BBC Elstree Centre

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BBC Elstree Centre, sometimes referred to as BBC Elstree Studios, is a television production facility located on Eldon Avenue 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 Studioworks.

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 Eldon Avenue 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. For the last 18 months of its use as an ITV production studio, they were under the ownership of Central Independent Television as ATV ceased to exist as a company at the end of 31 December 1981. 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]

Some sources state that as a consequence, Central's studio technicians were instructed to make the equipment left behind inoperable (there are particular claims about the camera prisms being smashed). Other sources dispute this, claiming the equipment was already so old and worthless there would have been no gain in intentionally disabling it. When the BBC moved in, it repaired equipment that was not beyond repair, sometimes using spare parts from identical pieces of equipment already in BBC use. The EMI 2001 television cameras used in studio 3 at BBC Television Centre, Shepherd's Bush, were moved into the newly renamed "BBC Elstree Centre" as part of that studio's refurbishment, instead of being stripped down for spare parts. Central's old EMI 2001s were considered to be beyond economic repair by BBC staff sent to examine the site, regardless of whether they had been intentionally disabled or not by Central employees. Meanwhile, the BBC replaced the BBC Television Centre studio 3 cameras with Link 125 tube cameras. Elstree kept the EMI 2001s 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. It has featured in several popular television series, including as the school in Grange Hill, and since 1999, as the hospital reception for Holby City. A purpose-built set was constructed for Grange Hill at the back of the building in 1989, but was dismantled when the series left Elstree in 2002. Neptune House can be seen in the opening titles of 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.

Backlot[edit]

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; by 2010, it 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]

Studios[edit]

Of the seven large studios on site, all are operated by BBC Studioworks. However, only one (Studio D) is available for hire, the other six being dedicated to EastEnders. There are also a number of smaller studios used for the filming of Holby City.

Studio A[edit]

66 x 62 metric feet within firelanes

Part of the EastEnders studio facilities. It has an overhang in one corner with production galleries above, but these areas are no longer used.

Studio B[edit]

70 x 62 metric feet within firelanes

Part of the EastEnders studio facilities. Like A, C and D, it has an overhang in one corner with production galleries above. The original gallery facilities have been modified into two separate production galleries for use on EastEnders, and both can control any of the studios on site (other than Studio D) plus the backlot.

Studio C[edit]

102 x 68 metric ft within firelanes

Part of the EastEnders studio facilities. Like A, B and D, it has an overhang in one corner with production galleries above. The original gallery facilities have been converted into a switching and engineering area for BBC News' election broadcasts[9].

Studio D[edit]

100 x 64 metric feet within firelanes (11,800 sqft)

The only studio on site available for hire via BBC Studioworks,[10] this is a large light-entertainment studio with permanent audience seating along one wall. Like A, B and C, it has an overhang in one corner with production galleries above. The adjacent Studio E, which is 1,134 sqft, is used as props handling.

Stage 1[edit]

154 x 60 metric feet outside firelanes

Part of the EastEnders studio facilities. It includes a number of control rooms and associated facilities along one wall, which can control the backlot plus any of the studios on site (other than Studio D). This is the home of the standing sets of The Queen Victoria and the cafe.

Stage 2[edit]

Part of the EastEnders studio facilities. Located in the same complex as Stage 1 and 3.

Stage 3[edit]

Part of the EastEnders studio facilities. Located in the same complex as Stage 1 and 2.

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 Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine. 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. ^ "Political Broadcasting". BBC Studioworks. BBC Studioworks. Retrieved 20 June 2018. 
  10. ^ "Elstree HD TV Studios". BBC Studioworks. BBC Studioworks. Retrieved 20 June 2018. 
  11. ^ "TOTP to quit Elstree studios", Broadcast, 20 October 2000
  12. ^ "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