Round The Studios Great Britain
British Lion Film Corporation, Ltd., Beaconsfield, Bucks.
FILMS have brought the hum of modern industry to old, sleepy places.
Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire, was a typical English country town, with its wide main crossing, its two main streets empty at most times, and its cluster of quiet weathered houses dreaming under the midday sun.
The British Lion Corporation came, and its studio rose to stir the town to activity. To-day Beaconsfield mothers bring their babies to act in child scenes at the studio (there were fifty of them there one day during the summer). Beaconsfield boys go to see what film stars do to earn their salaries.
The studio is, in effect, a single production unit, under one high roof ridge, but there is ample floor space for all film requirements. Alongside the main building there is a row of flat-roofed workshops, containing plasterers’, property, carpenters’, and scenery rooms. Separated from the main block by a concrete causeway are projection theatre, offices, and a row of film vaults.
The whole studio stands in a wide tract of grassland surrounded by a high fence. This space is frequently used when a film necessitates the building of extensive exterior sets.
It is essentially a breezy studio, although, these days a sense of sadness still hangs over the place. For the British Lion studios will never be quite the same as they were when Edgar Wallace, the merriest, the most cheerful of all those merry film-makers, was alive, and the ruling genius of the studios. He was, of course, chairman of the British Lion Film Corporation, as well as the author of some of its most successful films. Such films as The Flying Squad originally brought fame to Beaconsfield, when made in silent form ; and the talkie version, together with The Old Man, Whiieface, The Frightened Lady, and other Wallace thrillers, met with the same success.
Beaconsfield is not a pretentious studio. It is not built of white marble and chromium, and the cafe does not run with champaigne. But some of the finest of Britain’s films have been made there, and there exists in this country no more efficient and cheerful band of film-makers.
Associated Radio Pictures, Lid., Ealing Green, London, IF.5.
JUST as the Gaumont-British studio stands where it stood in 1914,
• on one of England’s original studio sites, so A.R.P., at Ealing, have built their up-to-date studio not twenty yards from what remains of the
old Barker studio, a red-brick and tin hangar which was one of the first film studios in Great Britain.
Contrasted with its neighbour, the .\.R.P. studio looks almost impossibly modem. Viewed by itself, it stands out as a typical product of up-to-the-minute thought. From the framed cartoon in the blue-and-white entrance hall (depicting two horses which, tethered together, try in vain to drink from separate troughs) to the glowing cubes of light set in the ceiling, the place breathes modernity and forcefulness.
“ Co-operation ” is the title of that sketch—for the two horses eventually go together to the one trough.
Basil Dean has caused that word to be emblazoned in foot-high letters on every blank wall. Even the iron cross girders of the £25,000 powerhouse bear the word in huge lettering. The watchword is carried throughout the studio lay-out itself. The cutting-room connects with the projection chamber, and this in turn with a full-sized preview theatre.
The complete sound installation of the two huge floors is interconnected by an elaborate system of microphone lines. On the main floor itself is a squat, compact affair of engine-turned aluminium called the “ organ ” which, with its rows of stops on a sloping panel, does, indeed, resemble a strange harmonium console. By manipulating the switches and knobs of the “ organ ” one man can control the camera, lock the studio doors before a “ take,” mark the film, illuminate the ‘‘ silence ” signs throughout the building, and mute all telephone bells whose sudden whirr might reach the sensitive ear of the microphone.
The comfort of players and staff is well considered. There are rows of softly-lit dressing-rooms, each one with gleaming white bathroom, cheerful walls, and attractive furniture in unstained oak.
The A.R.P. studio restaurant is probably the finest in England. It is known as the “ Inn ” and, in addition to the scarlet-and-yellow tables and chairs with which it is furnished, it is equipped with a long “ snack counter ” at which dozens of extras and technicians can lunch quickly and comfortably when time presses.
Next door to the restaurant another big building houses the rehearsal room, fitted with floor of polished parquet, pianos, radio-gramophone, and dais for a band.
The studio block itself is faced by huge iron drop-screen doors, which are frequently raised between “ takes,” so that plenty of fresh air reaches the sets. Outside an enormous camera tower, originally built for the tenement scene in Looking On the Bright Side, allows camera and crew to be raised or lowered for “ new angle ” shots above the heads of the crowd on the " lot.”
There is a particularly attractive board-room leading out of the cafe. It is decorated in the modern style which characterizes the whole place. The scenario department is another finely planned and decorated section of the organization, and here the A.R.P. script writers work in comfort and quiet.
Gloria Swanson herself, who considered almost every British studio when looking for a centre for her first British film, chose A.R.P. as being the most suitable studio for her purpose. And with her coming a British studio saw, for the first time, indications of the veneration in which great
stars are held in Hollywood ; Miss Swanson’s table at the “ Inn ” was screened off from the rest of the room by a gauze screen spangled with silver stars.
British International Pictures, Ltd., Boreham Wood, Elstree.
ENGLAND has no film centre comparable to Hollywood. Film studios have sprung up round London in more haphazard and scattered fashion, from Beaconsfield in the north-west to Islington in the slums. Yet film production in this country is associated in the minds of many people, with Elstree, Herts.
There have been many studios at Elstree. Films were made there, in rough and ready fashion, years ago. From the railway station itself one studio can be seen—that of Audible Filmcraft. It has not, however, been the scene of feature production. Farther along the road stands the Blattner studio, and almost opposite British & Dominions’ Imperial studios, which are described on page 390. But towering over all these and actually the largest studio in England, is British International Pictures’ 40-acre expanse of buildings and exterior “ lots.”
The studio in its present form dates from a reconstruction scheme of 1928, when B.I.P. took over the existing buildings and gradually brought the place up to its present standard. There are 9 full-sized production stages, contained in 3 huge blocks. Two of these stages, in a corrugated iron building, represent the original “ silent ” studio ; the rest are all modern additions, spacious, lofty, and provided with the most up-to-date methods of sound-proofing and ventilation.
Three of the sound stages are provided with deep watertight tanks, sunk beneath the floor, which can be used for bathing pool scenes, underwater photography, and so on. A typical example of the use of these tanks was the “ flooded submarine ” sequence in Men Like These.
It is possible to have 9 films in simultaneous production at the B.I.P. studios. The record to date, however, is 7 pictures, which all occupied floors at the same time in the summer of 1931.
Near the three main studio buildings there is a long, low block which contains the cutting-rooms, laboratories, garage, and studio cafe, which is one of the best patronized of all British studio restaurants, for it provides meals for many visitors from the Imperial studios, “ just over the fence ” from B.I.P.
Naturally enough, the various technical departments of so large a studio are correspondingly extensive. The make-up department, for instance, thinks in pounds of grease-paint, crates of powder, and gallons of liquid colour. A crowd of 150 women recently used 12 pints of wet-white in one day at B.I.P. On another occasion 300 “ natives ” were ma.de up, and 14 large pails full of wet-black were used in one week ; that same production called into use more than 100 yards of false hair, which was applied with a gallon of spirit gum.
The carpenters’ and plasterers’ shops are also on an enormous scale. There are 150 craftsmen employed in them, and they use 50,000 feet of wooden battens a year, as well as 10,000 feet of boarding and something like half a ton of nails a week.
The property department is a marvel of its kind, and the B.I.P. prop men are indefatigable. Asked in one day to provide a balloon basket, six motor-cycles of the kind used by American speed-cops, and a number of Chinese preserved eggs—they “ delivered the goods ” without hesitation.
B.I.P. have an associated organization in British Instructional Films, whose large single-floor studio is at Welwyn Garden City. Although several full-length pictures have been made here—notably Dance Pretty Lady—the Welwyn studio is used mainly for the production of the excellent Secrets of Nature series.
Elstree (Imperial Studios)
British and Dominions Film Corporation, Ltd., Imperial Studios,
'T'HE big Imperial studios of British and Dominions, next door to British International Pictures at Elstree, stand for a great deal in the British film industry. For, as well as their own pictures, B. and D. make 6 films a year for the Paramount organization in this country and, during the summer of 1932, completed an arrangement with United Artists, which guarantees American release for the fine British films made at the Imperial studios.
B. & D. actually came into existence in 1928, when they started making silent films at Crieklewood. They moved to small Elstree premises the following year and made some sound pictures before transferring their activities to the Imperial studios. They have built, added, enlarged and modernized ever since, so that they now have one of the finest film-factories in the country. They employ a staff of 700, exclusive of actual players. They have 9 cameras. They can turn out 36 full-length pictures a year on their 3 sound-stages, each with its own projection-theatre. Their workshops are the finest in the land, with duplicate sets of woodworking machinery and a plasterer’s shop staffed by the greatest living experts in this particular medium of make-believe and decorative manufacture. Their stages consume current to the tune of 7,000 amperes. They can accommodate 7 films simultaneously in the cutting-rooms.
Herbert Wilcox, the chief of production at B. & D. and the doyen of British directors, has insisted from the start on a policy of the best and nothing but the best. B. & D. sets are invariably the last word in magnificence : the gowns his stars wear are designed and carried out only by front rank creators of clothes. Wilcox has some of the best talent in England and builds stardom for his players in the true Hollywood style. Lynn and Walls, Jack Buchanan and Sydney Howard were readymade in the public estimation ; but with such stars as Dorothy Bouehier, Anna Neagle, Winifred Shotter and Elsie Randolph, B. & D. have shown their skill, and demonstrated that the starring system is well worth its place in the scheme of screen things.
Gainsborough Pictures (1928), Ltd., Poole Street, Islington, London, N. 1.
A WAY in the gloomier part of London, in a district of factories, warehouses and slum-dwellings, there stood in the years before the war a power-station which supplied current to the Metropolitan Railway.
The huge chimney of that station, the third highest of London’s smokestacks, still stands ; but the buildings beneath it now constitute one of England’s film-studios, the home of Gainsborough Pictures—a producing-company affiliated with the great Gaumont-British organization at Shepherd’s Bush.
The powerful Lasky Corporation, from America, originally bought the site and built a “ modern ” studio on the spot. That was in 1919. For the next four years Islington Studio was the scene of intensive film-production. Evelyn Brent played there ; Mary Glynne made The Great Day and Perpetua Mary ; the silent version of Three Live Ghosts was made there ; and Donald Crisp directed and starred in The Bonny Briar Bush.
In 1923 the studio was leased out to various companies. Dorothy Gish was among the distinguished stars at Islington that year, when she starred in Nell Gwyn. In the following year three enterprising Londoners— William Freedman, Victor Saville and Michael Balcon—started production at the studio. They were quickly successful and numbered among their players such names as Clive Brook, Betty Compson, Alice Joyce and the McLaglen brothers. The formation of Gainsborough Pictures soon followed and a brilliant series of films began to pour from Islington. The most successful of these pictures were undoubtedly the famous Rat series, with Ivor Novello and Isabel Jeans.
In 1927, Mabel Poulton figured at Islington with her triumphant portrayal of Tessa in The Constant Nymph. At the time of the change-over to talkies they made Taxi for Two, another Mabel Poulton success, and then The Return of the Rat.
In January, 1930, fire completely destroyed the upper of the two stages and the cutting-rooms, writing finis to the career of the Islington studios as they then existed.
Gainsborough opened their re-built and modernized studios in the spring of 1931. They had re-designed the place, but the two-floor system still remains. The lower of the two floors, “ No. 1 Stage,” is 6,264 square feet in area, while the upper is 5,244 square feet. Above that is a flat roof, served by the studio-lift. It is used extensively for exterior scenes, as an open-air “ lot ” would otherwise be unavailable. There are three projection-theatres ; one, on the ground floor, is almost as big as a small public cinema, while the two others are in the basement, and are slightly smaller. They are used in conjunction with the 6 cutting-rooms.
Gainsborough studios employ 25 carpenters and 35 electricians a day at Islington when producing any one of the 7 pictures they reckon to make in a year.
Gaumont-British Corporation, Ltd., Lime Grove, Shepherd’s Bush, London, IV.12.
^TJAUMONT is to Britain very much what Paramount is to Hollv-wood. Just as the first studio in Hollywood was a barn in "a grove, from which, eventually, the great Paramount organization grew up, so the company which in 1898 made films on Freeman’s Cricket Ground.
at Dulwich, now owns the finest studio in Great Britain. And that studio stands in Lime Grove, Shepherd’s Bush.
It is odd to think of films being made at all thirty-four years ago, but odder still to realize that thirty years ago Gaumont were making talkies. In 1902 they made films and played gramophone records of the artists synchronized by a method called the “ Chronophone.” These were shown at the London Pavilion and elsewhere. It is interesting to note that one of these primitive “ talkie ” players was George Robey, who in 1932T rejoined Gaumont interests in Marry Me.
Gaumont went on working at Dulwich until 1913, when The Life of Richard Wagner was made. Then they built a studio, the first building* ever put up in this country solely for the production of films.
This was the famous “ glass studio ” in Lime Grove, completed in 1914, and was the scene of the successful Ultns, the Man from the Dead series of films, directed by George Pearson. Then came Sally Bishop, now re-made as a talkie.
A new studio was opened soon after 1927, but in 1929 talkies came to revolutionize the film-industry.
Gaumont had big ideas, which they have embodied in yet another new studio, opened in the summer of 1932, on the very site of the old glasshouse. It is a huge, modern, white-faced block, its flat roof towering 90 feet above the pavement. Here are five production-stages ; dressing-room accommodation for 600 artistes ; stars’ dressing-rooms, the last word in modern comfort and decoration ; laboratories with a minimum output capacity of 2,000,000 feet a week ; three private theatres ; an orchestration room ; nine film-vaults ; a боо-seat restaurant ; plasterers’ and carpenters' shops ; property rooms ; monitor and recording rooms ; all the paraphernalia of the last word in modern film-studios is to be found at Gaumont-British studio in Lime Grove.
They spent nearly half a million pounds on the studios, but still they were not content. Even as this book is being printed more floors and extra buildings are being added at Lime Grove. The production of four films simultaneously will shortly be a simple matter.
Warner Brothers-First National Productions, Ltd., Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington.
\\/HEN the invading army of Warner Brothers-First National from *v America occupied the old studios at Teddington they did what might be expected of a powerful American film-company. They laid out £100,000 on enlarging and modernizing the place.
But they refrained from committing the sin, sometimes attributed to American enterprise, of modernization at the expense of beauty and comfort. Teddington was a country-house studio, with spreading gardens, wide lawns of velvety green sloping down to the banks of the Thames. Did they dot the lawns with hideous outbuildings ? They did not. They added their laboratories, their office-block, their extra floor-space, unobtrusively, cunningly grafting the new structure to the old. Did they fine the pleasant river-bank with concrete or build stone walls where
before had been rough hedges of privet ? They did not. They left the grounds as they were. More, they employed skilled gardeners that their players might have a pleasaunce wherein to walk in the cool of the evening when the day’s shooting is done.
Many a fine summer evening has been spent on those wide lawns. There has been tennis ; there has been bathing in the foamy water below Teddington Weir; there have been stump-cricket matches. But it must not be imagined that the Teddington people spend all their time dancing on the green and hanging daisy-chains round each other’s necks. They turned out three films in six weeks during the summer of 1932, and these were not the ordinary scratch-east “ quickies ” generally associated with such rapid work, but good-quality feature films, including in their casts players of such calibre as John Stuart, Dorothy Bartlam, Dodo Watts and Janice Adair.
Henry Edwards, who was for some time in possession of the Teddington studio—he made Stranglehold there in 1931—used to plan plans and dream dreams of the development of the old film-centre. The Warner-First National interests have brought those dreams reality, for they have made the place into a model studio. They have ample space for production ; they have added a row of comfortable dressing-rooms, a projection-room, cutting and editing-rooms. They have turned disused rooms in part of the old house into clean, airy offices. The old house itself has forty rooms and in it they have made long galleries of guest-rooms, a lofty dining-hall and finely-tapestried drawing-rooms.
At Teddington they introduced the American system of “ property baskets.” Instead of long searches in crowded prop-rooms, each property-man has onty to make a rapid survey of his own individual basket, kept by the set, to produce any more general kind of ‘‘ property ”, which may suddenly be needed, from a telephone to a needle-and-thread. Those who have watched the restless waiting sometimes caused by endless rummaging in distant property-vaults will appreciate this improvement. A small point of studio technique, but it is in the knowledge and practice of such points that they excel at Teddington.
They may have spent £100,000 on new structures and equipment. You may find the latest type of microphone on the set, the latest make of lamp in the electrical store, the most up-to-date form of cutting-apparatus. They may, and undoubtedly do, produce films as original and as technically excellent as any in Great Britain. But for all that, Teddington studio will remain, thanks to the good taste of certain American gentlemen, a pleasantly tree-shaded, flower-decked country seat, with the river laughing at the film-makers as it runs by.
Tii'ickenham Film Studios, Ltd., Alliance Studios, St. Margaret’s,
TRAVELLING by train to St. Margaret’s, Twickenham, across the river from Richmond, you pass, just outside the station, the end of a red-brick building, with a strange, short factory chimne}^ labelled “studio.” That is the Alliance Studio, the home of Twickenham Film Studios, Ltd.
It is the friendliest studio in Great Britain. It looks like a big red barn and it backs right on to the railway-line. In the early days of talkies— when sound-proofing wasn’t what it is to-day—they had to call a halt in shooting every time a train passed—be it electric or not. Nowadays, so far- has the science of talkie-making progressed, they need stop only for a steam-train.
Yet this quaint studio with its rambling offices, which look for all the world like converted bed-rooms, was responsible for the second greatest output of films from any British studio in 1930.
Julius Hagen, swarthy and jocose, is the ruling genius at Twickenham. He has attracted some of the finest talent among British film-stars to the “ lot.” Guy Newall, Franklyn Dyall, Margot Grahame, and Mary Newcomb are some of the players whose work at Twickenham has been frequent and notable. Julius Hagen, too, was the first to recognize the potentialities of Elizabeth Allan. He took her straight from the West End stage-play in which she was appearing, and signed her up on a long-term contract.
Everybody is friendly at Twickenham. The telephone-girl passes your call with a pleasant greeting. The directors are pleased to see you. Even the amazing collection of “ property ” pictures which hangs outside the main floor seem to smile at you from a hundred frames, from the Laughing Cavalier, with his eyes pierced for peepholes in some long-forgotten spy-drama to the lady a la Kirchner who was used on the wall of a set in another picture.
There is a tiny projection-theatre leading out of the studio, and next to that, the " still ” department. Twickenham Studios are very proud of their still-photography, which is possibly the best in this country.
All the sound-recording at Twickenham is done in a mobile van, which serves a dual purpose, since it can be driven from the studio to any location at a moment’s notice.
Nettlefold Productions, Hurst Grove, ]Valton-on-Thames, Surrey.
WALTON studio is one of the historic centres of British film-production.
Films have been made there continuously ever since 189S. It was in that year that Cecil M. Hepworth, pioneer of the film industry, started making pictures in the back-garden of his Walton-on-Thames house. His players were himself, his wife, and his son ; his studio, a tiny lawn ; his developing, printing, and drying laboratories, the kitchen and the scullery sink.
In the early nineteen-hundreds, “ Heppy ” built his first studio, which was burnt down after a short but energetic career. Another was built on the spot, and it was in this primitive studio, built largely of glass, that the film industry was carried on more assiduously than anywhere else in Great Britain.
Hepworth used to think it a bad week when he had not written, photographed, and sold three or four films. The procedure was simple. He and his players—he began a stock company which included such famous figures as Chrissie White, Alma Taylor, and Stewart Rome in its later years— would gather in the studio at 9 a.m. A story would be written and production started by 11 o’clock. The film would be finished and on its
way to London by nightfall. As the sun moved round in the heavens the linen and canvas sets—three-ply and plaster were unknown in the studios in those days—had to be moved also, so that the light coming through the glass walls might shine on the actors. Most shots were made at a range of twenty-five feet and the reason that players in those early films wore the same costume throughout a picture was simply that otherwise they would have been unrecognizable. Thus, the villain generally wore a dashing black costume from beginning to end of a film, and the country squire a suit of loud checks.
When the sun did not shine shooting in the studio was perforce held up. On those occasions the company would cheerfully dash off to London to take an “ interest " film of some thrilling incident such as the boat-train steaming into Waterloo.
One of Hepworth’s most successful early " feature-films " was the famous Rescued by Rover. This epic was more than 250 feet long, a monster of its period. It featured “ Rover,” “ Heppy’s ” own collie dog, which became a figure of world-fame and was Rin-Tin-Tin’s predecessor by many years.
Had it not been for the war Walton studios might easily have become the film-centre of the world, for it was not until England was forced to send her film-makers to fight that Hollywood came into its own. Films continued to be made at Walton spasmodically throughout the years of the struggle, and the Government of the day ordered the production of more than one propaganda film at Walton, of which The Belgian Refugee was a typical example.
In 1922 Archibald Nettlefold's organization moved into the studio and produced there until, three years ago, the present studio was built on the site of the original “ Heppy ” garden studio.
There is now a spacious sound-stage, equipped with all the paraphernalia of up-to-date talkie-making. Dressing-rooms, scenery-docks, carpenter’s shops, private theatre, and sound-apparatus are all modern and well-fitted. Most of the more important independent companies have rented the studio for their productions in the past few years and some fine films have come out of Walton.
But the visitor to the studio will notice a strange link with the past in the midst of all the prevailing modernity. In one of the offices, adjoining the floor, and actually the kitchen of Hepworth’s old house, there is a wall bearing a row of wooden pegs.
Those pegs bore the strips of Hepworth’s film, as it hung to dry, in 1S98.
Associated Sound Film Industries, Ltd., Raglan Gardens, Middlesex.
IN October, 1929, the studios of British Talking Pictures, which stood on the verge of what had once been the Wembley Exhibition, were completely destroyed by fire. Before the end of the year a new studio had already begun to rise from the ashes of the old and finally took shape as the Wembley headquarters of Associated Sound Film Industries, Ltd., generally known as “ Wembley Studio.”
It is a finely-designed studio, constructed primarily for one production at a time, with approximately 10,000 square feet of floor-space available
for working. It is well-equipped, has a pleasant and efficiently-run restaurant, and is one of the British studios most easily accessible to Londoners. Among equipment Wembley possesses a blessing denied to other British film-centres. It is known as the “ Overhead Gantry Wiring System," which means, simply, that all the myriad studio-cables—camera, sound, lighting, and so on—are let down, when wanted, from fittings in an overhead gallery, or gantry. The worker at Wembley, therefore, is spared the commonest of all studio-mishaps, namely, falling headlong over a cable untidily sprawling on the floor. The system was designed by Mr. A. T. Jones, the Wembley Studio-Manager, who had been working on the idea for years but had to wait until he could instal overhead gantry-wires in a studio specially constructed to allow for this system.
A.S.F.I. themselves have produced two well-known films at their studio, City of Song and The Bells ; but the studio is much in demand among independent companies, who rent it for their productions from time to time. Sterling Films, for instance, made at Wembley The First Mrs. Fraser, directed by Sinclair Hill. This film is said to include the largest ballroom scene ever built in a British studio. Alexander Korda there directed the first London Film Productions' picture, Wedding Rehearsal.
Wembley was the scene of Adolphe Menjou’s first British film, when Eric Hakim’s production of Two White Arms was made.
The world film encyclopedia, 1933
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