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Elstree Studios (Shenley Road)

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Elstree Studios (Shenley Road)

Film and television studios

Meadow Park, Elstree & Borehamwood railway st, Aldenham Country Park, Elstree & Borehamwood Museum, Coronation Chair

Elstree Studios on Shenley Road, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire is a British film and television production facility operated by Elstree Film Studios Limited. One of several facilities historically referred to as Elstree Studios, the Shenley Road studio site opened in 1925.


The facility has passed through a large number of owners, and is currently owned by Hertsmere Borough Council. Noted as the studios used for filming Star Wars and Indiana Jones (its largest studio is known as the George Lucas Soundstage), the studios are used both for film and television productions.

Along with the BBC Elstree Centre on Clarendon Road, a number of the studios on site are leased to BBC Studioworks and are used for recording television productions such as Strictly Come Dancing.

British International and Associated British

British National Pictures Ltd. purchased 40 acres (16 ha) of land on the south side of Shenley Road and began construction of two large film stages in 1925. After discord among the partners, which by this time included Herbert Wilcox, their solicitor John Maxwell invested and was able to gain control of the company. The first film produced there was Madame Pompadour (1927).

By 1927, Maxwell controlled all the stock, and the company was renamed British International Pictures (BIP) and the second stage was ready for production in 1928. Maxwell placed Alfred Hitchcock under contract in a 3-year, 12 picture deal, and after several silents, he was responsible for Blackmail (1929), the first British talkie released, which was produced at the studios. At the end of the silent-film era, six new sound stages were built; three of these were sold to the British & Dominions Film Corporation (see below) with BIP retaining the remaining stages. Elstree Calling (1930), made by BIP, was reputedly Britain's first musical film.

BIP became Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) in 1933. Maxwell died in 1940 and during World War II, the studios were used by the War Office for storage.

In 1946, Warner Brothers acquired a substantial interest in ABPC, appointed a new board and decided to rebuild the stages. This was completed in 1948 and work began on Man on the Run followed by The Hasty Heart starring Richard Todd and Ronald Reagan.

EMI and others

In 1969, Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI) finally gained control of ABPC and the studios were renamed EMI-Elstree Studios.

In 1969, Bryan Forbes was appointed head of production of the film studio (see EMI Films). Dennis Barker, in his obituary of Forbes for The Guardian, states that "This amounted virtually to an attempt to revive the ailing British film industry by instituting a traditional studio system with a whole slate of films in play." Under Forbes's leadership, the studio produced The Railway Children (1970), The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971) and The Go-Between (1971), all successful films. His tenure though, was short-lived and marked by financial problems, brought about by deliberately withheld funding and failed projects. Forbes resigned in 1971. In his autobiography A Divided Life he states that "They were years of high hopes, of excitement, often of fulfilment and contrary to what various pundits said after the event, the programme proved a commercial success, returning according to the latest [1992] figures a profit in excess of £16,000,000 on a capital outlay of £4,000,000." During the period 1970–73, when EMI had a short-lived production and distribution deal with the American MGM film company, the facilities were known as the EMI-MGM Elstree Studios.

In 1974, Andrew Mitchell took over from Ian Scott as managing director of the studios but was almost immediately told to close the facility and lay off all the staff. Due to the sterling efforts of Mitchell and the help of John Reed who was on the board of EMI and Alan Sapper the head of the ACTT Union, he turned the studios into a Four Wall facility, which effectively meant reducing the staff to administration, with the exception of the Dubbing facility and having freelance crew being brought in by each production company. This was inevitable due to the changing nature of cinematic styles that relied increasingly on location shooting and the reduced financial involvement of EMI in its own film productions, thus rendering a permanent production staff employed full-time at the facility redundant.

Films shot at the facility over the next few years included the Agatha Christie mystery film Murder on the Orient Express (1974), directed by Sidney Lumet; Ken Russell's Valentino (1977; Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980); Fred Zinnemann's drama film Julia (1977); and most significantly for the studio's immediate survival through a deal brokered by Andrew Mitchell, George Lucas with Star Wars (1977). This led to subsequent Lucas productions such as the Star Wars sequels and Indiana Jones franchise being made at Elstree and also brought in directors Steven Spielberg and Jim Henson. This was the golden era of the construction picture, which essentially required large studio facilities to fulfill the filmmakers' vision, before computer-generated imagery technology and Elstree became synonymous with this kind of picture due to the success of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

In 1979, Thorn Electrical Industries merged with EMI after EMI's debacle with its invention of the Cat Scanner and the studios were renamed Thorn-EMI Elstree Studios.

Cannon, Brent Walker and later

The studios were put up for sale in 1985. A management team beat off all other prospective buyers with the help of Alan Bond but the team had difficulty raising their share of the purchase price and Bond took over. Soon afterwards he sold the studios to the Herron-Cannon Group in 1986. In 1988, Cannon sold the studios to the leisure and property company Brent Walker plc and much of the backlot was sold off and demolished with a Tesco superstore being built on the land.

A "Save Our Studios" campaign was launched in the 1988 by managing director, Andrew Mitchell, local Town Councillor and studio historian Paul Welsh, with the support of many film actors and the general public. Hertsmere Borough Council stepped in and bought the remaining facilities in February 1996 and appointed a management company, Elstree Film & Television Studios Ltd., to run the studios in 2000. The purchase ended an eight-year struggle that was due to have culminated in High Court action. Brent Walker's offer to sell the site to the Council, for an undisclosed sum (but no more than its worth as a film studio), represented a victory for the local authority in upholding the planning agreements that protected the studios.

The studios are now most commonly known for being the home of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and the current location of the Big Brother UK house (previously at Three Mills Studios in Bow, East London). The Big Brother house is actually built on top of the studios' old underwater stage where scenes in The Dam Busters (1955) and Moby-Dick (1956) were filmed. Elstree Film & Television Studios Ltd's lease expired at the end of March 2007.

It was announced in 2012 that the studios would be the temporary home of BBC Studios and Post Production during the redevelopment of Television Centre. Shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Pointless were based on the site from spring 2013. The original plan was for the BBC to move back to refurbished Television Centre studios in 2015, however due to delays in the broader redevelopment of the old Television Centre site in July 2014, the lease was extended until 2017.

Elstree Studios are operated by Elstree Film Studios Ltd, a company controlled by Hertsmere Borough Council. Feature film production continues alongside television production, commercials and pop promos; recent productions include 44" Chest, Bright Star, 1408, Son of Rambow, Amazing Grace, The Other Boleyn Girl, Notes on a Scandal, Breaking and Entering, Flyboys, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Dancing on Ice and Are You Smarter Than A 10 Year Old? for Sky television among many others.

Music videos

  • "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen (1975)
  • "Love Will Prevail" by Maher Zain (2013)
  • References

    Elstree Studios (Shenley Road) Wikipedia