Battersea Studios

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 and of course independent organisations running academies.  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.

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The Inner London Educational Authority Television Service actually began in a converted school at Highbury corner.  It was opened by Christopher Chataway in September 1968.  The Highbury studio was used for a couple of years whilst the main base in Battersea was being prepared.  (These are not to be confused with the Highbury Studios used by HDF Films and ATV, which were demolished in 1962.)

This studio was also used to recreate Baird’s first television play for the 1968 Ideal Home Exhibition.  The original play – The Man with the Flower in His Mouth – had been broadcast from Baird’s own studio at 133, Long Acre by the BBC in 1931.



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 (TWW) 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 the ITV companies.


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-waller 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.


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This marvellous photo was sent to me by Dicky Howett – to whom I am extremely grateful.  This shows one of the ILEA studios in action soon after opening.  The cameras are EMI 203s.
The serious and somewhat self-conscious expressions on all concerned make it pretty clear that this was a posed picture rather than a ‘grab’ during a normal day’s work.  The fact that the crew seem to be lit brighter than the artiste is also something of a giveaway.
John O’Brien has kindly put some names to the faces – Tony Nicholson is the serious young cameraman on the left sporting smart collar and tie and desert boots, Dave Brook has his back to us on the camera looking at the roller caption – he went on to become a Thames TV Senior Cameraman and the gentleman behind the camera on the right with very suspect beard is Ross Keith.
Nicholas Payne has added a couple more names – he tells me that the kneeling floor manager is Luigi Vanelli and the boom op is Steve Phillips. Nicholas worked at Battersea for 13 years in a variety of roles and he thinks the programme being made here might be World History.



Glyn Edwards was one of the directors working at Battersea.  He was an experienced teacher and full of ideas for the kind of programmes that would go down well with their audience.  His perspective of the imaginative work that was done in these studios is very interesting.  For instance he says that as London teachers with progressive educational views they had a shared contempt for the bland and cosy output of the BBC and ITV schools departments.  He tells me that they were shown a preview of a new American show for young children.  He writes:  ‘It is called Sesame Street.  All of us at ILEA-TV are wildly in its favour – the BBC rejects it as unsuitable.’   Here are some more of his memories:

‘We have a niche platform from which we can deliver a different kind of educational TV and I get to write and direct a series about newspapers and advertising.  Being a Monty Python devotee I opt for a surreal format.  We conduct interviews with illustrations from Victorian adverts, present the Battle of Hastings as a News at 1066 broadcast, send a real life foot messenger across London to see how fast news can travel, and create a quiz game format to try and identify any meaning in meaningless current advertising slogans.  The programme creates quite a stir and achieves good feedback.  A subsequent programme sees us creating commercials for parts of speech.

I collaborate with progressive music teacher Brian Kenny on ground-breaking series that cause much comment and get us interviewed by BBC radio’s heavyweight current affairs programme P.M.  The three series Music Alive, The New Soundscape and World Music bring sounds into the school classroom that the BBC would never consider.  We have studio sessions from Soft Machine and its spin off Matching Mole; from John Peel discoveries Kevin Coyne and Bridgit St. John, and from Chris Blackwell discovery John Martyn.  All key figures in the alternative music scene of the era and cult figures ever since.  We also put visuals to album tracks from – amongst others – Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed and David Bowie.  Work is commissioned from avant garde film and video artist Malcolm Le Grice and from students of the London Film School.  Decades later these would be considered ‘music videos’ but it’s not a genre we know at the time. We are just experimenting.’

Glyn has sent me a video of the Soft Machine performance he mentions above and it looks and sounds superb.  Utterly professional in every way.  Other programmes he recalls being made include Cities (geography series for secondary schools);  The World Expands (history series about Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan etc); London Magazine (primary school topics of general interest such as famous Londoners, London’s parks, horse-drawn buses and early cars);  Eclair (teaching French);  ILEA Reports (for teachers – live monthly talking head panel format);  Teaching The Less Able (for teachers);  Primary Science (various series);  Career Choices (ditto);  West Indian English (for teachers coming to terms with new classroom vernacular);  You In The Seventies (gritty, social realism dramas for teens and dealing with ‘issues’);  Primary Maths (various series);  Stimulus For Writing (short films to provoke a creative response).  One can see that these were very busy studios – but always under threat from the grandees at the GLC who held the purse strings.  Glyn tells me that knowing that the studios’ future would never be secure, he left for a less well-paid job with ATV and soon rose to become a successful producer/director.



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.  When VHS machines became commonplace around 1979, the cable network was closed and programmes were sent to the schools on cassettes.


Colin Grimshaw has been kind enough to contact me.  He worked as a director at Battersea for a while.  He explained that a fourth cable TV channel was used by University of London Audio Visual Centre for student programming.  Their studio was at 11, Bedford Square and they normally recorded their programmes before transmission.  All the programmes made at Battersea were also recorded (on 2 inch videotape) but around 1976 Colin suggested that they make some live programmes for the Student Television of Imperial College (STOIC).  These consisted of lunchtime magazine programmes, often including interviews with well known celebrities such as Barry Norman, Terry-Thomas, Mel Brookes and Barry Humphries as Edna Everage.  He tells me that the studios were initially black and white equipped but had converted to colour by 1980.


The training studio at Battersea.
thanks to Colin Grimshaw


On the demise of ILEA in 1989 the studios continued operating independently for about ten years after a staff buy-out as ‘Battersea Studios’.  I can find no record of any programmes made in this period.  Can you help? 

Early in 1999, they were purchased 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.



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 relatively recently, 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 at various times by Middle Eastern News and NutsTV.  Quite an interesting contrast.