British Film Studios: Hunger for movies
British Film Studios
By D A Ellis
In the 1930s and ’40s there were many studios turning out films to satisfy the hunger for the movies. Sadly, many have gone and the sites used for other purposes, such as housing estates. Elstree was the home to a number of Studios. They included the Gate Studios, now long gone. Still there, are what was the Associated British Picture Corporation Studios, now just known as Elstree Studios. Many big films have been produced there, including Star Wars. A lot of TV material is now shot there. Also standing across the road from Elstree Studios is the old ATV Studios, which years before had been the Rock Studios, run by American Joe Rock. These are now used by the BBC for programmes such as Eastenders and Casualty. There was a large MGM Studio at nearby Boehamwood, where many great British pictures were shot. Margaret Rutherford in the Miss Marple films were photographed there. This was known as MGM British Studios.
At Ealing in West London there is still the Studio that is famous for many George Formby, Gracie Fields films, as well as the famous forties and fifties comedies, such as The Lavender Hill Mob and some serious dramas, including It Never Rains on Sunday and The Cruel Sea. Many of the comedies were shot by the late Douglas Slocombe OBE. The Studios were taken over by the BBC in 1956. Ealing productions were then made at MGM for around two years, still bearing the Ealing name, before Ealing was wound up. One of the Ealing films made at MGM was The Man in the Sky, starring British actor Jack Hawkins. Ealing Studios was sold by the BBC and is still used for productions as well as film training. Bray Studios was home to the famous Hammer Films, many of them being in the horror genre and starring the late British actor Peter Cushing. At one point they were owned by the Samuelson group. They were well known for equipment hire. Denham Studios which operated from 1936-1952 was founded by Alexander Korda. The Studio was demolished in 1981. There is still Pinewood and Shepperton turning out excellent material. Pinewood is home to the James Bond movies and all the Carry On films were shot there. There was a small Studio called Nettlefold in Walton Upon Thames, turning out low budget material, including television productions such as Robin Hood, starring the late British actor Richard Greene.
At Merton Park they filmed the Edgar Lustgarten Scotland Yard films and the Edgar Wallace shorts. A bust of Edgar Wallace would move around in the Mist, during the opening credits. This was shot using a gramophone turntable. There was Beaconsfield Studios that became the National Film School, and Riverside Studios. There was also Lime Grove Studios in Shepherds Bush, west London. This had been the Gaumont British Studios, where Alfred Hitchcock shot some of The Thirty Nine Steps. Later it was taken over by the BBC. Some Studios have been completely demolished. These include MGM, which is now a housing estate and Lime Grove.
D A Ellis is the author of Conversations with Cinematographers and In Conversation with Cinematographers. He has written over thirty articles for the flag ship magazine British Cinematographer.