January 2, 2017


Studio Photograph

In 1928, British Instructional Films commenced building a state-of-the-art studio at Broadwater Road, Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. The company’s background derived from geographical, scientific and nature films, headed by the outstanding Mary Field, which had produced a well-crafted, successful, factual series, Secrets of Nature. The Managing Director of the company and studio was Bruce Woolfe, a producer and director who had entered the film industry in 1910 and was associated with many of the pioneer British documentaries. One of those brought to Welwyn included Anthony Asquith, whose father had been Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916. Asquith had stayed in Hollywood with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Snr before returning to England and entering films in 1926 with British Instructional Films.

With the 1927 Cinematograph Films Act requiring British cinemas to show a quota of British films, Asquith was handed his first opportunity to direct, in association with A.V. Bramble, came with Shooting Stars (1927), a silent film starring Annette Benson, Brian Aherne and Donald Calthrop. The John Orton directed The Celestial City (1929) based on a novel by Baroness Orczy was the first film to be made entirely at the studio. Asquith directed their first transitional ‘sound film’, A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929). It was, in fact, a silent film to which some dialogue and music had been added by the Klangfilm Company in Germany, as sound production facilities were not installed at Welwyn until 1929. In 1930, a larger sound stage was added to Welwyn Studios, and the following year, British International Pictures, headed by John Maxwell, the owner of the Elstree Studios, absorbed British Instructional Films into their rapidly-expanding group. With film renters required to obtain a percentage of British films for distribution, Welwyn was used principally for the overflow from Elstree Studios and also hired out to other producing companies including Gaumont-British.

A great number of ‘Quota Quickies’ were made at Welwyn during the 1930s, but whatever their poor reputation, they gave a number of young stars, directors and technicians the opportunity to learn their trade. The Return of Bulldog Drummond (1934) gave Ann Todd and Ralph Richardson lead roles; Margaret Lockwood had her opportunity to shine with in Honours Easy (1935), with Ronald Neame as its cameraman; Dinah Sheridan and Jimmy Hanley appeared in Landslide (1937); and Pat Kirkwood starred in Save a Little Sunshine (1938) Sate A Little Sunshine; Maureen O’Hara appeared in My Irish Molly (1938) and Bela Lugosi filmed Dark Eyes of London (1939) with Hugh Williams and Greta Gynt. Welwyn was one of the few studios that were not requisitioned at the outbreak of war in 1939; and as John Maxwell’s other studio at Elstree had been commandeered by the War Office, he switched production to Welwyn.

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