January 2, 2017

Studios

Studio Photograph

Teddington Studios 2005. (courtesy of Richard Pull)

During this period Warner Brothers had not shot a foot of film in their own studios, which now went dark until a final fling later in 1951. During Teddington’s resurgence in 1949 and 1950 other British studios were closing – permanently. The Gainsborough Studios, now owned by Rank, at Islington and Shepherds Bush were the first to go in 1949. The Associated British Picture Corporation closed their Welwyn studios in September 1950. Because of Warner�s financial stake in ABPC, worried workers at Teddington were told their jobs were safe. Alexander Korda‘s London Film Studios at Worton Hall, Isleworth, closed at the end of 1951. The vast Denham studios, also owned by Rank, soon followed the fate of the others. The so-called golden era had now evaporated and there were numerous and complex reasons for this. The main ingredients were: government measures, set up to help the industry but seriously backfiring, a failure of British films to get adequate distribution in the lucrative American market, a heavy tax on cinema admissions, shooting schedules that were needlessly long, restrictive practices invoked by the film trade unions, and the changing social attitudes of the cinema going public. Television had not yet taken hold as a major element in people’s lives. Nevertheless, from this period on the British film industry was to shrink continuously.

It was against this depressing background that Teddington limped along until the summer of 1951. Earlier in the year Warner�s had announced that they were to bring Burt Lancaster over from the US to star in The Crimson Pirate (1952) at Teddington. It was to be shot in Technicolor and would have extensive location work off the island of Ischia, near Naples. The director was Robert Siodmak. The rest of the cast included Nick Cravat, Eva Bartok, Torin Thatcher, James Hayter, Margot Grahame, Noell Purcell and Frank Pettingell. Shooting went on for a considerable time, with bits being added on to the story as filming progressed, according to the director who was interviewed by a trade paper at the time. Problems were experienced during the location shooting. The unit arrived back from Ischia in the late summer and continued filming at Teddington. However, in October the entire production was moved to the ABPC Elstree studios where the film was finally completed. It will be deduced from this that Warner Brothers did not complete a single film post-war at Teddington. In the Kinematograph Weekly dated November 23rd Warner�s announced that Teddington was going into �care and maintenance�, with a skeleton staff being kept on.

The Warner�s British production programme would subsequently use the ABPC Elstree plant, where the administrative staff would also be based. Teddington, they said, did not have the facilities required for the more expensive films. As for the independent companies, Arthur Abeles stated that they seemed to be going elsewhere. The final flourish of Warner�s with The Crimson Pirate (1952) was not the end of film production at Teddington. On November 12th the Romulus film Treasure Hunt (1952) went into production on a tight six week shooting schedule. Directed by John Paddy Carstairs it starred the radio comedian Jimmy Edwards and Martita Hunt. Others appearing were Naunton Wayne, Athene Seyler, June Clyde, Miles Malleson, Susan Stephen, Brian Worth and Toke Townley. Under the Kinematograph Weekly’s headline ‘Teddington is near1y lost’ in January 1952, Arthur Abeles, for Warner�s, announced that “Negotiations for a possible lease are going on, but no sale is contemplated”‘. Eventually the Hawker Aircraft Company leased the studios for the next six years or so. They had a manufacturing facility on the opposite side of the river to Teddington, just outside Kingston-upon-Thames. As far as the film industry was concerned Teddington was lost.

Britain in the mid-1950s had recovered from the austerity of the post-war years and was enjoying a standard of living which was steadily increasing. Sales of consumer durables were booming. It was a good time to launch a new television service. Independent Television arrived in Britain during the autumn of 1955. The first advertisement screened in that September evening by Associated Rediffusion Television was for Gibbs SR toothpaste. ARTV was the company granted a license to transmit in the London area for the five weekdays. Other companies to begin transmission early the following year were ABC Television, Associated Television and Granada Television. Each company had been allotted a license to transmit in a specific area during the weekdays or weekend. All the commercial television companies were regulated by what was then known as the Independent Television Authority which had been set up by the Conservative Government of the day. It was the ITA which selected the applicants who would be given the license to transmit in a chosen region. ABC Television’s remit was to transmit in the Midlands and the North at the weekend. The company had been formed by the Associated British Picture Corporation. There were three distinct areas that ABC covered: 1. The Midlands. 2. Liverpool and Manchester. 3. Leeds and Sheffield. After being granted a license the new companies had to find a location for studios and then equip them. In some cases there was little time to achieve this and buildings of various kinds were hastily pressed into service.

The main driving force for getting ABC Television off the ground was Howard Thomas, who persuaded ABPC to apply for one of the ITV contracts. At that time Philip Warter, Chairman of ABPC, said he was not interested, thinking that commercial television would be short lived. He was not alone in his thinking as the concept of commercial television in Britain was considered both radical and a risky business proposition. In spite of this there were still many groups of people ready and willing to shoulder the risk. These groups came from varied backgrounds including publishing and the film industry. From 1936 the BBC had enjoyed a monopoly in TV broadcasting and by the mid-fifties their programme output was considered worthy, but ‘safe’ and bland. Within a few years the arrival of commercial television was to change that. ATV went on air at the studio on the 16th of February 1956 and ABC Saturday the 18th of February. It should be noted that television at this stage could only originate as live programmes or on film from telecine. As the settling down period for the ITV companies passed it soon became clear to ABC that two studio sites were geographically inconvenient for the mounting of major productions. Each Friday artists had to travel North, rehearse, transmit and then return to London by Monday – many of them having commitments that day in the theatre, films or television. With ITV now feeling more confident the decision was taken to build a new studio complex in the London area.

Plans for the new London studio initially focussed on Elstree, where four separate film studio sites were located. However union resistance to this led to the ABC board looking elsewhere. The film studios at Teddington had remained dark and silent since the end of 1951, but in the autumn of 1958 the first activity took place when ABC executives walked over the rough and uneven wooden floors of the two stages. In November ABC Television purchased the Teddington site and ensured its security until the present day. Howard Steele was responsible for the design, layout and equipping of the complex. Much of the work was carried out in collaboration with the Marconi electronics company. Although film studios were not ideal as the basis for a television studio, the major re-fitting necessary to make them suitable for generating pictures electronically had already been carried out successfully by the BBC. Examples being the Shepherds Bush Studios at Lime Grove in 1950 and Riverside Studios at Hammersmith some four or five years later. Associated Rediffusion Television had converted Wembley Film Studios in the mid-fifties. Even as ABC was planning Teddington, Associated Television was contemplating the purchase of National Studios at Elstree for television production.

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