London's independent TV studios
Some of the studios below are loosely associated with the history of ITV or Channel 4. However, they were not directly connected with them - each coming into service for its own unique reason. In some cases they have been around for many years and continue to provide useful facilities to the industry. Sadly, some of the smaller ones are no longer with us - the cost of converting to HD from around 2008 - 2012 forced them to close.
studios listed below in the order they originally opened:
(Riverside Studios are covered on the BBC studios page)
(Fountain and MTV studios are covered on the ITV studios page)
Who invented television?
We will shortly begin with the studios belonging to John Logie Baird, the Scot whom most people living in the UK think was the inventor of television. Well... sort of. The idea that he alone came up with this extraordinary invention and that without his tabletop experiments with ladies' hat boxes, lenses made from bicycle lamps and even on one messy occasion - a real human eye, we would all still be gathered around the wireless of an evening is not, sadly, entirely the case. However, credit where it is due, he was the first to make a mechanical system of scanning recognisable moving images work over a short distance - and soon afterwards, very long distances using radio.
Experiments attempting to scan images using slots in spinning discs were being made as early as 1884 by a German called Paul Nipkow but to be fair to Baird, he couldn't make it work. Others around the world tried using similar systems - indeed the word 'television' was first used by a Franco-Russian inventor in 1900. In 1909 Rignoux and Fournier successfully transmitted an 8x8 pixel image - but frankly, that's not exactly a high definition picture and in any case, being French we cannot possibly give them any credit.
In 1911 Vladimir Zworykin (he will crop up again later) and Boris Rosing developed a mechanical drum system using mirrors but it could only transmit static images as the apparatus had a great deal of lag. However, they were by then using an early form of cathode ray tube (CRT) to display the image which was a significant advance.
By the mid 1920s there were at least nine teams trying to make it all work. In the Soviet Union Léon Theremin developed a system with 16 lines in 1925, 64 lines in 1926 and 100 lines in 1927. (He was also the inventor of the extraordinary eponymous musical instrument heard on the soundtrack of 1950s sci-fi films. He later perhaps more usefully developed the system of interlacing television lines.) In Japan, Kenjiro Takayanagi demonstrated a 40 line system in December 1925. In Hungary, Kálmán Tihanyi developed an early prototype electronic camera tube as early as 1926. The United States had the companies RCA, General Electric and Bell - with Zworykin now working for Westinghouse - plus two individuals operating independently, named Charles Francis Jenkins and Philo T Farnsworth (more on him later) - whilst in the UK was our very own J L Baird.
In his excellent book One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson explains that Jenkins was possibly the first person to realise the full potential of television - or 'radiovisor' as he called it. Others assumed it would simply have a scientific or security application but he predicted that people would sit at home watching dramas, entertainment shows and travel documentaries all in the comfort of their own front room. Although he formed a company worth more than $10m, he failed to make his invention work successfully. His 48-line system only managed to create silhouettes of images in 1923 and never achieved the multiple shades of grey necessary for a workable picture.
In October 1925 Baird was probably the first to get a recognisable grey-scale image to be displayed on a monitor screen. It was a face - actually a very disturbing ventriloquist puppet named 'Stooky Bill.' The lights used to illuminate it were so strong that the heat singed its hair and cracked its 'skin' making it all the more grotesque. I would include a photo but I don't want you to have nightmares. Instead, here's a picture of a human being, as seen on Baird's screen:
He continued to develop his 30 line system to its practical limits - limited by the size of the spinning disc required to create an image big enough to be seen at any sensible distance. Even so, the largest screen he managed to achieve was only three inches by two and a half (about the size of a smartphone). Nevertheless, the world's press was duly astonished when on 8th September 1927 he transmitted live moving pictures from Leeds to London and then from London to Glasgow. In 1928 he even transmitted the first transatlantic live TV signal between London and New York. In November, along with Bernard Natan, Baird established France's first television company, but we won't dwell on that.
The BBC experimented with Baird's system, (see this website's section on Broadcasting House) whilst Baird himself moved on to other developments. He knew that the mechanical system could never be adopted widely and concentrated on a technique involving a film camera with a rapid development process and flying spot telecine machine to create a 240-line electronic signal within a minute or so. Not quite live then - but almost. Still, his invention of the telecine machine was genuinely ground-breaking and in various modified forms would be used worldwide for decades, enabling films to be shown on television.
Meanwhile, in America, let's wind back just a few years. In 1921, the 15 year old Philo T Farnsworth (isn't that just the best name ever?) was ploughing his father's field when he had a blinding flash of scientific realisation. Not just a farmer's son, he was academically brilliant and had been reading Einstein's theory on electrons and their photo-electric effect. Looking at the 'scanned' field he had ploughed, he realised that a television picture could be made up using electronic lines in a similar fashion. He showed a drawing with some detailed notes to his chemistry teacher, who was so impressed that he kept them - but of course nothing was done at the time to develop this theory. Nevertheless, these drawings were later to prove extremely valuable.
Once he was 20, he formed a partnership with a couple of young businessmen he met by chance, who invested all the money they had into his invention. He filed his first patents in January 1927. The equipment all had to be built from scratch but by September his team were able to transmit their first 'image.' It was only 1 line, so hardly impressive to any uninformed observer, but it proved the system would work. By 1929 he was producing the first live images of people using an electronically scanned system. Soon afterwards he was producing images of 150 lines, far superior to anything anyone else was achieving. Unfortunately, his 'image dissector' camera was very insensitive to light so the system needed more work before it could be commercially adopted.
Much of Farnsworth's work was patented - he had 165 of them - but of course, many people learnt of his achievements and tried to copy them. What he lacked was the huge financial backing required to make it all work commercially on a large scale. However, as can be seen below, he did try.
Meanwhile, to cut a very complicated story short, Russian immigrant to the USA Vladimir Zworykin was similarly gifted - he had presented his idea for a purely electronic TV system to the head of Westinghouse in 1923. It was rejected. By 1931 he was working with RCA to develop his plans into an electronically scanned TV system, just like Farnsworth's. He utilised some of the early research carried out by the Hungarian inventor Tihanyi to produce the first version of his Iconoscope camera. Unfortunately, most of the patents were held by Farnsworth and Zworykin was still struggling to make it all work properly, despite colossal investment from RCA. Farnsworth, meanwhile, was attempting to increase the sensitivity of his Image Dissector camera and make his system commercially viable.
The story goes that Zworykin visited Farnsworth, who assumed that RCA wished to pay him a lot of money to license his technology. He demonstrated everything to Zworykin and explained how it all worked. Following the visit, RCA are said to have made huge advances in their development. Unfortunately however, the offer to buy Farnsworth's patents was not made at the time but later they did put forward a sum of $100,000 for everything, which Farnsworth refused as being derisory. He was effectively broke and sold his company to Philco.
Sadly, the battle between RCA and Farnsworth went on for years - they maintained that a 15 year old could not possibly have come up with the ideas that had eluded some of America's greatest brains - but fortunately his chemistry teacher had kept those drawings and of course he still held the patents. A court ruled that Farnsworth was 'the undisputed inventor of television.' RCA eventually agreed to pay Farnsworth royalties over a ten year period and from 1939 they began to officially incorporate his technology into their products.
In Britain, EMI was formed in March 1931 from a merger between HMV and Columbia. Although both were music publishers and record manufacturers they also had teams developing consumer electronics. Isaac Shoenberg (another Russian émigré but this one living in the UK) had been with Columbia and now, as the new head of EMI's research department, assembled a team of 114 engineers and scientists to develop a working television system.
Many of them came from some of the best scientific establishments in the country and included Alan Blumlein - previously head of research at HMV (he would go on to file a new patent about every 6 weeks during his working life with EMI.) He defined the 405 line TV waveforms that the BBC would use, amongst many other achievements. Gerhard Lubszynski came from Germany, where he had been persecuted by the Nazis. James McGee and William F Tedham concentrated on creating a camera. In 1932 they applied for a British patent for the Emitron tube which they had developed into a fully working camera by 1934.
Also in 1934, EMI formed a partnership with Marconi, who specialised in manufacturing transmitters but who also had an arrangement with RCA in America to share patents. The team thus now had full access to all the work done there. There are two schools of thought about how useful this was to the EMI team. One has it that they took the RCA Iconoscope camera design and tweaked it to create the Emitron. However, they had already filed patents for the Emitron two years earlier so it seems more likely that access to the RCA Iconoscope may have merely helped them modify their design and further improve it, rather than simply copying it. In any event, accounts state that the Emitron was the superior camera.
In 1934 the German company Telefunken also struck a deal with RCA and Zworykin and using his technology they began to develop a TV system of their own.
In 1935 the combined Marconi-EMI team, headed by Shoenberg, announced they were concentrating on developing a 405-line interlaced system using Emitron cameras ready for the BBC's regular broadcasts from Alexandra Palace. These began in November 1936.
Early in 1937, the Marconi-EMI team improved the Emitron camera considerably in its resolution and shading. In November that same year, thanks to a brilliant development by Gerhard Lubszynski, the Super Emitron was introduced, which was many times times more sensitive than the original Emitron. This breakthrough transformed the way programmes could be made in the studio and on outside broadcasts. Lighting levels were not much more than those used today and it was possible to simply take cameras into a West End theatre and transmit the play using the theatre's stage lighting - once again, much as happens today with live cinema relays. The Super Emitron was in use from 1937 to the early 1950s (there was of course no television in the UK between 1939 and 1946.) After the war, EMI and Marconi continued to lead the world in TV camera design for many years.
So who invented television? Well, all of the above but Baird produced the first recognisable television pictures and the telecine machine, Tihanyi invented the charge storage camera tube, Farnsworth invented the principle of electronic television, Zworykin invented it too but had to use techniques developed by Farnsworth to make it work, Theremin invented interlacing and Shoenberg and his brilliant team at Marconi-EMI developed a working system with a camera that enabled programme makers to produce the kind of shows we still watch today.
If I had to pick one of them - I'd say the EMI team were the most influential. They started from scratch in 1931 and by 1937 they had created the most technically advanced television system of any available at that time. Without them it's hard to imagine how the BBC could have established a television service that became the envy of the world - a reputation that it still just about holds onto today.
Crystal Palace - John Logie Baird's independent studio centre.
1933 - 1939
John Logie Baird was born in 1888 in Helensburgh, Scotland. Voted No. 44 in the BBC's list of 100 Greatest Britons, he is one of those names that almost everyone has heard of. Inventor of mechanical television he also invented the flying spot telecine machine, a version of colour television, 600-line HDTV, 1000-line 3D television, live TV relays of sport events to cinema - and insulated socks. The socks came before all the TV stuff: he suffered from cold feet and developed a patented system which he marketed for a number of years. He also invented non-rusting razor blades but these were made of glass and sadly were prone to breaking.
It's easy to poke fun at some of his early enterprises but he was genuinely one of those slightly eccentric but quite brilliant people who never stop thinking about how things could be made better. Television is of course what made his name but most people perhaps don't realise that he had his own fully operational studio centre in south London at Crystal Palace way before the BBC established their somewhat smaller studio centre in north London at Alexandra Palace. The man was clearly a genius.
There are many excellent websites and books detailing Baird's life and achievements which I would recommend tracking down. The subject of this website is television studios so I shall attempt now to summarise what he created at Crystal Palace. Actually, not quite yet because first I should mention his previous studio at 133 Long Acre.
The original Crystal Palace had been built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was only intended to be temporary but when the exhibition ended there was a public clamour to keep the building and move it elsewhere. The top of a hill in Sydenham, south London seemed ideal so it was indeed dismantled, transported and rebuilt, opening in November 1854. It was, however, even grander than before. Its architect, Joseph Paxton, redesigned it and increased its height from three stories to five, also adding new wings at each end. The enormous building was set in spectacular gardens, the centrepiece of which was an ornamental pond with a fountain that spouted 200 feet high. To achieve this feat, two water towers were constructed, one at each end of the building.
These water towers were engineering marvels in their own right since they had to support an immense weight of water and allow it to flow at the rate necessary for the fountains to gush to the required height. They went to the best engineer of the day - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, no less - and he delivered the goods. One of the towers may be seen in the background of the image above. Now you may be wondering what has all this to do with Mr Baird's television service? All is about to become clear.
The towers were 275 feet high and were hence an ideal mounting for fixing transmission aerials. Since the building was on a hill the aerials would be 680 feet above sea level giving a line of sight 'view' of seven counties. Thus Baird decided that this would become the location for his new headquarters. One of the towers would provide a fixing point for his aerials and in the wing of the building below was a large space available to let. His company moved here in July 1933.
(It may not have escaped your notice that only three years later, the BBC would be using a very similar 'palace' - also on top of a hill - but this time a few miles north of central London and would build a 200 foot tower on top of it to enable their transmitter aerials to be almost the same height. Fancy that.)
The Post Office, known as the GPO in those days, was responsible for issuing licences to broadcast. They were happy to do so but thought they had better inform the BBC just in case they had a view. Rather surprisingly, Sir John Reith, the Director General, did approve but on the understanding that nothing that was broadcast would look like an independent television service. Baird's people must have worked very hard to give reassurance on this score because no objection was raised by the BBC. In fact, of course, a public independent TV service was exactly what they had in mind.
What was constructed was quite extraordinary.
Baird Television Ltd leased 40,000 sq feet under the south transept in which studios, offices and laboratories were constructed. Later, the south rotunda was also leased, increasing the size to 60,000 sq feet. A transmitter was installed within the south tower and aerials fitted at the top. No less than 380 people were now employed by the company.
The BTL facility contained three studios, the largest of which was 60ft x 40ft. There was also a small 'spotlight' studio for continuity. This was a room in which the announcer sat in complete darkness. A spot of light scanned the person's face and this produced the image. This was a very ingenious system but as we can see from our 21st century perspective, not very practical. Still, it worked and produced a perfectly acceptable picture on the viewer's screen.
Baird by now had moved on from his mechanical disc system which was impractical if high resolution pictures were to be created. His greatest achievement actually was in scanning techniques as described above and as used to turn an image on film into an electronic signal. Thus, his studios made use of the 'Intermediate Film System' a technique whereby a film camera loaded with 17.5mm stock was focused on a scene in wideshot. The film was passed out of the camera and was processed in a bath of cyanide in less than a minute and whilst still wet was scanned by a flying spot device, thus producing an electronic signal that could be transmitted and received. Thus, the pictures produced were not exactly live but with only a one minute delay, as good as.
OK - there were clear limitations. The camera was huge and impossible to move, since it was physically connected to the developing and scanning system. Apart from anything, this meant that its use on outside broadcasts would be a challenge to say the least. However, the novelty of ordinary people seeing moving pictures in their own living room gave this system a chance of success, however brief.
Of course, other companies were working on their own television systems in the USA, in Germany and in the UK. In Britain, EMI was developing technology that was purely electronic using relatively small and mobile cameras, which could be cut and mixed electronically. That system was aiming towards 405 lines as opposed to BTL's rather more modest 120 lines at that time. However, the EMI system was purely in the experimental stage and in 1933 Baird's was up and running with a studio centre almost ready to transmit a whole evening's viewing.
In 1934 EMI teamed up with the Marconi company who were experts in transmitters in order to develop that side of their system. Marconi also had access to television patents of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) including those for Zworykin's electronic camera tube, the Iconoscope. EMI had already developed their own very good camera - the Emitron - but access to the RCA patents enabled them to improve it further.
Baird's answer to this was to make a deal with Philo T Farnsworth, RCA's great rival in America (see the section above on 'who invented television'.) Farnsworth agreed to make his electronic Image Dissector camera design available to BTL. This unfortunately was not as sophisticated as the Iconoscope and required much more light to make it work. However, it did give Baird a foot in the electronic door, so to speak, and although not very practical in 1934, in future years he would develop this technology further.
Baird was quite open about how his system was developing and the work of the company was freely publicised. In contrast, the work being done by other companies was carried out in great secrecy. Actually, Baird was no fool and whenever photographs of his equipment were taken he would add or remove crucial parts to throw competitors off the scent. Thus, the photos that exist of his early cameras and equipment are often quite misleading.
The Baird system improved in 1934 and the resolution increased to 180 lines. John Reith was invited to a demonstration at the Gaumont-British offices where telecine and live camera sources, transmitted from the BTL studios at Crystal Palace, were received using a cathode ray tube (CRT) made by GEC. The company was already using CRT technology for receivers that would essentially not change in principle until flat plasmas and LCD screens came in around the turn of the century. What was particularly impressive was the flying spot system of scanning film. EMI were still using a mechanical system at the time. Sadly, Reith failed to turn up. His distaste for television is well-known so perhaps this was no surprise.
In a further development, Baird television sets began to be manufactured in a nearby part of the Crystal Palace building. The 'Baird' brand would continue to be seen on TVs for many years hence. Meanwhile, work continued in the studios in preparation to commence broadcasting a regular independent service.
Not surprisingly, John Reith and the BBC eventually began to wake up to the possibility that a private company was about to begin a regular television service and they were nothing to do with it. In fact, the BBC were still carrying on with their 30-line experiments in Broadcasting House. A meeting was held on 5th April 1934 between the BBC and the GPO to decide what the future arrangements would be concerning television. In the great tradition of the British establishment - a committee was set up, headed by a peer of the realm, Lord Selsdon, who would report back and advise the Postmaster General on matters concerning television.
Meanwhile, at Crystal Palace, they were almost ready to begin a regular service. A new very powerful VHF transmitter was installed in December 1934 that could cover the whole of London and well beyond - to a distance of about 30 miles.
Lord Selsdon's committee reported in January 1935. Knowing that Baird Television were about to begin but also aware of the pressure from Marconi-EMI, they proposed a television service that would transmit alternately, using the different systems. Perhaps to take the wind out of the Marconi-EMI sails, reporters were invited to visit Crystal Palace the day following the announcement. They were clearly astonished at the scale of the enterprise and indeed by the quality of the pictures. More than one reporter commented that it was pointless having the BBC build a new television studio centre in north London when everything that was needed was already there in south London. No doubt this was exactly the reaction that Baird was hoping for.
BTL proceeded to broadcast an 'experimental' service from then on. Between February and June 1935 over forty 180-line 'demonstration' transmissions were made from Crystal Palace. These generally ran for two hours, with several programmes involved. At the same time, the BBC continued with its 30-line service from Portland Place. This may have seemed a bizarre decision, but because the signals were of low definition the pictures could be sent on long waves which could be received all over the UK and even in parts of continental Europe. These transmissions ceased in September 1935, leaving Baird's Crystal Palace service the only working television system available.
BTL knew that once people saw the clarity of the 405-line EMI system they would be in serious trouble so they worked hard to increase their system's resolution. A BTL research team headed by the company's Technical Director, ADG West, developed a 240-line 25 Hz system. This began to be used for transmissions from Crystal Palace in November 1935 and continued until the new BBC studios at Alexandra Palace began test broadcasts in August 1936.
On November 2nd 1936 the BBC began the world's first regular 'high definition' television service from Alexandra Palace. The important word here is 'regular.' Up until now the BBC's and Baird's broadcasts had been irregular and experimental. The new BBC service used the Baird and EMI systems on alternate weeks. The BBC at that time termed 'high definition' as being anything over 240 lines. (Today's HD channels transmit 1080 lines.)
Thus, the studios at Crystal Palace were no longer needed. They had served their purpose as experimental studios, training the staff and crews on learning how to make programmes, how to link them with continuity announcements and how to overcome all the inevitable technical breakdowns that come with using cutting edge technology. However, the company was still busy. The real money in television was to be made from selling TV receivers. At the factory in Crystal Palace they produced dual-standard sets that could receive both systems.
Things were not going too well at Alexandra Palace, however. It was immediately clear to those making the programmes that the Baird Intermediate Camera System using only one static camera was nothing like as flexible as the EMI system where three cameras could track around the studio, moving in for close-ups and developing round a set or artist. The system was proving technically unreliable too. Bubbles in the cyanide developing bath were affecting both picture and sound. They did briefly experiment with the electronic camera developed by the American inventor, Philo Farnsworth, but as mentioned above it was found to be too insensitive.
Just as it looked as though things could not be going worse, on 30th November fire broke out at Crystal Palace and most of the building was destroyed. The studios and surrounding areas were completely ruined so many spares and much other equipment was lost. To cap it all, within a couple of weeks the BBC prematurely ended the trial of the two systems at AP. They decided to equip both studios with EMI cameras.
Fortunately, not quite all of the Crystal Palace building had been destroyed. Luckily, the television set factory was undamaged as was the plant manufacturing CRT tubes. The insurance money also enabled work to continue on the Gaumont-British system to transmit newsreels via TV to cinemas. Baird also worked on his colour TV system. A small studio was built on a lower floor of the water tower, which had also survived the fire, and experimental colour broadcasts were thus transmitted from Crystal Palace. This development was demonstrated in February 1938 at the Dominion Theatre where images were projected onto a large screen.
In September 1939 war was declared and BTL was wound up. However, a new company - Cinema Television was formed. Many of the former BTL technical staff, including Captain West, joined the new company. This later became CinTel and after being bought by the Rank Organisation became the leading company in flying-spot technology producing telecine machines for all the world's broadcasters. This system was directly descended from Baird's research. Rank Cintel also took over the cathode ray tube factory from BTL and during the war they manufactured over 100,000 CRTs for radar display screens.
After BTL had been wound up in late 1939, Baird himself continued his research independently, drawing on his savings. He produced a 600-line colour projection system and in 1944 an all-electronic colour receiver tube called the Telechrome. The earlier colour system was further refined to produce high definition stereoscopic images in colour. Quite extraordinary. In fact, of course, it would be 1966 before colour television eventually began in the UK and we had to wait until 2010 for a stereoscopic 3D channel to begin regular broadcasts.
In 1944/45 Baird was taken on as a consultant to Hammersmith Studios (later to become Riverside Studios). They were interested in developing his system for showing events on giant TV screens in cinemas. How appropriate therefore that on 8th March 2008 those studios were the venue for a fascinating experiment, of which Baird would certainly have approved! It was the world's first live 3D high definition screening of a sporting event via satellite - a rugby match as it happens. It is astonishing that it was over 60 years before the technologies that Baird was developing eventually came together.
In 1944 the British government set up a committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Hankey, to look into the prospects for television after the war. Testimony was received from many sources in the BBC and the television industry - and one private individual, John Logie Baird. He recommended that within a few years the British system should move to high definition (1000 lines), colour and eventually stereoscopic television. This of course has happened, though not quite in that order and over a far slower time frame than Baird anticipated.
Sadly, Baird died in 1946 before he could see just how important television would become throughout the world.
Information for the above section is taken from various sources but I am particularly indebted to two people. Firstly, Richard G Elen, who has written an article that can be found on www.transdiffusion.org/emc/baird/baird_itv.php. A visit to the site is highly recommended for a more in-depth analysis.
I have also been contacted by Baird's son, Malcolm, who has been kind enough to send me corrections and further information. Along with Antony Kamm he has co-authored a biography of his father - 'John Logie Baird: a life' - which is well worth reading. More information can be discovered on the website run by Malcolm - www.bairdtelevision.com.
The Scala Theatre - the television theatre that never was.
In 1964 the Beatles made their first film - A Hard Day's Night. Much of the film is centred on a television show being recorded in a 'television theatre'. We see many shots of the stage and auditorium as well as backstage. On each side of the auditorium is a control room with windows overlooking the stalls. On stage are four EMI 203 cameras and we can see the shots they are taking on the monitors in the production gallery.
In fact this was all created for the film and the scenes were shot over a week. Possibly the Scala might have made a good TV theatre but it was at the time an ordinary theatre, famous for its annual Christmas show of Peter Pan. It was sited in Charlotte Street, off Tottenham Court Road. Sadly, it was demolished in 1969.
One wonders why the filmmakers did not use an existing television theatre. At the time, London had the BBC TV Theatre, Granada's Chelsea Palace and the Granville was also available as an independent studio. However, for whatever reason they chose to create a fully working studio just for the film.
1965 - 2005
This centre was located in in Bushey, near Watford. For forty years it was unique amongst London's TV studios since although it was fitted out to full broadcast standards with two TV studios and two radio studios, it was not built to make programmes for any of the main network channels.
photo by Mike Emery
J Arthur Rank was well known as a very influential figure in the British movie industry, at one time owning several of London's film studios including Denham and Pinewood. His father had been a very successful miller and that company, which Arthur inherited, became the giant Rank Hovis McDougall. His company - The Rank Organisation - also went on to own 619 cinemas. As well as having a passion for film he was a hard-nosed businessman and his company took over several other businesses involved in the entertainment industry. Literally tens of thousands of people were working directly or indirectly for The Rank Organisation when it was at its height in the sixties and seventies.
What is perhaps not so well known is that he was a devout Christian and very active in the Methodist church. His original intention was that the films he produced should display good family values and be a counter to the 'bad' influence of Hollywood. Whether all his commercially made films actually achieved this aim is debatable and to counter such criticism, Rank also directly funded films with moral or Christian themes that could be shown in churches and Sunday Schools. Building on this he set up a trust in 1953 that later became the Rank Foundation. This organisation provided funding for the promotion of Christian belief. Rank considered that with the expansion of the influence of television it was essential that the Christian message should be promoted using this medium as professionally as possible.
During the '60s and '70s both the BBC and ITV broadcast religious programmes - usually late at night (e.g. The Epilogue) and for an hour or two on Sunday evenings. These programmes often included contributions from people working in various churches - not just the Methodist Church of course - and there was a perceived need to train these individuals so that on screen they would appear confident, professional and at ease.
Another requirement was to produce television programmes that could be shown to church members in their own premises on tape or 16mm film. These could be used as a basis for discussion or study.
To fulfill these needs, in 1959 the Rank Foundation set up CTVC - the Churches Television and Radio Centre - which established its base at Hillside Studios in 1965.
Following the death of Rank in 1972, Hillside expanded its activity to include general training in various aspects of television directing, interviewing and presenting. There were a number of radio courses too that were very popular with those looking for a career in the rapidly expanding world of local radio. The technical crews were a mix of staff, freelancers and a number of BBC and ITV staff who regularly topped up their salaries with a bit of moonlighting. Dave Mundy recalls that one of the reasons he enjoyed working here was that he was provided with free lunch, tea, coffee and sometimes even beer. Sounds like good Christian charity in practice to me.
As well as the training activities and making of material for churches, there was some programme making that was broadcast too. CTVC Productions was a production company that as early as the 1970s was making religious programmes here for the BBC and ITV. They also sold programmes to American TV companies - in 1976 Project the Right Image won the Silver Screen Award.
In 1972 the centre converted its studios to colour and re-equipped with Marconi Mk VIII cameras. Programmes were recorded on an Ampex 2" quad machine and some were later transferred onto 16mm film or onto video cassettes for distribution. In the 1980s the cameras were replaced with Hitachi Sk-970s and Z31s.
During the 1990s and into the next decade CTVC developed its programme making capability and sold religious programmes to the BBC, ITV, C4, Five and for transmission on US channels such as Discovery. These programmes included single factual documentaries and series as well as light entertainment music specials and studio discussion shows. Of course, not all of these were studio programmes but many were based here and used the facilities for post production. However, as the years went by it became clear that the studios themselves were less and less important to the core activity of the organization. Their website explains what happened...
Hillside has now been redeveloped into 22 'exquisitely refurbished' apartments. I'm quoting the developer's website, obviously.
TVR/TVI - Windmill St and Whitfield St
mid '60s - 1989?
Television Recordings Ltd was a small company set up in the mid 1960s to provide videotape recording facilities at 9-11, Windmill St. They were used by the BBC and ITV companies to record and edit programmes. This was at a time when videotape machines were very expensive indeed and the main TV companies could not afford to buy many for themselves. Occasionally they would find themselves short so they rented time on the machines owned by TVR. The programme was thus sent from the studio down the line to Windmill Street in Soho where it was recorded remotely.
However, as it was generally easier for the TV companies to use their own in house VTRs for production and editing work, the TVR videotape machines were often used to put the programmes to air. Chris Patten (no, not that one - another Chris Patten) has written to me and tells me that he can remember on more than one evening walking down the corridor and watching three adjacent VTRs transmit the network programmes to air for BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV. At that moment the whole of UK television was originating from a small facility in Windmill Street.
TVR's claim to fame was that it was the first non-broadcast company to have video and audio circuits to the Post Office (now BT) Tower. To take advantage of this, they fitted out a small studio at Windmill Street (hence its inclusion here) which was used for interviews and talking heads. It was very small with a low ceiling (see photo above) - but was used on many occasions by both the BBC and various ITV companies.
The studio was also used by ITN for their news bulletin for a period up to the launch of their flagship News at Ten programme which began in July 1967. They used their own studio to build the News at Ten set and then did weeks of rehearsal from it, all the time putting out their regular late evening news service from TVR.
Incidentally, it seems that other companies were linked with TVR - Geoff Hale has pointed out that there were ads in the TV Cinema and Radio Advertising Directory for 1968/69 for companies called 'Tape Commercials' and 'Television Applications Ltd' or simply TAL. Intriguingly, they claim to have 3 studios of 225, 2,000 and 3,000 sq ft available. One wonders where these might have been. The 225 sq ft one is presumably the Windmill St studio but as for the other two...?
In September 1968 TVR did indeed open two larger studios round the corner in Whitfield Street but not of the sizes indicated above. The address was 38/42, 38/46 or 44/46 - various ads in trade papers use all these addresses! A company called Television West One was also based here and was part of the TVR group. Geoff Hale has helpfully confirmed the studios' location. The photo below shows Margaret Thatcher being interviewed in 1974 on the pavement outside the studio. The road opposite is Scala Street (the old Scala Theatre was down there on the right.) A street map dated 1953 shows the building from which this photo was taken as a printing works and has the address 42-46 Whitfield Street. (The building has since been redeveloped.)
After a while, the first studio at Windmill St reverted to its use as a meeting room. It seems that the main studio here was originally equipped with three Marconi MkIV cameras. These were later replaced with Philips LDK3s (also known as PC-80s in some parts of the world).
One source has a studio at 40ft x 25ft (1,000sq ft) but according to an advert for 'Wynne Film Productions' (a company also apparently linked to TVR), the main studio here was 50ft x 40ft (2,000 sq ft). However, a rate card from the 1970s offers two studios - Studio A at 1,200 sq ft and Studio B at 1,000 sq ft. It seems that Wynne Film Productions opened its facilities here in October 1967 so maybe they did indeed have a larger studio which when TVR moved in a year later, they reduced in size to make space for control rooms.
As one of the original outsourced programmes, LWT's Big Match opening season 1968-1969 came from TVR's Windmill and Whitfield Street facilities every Sunday Afternoon. TVR had a Marconi MkIV four camera scanner with VTR that covered the match on the Saturday afternoon, with the editing being done Saturday night at Windmill Street. On the Sunday morning Brian Moore would host the show and do interviews in the Whitfield Street studio with the programme going out on tape from Windmill Street.
Soon after News at Ten started, The Sun decided to do a live 30 second ad in the mid news break about what would be in the following day's ('super soaraway') paper. ITN did not want to make them in their second studio so TVR transmitted them from their Whitfield street studio feeding the signal to ITN to go to air nationally as the first commercial of the break.
Thanks to their unique link to the GPO Tower, The Windmill and later Whitfield Street studios of TVR were used for early two-way interviews by the BBC and regional ITV companies wanting to interview their own local MPs. There was a steady stream of British and foreign politicians arriving for interviews, including the Prime Ministers of various countries.
In September 1970 Television Recordings Ltd bought all the shares of Intertel from LWT (see elsewhere on this website) and became Television International Ltd or TVI.
The studio continued to be used by LWT for The Big Match during some of the 1970s. Airtime Productions was also a major client, making 'cheap and cheerful' commercials on video. Chris Patten recalls the technique used for these...
Phil Geeson has described TVI as he recalls it was in the early '70s: The door from Whitfield St went through reception to the main studio. The green room was upstairs along with the smaller studio, used mainly for interviews and media training. On the third floor was the admin and sound suite. The next door towards Windmill St was TAL, which faced the street with part of the main studio behind. Here they kept kit like 1" Ampex VTRs and Sony and Shibaden half inch VTRs. For larger productions, an OB scanner was driven over from Acton and parked outside. Someone walked up to Googe St Police Station and asked for a pink slip to put on the windscreen so they could park all day on the double yellow lines. He recalls direct feeds between these studios and Windmill St, which was in turn linked to the GPO Tower.
Peter Piddock has written to inform me that Whitfield Street was still going strong up to 1986 and probably beyond. Its history is tied in with that of Sky and the great Mr Murdoch, no less. It seems that the original 'Satellite Television UK' channel (SATV) which began operation in 1982 first came from Molinare but then...
'...When Rupert Murdoch bought the company in 1983 and rebranded it as Sky Channel, the TX operation moved to TVI [in Jan 1984] and the Whitfield Street studio was put to use on music programming. This was mostly links, interviews and clips. If I remember correctly, the output was so frenetic that at one point 5 one hour shows a day were being produced, with the last one live just to keep people on their toes! I guess it was also a clever way of avoiding overtime!'
Doesn't sound like Rupert Murdoch was involved at all does it?
I have yet to confirm exactly when TVI's Whitfield Street studio closed. Sky moved to its current HQ in Osterley in 1989 so it seems likely that the Whitfield Street studio continued in operation until at least then.
Gary Bainbridge was a sound engineer at TVI from 1976 to 1989. He has shed some light on the complex to-ing and fro-ing of ownership of the business. He recalls that TVI was taken over by the Rank Organisation who almost immediately decided to close the Whitfield St studio - although the TVI business continued with its other activities. The studio had shared staff with TVI's OB section, which meant that most of them worked on OBs in the summer and in the studio in the winter. With the studio closed, the staff had little to do in the winter so Rank decided to sell the OB fleet to Trilion. After a while, the TVI post production operation was moved to Rank's premises in Wardour St.
Rank eventually sold TVI and the premises to Carlton, who ran it successfully until a change of management - after which its fortunes changed and it was closed down.
Meanwhile, Trilion's OB fleet was sold to Mobile Image, then to Sunset and Vine, which merged with VMTV to form Visions - which is still in operation. Phew.
Incidentally, there was another business at a different address in Whitfield St owned by Irvin Pannaman - a cameraman who ran a company called Audio and Video Rentals. Maurice Fleisher has kindly sent me a copy of his business card:
This began as a CCTV company in the mid '50s but by the middle of the 1970s they were specialising in duplicating VHS cassettes. They had a couple of RCA quad VTRs and a telecine machine hooked up to dozens of cassette recorders working almost continuously. They also had links to the Post Office Tower and a small TV studio equipped with 3 cameras that was used for interviews and inter-city video conferencing. The studio was also used to train company chairmen, managing directors and other senior executives in how to appear on camera when being interviewed. Pannaman claimed to have trained over 10,000 people in this studio over more than 16 years.
66, Dean Street (Intertel)
1970 - ?
Intertel are covered in some detail on the 'Old ITV studios' page under 'Wycombe Road' as they owned the large studio in Stonebridge Park. However, in April 1969 they were taken over by LWT who ran that studio as one of their own. Curiously, the name 'Intertel' appears to have continued - in the ad above it is called 'Intertel Colour Television but in other sources 'Intertel VTR Services'. One assumes that the business was still owned by LWT but operated separately.
As can be seen from the advertisement above, at the beginning of 1970 they set up a small studio with associated VTR and other facilities at 66 Dean St, Soho. The size of the studio is unknown but it was probably relatively small.
Paul Venner worked briefly in the Dean St studio during the Intertel days and recalls that it was in the basement along with the technical facilities. He reckons that it had 2 or 3 cameras and was used mostly for commercials and down the line interviews.
Intertel merged with TVR to form TVI only a few months later in September 1970 and it is possible that they left this studio then or soon after - unless of course you know different. (TVR owned a studio in Whitfield St - see above.)
Any more info on this studio gratefully received!
I hope you're following all this stuff. I'm hopelessly confused.
75, Dean Street (De Lane Lea, Trilion, De Lane Lea, WB)
1970s - present
This studio appears to have changed use back and forth between sound recording facility and TV studio.
Rich James tells me that he worked for De Lane Lea in 1974 and the studio in the basement at No. 75 was at that time being used as a Foley dubbing studio. He doesn't recall any TV equipment being around at that time. He does remember that the dubbing mixer was called Ted. Good old Ted. According to Wikipedia it was also used around this time as an orchestral recording studio.
Andrew Hewkin tells me that in the mid 1980s this studio was owned by Trilion. He can't remember any details but says it was equipped for TV, had a cyclorama and smooth TV floor that was often repainted for different shows.
Kevin Townsend has kindly written to me. He often worked in the studio from 1989 on some shows for Sky. One regular booking was Sky By Day - a magazine programme hosted by Tony Blackburn and Jenny Handley and directed by Phil Bishop. It went out between 10.00 and 11.30 on weekdays. There were usually a few post recordings after transmission and then the studio was turned round in the afternoon for The Frank Bough Interview, which went out on Sky News between 7pm and 8pm. This show was directed by Bob Marsland but the camera crew worked on both shows - who had to kill four or five hours every afternoon in the local pub - or far more likely they visited London's many museums and art galleries. Of course they did.
Trilion folded in December 1992 so it is likely that the studio closed then. Can you confirm this?
The studio then became a sound recording facility once again for De Lane Lea and they are still based here. The ex-TV studio is now apparently the biggest dubbing theatre in London and is called studio 1 by them. De Lane Lea's website states that studio 1 is 17m x 9m which is approximately 56ft by 30ft. The building contains 6 dubbing studios in total. The company specialises in Foley and ADR - many TV dramas and well-known feature films have had sound post production work done here over the years.
In November 2012 this facility was purchased by Warner Bros to be used for post production supporting their new studios in Leavesden. It is now called 'WB De Lane Lea'.
In case you were wondering (of course you were), the company was named after Major Jaques De Lane Lea - a French intelligence attaché for the British Government who founded the business in 1947 to dub English films into French. Well I never.
Incidentally, it seems that Good Earth Studio at number 59 was renamed Dean Street Studios but that is not to be confused with this studio, which is located at number 75 or indeed the Intertel studio which was at number 66.
I'd love to have some more details about this studio and what TV shows were made here. Can anyone remember anything??? Do get in touch, even if it's to confirm what is written here - and especially if you think anything is not right!
Capital Studios, Wandsworth
1968 - 2008; 2010 - 2014
The studios on this site in Wandsworth were host to many successful ads, promos and TV shows for forty years. There were two studios - A was about 60 x 50 feet and B was about 50 x 40 ft. (These dimensions are wall to wall as, unusually, the studios did not have fixed fire lanes running round the sides.) They had monopole grids with crossovers similar to the studios at LWT - although of course much lower - and as such were very flexible.
When I lit a TV series a couple of years before their closure in 2008 I found them very nice studios to work in. The staff were friendly and helpful. The studios were equipped with a good selection of well-maintained lamps and their Ikegami cameras produced very nice pictures. A further advantage of the site was its excellent restaurant. John Tarby tells me that the man who built the studios - Keith Ewart - was very keen on good quality food and it seems that this tradition was continued right through the Capital years too. Possibly having so many cookery shows being made here also helped to maintain the high standards!
The studios' history is unique and they came about due to the drive and passion of a brilliant cinematographer - Keith Ewart.
However, despite their popularity, as Keith Ewart predicted, the land they occupied proved to be more valuable than the studios themselves and the site was sold off for redevelopment along with the closed-down brewery next door. Timing is everything and the banking crisis had not hit in 2007 when the deal was done. Another year and the value of the land would have plummeted, almost certainly ensuring the continued running of the business.
The studios closed on August 8th 2008. The last show in B was Wife Swap, the Aftermath and A closed with yet another cooking show - Step Up To The Plate. Meanwhile, Ready Steady Cook moved to TV Centre and Capital Studios became history.
Well, almost. As a last gasp, Capital was brought back into use between September and October 2008 to make another series of ITV's Daily Cooks Challenge. It was made in studio A using hired lights with an OB truck parked in studio B providing facilities. However, that came to an end in the middle of October and the management ceased to have access around the middle of December. The building was boarded up and extra security measures added.
Guess what? In March 2010 the studios had a new lease of life after all. An Iranian TV company called Marjan Television Network took over the building. They hosted their Manoto 1 channel from here. Studio B was used for for a daily magazine programme. ('Manoto' in Farsi means 'You and I'. Apparently. But then 'Dave' probably doesn't translate that well into Farsi.)
Initially an OB truck was parked in studio A to service B but the same engineers who a couple of years before went round snipping wires so that bits of kit could be sold off had to go back into the building and try to trace those old wires and get things up and running again. Studio B was then operating normally via its galleries. It had its own stock of lights and I gather that the sound gallery was rewired at the end of 2011.
Studio A was occasionally used for entertainment shows for the Iranian TV channel. It still had no technical equipment or lights but the monopoles and dimmers were still there. An OB truck was used for facilities when required and lights were hired in.
I gather that they made a Come Dine With Me type of show - although clearly not at all like that show in any way - and a singing talent show series in 2010, 2011 and again in 2012 called Googoosh Music Academy. Googoosh is a very successful female Iranian pop star. But then I'm sure you knew that.
In short, it seems that the scheme to develop the site including the old 'Ram' brewery next door ran into some planning difficulties. An amended plan was drawn up by the developers and a new application submitted. This was given approval in July 2013. The scheme is a mix of shops, restaurants, bars and flats. Most of the Victorian brewery buildings have been retained with new construction and open areas between them. Incidentally, around 2011 - 2013 a warehouse in the Ram brewery was converted into the studio in which Masterchef was made. This is now made at 3 Mills in a set that copies the look of the old brewery.
Marjan were therefore looking for suitable alternative premises for many months. As luck would have it (for them), Wimbledon Studios went into administration in August 2014. Marjan immediately contacted the owners and arranged a lease of the entire site - many times larger than Capital Studios at 220,000 sq ft. They reportedly agreed a 15 year lease. They moved from Wandsworth to Wimbledon in October 2014 when these studios really did, very sadly, finally close.
As planned in the scheme, the Capital Studios site will have a 36 storey triangular block of flats located where the building once stood. The redevelopment was due to be completed in 2018 with the tower block being the last thing to be built.
However - and this has so many similarities to what has happened at TLS, Fountain and the new East Tower at TV Centre - property prices are not what they were in the world of luxury flats. It simply isn't worth the developer building the tower yet so these studios are still standing!
In the summer of 2019 Backyard Cinema announced that they had discovered these 'forgotten studios' and were re-opening them in September as a home for their immersive cinema experience. The venue is advertised as having 'multi-sensory theme changing cinema, live music, a backyard drinks terrace, artisan pizza, captivating theatrics, exotic cocktail lounge, vegan street food, craft beer bar and many more fantastical surprises yet to be revealed!'
Well, this is all great of course and it's good news that the building is being used again. But how frustrating that nobody got their act together and reopened it as a TV studio!
1970 - 1999
Battersea was an independent facility that was owned by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). It was originally an old school located in Thackery Road and occupied a surprisingly large site that has been described to me as being about the same size as Teddington Studios. The two studios themselves were relatively small but the building and its history are unique so deserve a mention here.
ILEA was the education authority for the 12 inner London boroughs in London from 1965 until its abolition in 1990. Educational needs are now handled by the boroughs themselves. However, in its early days it had a relatively large budget and one area it decided to move into was the provision of television programmes made specifically for its own schools. In this way the children from the schools themselves could get involved and programmes could be made that had a direct relevance to the target audience.
Battersea thus came into operation in 1970. The studios were commissioned by the Television Service's chief engineer Walter Kemp, who had been the first chief engineer of Television Wales and West and had commissioned their Cardiff and Bristol studios.
Production standards at Battersea were always high and the equipment was broadcast quality. Children can be a most demanding audience and soon get bored if they sense they are being patronised so every programme had to look as good as those being made by the BBC or ITV.
The studio centre comprised three buildings - a Studio block, a Production block and later a Publishing block.
On the ground floor of the studio block were the master control, Ampex VTR editing and transmission suites, studio maintenance workshop, a scene dock, scenery construction workshops and an industrial lift to take scenery to the two studios on the first and second floors.
The floor area of each studio was said to be about 1,100 square feet. The studios were constructed in the gutted shell of the old school building and each studio was initially equipped with three EMI 203 cameras, a Fisher boom and the usual floor monitors etc. Each studio had a sound control room with a 24 channel Neve desk and a production control room which also contained the lighting console.
In addition to studio A, the first floor also housed props storage and a make up room. On the second floor was studio B, a rehearsal room and a training studio. The third floor housed the Film Unit and the stills photographic unit and dark room. In later years one of the two production studios was re-equipped with Sony BVP3 cameras. The second studio then became a 4 wall studio, retaining its lighting grid and was often used as an ancillary to the other studio and for scene storage.
The second building contained the admin and production offices and a canteen. The film editing suites were sited there as well as the graphics/studio design suites. The OB unit offices were also in this building. The mobile unit was later equipped with two or three Link 110 colour cameras. The third building was used by the publishing unit which produced teaching materials for London schools. It can be seen that the ILEA's Television and publishing service was not a small operation.
Programmes made by the studios were initially distributed around London's schools via a multi-channel cable network run by the Post Office. The programmes were transmitted and repeated at set times, to fit school timetables. Three channels were used for ILEA programmes and one was reserved for Higher Education colleges. Of course, this was all very expensive to maintain and when VHS machines became commonplace, the programmes were sent to the schools on cassettes.
On the demise of the ILEA in 1989 the studios continued operating for about ten years after a staff buy-out as 'Battersea Studios'. Eventually, early in 1999, they were taken over by property developers and made into gated luxury apartments. I gather that Liz Mansell, Operations Manager of Battersea Studios, was shown over an expensive apartment by the sales person from the developers. On being shown one of the apartments with other clients, she apparently said "Oh this used to be the ladies toilets".
I'm grateful to Derek Brady, who has sent me much of the above information. If you have any photos or can add any corrections or details to the above, I'd appreciate it. It would also be nice to have the names of some of the programmes made here.
Incidentally, there is currently a facility that is marketed as 'Battersea Studios' that is nothing to do with the above. This is a development in Silverthorne Road, constructed in recent years, that contains 'studio' type office space. There are also two small TV studios within the building - TV1 and TV2 - that I understand have been used by Middle Eastern News and more recently NutsTV. Quite an interesting contrast. Neither studio is very large and they fall well outside the limit I have set for inclusion on this website. Oh, I just have. Forget I mentioned them.
Trilion Brewer Street
mid '70s - 1986
I'm told by Antony Koeller that this small studio was in the basement of the building with its main entrance in Lexington St and a goods lift to the studio in Poland St. VTRs, editing and telecine were on the first floor. The studio was about 1000 sq ft with a ceiling height of only 10 ft. There were two (possibly three) LDK-5 colour cameras and a b/w caption camera. The camera crew included Dave Swan, Barry Dodd and Dave Barber (Rocket). The work consisted of pop promos (often directed by Bruce Gowers), commercials and pack shots. They sometimes shot food for commercials - apparently using nitric acid for steam! The studio was also booked by HTV (ITV Wales and west country region) for interviews for its local news.
Trilion probably stayed here until 1986. They moved from here to 75 Dean St where they took over the basement studio that was being used by De Lane Lea as a sound studio, although previously Intertel had used it as a TV studio. This was also the year Trilion took over Limehouse. After that these premises were occupied by Goldcrest.
Trilion was the result of a merger between Lion Television and Trident. Lion were based at Shepperton studios - see that section for more information.
Trilion rapidly expanded their operation, purchasing several OB units. In 1986 they bought Limehouse Studios - which is covered elsewhere on this website.
I'm told that Trilion was a subsidiary of Centerdisc who also owned Trident Sound desks. Trident were also, it seems, the managers of Queen. This was confirmed to me by Dennis Weinreich, who was a recording engineer on some of the band's early recordings. Dennis informs me that...
Trident Studios were used by many major acts from the late '60s onwards. The impressive list includes The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Free, Genesis, James Taylor and Carly Simon. The studios owned a 100 year old Bechstein concert grand that was known for its attractive and distinctive sound. This instrument was used on many rock and pop recordings over the years, including Elton John's Your Song and was also played by Rick Wakeman on Bowie's Life on Mars and Changes.
Paul McCartney inadvertently helped Queen to success. Apparently, he would block book the studio but then fail to turn up. Since Queen were managed by the company that owned the studio they were able to use this down time without having to pay a rental fee and the result was Bohemian Rhapsody. The famous Bechstein also of course features on that record.
Several high profile OBs and events were recorded by Trilion, including not surprisingly the video promo for Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody which was directed by Bruce Gowers.
1978 - 2009
Towards the end of 1972 Stefan Sargent, his wife Tricia and a friend called Robert Parker were looking for a sound studio to record a radio programme that would be sold worldwide - 'The Bee Gees Story'. They were introduced to Michel Molinare, a retired fashion photographer who happened to own a lease on a large basement in Stratford Place, near Selfridges. Sargent paid for the rental and a small premium to use Molinare's name. Thus the first Molinare studio was created. It was immediately booked for a year by Capital Radio, who made ads and weekend radio shows in the studio. Other bookings followed and after a few years the business was looking to move to larger premises.
In February 1978 Molinare moved to its present HQ in Foubert's Place, Soho. The old warehouse/office building (dated 1875) was converted to include a studio on the ground floor with a scene dock door opening directly onto the street. This door must have been the warehouse's original goods access judging by its appearance.
By now the business had moved into filming and editing TV commercials so this studio was primarily intended for that use. Rod Allen has written to me - he claims some of the responsibility for persuading Stefan Sargent to expand into television. Rather like Keith Ewart ten years earlier, Stefan believed that video had a role to play in making commercials as well as 35mm film. Such ads could be made much faster and cheaper and he saw a gap in the market in providing facilities for this.
Of course, the post production and editing side of the business continued to develop and Molly's has retained its reputation for excellence in this field to the present day. However, the main TV studio also found a market for small scale TV programmes made by independent companies for the main broadcast channels. When C4 launched in 1982 this provided another useful market for the facility.
1982 also saw another client arrive in the building. A company called Satellite Television UK (SATV) was founded by ex This Week researcher Brian Haynes. (Not to be confused with Brian Haynes, the retired Trinidad soccer midfielder. An easy mistake to make.) This channel broadcast to cable networks across Europe on the OTS-2 Orbital Test Satellite. The companys offices were based in Molinares building and the transmission was handled from here, Studio 2 being used for live continuity. The business was, however, unsuccessful and was purchased in 1983 by Rupert Murdoch for £1. He renamed the channel 'Sky' (you may have heard of it) and the operation moved to TVI in Soho in January 1984.
The main studio was used occasionally to record pop promos. For example, Blondie's Hanging on the Telephone was recorded here back in the '80s. It was of course also used for a wide range of TV programmes over the years - I worked there myself in 2003 on a C4 chat show called Dirty Laundry. It was also notably used for the first televised Mayoral debate in 2008.
Studio 1 was about 50 x 35 ft (1,750 sq ft) and was the only drive-in television studio in London's West End. It had a flexible lighting grid and on the first floor was a large production gallery adjoined by the sound control room. Despite its small size, studio 1 could offer audience seating for 60 and there were the usual production offices and some set storage.
Studio 2 was 28 x 14 ft with a full lighting rig and gallery which was air-conditioned and sound proofed. It was used as both a conventional green/blue screen studio and fully integrated with Molinares ORAD Cyberset-NT 3-D VIRTUAL Studio system.
Sadly, studio 1 was closed in May 2009 and converted into one of the largest colour grading theatres in central London. Like many small studios, the cost of converting to HD did not make economic sense but the space has now become a real asset to the business. Studio 2 closed towards the end of 2009 and was also converted into a grading suite.
1983 - 1989
From the summer of 1983 to early in 1989 this studio centre in the heart of Docklands was in its day the place to be making programmes. Its story is one of enterprise, high expectations and a brief moment of success. Sadly, it was a victim of circumstances and its story is in some ways rather sad.
Much of the following information is gratefully taken from a 1984 copy of 'Television Lighting' - the journal of the Society of Television Lighting Directors. Some details and images were equally gratefully taken from an article by Martin Hawkins in the autumn 1989 edition of 'Zerb' - the magazine of the Guild of Television Cameramen. Martin also supplied most of the images below. John Brady was also kind enough to post me a CD with scanned-in copies of various Limehouse leaflets and publications. Further details were taken from an article in 'Building' magazine dated April 1984 and also from various documents issued by the company itself. Some of the more interesting details have been emailed to me by various individuals who were involved at the time.
The Business Daily was a regular booking in studio 2. It was transmitted live six days a week for Channel 4 and on Sunday there was no rest for the wicked as The Business Programme was also made here.
The facilities offered on site included a hospitality boat, 'John B', moored alongside which became very popular with artists and clients. The story goes that it had previously been a boat of ill repute moored to the west of London. After it became 'undockworthy' it was replaced by a small liner purchased from the Gdansk shipyards. Well I never.
It is probably worth mentioning that Limehouse did not have the market all to itself. Over in Wandsworth, Ewart Studios were also trying to attract companies making shows for Channel 4. Inevitably each attempted to outbid the other to win contracts. Someone close to Keith Ewart has told me that he found the undercutting very hard to deal with. Certainly, Ewarts was a much smaller enterprise and so one assumes had lower overheads than Limehouse. Keith Ewart is allegedly said to have believed that for a number of years Limehouse were undercutting him consistently at rates that he deemed unviable. However, Keith Wilkinson doesn't remember that as quite being the case. He was Deputy Chief Accountant, then Finance Director of Limehouse TV. He recalls that in the early days contracts may well have been underpriced but 'that was put right next time they were quoted.'
Following a slightly shaky start the business began to settle down nicely. The studios were becoming known as being a great place to make programmes and more production companies were using them. In July 1986 the company was bought by Trilion plc. Trilion also bought an equipment hire company called Viewplan in November of the same year. Limehouse thus became part of a group that also owned a facilities house in Stockport, a distribution company and the Trident recording studio. Trilion had been operating an impressive fleet of OB vehicles but when they acquired Limehouse they sold off their large units and retained four smaller scanners and a location unit which were repainted with the Limehouse logo.
Unfortunately, it seems that from this point the real trouble began.
I am told that in spite of appearances both Trilion and Viewplan had not been generating cash and within a few months in 1987 the founders of Trilion and Viewplan had left the group. One sizeable block of shares changed hands and ended up in the hands of Brent Walker plc (yes - the same company that in 1989 bought and then sold off most of Elstree Film Studios to build a Tesco superstore). Brent Walker were regarded by the others as a hostile shareholder for a while, until peace broke out when a common enemy appeared in the surprising guise of the London Docklands Development Corporation. In Keith Wilkinson's words...
Astonishingly, despite all the encouragement given to the company when they first set up, it seems that the London Docklands Development Corporation issued a compulsory purchase order on Limehouse. To most people in the industry - let alone the staff - this was something of a surprise.
I have incidentally been contacted by someone who was involved with the technical fit-out. He informed me that rather surprisingly, before the studios even opened, there was an understanding amongst the contractors that they would possibly have to leave within a few years. This apparently referred to a common belief at the time of the installation that the LDDC had the right to purchase the land back 'at any time.' This of course was technically true but none of the Limehouse management or staff actually expected them to do it - and certainly not the bank that had advanced the considerable loan enabling the studios to be constructed.
Keith informs me that the compulsory purchase order was issued early in 1988, five years after they had begun to operate. He believes this was actually a bit of sabre rattling on the part of the LDDC. The Limehouse management were deeply unimpressed by this and thought that the LDDC were acting in a very shameful manner, especially considering the open and very public support they had previously given Limehouse. The LDDC wanted Limehouse to come to a deal with Olympia and York, the company that was developing Canary Wharf. Apparently, O&Y needed the studio site in order to build their new towers, even though the studios didn't actually occupy the land on which they would be built. Maybe somebody had decided that an old rum and banana warehouse wouldn't look quite right amongst all the shiny new skyscrapers.
In any case, Keith tells me that Limehouse fought the order to move 'tooth and nail.' The lawyer in charge even felt it would make his career to see it off, but in fact they eventually reached an agreement with Olympia and York. In October 1988 it was announced to the staff that the studios would cease operation the following February.
The deal that was done was financially very much in Limehouse's favour. Remember that the building itself had cost £475,000. The construction and technical fit-out had cost around £8m. The site was sold for £25m - so a significant profit was made. Where all that cash went is another story.
How the deal was done is quite interesting. It seems that George Walker personally took on the negotiations and the £25m deal was reached in the Autumn of 1998. That is the public story. In reality though, at first he got nowhere - but I'm told that the studio manager learnt from an indiscreet builder that the Canary Wharf Tower could not be constructed without encroaching on Limehouse's property for scaffolding and access. Once he was armed with that information, Walker got the deal sorted out. You see it's not what you know... it's knowing what who you know knows.
Thus, only five and a half years after they opened, the studios closed. Studio 1's last production - Food and Drink - was recorded on 20th February 1989 and studio 2 packed up the following Friday. Both were stripped of all useful equipment - most of which was put into storage. By 16th March the site was empty.
The company still had their contract to provide facilities to the Business Daily programme so on they moved to the Trocadero in Piccadilly (a site handily owned by Brent Walker) where a studio was temporarily set up, opening on 17th March. Up Yer News was also made here for BSB. The space had previously been used as a ballroom. Lines were installed from here to various places in the City such as Lloyds, BZW, the Stock Exchange etc so that live interviews could be carried out. Steve Simon recalls the occasion when the whole of W1 was blacked out due to a power cut. The studio was due to go live on Channel 4 so the emergency generator on the roof was fired up but refused to start. It was discovered that the relay was refusing to close the contactor so the studio manager pushed it with his finger and lo and behold - with a deafening roar it started! He told the impressed small crowd who witnessed his bravery/foolhardiness that in doing so he had lost a year off his life.
On 9th June 1989 Limehouse bought Wembley Studios from Lee Lighting. (That company had been operating the site as Lee International Film Studios since 1978 but had left the site in 1986.) The old film studios were sold off by Limehouse for redevelopment as a retail park (note the Brent Walker touch here) and the huge Studio 5, which had been purpose-built by Rediffusion, was taken over. One source states that it took Limehouse only eight weeks to refurbish the studio but in fact the first programme was recorded some four months later on 6th October.
(The Limehouse years at Wembley are covered on the 'Old ITV studios' page.)
Perhaps surprisingly, despite the profit made on the selling of the docklands site and the cash made from selling the old Wembley film studios, within three years the company had folded. Keith Wilkinson, incidentally, left the group some 15 months before the collapse. It seems that although Limehouse were themselves profitable, the parent company and at least one of its subsidiaries was in serious financial trouble - and after all, this was the time of a recession.
One can only feel sympathy with all those who put so much into the Limehouse company. The Docklands studios were excellently designed and the work done there was highly regarded by the whole industry. It must have been heartbreaking for them to leave after such a short time.
If only the studios had been built in a different place, even in a less valuable part of Docklands - and if they hadn't been taken over by a company that was itself to go bust - it seems likely to me that they would still be just as popular as ever.
New Malden Studios
1985-1999, 2007-2008, 2010-2012
Fountain TV - best known for running the giant 'Studio 5' at Wembley, began in 1985 with far more humble roots here in Cocks Crescent, New Malden (stop that sniggering at the back!) The building was originally a community centre before becoming a TV studio. It was about 55ft x 45ft (2,500 sq ft). The lighting grid was an unusual arrangement of catwalks with bars attached to each side of them - rather like a studio theatre.
Once Fountain took over, the studio was mostly kept going by one show - Ready Steady Cook - but Food and Drink was also made here for at least one series. Adam Paull tells me he worked on the children's series Wizadora in 1996 and the pilot for Brass Eye was also shot here. (If you know of other shows made here, please let me know!) In 1994 the business purchased Wembley studios but this studio remained in operation until it was closed in 1999. Ready Steady Cook moved to Capital Studios.
The building became the HQ of hire company Presteign from 1999 until December 2005. Presteign have now become Presteign Charter and are based near Gatwick Airport.
In 2007 The studio was taken over by Musflash TV and completely upgraded. They equipped it with 6 x Thomson LDK300 cameras. Musflash was a company that ran a music channel on Sky's digital service. They made music programmes here for their own channel like Unsigned and Spotlight but also offered the studio for general hire. Sadly, the investment did not pay off and they went out of business early in March 2008.
The building was then purchased by Barratt Homes who intended to redevelop the site and build flats but the planning application was withdrawn in 2010. Barratt rented the studio to TV channel Revelation TV. This is an evangelical Christian channel originally run by Howard Conder who started his working life as drummer with the Barron Knights and Joe Brown and the Bruvvers.
Barratt drew up new plans and told Revelation that they had to leave by June 2012. The studio was demolished and flats constructed on the site. Revelation TV is now apparently based in studios in Spain.
Sky Centre/Sky Studios
1989 - present
In 1982 Brian Haynes, an ex This Week researcher, set up a company called Satellite Television Ltd (SATV). He had produced a story on that programme the year before about the future of satellite TV in Europe and realised that nobody was actually doing it. He rented space on a research satellite and transmitted programmes to cable networks across Europe from Molinare in Soho, Studio 2 being used for live continuity.
Unfortunately he was a bit ahead of the game. He had problems finding enough content and the cable system in the UK was very small in those days so the sums didn't add up. The company was sold for £1 to Rupert Murdoch (for it is he) in 1983 and on 1st January 1984 the channel was renamed 'Sky.' It moved its operation to TVI and continued on a relatively small scale for the next five years, gradually building an audience with cable viewers.
Then when the government gave the green light to BSB to start a five channel 'official' British satellite broadcasting system, Mr Murdoch decided he would take this on with a package of his own, based around his Sky channel. Due to his press connections he had not been permitted to be involved in bidding for the new UK satellite service so decided to do it his way.
Thus on February 5th 1989 'Sky Television' was launched. Operating from an unglamorous industrial unit in Osterley, just off the A4 in west London, the new enterprise consisted of three channels - the Sky Channel, Sky News and Sky Movies. (In July 1990 The Sky Channel was renamed Sky One.) Eurosport was also a part of the package and was a joint venture between Sky and the EBU. However, other channels were also available to viewers via the same dish such as Lifestyle, The Children's Channel and (perhaps crucially) MTV Europe.
Using existing PAL analogue technology that was cheap and easy to operate, this enterprise stole a march on BSB's much heralded high-tech system that would use the technically superior D-MAC system, with tiny 'squarials' being used to pick up the signal. Except that the BSB system didn't work and Sky's channels, broadcasting from the new Astra 1A satellite did. One only has to compare the elaborate and some might say pretentious design of BSB's headquarters (see below) with the very basic warehouse that Sky moved into to get an idea of why Sky were the winners in this battle. (Interestingly, Sky's Centre in Osterley now consists of a huge campus of stunning high-tech buildings with beautiful landscaping between them. How times change.)
I was given a free Astra box when I bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner and it was this kind of marketing that saw customers discover the joys of satellite broadcasting, whilst within eight months BSB (which didn't start transmitting until March 1990) had gone bust. Sky took over BSB and formed a new company - 'British Sky Broadcasting'. The BSB Sports Channel became Sky Sports but the other BSB channels simply ceased to exist. Sky cut its ties with Eurosport in 1991.
Soon afterwards, all the owners of a squarial were given a free Amstrad Sky dish and receiver so the subscriber base was increased at a stroke. The distinctive large oval dishes began to spring up on the front of houses up and down the land.
Sky lost millions week on week for a few years and some thought that Murdoch had made a huge mistake. Wrong. The losses dwindled and profits began to gradually build. Even more huge investment was revealed in October 1998 when the new Sky Digital technology was launched. For many people this not only provided excellent-quality pictures and sound but the first opportunity to see widescreen pictures. The system also had the capacity for an almost unlimited number of channels. (Terrestrial digital TV provided by OnDigital was launched one month later - but with only about 30 available channels and variable reception).
The new Sky Digital service used the much smaller black mesh dish with which we are all now familiar. The old ones were much bigger - and white! - so the new design arguably made it more acceptable to ABC1 viewers, thus expanding the subscriber base. Indeed, the Sky digital service enabled the BBC to launch new channels of its own, knowing that they could be received all over the country even in areas with no terrestrial digital reception.
The Sky Digital service now transmits hundreds of TV and radio channels. A figure that increases almost by the week. As well as all the free terrestrial channels it carries an ever increasing number of extra channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, UKTV, Discovery, Disney and dozens of other companies operating specialist channels such as movies, home shopping, history, documentaries, religion, bingo, poker, quizzes and soft porn.
In 2010 Sky purchased the Living Channel and this was rebranded Sky Living in February 2011. At the same time they launched Sky Atlantic - mostly showing expensive US drama series made for HBO. Sky themselves make very little for this channel - home grown dramas like Game of Thrones (filmed at Titanic Studios in Belfast) are made by independent production companies.
A small exception to this rule was reality gameshow The Devil's Dinner Party. Made by an ITV production team using Sky's studio crews, the first part of series 1 was recorded at Teddington and the rest of the series in Sky's brand new studio 4/5 in November 2011. Some freelancers were also involved - dodgy lighting was courtesy of yours truly.
In fact, almost all the programmes made here at Osterley are for the news and sport channels. The entertainment channels and Sky Arts mostly transmit purchased programmes made in the US or by independent UK production companies.
As far as I can establish, over the years there have been relatively few entertainment programmes made at Osterley. However, between April and December 2002 the Channel 4 breakfast show RI:SE came from these studios before transferring to Princess Productions' own studio in Bayswater. Some editions of the popular Sky 1 show Braniac:Science Abuse were also recorded here. Saturday morning show Soccer AM is made here and although clearly sport-based it could also be described as an entertainment show. Kevin Wood has informed me that when Sky began operating in 1989, it made one or two shows here including the morning kids' programme DJ Kat in studio 1 and a pop show called Hitmix, which was hosted by Terry Christian.
In 2012 Michael Parkinson made a series called Masterclass which was recommissioned a year later. Also in 2012, there was a rather peculiar quiz show hosted by Ann Widdecombe called Cleverdicks made for Sky Atlantic. It must have looked very promising when the pitch was made.
I can claim to have been involved in one recent entertainment show made here - Harry Hill's Tea Time. Series 1 was recorded in studios 4/5 in 2016 and a second series in 2017. Also in 2016 I lit a pilot for The Russell Howard Hour in studios 4/5. The decision was taken that the show needed a bigger studio and for a while it looked as though we might make it in the Sky News studio, which was due to close in 2017. However, it remained in use after all so the series was made in the newly reopened TC1 at TV Centre.
The channel that consistently raises the company's profile in the critical world of media and television is Sky News. This is the main competitor to the BBC in the area of 24-hour news. Sky has, in the last decade or two, arguably taken over from ITN as the UK's main alternative news provider.
Arguably, Sky's most significant technical development was the introduction of high definition broadcasting which was launched in May 2006. Although some HD channels are available on Freeview and Freesat, the number of HD channels those systems carry are relatively limited. Sky dominates this field with over 70 available HD channels.
From 2010 stereoscopic 3D was a new technology strongly supported by Sky as a possible new revenue stream. However, its take-up was disappointing. Instead, the next big thing now is 4K Ultra High Definition. Since 2016 Sky has offered some programmes in 4K UHD via its Sky Q box but not yet in High Dynamic Range. HDR is due to be introduced in 2019.
In June 2007 Sky announced that they planned to build a major new 'green' facility in Harlequin Avenue, next door to the existing studio buildings. Originally called the Harlequin Building or HQ1 it was renamed Sky Studios in the summer of 2011. Innovations included a system to naturally ventilate the building without using conventional air conditioning. Now that is clever. I can report that it seems to work perfectly. They also constructed an 80m tall wind turbine to provide power to the site. Sky has in any case been 'carbon neutral' since 2006.
The new £233m studio centre was completed in the summer of 2011. It is clearly visible from the elevated section of the M4 and dominates the local landscape. The facility covers almost 70,000 sq metres of floor space and includes edit suites, quality control, playout and no less than 8 studios - two of which are divided by a removable wall, thus forming a space of about 5,500 sq ft.
Rather disappointingly, this double studio is not the very large studio that had been rumoured would be included in the development. (Most typical medium/large TV studios in other centres are about 8,000 sq ft. and about 90ft x 70ft working area.) These two are unfortunately joined end to end, rather than along one of their long walls creating a very long, narrow space of about 122 by 45 feet wall to wall, which does seriously limit the range of shows that can be made here. However, it has given Sky the opportunity to make some larger-scale shows than they were able to do previously. There is room for an audience - although not as large as one might find in the studios at Elstree, Pinewood or TVC.
One could see the combined studios 4 and 5 being used for panel shows and chat shows but not anything requiring a wide set. Harry Hill's Tea Time just about fitted in here and Thronecast has also been a regular booking. Incidentally, studio 4/5 is almost exactly the same size and shape as the old studio G at Lime Grove. That studio proved to be so difficult to fit shows in that the BBC took over Riverside Studios and many of the shows previously made in G were then made in Riverside studio 1.
The technical fit-out of the Sky Studios building cost £77m. I can report that the studios are very well designed and a pleasure to work in. Control rooms are sensibly at ground floor level (unlike those at Pacific Quay or MediaCity) proving that is is possible to do this in a new building despite what some have told me. The movement of scenery has been well thought out - with four of the studios having doors opening to the outside and the others being accessed by a large internal scenery dock area. The big double studio has a door at each end - again very well designed. Disappointingly, each studio has a lobby intruding into its floor area for the doorways - this could have been better thought out as it seriously affects the space available in the smaller studios in particular. Anyway, I give them 8 out of 10 - which for me is a very high score.
One curiosity - the studio doors open into the studios rather than outwards. My understanding has always been that exits from rooms should open in the direction that you would take if there were a fire. The rules must have changed because these doors open the 'wrong' way.
The new studios are being used for the production mostly of sport programming. However, Sky News moved to a new mezzanine floor studio in the Sky Central building in 2016 and has also taken over studio 6 in the Sky Studios building. The old studio was planned to close in the summer of 2017 but was retained when the snap election was called and eventually closed in 2018.
The building that used to contain Sky News - 'Sky 1' - was extensively reconfigured in 2019. The old main news studio was divided up and is now a scenery workshop and the jib store. Studio B has been retained as a stills studio but studio C is now the lighting workshop. Clearly there are no imminent plans to turn this building into a large TV studio, as were once suggested.
The old studios 6 and 7 (now called F & G) in the building next door ('Sky 2') have been retained for the foreseeable future and are used mostly for sport. Thus five of the original seven small studios have been replaced. The four small studios (1, 2, 3, 5) in the first Sky building closed in December 2011 and studio 4 in the summer of 2012. This studio was renamed studio H for its last few months.
Redevelopment plans that came and went...
On 15th December 2011, Sky made an outline planning application indicating that they wished to redevelop almost the entire site, plus the adjacent ex-Harrods warehouse which they owned. The new 'Sky Studios' building would naturally be retained. Almost all the other buildings were to be be demolished, including the existing Sky News studios, which would be relocated to a new building on the campus. The plans were very impressive and appeared attractive and well thought out. The redevelopment was to be phased over a 10 year period and would clearly cost a considerable sum. Planning permission was granted in April 2012, subject to several conditions.
The intention was to construct a campus consisting of five main zones. This would be a 'village' of similarly shaped buildings and open spaces along with restaurants, cafes and bars for the use of the general public as well as Sky staff. Most of the site would be accessed on foot within the campus. Note the intention to enable the general public to wander around at will. You may not be surprised to learn that this has never happened and Sky currently have some of the tightest security of any studio centre.
Of particular interest was the plan to build one or possibly two large TV studios for entertainment purposes - their size was not disclosed in the planning application but Sky staff members I spoke to were confident that they would bear comparison with some of the largest studios in the country. These were to be constructed in the first (east) phase. It looked for a while that we might have expected them to be available around 2015. In fact, we are still waiting for just one, never mind two large studios to be built.
Phase two contained a very interesting building - the 'FlexBox'. This was to be a very large space which could be reconfigured to be used as a film stage, TV studio, concert hall, theatre... the possibilities were almost endless, although in the plans there were eight main configurations ranging from a conventional medium sized TV studio through conference venue to concert hall. It would be able to seat up to 2,200 or 2,700 standing - which gives an idea of its scale. It was intended to provide a venue for large scale 'event' type TV shows which currently have to use film stages or public venues.
In fact, none of the above has happened in the way it was set out in the published plans. What have been constructed are several well-designed, distinctive, high-tech blocks set in very attractive landscaping. In my view it looks much better than the original published plans (except of course for the lack of large studios - and the Flexbox was a great idea.) One building is dedicated to the Sky Academy - an on-site training college. Hats off to Sky for doing this. Where is the BBC's equivalent? Don't tell me Evesham - that's not the same thing at all.
They have also built 'Sky Central' - a block containing offices (of course) but also a superb subsidised staff restaurant on the ground floor. Not only that, but it contains a luxury cinema for the use of staff and their families. Within the central atrium is a mezzanine upon which is sited Sky News' new presentation area. The remotely controlled cameras are suspended from the ceiling rather than on peds - which is something I've never seen before. The pictures from this studio look clean, light and airy and very different from the pictures in the old studio with its colourful red/blue LED set.
I have worked at Sky on several shows as a freelancer in recent years and I can report that it is a very pleasant experience indeed. The studios are superbly equipped and very well supported by dedicated, experienced staff - many previously with the BBC or old ITV companies. The buildings are beautiful and the grounds with their gardens are a joy to walk around. There are several places to eat - all top restaurant quality but with heavily subsidised prices. One really does feel that Sky want to hang on to their staff and have created the nicest environment for work that I have ever encountered in any studio centre.
Sky News was due to move out of its building on the left side of Grant Way during the summer of 2017. The intention was that the floor of the old building would be cleared to become a new studio suitable for entertainment shows. (Its relatively low ceiling and restricted weight loading would however have limited what could be done in there.) In fact, The Russell Howard Hour for Sky 1 was due to be made in that studio in the autumn of 2017. However, Theresa May called a snap election and Sky News realised that they needed to hang on to the old studio for a while, due to all the extra programming. (The Russell Howard Hour is in fact made in TC1 at Television Centre.)
So for several months the Sky News studio was kept on, mostly being used for overnight programming. From early in 2018, studio 6 (with an impressive 'virtual' set) and the new mezzanine studio 21 in the Sky Central building took over along with a brand new newsroom in the Sky Studios building.
As for the old Sky News building and the 'Sky 2' building next door, the plan as I understand it was, until late in 2018, to demolish both and construct (at last) a building containing the long awaited large entertainment studio. This was to be around 8,000 sq ft. Also included would be two smaller studios to replace studios F and G. However, late in 2018, studio G was refitted for the new Sky Sports Racing channel, which launched in January 2019, using 'Open Media' and robotic cameras. All the shows previously made in G are now being made in studio F. This makes it extremely unlikely that the building containing these two studios will be redeveloped anytime soon.
So with buildings Sky 1 and Sky 2 now being used for other things, there is sadly no chance of them being demolished and a new TV studio being built there any time soon.
Meanwhile, on the right hand side of Grant Way, buildings Sky 6 and 7 (where studio H was located) are being demolished to create a very smart looking Innovation Centre, which will house engineers and software developers working on new technology across Sky's various platforms. It will also house Sky's 'Get Into Tech for Young Women' scheme, which gives school leavers the opportunity to train as a coder. This is all excellent news - well done to Sky!
In other plans, I gather Sky have purchased the land currently occupied by the rugby club next door and intend to expand onto that area. I have also been told that they are hoping to bring back into use a long-deserted tube station on the edge of that land. This will enable their staff and studio audiences to travel easily by public transport rather than driving to the studios - which has to be very good news all round. The new station will be between Osterley and Boston Manor stations on the Piccadilly Line.
Marco Polo and Chelsea Bridge House
1989 - 2011
Situated in Battersea, this distinctive building was constructed around 1987 and was designed by postmodernist architect Ian Pollard. It was actually two buildings separated by a glass atrium. On the left was Marco Polo House and on the right was Chelsea Bridge House, which used to house The Observer newspaper.
Marco Polo House was originally the headquarters of British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB). The consortium that owned BSB initially comprised Granada, Anglia, Virgin, Pearson and Amstrad. With all that experience and financial backing it's amazing it all went so badly wrong. Mind you - Richard Branson pulled out pretty quickly when he saw what was happening and Alan Sugar also saw the light and jumped ship to make a tidy sum manufacturing dishes for Sky.
BSB won the official government-approved franchise to transmit three, later increased to five, high quality satellite TV channels to the UK. These were called Galaxy, Now, The Sports Channel, The Power Station and The Movie Channel. The channels began broadcasting in March 1990, after a fourteen month delay caused by technical problems with the D-MAC receivers and their square aerials or 'squarials.' D-MAC was a superior system to PAL and was thought to be essential to produce high-quality pictures via satellite. Even when everything was working perfectly, there was a shortage of squarials so viewing figures were very poor, although the channels could be received in areas with cable TV.
Mark Tinkler has contacted me. He was the archive producer on the first show made here for BSB. It was called La Triviata and was made by Noel Gay TV. Noel Gay had the contract to supply entertainment shows to BSB and was headed up by Paul Jackson and Bill Cotton, no less. The show was hosted by Nick Hancock and Joanna Brookes. The pilot was made in a barely completed studio with the rest of the building largely unfinished. The series was recorded a couple of weeks later. Mark doesn't recall any other shows being made by Noel Gay in this studio. In fact, they semi-converted the Astoria in Charing Cross Road to a TV theatre. The Last Laugh and The Happening were two of the shows made there.
Unfortunately for BSB, Sky had begun broadcasting on the independent Astra satellite in 1989 using PAL, which proved to be technically adequate for most viewers and attracted more subscribers than BSB.
Thus, the company folded eight months later in November 1990 and was taken over by Sky to form British Sky Broadcasting. Marco Polo House was vacated and some of the staff moved to Sky's HQ in Osterley. A few of the programmes that had been made for Galaxy ended up on Sky One whilst some programmes made for Now were shown for a while on Sky News. The Sports Channel became a new channel - 'Sky Sports' and some of the original BSB presenters stayed with that channel for many years.
Incidentally - there is one series made for Galaxy that has achieved cult status. The sc-fi soap Jupiter Moon had a huge budget of over £6m and was said by some to be very good. No less than 150 episodes were made. Not here in Battersea though but in Central's Birmingham studios. The ones in fact where Crossroads had originally been recorded. The show was a sort of soap set in space - 105 episodes were broadcast on Galaxy between March and December 1990 - the remaining ones eventually went out on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1996. Curiously, Jupiter Moon was broadcast in its entirety in Gibraltar, replacing EastEnders on the local TV station. Make of that what you will.
Another Galaxy series became notorious rather than celebrated. This was the multi-camera sitcom Heil Honey I'm Home. Recorded at Pinewood and Bray studios, it was a spoof '50s-style domestic comedy in which Adolf and Eva Hitler live next door to a Jewish couple. A series of 8 episodes was made but only the pilot episode was broadcast before the company went bust. Some might say that was a small mercy. (It is on YouTube if you are curious.) The remaining 7 eps have never been broadcast - it is not known whether the tapes still exist.
QVC, the shopping channel, occupied Marco Polo House including BSB's studios in 1993 - transmitting on Astra satellite and cable. (In case you were wondering, it stands for Quality, Value, Convenience.) The company gradually occupied more space over the years and eventually took over the whole building. The warehouse and distribution was and still is handled elsewhere.
Philip Stevens worked with QVC from its launch in 1993 - first as a freelance director, then Senior Director until 1997. He along with chief engineer Richard Burrell has provided some information about those early days...
In 1998 Chelsea Bridge House became the headquarters of the terrestrial digital provider 'ONdigital' which later became 'ITV Digital'. It is not known whether this company used any studios here but it seems unlikely as they were a provider rather than a programme-maker. ITV Digital was placed in administration in April 2002. The free-to-air digital transmission system they offered was replaced by DTV Services - a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, C4, BSkyB and Arqiva. The company operates of course under the name 'Freeview'. This is the arrangement that frankly should have been there all along. 'ONDigital', 'ITV Digital?' Confusing or what? Who on earth thought that would be a good idea?
The lease on the building expired in July 2012. The last broadcast from these studios was on 7th June 2012.
From 2007 QVC began looking for a suitable site to move to. In July 2010 they signed a 21 year lease on new premises in Chiswick Park - the high tech commercial development that is also the base for Technicolor, Discovery Channel, CBS and Paramount. They have now occupied 'Building 8' on the site, the 10th of the 12 planned buildings there. Offices and studios were specially constructed and QVC moved there from Marco Polo in April 2011. The warehousing and distribution for QVC remains in Knowsley.
The building itself was demolished in March 2014. It has been replaced by several blocks of luxury apartments called Vista, Chelsea Bridge. Love it or loathe it - it was a classic, post-modern design typical of the 1980s and perhaps should have been preserved as a striking example of that very distinctive style of architecture.
Wimbledon Studios (Merton Studios)
Merton Studios, converted from a former wine warehouse in Deer Park Road SW19, were originally owned by talkbackTHAMES. The site was purchased and permanent sets built in one of the warehouses in 1989 so that The Bill could move here from its previous home in Barlby Road, off Ladbroke Grove. The original home of The Bill had been in Wapping so this was its second move.
The Bill occupied the site on its own until 1999, when another talkbackTHAMES production, channel 5's Family Affairs, moved here from the HDS studios in Hayes. The Bill was shot single camera but Family Affairs was made using multicamera techniques like EastEnders so a production gallery had to be built. A 'London street' was also constructed outdoors on the back lot.
Family Affairs was axed in December 2005. After that, The Bill spread to occupy more space on the site. Many rooms and spaces within the building were dressed as various very realistic permanent sets.
When Family Affairs ended, the production gallery was retained but the cameras were disposed of. The gallery could be fed to any of the stages here, or to the back lot area if required. However, it seems that relatively little multi-camera TV was made here after the soap ended. The studios mostly provided services for single-camera television drama, commercials and video post production.
Productions made at Merton during talkbackTHAMES' days included Disneys As The Bell Rings, The Yellow House for C4, Bear Behaving Badly for CBBC, Little Devil for ITV1, The Golden Hour for ITV1 and Murder Investigation Team - a spin-off from The Bill.
This site formed a very useful facility for the production company talkbackTHAMES, enabling them to make some of their drama series in their own facilities, which one assumes was more cost-effective than renting studio space elsewhere.
Sadly, in March 2010, ITV announced that The Bill would be axed later in the year. The final episode was transmitted to an audience of 4.4 million on 31st August after 26 years and 2,400 episodes. With this production no longer occupying the studios here it was inevitable that talkbackTHAMES would dispose of them.
In September 2010 it was announced that Panther Securities had bought the freehold of the studios for £4.75m. Panther also bought a 25% interest in the management company that were to run the business as independent film and TV studios. The company had a 10 year lease and was led by Piers Read.
In January 2011 it was announced that the new name for these studios would be Wimbledon Film and Television Studios.
The gallery suite reopened in September 2011. All the technical equipment and cameras were provided by facilities company Roll To Record - no kit was permanently fitted here apart from cabling and furniture etc. The two largest stages were busy with single camera drama and comedy work for most of the time. The hope was that studio 1 would be used to record a number of multi-camera entertainment shows after TV Centre closed but in fact very few productions booked the studio that might otherwise have used the Centre.
Studio 1 has a cyc track and fire lanes but initially there were no footage markings enabling sets to be constructed in the exact position as marked on designers' set plans. After a suggestion from yours truly, the usual markings were painted on the floor in August 2012. There is no overhead grid but 27 points in the roof support a basic truss structure upon which lights or further trussing can be hung.
Only studios 1 and 2 were offered as available spaces initially. At the beginning of 2013 the semi-permanent courtroom set in the old talkbackTHAMES studio 3 was put up for sale and the studio and the building alongside that contained prison sets were demolished. A new studio 3 was built to replace them.
At first, around 50 purpose built and semi-permanent fully dressed sets were retained from The Bill. These included police stations with many different areas and rooms (many with working computers and CCTV video screens), fully equipped hospital wards, train carriage interior, pub etc and an exterior street set. Some had windows letting in daylight and all these areas appeared to be real locations with ceilings and practical light fittings. They were used for a few dramas and sketch shows but in May 2013 the management decided to clear most of these sets and increase the amount of office space available for companies to base themselves here in the media village.
The only sets remaining were the exterior street, the police custody room, the crime investigation room, the A&E hospital area and the hospital ward.
For a while there was also a House of Commons set in storage that was used by the film The Iron Lady, filmed in stage 1 early in 2011. This is the set that was originally built in 1986 for Granada's mini-series First Among Equals. It then became part of the Granada Studios Tour. It was later used for the BBC drama State of Play and after some time in storage it was bought by Wimbledon in 2012 following its use in The Iron Lady. It was disposed of during 2013 to free up space.
Single camera TV work in 2011 included Misfits, One Night and Pete vs. Life and the feature Run For Your Wife was also shot here. Other bookings included the sketch show series Anna and Katy's Television Programme. Some sketches for Russell Howard's Good News were also shot on stage 2.
In March 2012 studio 1 attracted its first multicamera audience show - The Angel - a Dragon's Den style show for Sky 1. In September and October I had the pleasure of lighting a multicamera comedy drama made by Hat Trick for Sky Arts - Nixon's the One - in studio 1.
Productions using Wimbledon in 2013 included Bad Education, An Adventure in Time and Space, Episodes and Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie.
The three stages were called 'studios' by Wimbledon but only studios 1 and 3 have a TV floor and control rooms making them TV studios in the normal sense. Even so, their lack of a flexible, properly equipped grid stretches that terminology. Studio 2 is a basic 4-waller so really should have been called a stage.
Studio 1 is about 7,200 sq ft gross or 78 x 73 metric feet within firelanes with a big bite out of one corner. The height is a useful 9 metres. There is an area at one end of the studio, approximately 45 x 31 metric ft, that has a much lower ceiling height of 5.62m and no grid so any lights in this area have to be floor mounted. In 2011 the main roof was strengthened and a basic truss grid installed. A new TV floor was also laid and tab tracks round the walls installed. A very costly extra wall was built between the two main stages so that they were effectively soundproofed from each other. New dock doors were also fitted. This stage could therefore be called a 'TV studio' rather than a 4-waller but there are no lights, dimmers or distribution permanently fitted and the truss grid is very basic and inflexible.
Studio 2 is about 8,000 sq ft gross or 106 x 68 metric ft within firelanes - about a third having a ceiling height of 5.62m with the rest at 9m. It has a basic concrete floor so is unsuitable for TV camera peds. The roof was strengthened in September 2012 and seven runway beams with chain tackles installed on the higher section.
Studio 3 was newly built in 2013. It is about 4,800 sq ft gross or 74 x 54 metric ft within firelanes. Its height is also 9m. The grid has 11 runway beams spaced 1.5 metres apart, from which a truss lighting rig can be suspended. It has its own gallery suite on the first floor. Cameras and facilities were provided by Roll to Record in the Wimbledon Studios days. This studio was used for The Last Leg (C4) in 2013 and Tipping Point (ITV) in 2013/14. It is now occupied on a permanent basis by Marjan TV.
Studio 4 was never brought into service but was planned to be a green-screen stage of about 2,500 sq ft.
Studio 5 opened in February 2014 and was relatively small at around 500 sq ft, having been converted from a couple of old grading suites. It had a permanent hard cyclorama and cove and was suitable for simple, single camera one presenter to camera shoots. It had no facilities of its own.
In November 2013 it was announced that the management company were looking for investors to purchase the freehold and the 25% of the company owned by Panther. They were hoping to raise £3m which would enable them to 'iron out inconsistencies' between the studios.
I met with Piers Read and he explained what he hoped to do. Studio 1 would have a denser truss grid installed in the short term. Studio 2 was to have the low ceiling at the end removed so the whole studio became 9m high. A lighting rig involving trussing on motors, scaff bars and rolling pantographs was to be installed, giving far greater flexibility to lighting directors and speeding up rigging time.
Studio 3 was to have more trussing and permanent distribution installed - again improving the flexibility of the studio.
There was also an ambitious long-term plan to rebuild studio 1 and extend it into the area currently occupied by The Street set. This would have a proper overhead grid and would be around 12,000 sq ft. It would be aimed at big Saturday night live entertainment audience shows.
During the early summer of 2014 there were rumours in the industry that all was not well at Wimbledon. On 28th July, it was reported that CEO Piers Read and financial controller David Smith had resigned. Piers is quoted as saying that Panther, the owners of the site, had resisted his £10m offer for the freehold after he had negotiated with potential investors to fund £6m-worth of upgrading work. He said it left the future of the studios in doubt. He continued, "We fundamentally disagree with the direction our parent company and freeholder Panther wishes to proceed. We believe this direction will kill Wimbledon Studios as it is known today. With studio space in London now at a premium following the closure of a number of our closest competitors, the UK TV and film industry is in desperate need of exactly the type of facilities that Wimbledon could offer."
Sadly, on August 6th it was announced that the studios had gone into administration. Panther said it wished to close the site down gradually, enabling the several companies occupying offices to find alternative accommodation. This was going to cost them more than a forced liquidation would have done. The company had reportedly invested £150,000 for its share of Wimbledon Studios and it had provided a loan of £622,000, which it said had been fully drawn down. It also said that as landlord it had assisted the Wimbledon Studios business by not collecting rent and lease payments for fixtures and that it was owed £1.6m in rent.
With the board of Panther deciding against taking on additional funding, Panther chairman Andrew Perloff reportedly loaned £250,000 himself to Wimbledon Studios.
The fourth series of Episodes had begun filming here only a week before this announcement but they were given permission to complete their shoot. However, Panther reportedly asked for an additional £125,000 studio rental. Since Hat Trick, the production company, had already paid £150,000 they were not impressed. Jimmy Mulville, head of Hat Trick described this as 'galling' and frankly he did have a point. They apparently paid an additional £50,000 and were in the studios for less than half the planned time. The shoot was completed at Elstree. One can't help thinking that this could have been rather better handled by the owners and management of Wimbledon. Russell Howard's Good News was also booked to use one of the studios in the autumn. Fortunately Avalon had just enough time to find an alternative before recording the series - they ended up sharing a stage at Shepperton with 8 Out of 10 Cats.
The lease for the studios was sold to Marjan Television Network - the Iranian TV channel that had previously been using Capital Studios in Wandsworth. I understand that Marjan were intending to immediately rent out the studio space that they didn't need but they discovered that a great deal of work needed to be done to parts of the building including the roof. They therefore occupied half the site whilst work was done on the rest.
In August 2015, Marjan announced that studios 1 and 2 were again available for hire. They now occupy studio 3 and the offices previously used by the media village whilst the rest of the site including the two big stages and the exterior street set is divided off and has a separate entrance. Location specialists The Collective are looking after the studios and a new studio manger has been appointed. The site is known now simply as Wimbledon Studios.
Marjan reportedly agreed a 15 year lease with Panther, paying just over £1m per year. Two and a half years' rent was paid in advance, enabling Panther to replace the majority of the facility's roof. A much needed upgrade to the site's electricity supply has also been undertaken.
The Lock-Keeper's Cottages and studio, Bow.
(aka Bow Locks studios. No, really)
1992 - 2002
In 1992 Channel 4 decided to replace their existing breakfast show The Channel Four Daily with something much lighter in tone and more likely to attract a younger audience. Planet 24 (part owned by Bob Geldof) won the contract to make The Big Breakfast and rather than hire a conventional TV studio they decided to buy a house and make the show there.
After looking all over London for suitable premises they purchased three canal-side cottages at Old Ford Lock, Hertford Union Canal in Bow, east London. These were very small so were knocked into one house. The cottages were well away from other properties - essential when it was likely that a lot of noise and disturbance was likely to happen early in the morning. In fact, the location was in the middle of run-down ex-industrial land that nobody suspected would be given a very serious makeover some 20 years later.
The cottages had originally been built in 1947 for canal workers. As the canal declined in use, the cottages fell empty and by the time they were purchased by Planet 24 they were near derelict. None of them had been lived in for 20 years and each had broken windows and a leaking roof.
An ex-BBC OB scanner was purchased which would be used to provide technical facilities for the first couple of years. I'm told it was originally 'LO4' - a type 5 unit. Unfortunately the only access was over a footbridge so the huge vehicle had to be lifted into place using a giant crane.
The house was refurbished and then dressed in a distinctive colourful style by designer Cath Pater-Lancucki. There were 11 rooms inside, most of which were seen on camera. These included bedrooms - one had a giant bed upon which guests were interviewed by Paula Yates.
There was a semi-permanent lighting rig consisting of lights bolted to various ceilings and walls, enabling the house to be used at all times of year in various degrees of daylight and darkness. The cameras were all hand-held. This gave the directors the freedom to stage items all over the house and garden and gave the show a more edgy contemporary look.
The first edition was broadcast on 28th September 1992. With its two main presenters Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin, The Big Breakfast quickly attracted a relatively large audience of around 2 million. Popular regular presenters included puppets Zig and Zag.
In 1994 Evans began to work on his C4 show Don't Forget Your Toothbrush so he was only able to do 3 days a week on The Big Breakfast. Mark Little took over the other two days - continuing when Evans left for good later in the year. Paul Ross took over some of the days - later Keith Chegwin joined the show. The viewing figures began to decline after the departure of Chris Evans.
1994 was also the year that Planet 24 acquired the nearest industrial unit of a block that had recently been built only a few yards from the back garden of the cottages. They got rid of the BBC truck and built a gallery suite within the industrial unit plus - most interestingly - a studio! This was roughly square in shape and about 60ft x 60ft. It was 5m to the scaffold grid which was in 2m squares with pantographs hanging from it. The intention was to use the studio during the afternoons and evenings for other shows using the same technical and support facilities as The Big Breakfast. However, it was never as busy as was originally hoped. My guess is that very few people even knew it existed!
Still, a number of pilots were made in the studio including one called Cross Section, intended for the Wright Stuff slot. Series made here included Gaytime TV (BBC), Start the Weekend (BBC), Best of The Word (C4), Singled Out (C5), Videotech (Carlton) and The Pinky and Perky Show (BBC).
Most of the time The Big Breakfast used the studio as an art department prep area and as an overspill games area.
Duncan Stewart (now at Riverside) was sound supervisor and engineer and he has sent me the following:
In 1996 Channel 4 bought the cottages from Planet 24. This enabled a refurbishment of the property both inside and out reported to cost around £2m - giving it an art-deco look. The exterior was rendered over and painted white (whose idea was that?!!), balconies were added, interior walls knocked about and a swimming pool built. In later years the house was painted bright yellow, then brown and finally bricks were painted onto the walls to represent - er - bricks.
1996 was also the year when Gaby Roslin left, to be replaced with Zoë Ball. Figures continued to decline gradually, particularly when Rick Adams (?) and Sharron Davies took over. They were rapidly replaced with Johnny Vaughan and Denise van Outen who revived the fortunes of the show. A couple of other female presenters came and went but van Outen then returned. She and Johnny Vaughan both left in 2001 and that was the beginning of the end. Various replacements were tried out but the show was axed by Channel 4 and last aired on 29th March 2002.
A regular 'character' of the show was a giant gnome, who sat in the garden. On the final show it was announced that he would be taken to a lucky viewer's house. The final OB 'hit' on the programme showed the gnome being deposited outside the Horseferry Road HQ of Channel 4 - with a single raised finger aimed at the front door. The execs at C4 were reportedly furious - Planet 24 refused to remove the gnome and it stayed there for several days.
A pilot was run in the studio at Bow as a replacement for the show. It was called B4 and was hosted by Liquid News presenter Christopher Price, a couple of months before he died. However, Princess won the commission with RI:SE which was made at first in Sky's studios.
The final show made in the studio was Survivor Raw for ITV2 on 22nd May 2002. By this time the Big Breakfast House had been competely stripped of all its kit, phone lines were dead and even the water had been turned off.
The technical equipment was removed from Bow and made its way to Riverside Studios where it enabled studio 1 there to become a fully working TV studio again after many years as an arts centre performance space.
Sadly, the Big Breakfast house was the victim of a suspected arson attack on Nov 8th 2002. The roof and upstairs rooms were badly damaged. The property was eventually sold by C4 in December of that year to be used as a private house. It was repaired and became a luxury dwelling.
Despite its being originally chosen due to its quiet remote location, in 2005 it was compulsorily purchased as it was situated only 200 metres from the proposed Olympic stadium. It thus found itself right in the middle of the busiest place in London.
It seems that the house was used for at least three other TV shows after it had been taken over by the Olympic authority. These were shot using single camera techniques - not an OB unit. They were the BBC Two cookery programme Neneh and Andi Dish It Up ('07), BBC Three's Singing With the Enemy ('07), and ITV1's Too Fat To Toddle ('08). Early in 2012 there were newspaper reports suggesting that C4 might take the house over again for some Big Breakfast shows during the Olympics but this came to nothing.
In January 2013 the house was advertised for rent at the very reasonable rate of £2,000 per month(!) The swimming pool with its distinctive curved painted wall still remains but you would be hard pressed to recognise the very smart interior, which is now all polished wooden floors and white painted walls.
Many thanks to Duncan Stewart for much of the above information - also the excellent website www.thebigbreakfast.co.uk
124 Studio, Westminster
The distinctive Channel 4 HQ in Horseferry Road was designed by the Richard Rogers partnership and was constructed between 1991 and 1994. The building itself is an excellent example of '90s architecture at its best - although it only cost £35m.
Although Channel 4 is not allowed by law to make its own programmes (it acts purely as a publisher) the new building contained a small studio in the basement. The studio and associated post production facilities were run by a separate company - '124 Facilities' - and the programmes made in it were produced by independent production companies - often being broadcast on networks other than C4. The studio had a working area of 50ft x 36ft (15m x 11m) with a gross size of 2,000 sq ft. It was equipped with five Philips BTS cameras, a saturated lighting rig and a 48 channel sound mixer. The studio was capable of seating an audience of up to 150 people.
Programmes made over the years included The Jonathan Dimbleby Programme (LWT), Loose Women (Granada), Paxman Meets Bill Gates (BBC), Filmspotting (HorsePower Films/FilmFour) and I Love The Seventies Christmas (BBC Manchester). The studio was also used for various business TV bookings and global satellite conferences.
Perhaps the best-known of its regular bookings was T4 - the Channel 4 weekend morning show. This used the studio between 1998 and 2006. The restaurant was also used by this show as a studio for links with performances and interviews being done in the studio downstairs. The T4 'brand' was created by Andi Peters, who was C4's commissioning editor for children and youth at the time.
T4 in the early days was often crewed by BBC staff doing a bit of moonlighting. A few years ago I asked in a BBC gallery whether anyone knew anything about the 124 studio and everyone apart from me had worked there at some point!
In 2006 T4 moved to Riverside Studios where it took over Studio 3 which was converted into a TV studio specially for the programme. This loss of such an important regular booking must have affected the 124 business plan considerably and in January 2008 the studio was closed. The official reason was that the studio could not afford to convert to HD. A slightly odd explanation at first sight since the demand for HD programming was not that great at that time. However, one assumes that most of the technical kit including the cameras dated from 1994 when the studio opened so would be well overdue for replacement.
'124 Facilities' still exists - although it is purely a post-production company now and is owned by Red Bee Media.
Technicolor Studios, Chiswick Park
1996 - 2005. 2008 - 2009
The Disney Channel launched in the UK on the Sky platform in 1995. In April 1996 the programmes began to be linked by live presenters. These continuity links became ever more elaborate and were initially known as Disney Channel UK Live. This was relaunched as Studio Disney on 23 April 2001. Studio Disney ran on weekdays, usually from 4pm to 7pm in direct competition with the same sort of presentation on CBBC, CITV and Nickelodeon UK. The show featured a team of between two and six presenters who came on air between programmes, giving viewers the opportunity to phone in and win prizes or appear as part of the small studio audience. Studio Disney also produced many of its own short programmes, including Wish Upon a Star and Junior Journo, which were shown during the block itself and between programmes at other times.
The Disney Channel created two new studios for this programming. They were located in Chiswick, in the HQ building of Thomson Broadcasting, now rebranded as Technicolor. They were roughly similar sizes - studio 1 was 53 x 52ft (2,756 sq ft) and 2 was 59 x 45ft 6ins (2,685 sq ft.)
These studios, although not particularly large, were fully utilised - with one being the base for the main continuity links and the other redressed for various gameshows and the like. The crews who worked there were certainly kept busy. The lighting grids were similar to those at Sky - with tracking lighting bars and lamps suspended on pantographs. Very flexible but quite slow to re-rig so more suited to standing sets than rapid turnarounds.
For reasons known only to focus groups, live presenters on children's TV went out of fashion around 2005 and Studio Disney and its associated spin-off shows ended on 1st July. The studios were mothballed - crews made redundant, cameras disposed of and the monitors in the galleries apparently finding their way to various post production suites around the building.
However, in 2008 some occasional programme making began to return. The first used an OB unit and hired in lights (the existing studio lights had not been PAT tested) but the later series got one of the galleries up and running again. The shows were made for the Disney Channel UK - the second one being a gameshow based on the hugely successful Hannah Montana series. Cameras and some other gear were hired in.
In the summer of 2008 the contract with Disney ended and the studios became the responsibility of Technicolor to market. Studio 1 immediately picked up a long-term booking as the base for Setanta's football coverage. Studio 2 was, I gather, used occasionally by independent companies - including Disney, as it happens - but I understand that the galleries for that studio were not recommissioned.
Setanta, unfortunately, folded in June 2009. It seems likely that Technicolor decided at that point to close the studios for good. There is no mention of them on their website and written requests for information have not been replied to. Of course - if you know different please let me know!
1997 - 2010
At the beginning of 1993 Thames TV lost its franchise to provide ITV programmes to London on weekdays. However, for a while the company remained at its Teddington base and marketed the studios there as an independent facility. Thames was bought by publishing giant Pearson soon after the loss of the franchise. In 1997 Pearson decided that they no longer needed to operate a large studio centre and transferred their remaining Thames production staff to their central London HQ in Stephen St, just off Tottenham Court Road. Not wishing to completely make do without any production facilities of their own, they converted two areas on the ground floor into studios 1 and 2. Studio 1 opened at Easter 1997 with a show called Five's Company. This ran for about six months and was replaced a few months later by Gloria Hunniford's Open House.
Studio 1 was probably the most curiously shaped studio in London. It was 2,672 sq ft but as the plan above indicates - its shape is hard to describe! It also had a relatively low grid (12ft 6ins). To complicate matters further, there were two large pillars (not shown on this plan) taking up some floor space that brought out the best in ingenious set designers. Nevertheless, it could seat an audience of 75 and as can be seen from the photo above, was quite a useful size. It had a well-equipped gallery and five Sony BVP550 cameras.
Studio 2 was 1,550 sq ft and was a more conventional rectangle 49 x 33ft wall to wall. It had a much higher grid (18ft) and a 360 degree cyc track. It too had a gallery with all the necessary kit and had four Sony BVP550 cameras. The studio opened in the autumn of 1997 with Give Us A Clue. Then UK Living took over the studio for about a year, using it for a range of programming.
There is also a 'Studio 3', run by the same company in the old Talkback HQ in Newman Street. This is a little under 30 x 30ft wall to wall but has no technical equipment other than a small lighting rig. It is sometimes used for single-camera interviews or links to camera.
The Stephen Street office building is very large and contains an atrium in the centre. This space was equipped with a lighting truss and was used occasionally for programmes as an interview and performance area.
Since 2001 Thames has been part of the FremantleMedia group and following its merger with Talkback Productions operated as the highly successful 'talkbackTHAMES'. Many productions made by this company used these studios over the years but they were also available for hire by other companies. In 2003 I lit a spoof Alan Partridge documentary in studio 2 called Anglian Lives and in 2006 I was LD on a pilot for a new breakfast show for C4 in studio 1. I found the studios well-equipped and a very pleasant place to work.
Studio 1 was the home of Gloria Hunniford's Open House for Channel 5 from April 1998 to December 2002. Amongst other things the studios were host in recent years to ITV's (somewhat controversial) Quizmania (studio 2, Aug '05-Jan '07), MTVs All Eyes on Tony Blair and insert material for The X Factor, Grease Is The Word and Britains Got Talent. It was also the home of Five's new version of Going For Gold.
In October 2008, Stephen Street announced a surprising tie-in with Pinewood. This link had Pinewood's sales team market the studios to clients looking for smaller or central London-based premises. According to a press release, Pinewood took a cut of any jobs it drove to Stephen Street with the percentage dependent on the nature of the contract. Pinewood's sales director Paul Baker was quoted as saying that he believed there were great synergies between the two companies. "Stephen Street has studio space at 900, 1,500 and 2,700 square feet, our studios range from 4,500 to 9,000 square feet. This means we can offer space to light entertainment clients looking for smaller facilities." It is not known how successful this arrangement proved to be.
In the summer of 2010 talkbackTHAMES ceased production of The Bill in its Merton studios and those facilities were sold off. At the same time the company decided to close these studios down, partly as a cost-saving measure but also probably because the cost of upgrading to HD would be far too great to justify the investment. Thus London lost yet more small TV studios, joining the list of 124, Capital, Molinare and MTV Camden. More recently of course, very useful small studios have also been lost at TV Centre and Teddington.
However, Fremantle have continued to invest in post production at Stephen St. In October 2015 they announced a significant increase - they are creating 21 more picture and audio suites, reducing their dependence on outside companies and bringing this activity in-house.
2003 - 2014
Located within the industrial development next to the Hogarth Roundabout, this studio was originally built around 2003 for NOW TV - a Hong Kong based company that produces an Internet TV service.
It was used by the iBuy shopping channel from 2006 after they left Teddington until March 2007. Other bookings included Bremner Bird and Fortune for C4, Churchill for ITV1, Loose Lips for Living TV, Don't Watch That Watch This for BBC4, Who Do You Think You Are? for BBC2 and Alastair McGowan's Big Impression for BBC1.
Around 2007 the facilities were taken over by IMG. They are said to be the largest independent producer of sports-related programming in the world. IMG adopted the name 'Mediahouse' for their activities here. They used the facilities to make various programmes and host a few sports channels too. They used an adjoining building for post production and transmission suites.
There was a main studio originally called 1a which was 60ft x 35ft (2,100 sq ft) wall to wall. The grid consisted of scaffold bars with sliding bars between them.
The scene dock area (1,400 sq ft) was also occasionally used as a studio when it was known as 1b. It had its own production gallery but had to borrow the cameras from the main studio. The studios were initially equipped with 7 Philips LDK-100 cameras with a Philips DD35-3 vision mixer in studio 1a and a Sony DVS7250 in studio 1b.
In the summer of 2011 the studios and galleries were given a £1.5m refit. There were then 4 studios in total and the two galleries were given 1080P HD capability, enabling them to transmit in 3D if necessary. They were equipped with Sony MVS-8000X vision mixers. The main studio (simply called Studio A) had six Sony HXC100 HD cameras.
For a while the Mediahouse studios provided facilities for ESPN's football coverage and the BBC's The Football League Show was also made here. Since August 2013 ESPN has been based in the new BT Studios in the Olympic Park.
The lease for these studios ends in 2014. In July 2013 IMG began the move to new facilities in Stockley Park in West Drayton, near Heathrow. They have established a very well equipped broadcast centre there - see this web page for more details. The move will be complete by the summer of 2014. It is thought that these Chiswick facilities will be demolished and replaced with housing.
Spectrecom Studios, Kennington (Cactus TV, Spectrecom Films)
2001 - 2012, 2014 - present
In May 2001 Richard Madely and Judy Finnegan unexpectedly announced that they were to leave their highly successful show on ITV1 - This Morning with Richard and Judy. Their reasons for leaving are not the subject of this website and are well-documented elsewhere. They were signed by Cactus Television to produce a new daytime show for Channel 4. Cactus had been operating since 1994 as an independent production company but this was to be their biggest undertaking yet.
They decided that with an initial two-year contract with C4, it made financial sense to build their own studio for the show rather than hiring an existing one. They found a suitable site in Kennington - an industrial warehouse unit, which was duly converted into a fully equipped TV studio. Channel 4's Richard and Judy began broadcasting in November 2001.
The studio is 74 x 48 feet wall to wall (approx 3,500 sq ft). As with most conversions, the grid was relatively low and consisted of a simple trussing structure. This type of grid is usually slower to work with than one with monopoles or hoists. However, this was not too much of a problem here since the studio normally had only one show in it. From June 2006 Saturday Kitchen shared the studio space but this too had a standing set.
Technically the studio was well equipped - with 5 Sony BVP 950 cameras, a Sony 7350 vision mixer and a Calrec 48 channel sound desk.
In January 2006 Paul O'Grady did a similar trick and left his ITV tea-time show to go to C4. The decision was made to alternate his new show with Richard and Judy's for three months each. The New Paul O'Grady Show was made at TLS (TV Centre for one series) so the studio at Cactus became available for other users for half the year.
Richard and Judy's C4 show ended in the summer of 2008. From 7th October 2008 they began a new show - Richard and Judy's New Position - transmitted every night on the UKTV channel Watch. This ended in July 2009. Saturday Kitchen remained the one regular show made in this studio.
During 2010 Cactus began to look for alternative premises. However, the new Channel 4 Fern show began to be made here in March 2011 for a few months, preserving the studio's future for a while.
In June 2012, Amanda and Simon Ross, the owners of Cactus, bought back the company from super-indie All3Media. (The firm was originally sold 2003.) They decided to build a new studio in an old Victorian building in Clapham. This studio was closed and the building stripped of all its TV technology.
In October 2014 the studios were reopened, a 10 year lease having been purchased by Spectrecom Films, who also operate Waterloo Studios - some relatively small 4-wallers. They have installed a new simple truss grid in studio 1 and have also opened studio 2 (33 x 23ft) and a third somewhat smaller one. Studios 2 and 3 are basic 4-wallers but studio 1 is marketed as a fully equipped TV studio. The first booking was the BBC's Food and Drink which started recording in October.
Late in 2016 studio 1 was used for The Chris Ramsey Show - made by Avalon for Comedy Central.
Spectrecom's studios in Waterloo are due to close for redevelopment once these studios are fully operational.
The Hospital Club Studio - Europe's first high definition colour studio
2003 - present
This unique and very old building is situated on the corner of Endell Street and Shorts Gardens in the heart of Covent Garden. Its interior is very smart with ultra-modern décor and is unusual in several respects. It was the first studio in the UK to be equipped with latest generation HD cameras and facilities - and that was way back in 2003. It was the 'vision' of Paul G Allen - co-founder of Microsoft, and Dave Stewart - late of Eurythmics and currently a successful music producer. They decided to build a facility containing a state of the art music studio which would also incorporate television facilities so that musicians could record both sound and vision to the highest quality.
In fact, they sensibly realised that such a studio would have a market for ordinary TV shows - not just those with music. The studio therefore has two sound control rooms. One is a standard TV-type gallery and the other much larger one has all the facilities of a professional recording studio. There is another sound recording studio in the building too.
The television studio is about 61 feet x 44 feet and thus is similar in size and shape to studio 2 at Television Centre.It is equipped with three LDK 6000 high definition cameras but three more can be added if needed. When it opened, the production control room was quite unique with regard to its monitor stack. It doesn't have one! In fact, there are two huge back-projection screens and the 'monitors' can be displayed on them in a variety of configurations. The LD also sits in the same gallery and has a conventional CRT HD monitor for quality check. Naturally, programmes can be recorded or transmitted in standard definition too.
The building is a kind of media centre - containing a private members club with several bars and lounges, a gallery, TV & music recording studios, and a public restaurant - 'The Origin' bar & dining room.
Its somewhat unusual name is simply because the building was an actual hospital, first established in 1749. It became known as St Paul's Hospital from 1948 and in the early 1960s specialized in kidney and dialysis procedures. The hospital closed in 1992 and was purchased by Paul Allen in 1996. Most of the work in converting it to its present state took place between 1999 and 2003.
As well as being used for its original purpose as a facility for recording music and TV - the studio has also been home to several pilots and broadcast series in recent years. These have mostly been of the discussion programme type including both series of Morgan and Platell or entertainment shows such as That'll Test 'Em for More4 or Guiness World of Records for Challenge TV. The studio has also been the home of the live daily follow-up programmes for the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing and Strictly Dance Fever.
It picked up some more bookings following the closure of TV Centre - notably Watchdog, which transmitted live from the studio. They also do some work for MTV, now that their own studios in Camden have closed. In February 2014 Channel 5's debate show The Big Benefits Row Live came from this studio.
Vic and Bob's Big Night Out special for BBC2 was made here in 2017.
In January 2014 The Hospital announced that they had spent £250,000 on new gallery equipment including monitors and a Sony MVS-7000 vision mixer. This was said to be the first step in upgrading all the technical facilities.
2003 - 2018
This studio was created for the Channel 4 breakfast show RI:SE. It was a co-production between BSkyB and Princess Productions. The show began broadcasting in April 2002 from Sky's studios in Osterley but transferred to this new studio in January 2003. Unfortunately the show only lasted here for a year - its last transmission was on 19th December. The programme was never a huge success - certainly not as popular as its predecessor The Big Breakfast had been. There were a number of presenters involved - it seemed that the producers were trying hard to find someone the public would latch onto. The final pairing was Iain Lee and Kate Lawler.
Princess Productions had been set up in 1996 by Henrietta Conrad & Sebastian Scott. Conrad had previously produced The Big Breakfast and Jonathan Ross' Channel 4 show, The Last Resort whilst Scott was responsible for launching and executive producing The Big Breakfast. He also worked on The Word and in 1987 won a BAFTA award for Network 7, the groundbreaking youth magazine programme made at Limehouse Studios.
Princess have been responsible for many successful productions shown on all the major channels. Most were made in London's major studios like TLS, TV Centre, Teddington and Pinewood. Others have been single camera location-based shows.
One of Princess' successes has been The Wright Stuff - Matthew Wright's morning show for Five. This began broacasting in September 2000 from Anglia's studios in Norwich. However, it transferred to this studio when it became vacant following the cancellation of RI:SE. The show remained popular with many viewers but was not been without some controversy - for example the name of Ulrika Jonsson's 'mystery rapist' was revealed on the programme.
The studio was kept busy on Sunday mornings too - BBC 2's cookery and chat series Something For The Weekend began in October 2006 and proved to be very popular. Due to cuts in daytime programming budgets, it was axed on 18th March 2012. However, Channel 4 saw its potential and the show transferred to their channel - with a few tweaks and a name change to Sunday Brunch, beginning one week later on 25th March 2012.
The studio was on the third floor of the Whiteley's Centre in Queensway, Bayswater. It occupied 2,500 sq ft and was very nicely equipped with a smart production gallery which looked out onto the studio through glass walls.
The room had a unique look on camera, with timber floor and large leaded-light windows on two of the walls. Despite the obvious problems of mixing daylight with the studio lighting, the productions made here never seemed to struggle with this. In fact, the daylight gave the pictures an ambience that was ideally suited to daytime shows.
The studio also had some audience seating and an 8 x 14ft video wall. It was equipped with black, white and CSO green cycloramas.
In May 2017 Endemol Shine announced that Princess Productions would close at the end of 2017. The Wright Stuff ran to December. Channel 5 put the show out to tender and ITN won the contract. The new show, presented by Jeremy Vine, is made in ITN's studios. Meanwhile, Sunday Brunch is now made by Remarkable Television.
The building containing the studio was due to be redeveloped and it was thought that it would close at the end of 2017. However, it had a stay of execution and was still in use for Sunday Brunch until 16th December 2018, when it did finally close. The show moved to TC2 at Television Centre, which is also used by Loose Women, Lorraine and Peston.
2004 - 2015?
This small centre opened in 2004 as eeZee Studios. It was primarily used by the JML group to make 'infomercials'. Later equipped with two studios, up until 2011 the business also made shows for digital channels such as Living TV, UKTV and the History Channel. Examples include Britain's Next Top Model, When Were We Funniest? and 50 Things You Should Know.
There were two studios - studio 1 was 68 x 48 metric ft - so slightly larger than the studio at The Hospital Club. Grid height was relatively low at 14ft. The studio also had a paintable infinity curve cyc on two walls. Studio 1 was fully equipped with production, sound and lighting galleries and 5 x Thomson LDK1707 cameras. It had a scaffold lighting grid with 65 dimmers available.
Studio 2 opened in February 2008 and was about 30ft x 25ft. Although at first just a 4-waller, studio 2 was equipped with galleries and three Thomson cameras in 2009 and was equipped with a choice of cycs. The studio had 50 dimmers and a selection of lights available.
From February 2011 the studios were taken over by a client who used them for live transmission from May of that year on a long-term booking. However, in January 2015 they were being marketed again.
I don't think these studios still exist. There appears to be no sign of them on the Internet any longer. Can you confirm this? The last post on their Facebook page was in October 2015.
Cactus TV Clapham
2012 - present
Early in 2012 a group of old buildings located between St Luke's Avenue and Carpenter's Place, Clapham were bought by the owners of Cactus TV - Amanda and Simon Ross. They planned to convert them into two TV studios along with all the technical facilities needed to make programmes - plus a cookery school. Cactus are known for producing a number of popular lifestyle and cookery shows - Richard and Judy's series and James Martin's Saturday Kitchen were made by them in their previous studio in Kennington.
The buildings they now own have an interesting history. Some were originally part of Clapham Grammar School during the 19th century. This includes the school's chapel (which has now become studio 1) and what was probably a later addition alongside which is now studio 2. The school was founded in 1834 by headmaster Charles Prichard, who was something of a radical in his day - believing that science and technology should be taught with equal importance to Latin and English grammar. He was so well regarded by like-minded thinkers that many scientists including Herschel and Darwin sent their sons to the school.
It seems that in due course the school moved on to other premises and according to local historian Alyson Wilson, in 1935 the building was purchased by John Pinches Medalists Ltd, who designed and manufactured...medals. They constructed a large strong-room made of reinforced concrete at one end of the chapel. Amongst many other projects, they made the medals for the 1948 London Olympic Games. In 1969 the business was sold to US based company Franklin Mint but within a short period they shut down the UK part of their operation including Clapham.
It seems likely that the premises were used for light industrial work and storage between 1970 and 2012 but they were allowed to deteriorate into a very poor condition.
Studio 1 opened in September 2012 after months of work renovating the building. The studio is about 55 x 30 feet wall to wall. The set for BBC1's Saturday Kitchen has been semi-permanently built in this studio. One original brick wall is part of the set and along this wall are featured three of the chapel windows. On the opposite wall (never seen on camera) is a large doorway leading through to studio 2 which is about 82 x 30 feet wall to wall. This studio was brought into service in September 2013 and is now available for various different programmes, unlike studio 1 which is just used for Saturday Kitchen. The first show in studio 2 was The Munch Box - a kids' cookery programme for ITV.
Both studios share the same suite of control rooms - on the ground floor. Production control is at one end of the chapel in what was the strong-room when the building was used as a mint. The walls are thick reinforced concrete and the doorway had to be cut through using very expensive diamond drills. The sound gallery and lighting galleries are alongside at the end of the building that contains studio 2.
The studios are fully HD and capable of handling 8 cameras and there are several edit suites upstairs. Technical facilities have been provided by Prolink Television.
Early in 2013 Amanda and Simon Ross opened a cookery school here in association with Michel Roux Jnr called Cactus Kitchen. It is based in the roof space of the chapel above studio 1. No doubt they are hoping that this will lead to new ideas for cookery programmes.
I am told that the building is beautifully decorated and is an 'absolute delight' to work in. Good luck to them!
BT Sport Production Hub - 'Here East', Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
2013 - present
In 2012 BT, rather surprisingly to some (probably including Sky), won the rights to broadcast about half the Premier League football matches starting in August 2013. They also planned to cover women's football and other leagues around the world as well as the FA Cup. Other sports they now show include rugby, tennis, boxing, baseball, NASCAR, IndyCar and Moto GP. In November 2013 they outbid ITV and Sky for the following 3 years' UEFA Champions League matches with a jaw-dropping £900m. They clearly meant serious business.
BT decided to create a new studio centre that would enable them not only to link the various matches and have sport-related discussion programmes but with sufficient space to produce large scale TV programmes that have an entertainment element as well as sport. In any case, they had to produce material to fill three channels - BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN. What they created in just 14 months was extremely impressive. In fact, they were only given the keys to the building 20 weeks before going on air.
They looked at taking over existing studios at dock10 in Salford and at Pinewood but opted to build new facilities within the shell of the International Broadcast Centre on the Olympic Park in East London. They took over about an eighth of this huge building (80,000 sq ft) and constructed two linked TV studios of 3,500 sq ft and an astonishing 10,000 sq ft. The larger one is about the same size as TC1 at TV Centre.
A third studio of about 2,000 sq ft opened in the summer of 2015. There were originally seven gallery suites, each of which could be routed to control any of the studios. Two of these are visible through huge windows on one wall of studio 1. One other is also on the ground floor near studio 3, the others surround the MCR on the first floor. In 2015 two more production galleries were added, bringing the total to 9.
It is possible therefore now for BT to transmit 8 matches simultaneously via their various channels and red button services plus on Champions League nights, The Goal Show.
For the first five years the two biggest studios were linked via a large permanently open doorway that was the full width of the smaller one, forming a giant L-shape. Therefore, the studio activity in each studio could be seen from the other in the background, making everything seem even bigger and more dynamic. It was a unique way of working and did cause some operational issues of course but nevertheless looked great on screen.
The USP of studio 1 was a large 'sports pitch' at one end of the studio. The floor of this was initially green toughened ground glass - beneath which were a number of channels containing LED lights, which could be instantly switched on to form various pitches such as football, rugby, tennis, basketball etc. In 2015 this was updated with smoked black glass.
This area was used for various demos regarding tactics, formations, techniques etc and for doing anything that might just be a bit of fun. Footballers demonstrated how to take or save a penalty - rugby players showed how a line-out works. A guest might try a bit of archery perhaps or ride on a snowboarding simulator. The huge area and very flexible lighting rig means that almost anything is possible.
Around the walls were a number of LED display panels which were added to in 2015 along with Augmented Reality technology enabling 3D graphics in the studio.
The aim was clearly to make sport more easily accessible to those who might not consider themselves sport fans - thus increasing the viewer numbers. This included having shows that were perhaps more entertainment than pure sport - for example, Danny Baker had a Friday night 'Vaguely Sport-related Phone Out' show that was perhaps more comedy than sport that ran from 2013 up to May 2015. Clare Balding had a regular chat show with well known celebrity guests that was repeated on BBC2 and another show - Life's a Pitch - had a regular live music slot.
The flexibility of the studios meant that the camera crew in, say, studio 2 could move into studio 1 and use the pitch for a demo or a chat. This obviously affected what was happening at the time in studio 1. Not least, the lighting. The two lighting galleries are linked and there was a great deal of calling out between the two console ops as one handed over half the lighting rig to the other for the duration of the pitch invasion. It sounds chaotic but thanks to a very clever lighting rig - and the fact that the freelance lighting crews all know each other very well - it did seem to work.
Studio crewing is a departure from the way Sky operate. Sky use their own staff who only therefore work in their studios on their shows. BT Sport use experienced freelancers who regularly work on all sorts of complicated and demanding entertainment shows all over the country - filling in the gaps in their schedules with a few days here and there at BT.
As well as the three main studios there is a small mezzanine studio in the corner, overlooking studio 1. This has a permanent desk set-up enabling discussions and links to take place. This little studio is often used for BT Sport 2.
The main studio has a permanent set within it which consists of a huge round tower or hub (an echo of the BT Tower?) with LED lighting within it and large graphic screens around it. At its base are computer terminals for researchers who sometimes get involved in the live shows.
Graphics play an important part in giving each show its distinctive look - as does the lighting. The Clare Balding Show for example is dark and with a late-night feel.
Studios 1 and 2 share 15 Sony HDC-2400 cameras but there are CCU slots for a total of 24. The building also contains more than 20 edit suites, 8 voiceover booths and a dubbing theatre. All the facilities are 4K capable, and in fact in June 2015 BT announced that they would be launching the UK's first Ultra HD channel in August. As I understand it, there are currently no plans to upgrade the studio cameras to 4K - it is the outside broadcasts that are in the new format.
The facilities are of course tapeless. The channels are routed to Ericsson (Red Bee) for transmission from their White City facility at present but this may change as Ericsson is said to be planning to move to Here East. It is possible that all the BBC's, ITV's Channel 4's and UKTV's channels will play out from one facility at Here East within a few years.
BT's channels are broadcast on Sky as well as all the other main distribution systems. Those with a BT Broadband package are able to receive the channels for free. This is essentially why BT entered the TV market - in order to compete with Sky who offer combined TV subscription and broadband packages, thus attracting customers away from BT. BT are now able to offer something similar.
The facilities are sometimes rented out to other broadcasters - for example, the submix for the 2014 New Year's Day Concert from Vienna shown on BBC2 and BBC4 was done in one of the large galleries here. One assumes it would previously have used a TV Centre gallery. Also, the BBC's live Sport Relief programme in March 2014 (the events came from the Copper Box, Aquatic Centre and Velodrome) used the local connectivity and BT's lines from here to the Telecom Tower.
Other bookings have included the following: NFL (C4), Capital One Cup (C5), Boxing on 5 (C5), IPC Athletics (More4), Race to Superbowl 50 (BBC2), Law and Disorder: The Live Debate (C5) and A Right Royal Quiz.
This is clearly a very impressive facility, particularly with its very large studio - and the programmes made here are much more exciting and dynamic than the kind of sports programmes we were used to before. Interestingly, within a few months of BT Sport opening, Sky completely refurbished their Sky Sports News studio, making it look much bigger even though it was only a couple of years old and they regularly now use their largest (5,500sq ft) studio with a standing audience for football shows.
In September 2018, BT announced some changes to the studios. In a wish to market them more widely, they have done away with the glass floor in the big studio and like the others it now has a normal resin TV floor. A sound-proof partition has been installed between studios 1 and 2, enabling them to operate completely separately. Also, new audience handling facilities have been introduced as well as improvements to dressing rooms, green rooms, producton offices, galleries and post production facilities. The studios regularly host sport related shows for both ITV and the BBC but they are hoping to attract entertainment shows like panel shows and quiz shows.
LH2, Park Royal
2010 - present
Neg Earth is a lighting hire company that was established in the 1980s. It specialises in providing lights and rigging for music tours in venues all over the UK and beyond. Its main warehouse and HQ is based in Park Royal and was named the Light House by them. In 2010 they realised a gap in the market existed for a dedicated large rehearsal room for touring bands to set up their staging and program lighting, video screens and sound mixes. This had previously been done in vacant film stages but these are now so busy that it was becoming a problem for acts to find suitable ones available at convenient times.
In 2010 Neg Earth acquired a site in Concord Road, Park Royal. They constructed a purpose-built facility including a very large room of 17,700 sq ft with a grid height of 60ft, enabling the largest of touring acts to set up their stage and lighting/sound rig. The grid is immensely strong and very easy to fix rigging points. There is excellent access for trucks to load/off-load and there are the usual dressing rooms, green rooms and production offices.
The building was named Light House 2 - or simply LH2 - and from 2010-2016 it was solely used for its intended purpose. Fortunately it is sound-proofed so that the neighbours are not disturbed by any heavy metal bands in full thrash. Mind you, I have heard that when it first opened, they discovered that the bass sound was passing through the concrete floor to buildings around, so they had to cut a narrow trench through the concrete raft around the building to isolate it. I gather this works very well now.
A decision was taken not to have a large power feed from the national grid but to rely upon mobile generators to supply lighting rigs. Since bands often do this on tour anyway, this does make sense. Live TV shows often use generators anyway, rather than relying on local power.
In 2016 it was announced that Fountain Studios would be closing and the regular bookings there would need a replacement studio. I don't know who contacted whom but quite sensibly, LH2 was considered to be a suitable venue. Its working area is 144 x 103ft - which is almost exactly the same as Fountain's 144 x 100ft wall to wall. However, LH2 does have the advantage of a large loading area behind pillars at the side, providing valuable storage and space for technical kit. This brings its floor area up to 17,700 sq ft.
The venue initially had no TV facilities but some Portacabin control rooms have now been built at mezzanine level. These are equipped with fly-away kit from an OB company when a series is being made so no OB truck is required.
The first TV show to use this as a studio was The Voice UK (knockouts and live shows) early in 2017. The X-Factor was also made here in the autumn of 2017 and 2018. In 2018 the studio was also used to film some of the international concert scenes for the movie Bohemian Rhapsody.
IMG Studios, Stockley Park
2013 - present
Stockley Park is an attractively landscaped business park in West Drayton, a little to the north of Heathrow. The area of around 400 acres was originally a number of gravel extraction pits and later a waste tip. From 1985-1994 the site was transformed into a business park on the American model previously unseen in the UK - high quality pavilion buildings surrounded by a network of lakes and footpaths. The building IMG now occupy was designed by Foster and Partners.
IMG is a global sports, fashion and media company. In July 2013 IMG Productions and IMG Studios began operating from 5 Longwalk, Stockley Park. They moved from premises on the Hogarth Roundabout in west London which they had occupied for the previous 6 or so years, trading as 'Mediahouse.' They adopted the name 'IMG Studios' on the move to the new location. The operation in Chiswick continued throughout the autumn of 2013 with a phased move to the new location which was completed in the summer of 2014.
IMG is said to be the largest independent producer of sports programming in the world. From Stockley Park several TV channels and sports related shows are made and/or transmitted. These include Premier League Productions, European Tour Productions, SNTV, EUFA Champions League Magazine Show, FIFA Football Mundial, Trans World Sport, Origin Digital and Rightster. Perhaps surprisingly, the BBC's Football League Show is also made by IMG in these studios (previously at Mediahouse.)
The building contains 4 TV studios - two at 2,000 sq ft and two at 1,000 sq ft. When I was there in 2017 another large room had also been converted into a studio for a long-running sport show. There are 13 production galleries, 72 edit suites, 4 sound dubbing suites, five radio studios, five transmission suites and a master control room. As you can see, this is not a small-scale operation.
The building contains one of the largest data centres built in Europe for digital media and broadcast. There is a great deal of redundancy allowing for expansion. The site also has its own satellite farm.
Not all of the studios are permanently booked for sport shows and one or two are often available for other productions. I worked there myself for a day in August 2017 in studio B, lighting a lost scene from an old Dr Who episode that had to match the original footage. We shot it on an Ikegami HL79 tubed camera to match the 1970s look - supplied by Dicky Howett of course. Great fun!
The grid is relatively low but well equipped with a range of small lights - and the studio building is smart and pleasant to work in. We were made to feel very welcome.
When TV Centre closed in 2013, the BBC's hub and sub-mix for the Eurovision Song Contest moved to BBC Elstree but since 2015 it has been at IMG. The announcement of the voting jury comes from one of the studios here.
Quartermaster Studios, Purfleet on Thames
In 2014 a highly ambitious plan was announced to completely transform the centre of Purfleet including the area that fronts the Thames. If you're scratching your head and thinking - 'Hmm Purfleet. I'm sure I've heard of it but not sure exactly where...' Let me explain. If you follow the Thames out of London, just before the M25 crosses the river, on the northern bank - that's Purfleet.
It is to be frank, not the most beautiful part of London at present, with a number of old industrial buildings and lots of undeveloped brownfield sites. The plan is to turn all this into a thriving centre with shops, offices, riverside marina and - studios! Not just film stages but fully equipped TV studios. Proper ones of a decent size that can replace some of those lost over the past decade. It's not clear quite how many but it looks like at least 3 large ones are proposed.
The whole 140 acre scheme was due to begin site preparation in 2017. However, at a council meeting in April 2017, concerns were raised as to the progress of the whole scheme. Planning applications should have been lodged by December 2016 but a further 12 months were given to allow for more work.
An outline planning application was indeed submitted in December 2017. Work on the first phase - some housing - was expected to commence in late 2018. After a long period of detailed work, the whole scheme was at last granted outline planning permission in April 2019.
The entire project is expected to take 10-15 years. Quite when the TV studios will be open has not been announced. However, given the scale of the whole project, it is unlikely that they will be open before 2021 and it could be much later than that.
The film and TV studios along with supporting workshops and offices will total an impressive 135,000 sq metres. The number of film stages and TV studios and their respective sizes has yet to be finalised. If you are working on this project I would love to hear more about what exactly is proposed.
Unfortunately, these plans have not been universally welcomed. The local MP, Jackie Doyle-Price is quoted as saying 'I don't think that the proposals for TV and film studios are in any way viable. The proximity to the Channel Tunnel Rail link generates noise which makes filming impossible. This is well known to the developers. It is therefore of genuine surprise to me that the proposals remain part of this planning application.' I haven't visited the area so I don't know how much noise is created by the railway but I do know that the new Pinewood stages are visible from the M25 and that the old stages at Twickenham are next to a main line track. Even TC1 at TV Centre has a tube train viaduct and a busy road right next to it so I don't think it's impossible to build sound stages and TV studios with effective soundproofing.
These are not to be confused with the new studios being built in Dagenham, for which Mayor Sadiq Khan has expressed support. They will consist mostly of film stages but there has been mention of TV studios too, although those are unlikely to be fully equipped. However, that scheme suffered a serious setback in October 2019 when developers Pacifica Ventures withdrew from the project. More info can be found on the 'London's film studios' page.
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