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.


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An engraving of Clapham Grammar School chapel, shortly after it opened.  Those windows along the side can now be seen on Saturday mornings on BBC 1.


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 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 was 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.


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When Al Murray was on the show he Tweeted this selfie.  I hope he won’t mind me reproducing it here as it shows how little room there is in front of the set for the cameras.
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The Saturday Kitchen studio – dressed for Christmas 2012.  The original chapel windows form an attractive part of the set – they are backlit by LED panels so they always look the same, whatever the time of day or weather.
The wall is the original Victorian brickwork – the small garden seen through the French windows at the end however is a set.  The doors on the right lead through to the gallery suite, which is in the old mint’s strongroom.
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Studio 2.  Relatively narrow at 30 ft but a very useful length at about 82ft.  The previous industrial use can be seen in the substantial roof girders but these now provide a very useful support for lighting trusses.
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This rather blurred satellite image shows the old chapel in the centre. The chapel is the grey-roofed structure with windows in the roof – compare them with the engraving above.  Four more Velux type have been added to the original 6 small dormers.  This roof space is now occupied by the cookery school.
The addition of the strongroom can be seen at the lower end.  The browner-roofed building alongside containing studio 2 may have been constructed when the mint took over.  What is remarkable is that the chapel can no longer be seen as it once was – it is completely surrounded by buildings.  Cactus also own the buildings connected to the chapel to the north – leading to St Luke’s Avenue – where ‘Cactus TV’ is indicated. These contain dressing rooms, offices, edit suites etc.
image thanks to Google maps


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.

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The door between the control rooms and the old chapel.  This involved many days of drilling through the concrete walls.  The result is now a most unusual feature – lit with LED strips!
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The other side of the chapel door that leads through to the production gallery.


The studios are 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!