Situated approximately 20 miles west of London near the village of Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire, Pinewood Studios has been at the forefront of international film production for over 60 years.
Originally Heatherden Hall, an attractive Victorian house with spectacular grounds; it was purchased by Canadian financier and MP for Chiswick and Brentford, Lt. Col. Grant Morden, who spent a staggering sum transforming the mansion into a showpiece, adding refinements such as a huge ballroom, Turkish bath and indoor squash court. It became a retreat and secret meeting place for politicians and diplomats. When Morden died and was declared bankrupt in 1934, Sir Charles Boot, a Sheffield building tycoon who had movie ambitions and was determined to establish a British studio that would be the best in the world, bought the estate at auction. The selling price was less than a tenth of the £300,000 that had been spent upgrading the property, which included nearly a hundred acres of land. The vast pine trees in the grounds inspired him to name the estate Pinewood. After purchasing the property, Boot established a Country Club. The ballroom was converted into a restaurant and many of the bedrooms became furnished suites. Land across the road from the hall was purchased with the intention of building housing for the workers of the studio.
In 1935, Boot met J. Arthur Rank, flour magnate and Methodist; together they became partners in the studio project. In December of that year construction began, with a new stage completed every three weeks. The studios were finished nine months later, the most streamlined and efficient in the world. Five stages were initially completed, and a provision for an enclosed water tank capable of holding 65,000 gallons. Producers had been booking months in advance to use the new facilities. On September 30th, 1936, Dr Leslie Burgin, Parliamentary Secretary of Trade, performed the grand studio opening. The first in was Herbert Wilcox, completing London Melody with Anna Neagle; portions of it had already been filmed at Elstree Studios before a fire there. The first film to be made entirely at Pinewood was Talk Of The Devil, directed by Carol Reed. Boot’s dream had cost £1,000,000, and soon Pinewood was leading the way in film industry innovation through the unit system. This enabled several pictures to be filmed simultaneously, and ultimately Pinewood achieved the highest output of any studio in the world.
During the Second World War Pinewood was requisitioned; subsequently the Crown Film Unit, Army Film and Photographic Unit, RAF Film Unit and Polish Air Force Film Unit were based there. The Crown Film Unit completed many classic wartime documentaries including Roy Boulting‘s Academy Award winning Desert Victory, Fires Were Started, Listen to Britain, Coastal Command, and Western Approaches. As well as the armed forces using Pinewood, The Royal Mint and Lloyds of London were installed onto sound stages and opened for business during the war.
In 1946, Pinewood re-opened for business. 1947 saw two landmark films in production, Oliver Twist, directed by David Lean, and the £500,000 Powell and Pressburger production The Red Shoes, a landmark in British film making in its use of colour being produced. American production companies soon started to flock to Pinewood, attracted by lower British production costs, and skills and facilities that were often superior to their US counterparts. Pinewood Studios had become a world leader in feature film production. By the end of the 1940′s, Rank had ran up an overdraft of £16 million, mainly due to big budget flops and many of the studios famous directors being lured away by rival companies who promised greater independence. In 1949, John Davis was appointed and charged with the task of turning around the Rank Organisation’s fortunes. The ruthless Davis sacrificed both jobs and studios in the name of efficiency, and sought to produce commercial films rather than pursue experimental initiatives.