||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (March 2012)|
|Address||Shenley Rd, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6 1JG, United Kingdom|
|Design and construction|
|Client||ITV, BBC, Channel 5, Channel 4|
Elstree Studios is a generic term which can refer to several film 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 1927. 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.
Despite being called "Elstree Studios", only one studio was actually located in Elstree itself, the remainder being in 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".
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.
During 1953, the studios were leased to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., mainly for television production (including the Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents series (1953–1957) and Alfred Hitchcock Presentswhen?) but were sold to Lew Grade's Associated Television (ATV) in 1962. Elstree was re-equipped as an electronic TV complex and most of ATV's live and tape shows were made there (but not the 35mm film series such as The Saint, which were made at the ABPC film studios). After contract negotiations in 1968 requiring more regional coverage for the Midlands, more programmes came from their new studios in Birmingham, notably Crossroads, Bullseye (UK game show), Tiswas and a few other small-scale programmes.
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 site in 1984 in order 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. As stated above, any working part from the more damaged EMI 2001s were kept as spares. Meanwhile, the BBC replaced the BBC Television Centre studio 3 and 4 cameras with Link 125 tube cameras. Various BBC studios around the country, including Elstree and TV Centre studio 1 kept the EMI 2001s up until 1991, as their picture quality was generally considered by the BBC to be superior to pictures produced by other brands of camera. 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.
As part of cost-cutting measures, it is believedwhen? that the BBC will try to sell the Elstree site. This rumour coincides with the news story2 that EastEnders will move to Pinewood Studios, as its backlot containing the Albert Square exterior needs to be reconstructed to bring it up to HD production standards.
As of 2010, plans to relocate Holby City and EastEnders were on hold and the BBC was to continue to produce both shows at the BBC Elstree site at least through to 2013. Work was underway to take both shows over to HD by upgrading existing sets. However, a move to another location at some point in the future cannot be ruled out. It was speculated in 2011 that MediaCityUK was a possible option and would see the Eastenders set nearby the new Coronation Street set.3
British National Pictures Ltd. purchased 50 acres (20 ha) of land on the south side of Shenley Road and began construction of two large film stages in 1925. The first film produced there was Madame Pompadour (1927).
British International Pictures (BIP) took over the studios in 1927 and the second stage was ready for production in 1928. In 1929, Blackmail, the first British talkie released, 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. BIP was absorbed into the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) in the early 1930s. 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.
In 1968, Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI) bought control of ABPC and the studios were renamed EMI Studios.
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.
Having forced Bernard Delfont's hand along with the rest of EMI board, the studio Managing Director, Andrew Mitchell brought in major directors. These include Sidney Lumet, who shot the mystery film Murder on the Orient Express (1974) at Elstree; Ken Russell – who had worked with Mitchell on his first feature, the comedy film French Dressing (1963) – made the biographical film Valentino (1977) at Elstree; Stanley Kubrick with his The Shining (1980); Mitchell's previous employer Fred Zinnemann with his 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, prior to computer-generated imagery technology and Elstree became synonymous with these kind of pictures 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 Studios. Due to the parent company’s numerous unsuccessful investments in releases that attempted to capture the American market with no success whatsoever the studios was 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.
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 old stars and the general public. Hertsmere Borough Council stepped in and bought the remaining studio 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 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.4 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 current agreement is for the BBC to move back to Television Centre in 2015.
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 and many more.
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.
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 and the building 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.
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.5
Film production continued until 1936 when fire destroyed the three stages.6 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.
Amalgamated Studios Ltd constructed a large studio on the north side of Elstree Way between 1935 and 1937. The company was unable to meet the cost and sold out to Rank.
During World War II, the studio was used by the government for storage.
In 1944, the studio was purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) although it did not take possession until 1947. After improvements the studio contained seven stages totalling over 70,000 square feet (7,000 m2) of floor space.
MGM continued production at the site up until 1970 when it moved to the EMI Studios on Shenley Road (see above). The site was demolished and redeveloped for industrial use and housing.
In 1956 the Danziger brothers converted a wartime plane engine testing factory into a studio they called New Elstree,7 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 1965.7
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.8
- "The British equivalent of Hollywood's all-star revues was Elstree Calling (1930), produced by British International Pictures (BIP), which consisted mainly of musical and comedy items from stage shows of the day introduced by compare Tommy Handley. Lacking the lavish production values and visual spectacle of its Hollywood equivalents, Elstree Calling is now something of a curio item interesting chiefly for two reasons: Alfred Hitchcock (then contracted to BIP) was one of several directors employed on the production; and the film is quite possibly the first ever to refer directly to television (the linking narrative concerns a television broadcast of the revue, some six years before the BBC began regular television transmissions)."10
- The English New Wave band The Buggles released the synthpop song "Elstree" on its first album, The Age of Plastic (1980).
- Madame Pompadour (1927)
- Blackmail (1929)
- The Hasty Heart (1948)
- The Dam Busters (1954)
- Moby Dick (1956)
- Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
- Lolita (1962)
- 633 Squadron (1964)
- One Million Years B.C. (1966)
- Up Pompeii! (1971)
- Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
- Valentino (1977)
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- The Shining (1980)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
- The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
- The Dark Crystal (1982)
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
- Never Say Never Again (1983)
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
- Return to Oz (1985)
- Dreamchild (1985)
- Labyrinth (1986)
- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
- Willow (1988)
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
- Closer (2004)
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- The Other Boleyn Girl (2006)
- Breaking and Entering (2006)
- The King's Speech (2010)
- Kick-Ass (2010)
- Superman: Requiem (2011)
- Comes A Bright Day (2011)
- Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (1998—)
- The Tweenies (1999-2003)
- Doodle Do
- Big Brother (2002—)
- Department S
- Dancing on Ice (2006-10, 12-14)
- Robot Wars (third series)
- Bad Girls
- The Saint
- The Avengers
- The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss
- Are You Smarter Than a 10 Year Old? (2007-10)
- Jim Henson's The Storyteller
- Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Greek Myths
- The Hoobs (2001-02)
- A League of Their Own (2011—)
- The Exit List (2012)
- Revolution (2012)
- Red or Black? (2012)
- The British Animal Honours (2013—)
- Pointless (2013—)
- Strictly Come Dancing (2013—)
- Friday Download (2013-)
- 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.
- "Sets Too Shabby for Latest TVs Force EastEnders Out of Town". The Times.
- "'EastEnders' Set Moving to MediaCityUK Salford?". Digital Spy. 5 June 2011.
- Jake Bickerton (2012-08-07). "News & Comments". Televisual. Retrieved 2013-04-21.
- Patricia Warren British Film Studios: An Illustrated History, London: B.T. Batsford, 2001, p.26, 28
- "British Film Studios at Elstree Destroyed in $2,250,000 Blaze". Calgary Daily Herald. 10 February 1936. p. 9.
- Tise Vahimagi "Danzigers, The", BFI screenonline
- . Millennium Studios. 8 December 2010.
- Duncan, Paul (2003). Alfred Hitchcock: Architect of Anxiety, 1899–1980. Taschen. ISBN 978-3-8228-1591-5, 191 pages (p. 46 (via Google Books).
- Conrich, Ian; Tincknell, Estella (2006). Film's Musical Moments. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-2345-7, 226 pages (page 32 (via Google Books).
- Leslie Banks, The Elstree Story: Twenty-One Years of Film-Making. Clerke and Cockeran. 88 pages. With contributions by Douglas Fairbanks, Alfred Hitchcock, Ralph Richardson, Victory Saville, Googie Withers, Anna Neagle and John Mills.
- Castle, Stephen; Brooks, William (1988). The Book Of Elstree & Boreham Wood. Buckingham, England: Barracuda Books Ltd. ISBN 0-86023-406-1.
- Peecher, John Phillip (1983) The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-31235-X.
- Warren, Patricia (1983). Elstree: The British Hollywood. Columbus Books: London, ISBN 0-86287-446-7.
- Warren, Patricia, (1983). British Film Studios: An Illustrated History. Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-8644-9.
- Welsh, Paul (1996). Elstree Film & Television Festival Programme. Elstree and Borehamwood Town Council.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Elstree Studios|
- elstreestudios.co.uk, Elstree Studios official website
- Elstree Studios at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- BBC Elstree Centre
- News clip previews at Pathé News
- The Elstree Project - "Oral history interviews, showcasing Elstree's rich cultural filmmaking heritage