Gainsborough Pictures was a British film studio based on the south bank of the Regent's Canal, in Poole Street, Hoxton in the former Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch, London. Gainsborough Studios were active between 1924 and 1951. The company was initially based at Islington Studios which were built as a power station for the Great Northern & City Railway it was later converted to studios. Other films were made at Lime Grove and Pinewood Studios. The former Islington studios were demolished in 2002 and flats built on the site in 2004. A London Borough of Hackney historical plaque is attached to the building. The studio is best remembered for the Gainsborough melodramas it produced in the 1940s.
Gainsborough was founded in 1924 by Michael Balcon and was a sister company to the Gaumont British from 1927, with Balcon as Director of Production for both studios. Whilst Gaumont-British, based at Lime Grove Studios in Shepherd's Bush produced the 'quality' pictures, Gainsborough mainly produced 'B' movies and melodramas at its Islington Studios. Both studios used continental film practices, especially those from Germany, with Alfred Hitchcock being encouraged by Balcon—who had links with UFA—to study there and make multilingual co-production films with UFA, before the war. In the 1930s, actors Elisabeth Bergner and Conrad Veidt, art director Alfred Junge, cinematographer Mutz Greenbaum and screenwriter/director Berthold Viertel, along with others, joined the two studios.
The studio's opening logo was of a lady (Glennis Lorimer) in a Georgian era period costume sitting in an ornate frame, turning and smiling, based on the famous portrait of Sarah Siddons by Gainsborough. The short piece of music was written by Louis Levy and called Gainsborough Minuet.
After the departure of Balcon to MGM-British, the Rank Organisation gained an interest in Gainsborough and the studio made such popular films as Oh, Mr Porter! (1937) and Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938). By 1937, Gaumont-British were in financial crisis, and closed their Lime Grove studios, moving all production to the Islington Poole Street studio. However, the tall factory chimney on the site was considered dangerous in the event of bombing during World War II, and thus Gainsborough Studios were evacuated to Lime Grove for the duration of hostilities.
From 1942 to 1946, a series of morally ambivalent costume melodramas was produced by Gainsborough for the domestic market. They were mostly based on recent popular books by female novelists. Prominent titles included the The Man in Grey (1943), Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944), Fanny by Gaslight (1944), The Wicked Lady (1945) and Caravan (1946). The films featured a stable of leading British actors, among them Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Stewart Granger and Patricia Roc. The studio also made modern-dress comedies and melodramas such as Love Story (1944), Two Thousand Women (1944), Time Flies (starring Tommy Handley, 1944), Bees in Paradise (with Arthur Askey directed by Val Guest, 1944), They Were Sisters (1945), and Easy Money (1948).
Subsequent productions, overseen by Betty Box (who at the time was the only major female producer in British cinema), included Miranda (1948) and the Huggett family series with Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison, and Petula Clark. Unhappy with the performance of the studio, Rank closed it down in early 1949. Production was concentrated at Pinewood Studios. Although at first films continued to be made there under the Gainsborough banner, this quickly stopped and no further Gainsborough films were released after 1951.
The Lime Grove site was taken over by the BBC in 1949 and used for TV current affairs and other programmes until it was closed in 1991. The buildings were demolished in the early 90s, and replaced with housing called Gaumont Terrace and Gainsborough Court.
The former Islington Studios, in Poole Street, remained largely derelict after their closure in 1951 apart from occasional art performances, including two epic Shakespearean productions by the Almeida Theatre Company, April–July 2000, directed by Jonathan Kent and starring Ralph Fiennes, and a closing Hitchcock season in October 2003.
The buildings began to be cleared in 2002, and apartments named Gainsborough Studios were built on the site in 2004, by architects Munkenbeck and Marshall.
References and notes
- The plaque reads London Borough of Hackney. The Gainsborough Film Studios 1924–1949. Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Balcon, Ivor Novello, Gracie Fields, “The Lady Vanishes”, “The Wicked Lady” worked and were filmed here
- BritMovie biography of the studio accessed 15 April 2007
- BBC's Old London Studios accessed 15 April 2007
- RANK FILM FIRMS WILL BE MERGED: British Leader to Consolidate All Holdings and Establish One Major Company New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 30 Mar 1949: 30.
- The final reel - The Guardian September 27, 2003 accessed 15 April 2007
- Munkenbeck+Marshall architects accessed 15 April 2007[dead link]
- Cook, Pam (ed), Gainsborough Pictures (1997);
- Harper, Sue, Picturing the Past: the Rise and Fall of the British Costume Film (1994);
- Harper, Sue, Women in British Cinema (2000).