BBC Elstree Centre

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For the Shenley Road film & TV studios, see Elstree Studios (Shenley Road).

BBC Elstree Centre, sometimes referred to as BBC Elstree Studios, is a television production facility located on Clarendon Road in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.

The site was the first of several such complexes referred to as "Elstree Studios" located in the area. Originally film studios, in the late 1950s the site was converted for use as a television studio, becoming the main production site for Lew Grade's Associated Television (ATV) franchise for the ITV network. After ATV became Central Television and moved to a new Midlands-based site, it was sold to the BBC in 1984. It is currently a production base for BBC Television with studios run by the BBC's commercial subsidiary BBC Studios and Post Production.

The site includes the external set for the long-running soap opera EastEnders and drama Holby City. With the closure of BBC Television Centre, Studio D at the site has been utilised for many of the BBC's large studio productions such as Children in Need and the BBC's 2015 General Election coverage.[1]

History[edit]

Film studio[edit]

The Neptune Film Company opened the first studios in Borehamwood in 1914. It contained just a single 70ft windowless stage (the first "dark stage" in England), relying on electricity from a gas-powered generator for lighting. At the time, this was an innovation, as the majority of early films were shot in large glass-roof studios which relied on natural light.[2] It was said that Borehamwood was chosen as it had a good London train service but was far enough away to avoid the then-regular London fogs. Production ceased during 1917 and the studio was sold to the Ideal Film Company who used the site up until 1924.[2]

During 1928, the studio was sold to Ludwig Blattner who connected it to the electricity mains and introduced a German system of sound recording. The Blattner Studio was leased to Joe Rock Productions during 1934 and two years later it purchased the site.[2] Rock Productions built four new large stages and began making films including the drama film The Edge of the World (1937), directed by Michael Powell.[2]

The studios were owned by British National Films Company between 1939 and 1948, although during this period a large portion of the studio was taken over by the British government for war work.[2]

During 1953, the studios were bought by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., mainly for television production. Early productions included the Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents series (1953–1957) and a few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The studios were sold to Lew Grade's Associated Television (ATV) in 1958.[2]

ATV[edit]

The original intention of the new owners was to use the facility for production of the affiliated ITC filmed series, and The Adventures of William Tell (1958–59) was produced here, but ATV's existing television studios were insufficient for its requirements. A 7.5-acre site on London's South Bank had been purchased, but completion of a wholly new complex would be some years in the future, while the need for more studio space was urgent. As a result, the Clarendon Road centre was re-equipped as an electronic TV complex and most of ATV's live and recorded shows were made there. The series made by the affiliated ITC, such as The Saint, Gideon's Way, and The Prisoner, were shot on 35 mm film at other companies' neighbouring Elstree facilities or elsewhere.[3]

Originally some ATV programmes were made at the Alpha studios in Aston, Birmingham, as ATV had the weekday Midland franchise as well as the weekend London franchise until 1968. After 1970 programmes such as Crossroads were made at the new Birmingham studios at the ATV Centre. Larger-scale productions, including many drama programmes, continued to be recorded at the Elstree facility for the rest of ATV's existence. In the period of its occupation of the Elstree complex, the smaller Studios A and B were used for schools TV and sitcoms, while Studio C was a drama studio. Studio D, with permanent audience seating, was used for light entertainment programmes[4] such as the ATV Morecambe and Wise series (Two of a Kind, 1961–68) and The Muppet Show (1976–81).[5]

BBC Elstree Centre[edit]

When ATV was restructured as Central Independent Television in 1982, one of the conditions of its licence renewal by the governing body of the ITV network, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, was that ATV should vacate any London-based facilities and become more focused on the Midlands, the region of the United Kingdom for which it held the ITV franchise. The studios remained in operation by Central up until July 1983 (the final production under Central ownership being a Max Bygraves-era episode of Family Fortunes), when its new main production centre in Nottingham was completed. When the BBC bought the Elstree site in 1984 to produce its new soap opera EastEnders (first aired on 19 February 1985), it did not purchase the equipment within the building.[6]

As a consequence, studio technicians were instructed to make the equipment inoperable. When the BBC moved in it repaired the less-damaged equipment, sometimes using spare parts from the same pieces of equipment that the BBC inherited. The EMI 2001 television cameras used in studios 3 and 4 at BBC Television Centre, Shepherd's Bush, were moved into the newly renamed "BBC Elstree Centre", along with ATV/Central's old EMI 2001s that were repairable. Meanwhile, the BBC replaced the BBC Television Centre studio 3 and 4 cameras with Link 125 tube cameras. Elstree kept the EMI 2001s up until 1991. Elstree's first new cameras were to be Thomson TTV-1531s, one of the last plumbicon-tubed cameras to be made – being replaced in the mid-1990s with Thomson TTV-1542 and TTV-1647 lightweight cameras using the then-new camera technology of CCDs. Widescreen was introduced in 1999 using Philips/Thomson LDK 100s.[2]

Buildings[edit]

Fairbanks, with its distinctive green-tiled roof is the oldest surviving building on the site, part of the studios constructed during the 1930s.[2] It sits adjacent to the largest studio, Studio D.

Neptune House was built during the 1960s and has a glass-fronted entrance. Neptune House has featured in several popular television series, including as the school in Grange Hill, and since 1999, as the hospital reception for Holby City. In 1989 a purpose-built set was constructed for Grange Hill at the back of the building, but was dismantled in 2002 when the series left Elstree. Neptune House could be seen in the opening titles to Gerry Anderson's science-fiction series UFO (1970) as Harlington - Straker Film Studios, the (literal) cover for the secret and below ground headquarters of SHADO. The hospital "wards" in Holby City are actually the top floor of Neptune House, fully kitted out allowing genuine outside views from the windows. The building's staircases are seen almost constantly in the series.

The exterior set for the fictional East London setting Albert Square in Eastenders is located in the permanent backlot at 51°39′32″N 0°16′40″W / 51.65889°N 0.27778°W / 51.65889; -0.27778. Originally constructed in 1984, the set is outdoors and open to the elements and by 2010 was looking increasingly shabby. It was rebuilt for high definition on the same site in 2013-14, using mostly real brick with some areas using a new improved plastic brick. Throughout rebuilding filming would still take place, and so scaffolding was often seen on screen during the process, with some story lines written to accommodate the rebuilding, such as the Queen Vic fire.[7] In January 2014, the BBC announced on the EastEnders website that the set has been approved to be expanded by twenty percent, on the same site, with a temporary set to be constructed to be used for filming while the current set is expanded.[8]

Productions[edit]

BBC productions[edit]

Other productions[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ BBC Studios and Post Production website, URL accessed 6 November 2015
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h BBC Elstree at TV Studio History, URL accessed 6 November 2015
  3. ^ Louis Barfe, Turned Out Nice Again: The Story of British Light Entertainment, London: Atlantic Books, 2008, pp.122-23
  4. ^ Barfe Turned Out Nice Again], p.108
  5. ^ Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography, London: Random House, 2013, p.126
  6. ^ "Chronomedia: 1984", terramedia.co.uk
  7. ^ Green, Kris (22 June 2010). "'EastEnders' pub to burn down in blaze". Digital Spy. London: Hachette Filipacchi UK. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  8. ^ "EastEnders set expansion". BBC. 
  9. ^ "TOTP to quit Elstree studios", Broadcast, 20 October 2000
  10. ^ "TOTP editor plots fresh pops", BBC News, 18 October 2001

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°39′35″N 0°16′29″W / 51.65972°N 0.27472°W / 51.65972; -0.27472