagan.

EMI and others[edit]

In 1969, Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI) finally gained control of ABPC and the studios were renamed EMI-Elstree Studios.[10]

In 1969, Bryan Forbes was appointed head of production of the film studio (see EMI Films). Dennis Barker, in his obituary of Forbes for The Guardian, states that "This amounted virtually to an attempt to revive the ailing British film industry by instituting a traditional studio system with a whole slate of films in play."[11] Under Forbes's leadership, the studio produced The Railway Children (1970), The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971) and The Go-Between (1971), all successful films.[12][13][14] His tenure though, was short-lived and marked by financial problems, brought about by deliberately withheld funding and failed projects. Forbes resigned in 1971.[15][16] In his autobiography A Divided Life he states that "They were years of high hopes, of excitement, often of fulfilment and contrary to what various pundits said after the event, the programme proved a commercial success, returning according to the latest [1992] figures a profit in excess of £16,000,000 on a capital outlay of £4,000,000."[17] During the period 1970-73, when EMI had a short-lived production and distribution deal with the American MGM film company, the facilities were known as the EMI-MGM Elstree Studios.[10]

In 1974, Andrew Mitchell took over from Ian Scott as Managing Director of the studios but was almost immediately told to close the facility and lay off all the staff. Due to the sterling efforts of Mitchell and the help of John Reed who was on the board of EMI and Alan Sapper the head of the ACTT Union, he turned the studios into a Four Wall facility, which effectively meant reducing the staff to administration, with the exception of the Dubbing facility and having freelance crew being brought in by each production company. This was inevitable due to the changing nature of cinematic styles that relied increasingly on location shooting and the reduced financial involvement of EMI in its own film productions, thus rendering a permanent production staff employed full-time at the facility redundant.

Films shot at the facility over the next few years included the Agatha Christie mystery film Murder on the Orient Express (1974), directed by Sidney Lumet; Ken Russell's Valentino (1977; Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980); Fred Zinnemann's drama film Julia (1977); and most significantly for the studio's immediate survival through a deal brokered by Andrew Mitchell, George Lucas with Star Wars (1977). This led to subsequent Lucas productions such as the Star Wars sequels and Indiana Jones franchise being made at Elstree and also brought in directors Steven Spielberg and Jim Henson. This was the golden era of the construction picture, which essentially required large studio facilities to fulfill the filmmakers' vision, before computer-generated imagery technology and Elstree became synonymous with this kind of picture due to the success of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

In 1979, Thorn Electrical Industries merged with EMI after EMI's debacle with its invention of the Cat Scanner and the studios were renamed Thorn-EMI Elstree Studios.[10]

Cannon, Brent Walker and later[edit]

The studios were put up for sale in 1985. A management team beat off all other prospective buyers with the help of Alan Bond but the team had difficulty raising their share of the purchase price and Bond took over. Soon afterwards he sold the studios to the Herron-Cannon Group in 1986. In 1988, Cannon sold the studios to the leisure and property company Brent Walker plc and much of the backlot was sold off and demolished with a Tesco superstore being built on the land.

.
The Elstree Studios facility hosts some historic soundstages.
Sound stages at Elstree Studios.
Stages at Elstree Studios.

A "Save Our Studios" campaign was launched in the 1988 by Managing Director, Andrew Mitchell, local Town Councillor and studio historian Paul Welsh, with the support of many film actors and the general public. Hertsmere Borough Council stepped in and bought the remaining facilities in February 1996 and appointed a management company, Elstree Film & Television Studios Ltd., to run the studios in 2000. The purchase ended an eight-year struggle that was due to have culminated in High Court action. Brent Walker’s offer to sell the site to the Council, for an undisclosed sum (but no more than its worth as a film studio), represented a victory for the local authority in upholding the planning agreements that protected the studios.

The studios are now most commonly known for being the home of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and the current location of the Big Brother UK house (previously at Three Mills Studios in Bow, East London). The Big Brother house is actually built on top of the studios' old underwater stage where scenes in The Dam Busters (1955) and Moby-Dick (1956) were filmed. Elstree Film & Television Studios Ltd's lease expired at the end of March 2007.

It was announced in 2012 that the studios would be the temporary home of BBC Studios and Post Production during the redevelopment of Television Centre.[18] Shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Pointless as well as the Children in Need and Comic Relief telethons will be based on the site from spring 2013. The original plan was for the BBC to move back to refurbished Television Centre studios in 2015, however due to delays in the broader redevelopment of the old Television Centre site in July 2014, the lease was extended until 2017.[19]

Elstree Studios are operated by Elstree Film Studios Ltd, a company controlled by Hertsmere Borough Council. Feature film production continues alongside television production, commercials and pop promos; recent productions include 44" Chest, Bright Star, 1408, Son of Rambow, Amazing Grace, The Other Boleyn Girl, Notes on a Scandal, Breaking and Entering, Flyboys, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Dancing on Ice and Are You Smarter Than A 10 Year Old? for Sky television among many others.

Station Road Studios, Borehamwood[edit]

A single large stage was built in Station Road in 1928 by Whitehall Films Ltd but the company was wound up in 1930. In 1935, Julius Hagen, the owner of Twickenham Studios, bought the site and formed a new company JH Studios.

Financial difficulties forced Hagen to sell the studios to MP Productions in 1937.

During World War II, the studio was used by the government for storage.

In 1950, the site was bought by J. Arthur Rank who renamed it Gate Studios and made religious films.

Production ceased in 1957 and the site was sold to Andrew Harkness, a manufacturer of cinema screens. Harkness Screens moved out of the site in 2004 having established a global manufacturing base in France and the USA and relocated its UK operation to a new production facility in Stevenage. The building in Borehamwood was demolished in 2006 to make way for apartments new properties, with the development being named Gate Studios in an homage to the former site.

British and Dominion Studios, Borehamwood[edit]

1936. Fire destroys three stages of British and Dominion Studios. From the Illustrated London News 15 February 1936

In 1930, British and Dominion bought three new sound stages from British International Pictures Ltd on the adjoining site before their construction was completed. Alexander Korda made one of his greatest successes at the studio, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), which starred Charles Laughton as the King. The film's success in the United States and elsewhere persuaded United Artists and The Prudential to invest in Korda's proposed Denham Film Studios.[20]

Film production continued until 1936 when fire destroyed the three stages.[21] British and Dominion made substantial investment in Pinewood Studios and moved production to Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. The support buildings that remained after the fire were sold off to various companies including Frank Landsdown Ltd, who opened a film vault service. The music stage was bought by the Rank Organisation for the production of documentary films. It later became the headquarters of the film and sound-effect libraries.

MGM British, Borehamwood[edit]

Amalgamated Studios Ltd constructed a large studio on the north side of Elstree Way between 1935 and 1937, but their plans collapsed and the facility was soon sold to Rank who never used it for making films. After a brief period owned by the Prudential, the studios were purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1947 and was renamed MGM-British Studios.[10] After improvements the studio contained seven stages totalling over 70,000 square feet (7,000 m2) of floor space. The studios were not exclusively used by MGM, but were leased to other companies as well. These included the 20th Century Fox produced The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), for which a large set of a Chinese town, complete with artificial lakes, covering some 500,000 square feet was constructed.[22]

Several stages were taken up with the sets for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) over its extended production schedule, and indeed Stanley Kubrick's film is sometimes blamed for making the studios financially unviable. The facility continued to be utilised until 1970 when MGM closed the studios. The American company formed a short-lived deal with EMI, while the site of their former studios was redeveloped for industrial use and housing.

Danziger Studios, Elstree[edit]

In 1956 the Danziger brothers converted a wartime plane engine testing factory into a studio they called New Elstree,[23] which was located to the west of the Aldenham reservoir. It was used mainly for television production and second features, but was closed by 1962 and sold in 1965.[23]

Millennium Studios, Elstree Way, Borehamwood[edit]

Established in 1993, the Millennium Studios on the south side of Elstree Way offered television and film production space together with associated services. Millennium Studios have now relocated to Thurleigh near Bedford.[24]

Selected film and television shows made at Elstree Studios[edit]

Elstree Studios, Shenley Road[edit]

Music videos[edit]

Films[edit]

Television[edit]

Clarendon Road Studios[edit]

BBC productions[edit]

Other productions[edit]

MGM Studios[edit]

British and Dominion Studios[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Butt, R. V. J. (1995). The Directory of Railway Stations: details every public and private passenger station, halt, platform and stopping place, past and present (1st ed.). Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. p. 91. ISBN 1-8526-0508-1. OCLC 60251199. 
  2. ^ a b Roddy Buxton "This is Elstree, 1", Transdiffusion
  3. ^ Louis Barfe Turned Out Nice Againt: The Story of British Light Entertainment, London: Atlantic Books, 2008, p.122-23
  4. ^ Barfe Turned Out Nice Again, p.108
  5. ^ Brian Jay Jones Jim Henson: The Biography, London: Random House, 2013, p.126
  6. ^ Patricia Warren British Film Studios: An Illustrated History, London: B.T Batsford, 2001, p.61
  7. ^ Paul Duncan Alfred Hitchcock: Architect of Anxiety, 1899–1980, Taschen, 2003, p.46 ISBN 978-3-8228-1591-5
  8. ^ Ian Conrich, Estella Tincknell Film's Musical Moments, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006, p.32. ISBN 978-0-7486-2345-7
  9. ^ Warren, p.71
  10. ^ a b c d Warren, p.76
  11. ^ Barker, D. Bryan Forbes: film director, actor and writer. The Guardian. 9 May 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2013
  12. ^ British Film Institute: Profile at screenline.org. Retrieved 9 May 2013
  13. ^ Andrew Roberts "Bryan Forbes profile at British Film Institute website
  14. ^ Alexander Walker National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, London: Harrap, 1985, p. 114
  15. ^ Batty D. Bryan Forbes, acclaimed film director, dies aged 86. The Guardian. 8 May 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2013
  16. ^ "Stepford Wives film director Bryan Forbes dies aged 86". BBC. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  17. ^ Bryan Forbes, A Divided Life isbn 0-7493-0884-2 page 108
  18. ^ Jake Bickerton (7 August 2012). "News & Comments". Televisual. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  19. ^ "BBC News - Television Centre return delayed by two years". BBC News Online. 17 July 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  20. ^ Patricia Warren British Film Studios: An Illustrated History, London: B.T. Batsford, 2001, p.26, 28
  21. ^ "British Film Studios at Elstree Destroyed in $2,250,000 Blaze". Calgary Daily Herald. 10 February 1936. p. 9.
  22. ^ Warren, p.85
  23. ^ a b Tise Vahimagi "Danzigers, The", BFI screenonline
  24. ^ [1]. Millennium Studios. 8 December 2010.
  25. ^ "TOTP to quit Elstree studios", Broadcast, 20 October 2000
  26. ^ "TOTP editor plots fresh pops", BBC News, 18 October 2001

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]


Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elstree_Studios — Please support Wikipedia.
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1788 news items

 
Borehamwood Times
Mon, 01 Sep 2014 05:38:20 -0700

A manager at Elstree Studios showed he is on top of the trends after letting a special guest give him an icy shower. Paul Clark, facilities manager at the studios, took part in the popular ice bucket challenge on Friday last week to raise money for ...
 
Borehamwood Times
Fri, 12 Sep 2014 05:07:08 -0700

Sandra Smith, Head of Production of Big Brother, said: “Elstree Studios is a great location for Big Brother. We have very large audiences for Big Brother and it's easy for them to get to by public transport. This is also an ideal location for all ...

Borehamwood Times

Borehamwood Times
Sat, 23 Aug 2014 02:23:34 -0700

Steve Dorsett, whose agent is based at Elstree Studios, has won the last three of the four episodes of show The Singer Takes It All, presented by Alan Carr. Contestants are voted onto the show at Elstree Studios via a mobile app, and then compete on a ...
 
ATV Today
Thu, 04 Sep 2014 05:33:45 -0700

Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, visited the 'British Hollywood' on Wednesday to meet television and film execs at one of the UK's top film and television production sites, Elstree Studios. He was welcomed to the ...

Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Wed, 03 Sep 2014 03:24:54 -0700

But that didn't stop Caroline Flack from parading her toned pins in a pair of sparkling shorts at the Strictly Come Dancing launch at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire on Tuesday. The former Xtra Factor presenter stood out on the red carpet in her ...

Borehamwood Times

Borehamwood Times
Mon, 18 Aug 2014 19:11:18 -0700

A television studio was swarming with people as crowds gathered to watch three of its latest shows. Hundreds of people turned up to Elstree Studios on Friday night to watch three of the studios' latest productions- Tumble, The Singer Takes it All and ...

Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Thu, 11 Sep 2014 03:09:33 -0700

She stunned at the launch of the new series of Strictly Come Dancing over the weekend. And Tess Daly proved she looks just as fabulous when she is dressed in more off-duty styles as she made her way to film Celebrity Juice on Wednesday. The 44-year-old ...

The Independent

The Independent
Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:03:45 -0700

ATV's Birmingham studios, where Crossroads was taped, were sometimes referred to within the industry as "Lew Grade's fig leaf", the impresario being keener on his productions at Elstree Studios, which had superior production values and were designed to ...
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