Introduction

(revised March 2024)

 

This page has the following:

 

Introduction to the website

A 2024 review of the industry and current state of film stages and TV studios

Definitions used in the website

Brief history of how the first TV studios came about

A chart listing when each studio opened and closed

A drawing showing old TV cameras by Dicky Howett

 

please scroll down to read them

 

London has dozens of spaces that are marketed as ‘TV studios’.  Some have been converted from existing buildings with an industrial past, or are simply rooms within office blocks.  These range from those with proper lighting grids, flat resin floors and the latest HD or even 4K technology to those that are little more than a basic 4-waller.

However, this website ignores many of the smaller versions of the above and instead deals mostly with the larger studios that have a history that in many cases go back to the origins of ITV and the BBC.  I have included independent TV studios if they have produced a variety of work, and film studios if they also have TV studios on site or have been used to make a number of television dramas and/or other programmes on their stages.  (Hence Denham isn’t included – I believe they only made feature films there.)  I have also added the studios Gerry Anderson created for his TV series in the 1960s.

In order to put a limit on things I have left out the many small studios that can be found all over London – most of them making programmes for non-PSB channels (news, shopping, bingo, porn etc).  Some others available for hire are often little more than a black-painted room with a scaffold grid, a white or green cyclorama and maybe a couple of dressing rooms and a green room.

 

This website focuses on the buildings and facilities of the various studios over the years.  I’m aware that too many dry facts could be very boring indeed so I also cover the programmes, the artists and some anecdotes associated with the studios whenever I am able to offer up a nugget of human interest.  However, I would strongly recommend what might be considered a companion volume to this website – Louis Barfe’s excellent history of British light entertainment – Turned Out Nice Again.  It’s a glorious wallow in all those performers who never seemed to be off our screens from the mid ’60s into the nineties and in some cases well beyond.  If you have worked in the industry you will also know many of the names behind the scenes that he mentions.

 

A television studio is a factory floor.  It is simply the most efficient way a particular type of television programme can be made.  If it could be made cheaper anywhere else it would be – and these days often is.  However, don’t believe those who say that TV studios are no longer needed because of the sophistication of current cameras and ‘flyaway’ or ‘derig’ technology.  Using a warehouse or very basic film stage might at first look cheaper but once you have installed a lighting grid and all the lights, dimmers and cabling, paid for several days of rigging, booked a generator, laid a TV friendly floor, discovered that the roof leaks and the walls let in the sound of local traffic and aircraft, there is no local catering and you have to put most of the crew up in a hotel – many a line producer or production manager has discovered that the fully equipped TV studio looks incredibly good value for money after all.

 

 

I normally update this page each January – this is the 2024 update (with some tweaks in April).

 

Rapid increase in film stages continues but the US strikes badly affected the industry in 2023.

 

Since the website was launched in 2006 there have been many changes.  2020 and 2021 were of course years of huge disruption but despite the industry having to cope with Covid restrictions and many productions being postponed or cancelled, ways were found to work around the problem and by the end of 2020 most TV and film studios were coping well with the restrictions and were almost as busy as ever.  The upward trend built throughout 2021 and into 2022, despite the various waves of infection.

However, just when the industry seemed to be back on its feet, there were two significant disputes that, although being US based, affected many studios in the UK.  The Writers’ Guild of America went on strike between May and September 2023, and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) were on strike between July and November.

Almost every film studio in the UK was affected by this.  The larger ones such as Pinewood, Shepperton and Leavesden were described to me as ‘ghost towns.’  This sadly affected thousands of freelancers who rely upon what until then had been regular well-paid employment.  I gather that some are unlikely to return to the industry, having found new jobs.

Unfortunately, it has taken a long time to return to full production, as contracts have had to be renewed and shooting schedules drawn up again.  One hopes that as 2024 progresses we should see studios fully booked again.  However, it has to be said that this is taking a long time to happen – in February 2024, many freelancers were saying that their diaries were still empty for the coming months.  According to Sky News and BECTU, during the strikes 74% of freelancers were out of work but early in 2024 68% were still unemployed.

 

Despite the hold-up in production, 2023 saw UK studios specialising in film and high-end television (HETV) continue to expand with around 190 sound stages either having recently opened, under construction or planned to open within the next 2–3 years.  These are sited in and around London – mostly to the west.  A number have also recently opened around the rest of the UK too but nothing like this amount.

Just let that extraordinary figure sink in.  If you’re wondering how it can possibly be that many, here’s how:  Pinewood 25, Shepperton 17, WB Leavesden 10, Longcross 16, Dagenham 12, Shinfield 18, Sky Elstree 12, Ealing 1, Elstree Studios 2, Bray 7, Bovingdon 6, Troubadour Meridian Water 6, Troubadour Brent Cross 1, Perfume Works 1, Wharf Studios 6, Garden Studios 4, West London 4, OMA:One 4, OMA:X 6, OMA:V 3, London North 5, Apple Symmetry 4, Winnersh 6, RD Studios 5, Farnborough 2, Ashford 4, Wycombe 8, The Story Works 2.

Shinfield Studios were completed in the spring of 2024.  Eastbrook Dagenham are due to open in the summer of 2024. 

HOP Studios in Bedfordshire had their planning application passed in 2023 – they are proposing to build 22 sound stages, opening from about 2025 (not included above.)

There is one exception to this expansion – Sunset Studios, due to open in Waltham Cross with 22 stages, had their construction put on hold.  The project has not been abandoned and construction will resume in due course.

 

Proposed or awaiting planning permission in Jan ’24 are also the following:

Sky Elstree North 10, Marlow 18 and Hertswood 21. (update – Holyport Studios were refused permission in March 2024.)  So if all these go ahead, by 2028 London could have around 300 new sound stages, including the ones built in the last few years.  These in addition to those that have existed for much longer at studios like Pinewood, Shepperton, Leavesden, Longcross etc.

 

It is worth noting that although tax incentives are targeted to help the UK film industry, the revaluation of business rates that took effect in England and Wales on the 1st April 2023 became a significant new cost for studios.  2023 also saw a large increase in interest rates and construction costs due to inflation.  These important changes were in danger of preventing some proposed studio developments from being realised.  Fortunately, in his March 2024 Budget, Jeremy Hunt introduced a 40% reduction on business rates for film studios, to last for 10 years.  This is a hugely welcome change and should mean that projects such as Elstree North, Pinewood South, Leavesden South and Sunset Waltham Cross will now go ahead. 

The Chancellor thanked the studios who had made the case for this change but personally I reckon he probably read this website and that’s what persuaded him.  He also introduced a 40% tax relief on low budget films and increased the existing incentive for visual effects.  Interest rates are predicted to fall during 2024 which will help further, although inflationary costs still of course remain.

 

With the slow-down in commissioning from HETV streamers, it seems unlikely that any more major film studio centres will be constructed in England once these planned new ones are up and running.  But, who knows?  I would certainly expect more rapid-build temporary stages to go up in various places to cope with demand, provided by companies like Acorn Structures, Serious Stages and Stage 50.

 

It is hard to make simple comparisons between the facilities offered in Hollywood with those around London.  However, as far as I can determine, there are currently 334 sound stages in greater Los Angeles but many of these are relatively small.  This figure also includes stages being used to make multicamera television shows.  According to Internet searches, the total square footage of all these stages is about 4.7 million.  The main 6 Hollywood studios (Paramount, Universal, Warners, MGM, Fox, Sunset) have a total of 144 sound stages.  In 2023 the London area had 241 sound stages totalling about 4.9 million sq ft.  Many more stages totalling 3.8 million sq. ft are in development.

Shinfield studios on 29th September 2023, nearing completion.
photo by Steve Sharpe

 

 

How is the industry doing?

 

Overall, the film and high-end TV drama industry has never looked so healthy and vital to the British economy.  A report from the BFI published in December 2021 revealed that the UK’s screen sector generated £13.48bn return on investment from screen tax reliefs to the UK economy from 2017-2019.  Over that period there were record-breaking levels of production and jobs.  There were also wider economic benefits for other industries including tourism, hospitality and retail.

Tax incentives were first introduced in 2007 and have helped to attract billions of pounds in inward investment money from the US streamers and studios, reaching record levels in 2022.  These incentives were improved further in the March 2024 Budget.

In 2023 inward investment and co-production spend on film and high-end television in the UK was £3.3bn.  That year was disappointing due to the US actors and writers strikes.  2024 is likely to eventually return to the previous level of activity so it is worth looking at the statistics for 2022.

A record £6.3bn was spent on film and HETV production in the UK in 2022, up 11.1% on 2021.  According to figures published in February 2023 by the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit, film and high-end production was up £1.8bn on 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year.

Inward investment films and HETV delivered a record £5.4bn, representing 86% of the combined production spend.  In 2021 the spend was £5.1bn. 

220 films went into production in the UK in 2022, 11 more than was reported for 2021.  One hundred of these were local UK productions.

The £4.3bn UK spend on HETV production was the second-highest on record, down 3% on 2021’s £4.4bn.  (2021 saw many projects in production that had been postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic.)  This figure was up 88% on 2019’s pre-pandemic £2.3bn.

In 2022, 195 HETV productions began principal photography, of which 55% were inward investment, 41% were local UK projects and 4% were co-productions.

These are all very positive statistics.

 

However, let us not forget that the story in 2023 was not good.  A January 2024 report from Broadcast Intelligence’s Programming Index revealed a 26% dip in TV programming across the board between 2022 and 2023.  They logged 1,301 programme announcements across the UK and US in 2023, a huge fall from 1,748 shows in 2022.  Of the 1,301 programmes logged by the Programme Index, 777 (59%) came out of the UK, with 256 from the US and 290 from international SVoDs (this adds up to more than 1,301 because co-productions between US and UK broadcasters are counted in both categories).  All show a drop from 2022.

 

So do we really need even more stages?

According to a report published in 2022 by Knight Frank, the UK at that point had around 6 million sq ft of production space.  60% of this was in London and the South East.  Total production spend was forecast to double over the following 5 years so they thought it was reasonable that this would mean an additional 6 million sq ft was required by 2026 if the sector was to keep pace with growing demand.

In October 2023 Knight Frank published an updated report.  By then the UK had nearly 7 million sq ft of stage space with 71% in London and the South East. 

According to the report, Netflix is the third-highest spender on content in the UK, after Sky and the BBC.   All three, along with ITV and Channel 4, are suffering from reduced revenue.  It is anticipated that the days of rapid increase in content spend are over.  However, the streaming platforms and film companies will continue to increase spending, albeit at a lower level than the past few years.  In fact, despite 2023 being a terrible year for the whole industry, Netflix was again the biggest commissioner of content amongst the streamers, with 93 programmes announced in 2023.  Almost the same as the 94 they ordered in 2022.  (According to Broadcast Intelligence’s Programming Index).

Although the report acknowledged that the rate of increase in film and HETV spending was not as high as it had been, it did predict that total production spend would reach £8.7 billion by 2028. The additional £2.4 billion in spending between now and then would need around 2.6 million sq ft of additional studio space.  This is what they describe as a ‘centrist’ view, so the actual figure could be somewhat higher or lower.  In other words, those film studios currently proposed and being constructed are still needed.

 

According to the 2023 Knight Frank report:

 

‘Our analysis of the current development pipeline indicates that there is 3.8 million sq ft of planned stages across the top 11 developments, though just 852,000 sq ft of this space is currently under construction.  In addition to these top 11 developments, other, smaller schemes are either planned or underway, which will bolster these numbers.  However, based on demand projections, the amount of space currently under construction is likely to be insufficient to support the anticipated growth in the coming years.’

 

Despite the evidence above, some people suggest that we are planning to build too many new sound stages and some will be forced to close.  However, there is no sign of that happening at all soon and while the demand remains from US feature film companies and Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and the rest of the streamers – as well as the BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4 etc – then the industry continues to look extremely healthy.  Of course, this partly depends on whether the government continues to offer attractive tax breaks to production companies.  Other countries are expanding their facilities too so it is vital that the UK does not slip behind.  Some years ago many films were made in Eastern Europe because it became financially attractive to do so and this could easily happen again if the UK government takes its eye off the ball. 

Fortunately, the current government does seem to be aware of the importance of supporting the industry.  It seems unlikely that a Labour government will change this policy but pressure must be maintained on them in future years.

 

 

Of course, the biggest challenge facing the industry is supplying sufficient well-trained, talented crew in all departments.  In June 2022 a Screenskills report predicted that the High-End TV industry would be worth £7.7bn by 2025, requiring between 15,130 and 20,770 extra crew to meet demand.  With Brexit preventing the easy movement of experienced people from mainland Europe, really good quality training of local people is absolutely essential to maintaining the high reputation of the UK film and TV industry. 

2023 and well into 2024 has, however, been a disastrous period for thousands of freelancers.  The amount of work available was a fraction of what had become normal.  This surfeit of available talent will hopefully be short-lived so maintaining an effectively supply of well-trained people will once again become an issue.

 

 

Unfortunately, the TV entertainment sector is not looking anything like as healthy as the HETV drama sector.  This is partly due to the BBC’s licence fee being frozen, leading to a reduction in commissions.  In 2023, long-running panel shows were axed and there were fewer new comedy and entertainment shows made in studios than in 2022.  The BBC have stated that they will severely reduce making programmes that will not be suitable for overseas sales.

Similarly, advertising revenue took a big hit in 2023 due to high inflation and interest rates and increases in production costs.  Consequently, ITV, Sky and C4 cut back significantly on their commissions.  Anecdotally, people have mentioned to me that there were far fewer pilots in 2023 than normal.  Not a good sign.

The report into the state of freelancers carried out by Sky News and BECTU revealed that at the beginning of 2024 many were out of work, or jobs being offered were poorly paid and with much longer hours than previously.  And it is not just scripted programmes that have been cut.  The same report noted that 65% of people who usually worked in reality TV were unemployed.

The BBC’s finances will not get better until a new funding model is introduced, which is several years away.  Unfortunately, advertising revenue has remained stagnant well into 2024 so commissioning budgets for entertainment shows on ITV and C4 are still severely reduced.  This is having a disastrous effect on thousands of freelancers.

 

 

The current state of multicamera TV studios:

 

Until recently, most of Britain’s multicamera studio-based television was made in or near London, despite the desire by Ofcom to force programme makers to be less London-centric.  This was because for many years, talented people from all over the UK moved to live in or near the capital.  However, TV studio space in London is now very limited as a few years ago it lost most of its best designed, best equipped studios at TV Centre, TLS, Teddington and Fountain.

Unfortunately, in September 2022 London also lost stages 8 and 9 at Elstree Studios (due to asbestos and RAAC concrete).  Stages 8 and 9 are due to be rebuilt – the steel frames and grids of the buildings have been retained.  The leader of Hertsmere Council, who own the studios, has promised that fully equipped TV studios will replace them.  Let’s hope he keeps his promise but realistically they are unlikely to be available before 2026.

Meanwhile, over the road at BBC Elstree, a deal has been signed selling the whole site to AXA insurance and Oxygen Studios.  They will take over in January 2025 and although they will be keeping EastEnders on site, unfortunately studios C, D and M are due to close in the summer.

The BT Sport studios on the Olympic Park in East London sadly closed in 2023.  Although mostly used for their own programmes, these large, well-equipped studios were sometimes rented out to other production companies – so this is yet another useful facility we have lost.

 

Setting aside those studios permanently making soaps, news, sport or daytime magazine shows – London’s medium-to-large (6,000 sq ft and over) fully equipped available production TV studios as of January 2024 are at TV Centre (1), BBC Elstree (1), Pinewood (2), Riverside (1) and Versa (1).  George Lucas stages 1 and 2 at Elstree are also operated by BBC Studioworks.  They do not have TV floors or lighting grids but do have fully equipped galleries and their own stock of cameras.

The Versa London studio opened in late 2021 and is a very useful 10,000 sq ft.  It is well equipped but lacks a proper lighting grid which might limit its appeal.  Nevertheless it is a very welcome addition to London’s TV studios.  (TC3 at TV Centre is unavailable as it is permanently occupied by ITV Daytime.)

A solution to staging very large-scale entertainment shows was found in 2018 when ITV built a ‘temporary’ stage on Bovingdon airfield. This has no permanent technical equipment or facilities but has proved very useful for shows like Dancing On Ice, The Masked Singer and The Wheel.

 

So to summarise – in January 2024 there are only 5 fully equipped TV studios with lighting grids and TV floors over 6,000 sq ft in London available for TV comedy & entertainment shows.  TC1, Elstree D, Riverside 1 and Pinewood TV1 & TV2.  (However, Elstree D will be lost in September.)  In addition, there are three large studios with technical equipment but no lighting grid – George Lucas 1 & 2 and Versa London.  And then there is the ITV studio at Bovingdon, which has no permanent equipment at all.

 

Versa London Studios

 

In London there are a few small multicamera studios remaining, such as Cactus Clapham and IMG.  Riverside’s studios 2 and 3 are available when not being used for theatre and music performances.  The One Show studio at Broadcasting House is sometimes used for other daytime programmes, with a quick turnaround ready for the live broadcast at 7pm.  The BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House has televised some radio and red button concerts and hosted a few stand up comedy series for BBC 3.  It was also used for The Traitors Uncloaked show in January 2024.  However, despite having excellent sound facilities and a well equipped lighting grid, the studio has no permanent television facilities – it all has to be hired in for each booking.

Sky’s studio centre in Osterley contains a number of small studios used for news and sport plus a long and narrow 5,500 sq ft ‘double’ studio that opened in 2011 in their Sky Studios building.  This has occasionally been used for making entertainment shows but is now permanently booked with sport programming.

 

Sadly, the 2,700 sq ft. h Club studio (Hospital Club) closed in June 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  However, the great news is that new owners Celebro reopened it late in 2023 – it is a very valuable studio for productions that don’t require large sets. 

The smaller studios at TLS were of course lost in 2018 along with the main ones.  The Princess studio also closed at the end of 2018.  Teddington closed all its small studios in the summer of 2013 and TV Centre’s small studios were also lost in the same year.  Although TC2 at TV Centre has reopened it is permanently booked by ITV Daytime, Peston and Sunday Brunch so is unavailable for other bookings.

Between 2008 and 2011, a number of other small but very useful studios closed including 124, Capital, Molinare, MTV, Technicolor (Disney) and Stephen St.

 

Outside the capital are a few medium/large (6,000 sq ft and over) multicamera studios available – in Manchester (1), Salford (2), Glasgow (2), Maidstone (2) and Norwich (1).  The old Granada studios 8 and 12 have also reopened with limited technical facilities and are managed by Versa.

Of the studios at MediaCity in Salford, only two of these are suitable or available for typical comedy and entertainment shows but they are both now pretty busy much of the time.  The BBC’s HQ at Pacific Quay in Glasgow has an excellent 8,400 sq ft studio that is used for gameshows, kids shows and comedies but I gather is not as busy as it could be.  In 2022 BBC Studioworks opened a fully equipped 10,500 sq ft multicamera studio in the old Kelvin Hall building in Glasgow.

The studio in the old BBC HQ in Cardiff (Llandaff studio C1) closed in March 2020.  The new BBC HQ in Cardiff contains a 3,500sq ft TV studio but this is intended for local programming, although it is occasionally used for Crimewatch Live.  The BBC’s drive-in studio in Belfast is mostly used for local programming but is now also the home of Mastermind.  The BBC drama centre at Roath Lock in Cardiff makes single-camera drama although it has been used to record one series of Only Connect using an OB unit for facilities.  Wales currently has one independent studio in Cardiff – the 4,800 sq ft Enfys studio – mostly making local material but is also the regular home of Only Connect.

 

Of course, all this poses the question – are TV studios needed any more?  It is true that in 2023, production budgets were severely reduced by the BBC and other TV companies.  The multicamera sitcom is now effectively dead – which personally I think is a great shame.  (Although it is apparently enjoying a resurgence in the US so there might yet be life in it here too.)  Several long-running panel shows have been axed and other programmes that once used a studio are being made in other, possibly cheaper locations.  However, there are still many shows – particularly those with a studio audience – that can only really be made efficiently in a fully equipped multicamera studio.

 

 

Definitions:

 

There is understandable confusion about the difference between a studio and a stage.  In the movie world a ‘studio’ can mean a company that makes feature films (Universal, Disney etc) or it can mean a site with a number of large rooms in which films are made.  The site is usually referred to in the plural – thus ‘Pinewood Studios.’  However, each large room is not commonly referred to as a studio but is called a ‘stage’ and if it is soundproofed it is more accurately called a ‘sound stage’.  Confusingly, in the television world a studio is what the large room itself is called. 

A site containing several television studios is, I suppose, referred to as a ‘studio centre’.  Thus, Television Centre now has three ‘studios’ but Shepperton Studios has thirty-one ‘sound stages’.

To be really picky, one should refer to a show being made IN a television studio and ON a sound stage.

 

Even more bafflingly, ITV Productions changed its name to ‘ITV Studios’ several years ago, followed in 2016 by the BBC’s in-house programme-making department, which is now called ‘BBC Studios’.  ‘BBC Studios’ do not own any actual studios.  (I know – that’s completely bonkers but true.)   They are free to make their shows wherever they wish – which for a number of years used to include ITV’s own TV studios, which were called The London Studios.  Sadly, these no longer exist so ITV now make many of their programmes in the BBC studios at Television Centre.  I do hope you are keeping up with all this. 

The BBC’s TV studios in London are run by a company called BBC Studioworks – and they often hire their studios out to programmes that are being made not only for ITV but also for Channel 4 or Sky.  Confused?  I’ve hardly started.

 

I have defined a television studio as one with a flat lino or resin floor upon which camera dollies can move freely without using tracks.  It will also have a control gallery suite with all the necessary electronics and communications but not necessarily its own cameras.  One or two studios prefer to hire these in on a day to day basis. 

The studio will in most cases have a lighting grid with monopoles (sometimes called telescopes) or motorised bars (sometimes called hoists or ‘boats’) enabling fast pre-rigging and easy changes to the rig on the day.

 

A great deal of television drama is shot using a single digital camera and interiors are frequently shot on sound stages.  Within the remit of this website, this does not make such stages ‘television studios’ – they still remain sound stages.  I hope this makes some sort of sense as a sound stage is a far more basic and simple space than a television studio.  A sound stage is in essence a soundproofed large room with a power supply available for lighting, and a simple but very strong overhead grid – usually steel ‘runway’ beams several feet apart – although many stages converted from industrial premises don’t even have this.  The floor may be wooden or concrete but certainly not smooth enough to run a camera dolly along without tracks.

Having said the above, I have included film studios as television drama is so important to our economy as well as our culture – especially with the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV+ and other streamers in recent years.

 

Incidentally – I do on occasions refer to an OB ‘scanner’.  This is industry jargon for an outside broadcast control vehicle, which contains production control, sound control and vision control for several cameras.  However, it is a term that is hardly used any more – most people now refer to these vehicles as OB ‘trucks’.

 

 

Measuring studios:

 

Film stages are usually measured in feet and square feet, possibly due to the historic influence of the US film industry.  A film stage is basically an empty box, in which sets are built and  then lit.  The position of the set within the space is not absolutely critical – unless it will only just fit or has to line up with things like a tank in the floor or variations in the grid height.

TV studios work differently.  The lighting rig is put in before the set is built.  The lighting director will have designed the rig, working from scale drawings given to him or her by the set designer.  It is therefore essential that the set is built in the studio exactly where the LD expects it to be. 

To assist the scene crew, most TV studios have footage markings along each wall.  In some newer studios these are in metres or half metres but most older studios have markings in ‘metric feet.’  This curious measurement was invented by the BBC in the 1960s and is an ingenious way of enabling scenery to be built using metric measurements whilst retaining the concept of ‘feet.’  Each metric foot is 30cm long.   You may recall your old school ruler having 12 inches on one side and 30cm on the other.

bbc foot ruler 450p

An old BBC ruler indicating 300mm metric feet.

 

TV studio sizes are still almost always measured in feet and square feet.  Confusingly, the gross size of a studio is usually stated in actual square feet but length and width are usually measured in ‘metric feet.’  This is because most TV studios have a clearly marked fire lane running around the outside of the working area.  This is normally about 4 feet (1.2m) wide.  The working area is measured in metric feet – so might be 90 x 70 (a very useful size.)  In fact, a studio marked as being 90 metric feet long is actually only about 88ft 6 inches. But let’s not worry ourselves over that.

 

 

 

 

Pre TV...

 

Before the Second World War there was only one television studio centre in London – Alexandra Palace – but there were 21 film studios, each with several stages.  By the early 1960s the number of film studios had dwindled to a mere handful but on about half a dozen sites around the capital television was thriving. The decline in the film industry coincided with the dawn of television so a number of studio sites were ready and available to be converted to the new entertainment medium.

The film studio capacity had exceeded the demand and many closed – either to become television studios or to be lost to redevelopment.  Amongst the most famous was Denham, which in its day was the largest studio in the country with 7 stages.  It closed in 1951. (Apparently, the BBC briefly considered siting its new Television Centre there, rather than at White City.  I gather that the Post Office couldn’t guarantee to get the necessary sound and vision cables laid in time so it had to be rejected.) 

 

Many film studios had been built to accommodate the system of quotas introduced by the government in 1928.  This stipulated that at least 20% of all films shown in cinemas in the UK must be made in Britain.  The Hollywood studio companies therefore made hundreds of ‘quota quickies’ in studios all round London – usually very cheaply but crucially giving invaluable experience to actors and crew members.  After the war the quota was dropped and a tax was introduced on cinema ticket sales.  These two things combined to create a rapid decline in the UK’s film industry and the inevitable result for many studios was closure.  A contributing factor of course was television itself.  People were not so inclined to go to ‘the pictures’ once or twice a week if they had a TV set in their own living room.  This was particularly true from about 1955 when the ITV companies began broadcasting.

 

Those old film studios that found a new life with television included Lime Grove (Shepherds Bush), Riverside (Hammersmith), Teddington, Highbury, Wembley Park and National Studios in Elstree (which in 1938 were owned by Joe Rock).

map-of-early-british-film-studios 500p

The map shown above is taken from the International Motion Picture Almanac of 1937-38.  It is thus a fascinating snapshot of the industry shortly before the war and so in industry terms, just before television changed everything.

Of the 21 studios shown, only five are still making movies – Pinewood, Shepperton, Twickenham, Ealing, ABPC (Elstree Studios) – of which two currently also have TV studios – Pinewood and Elstree Studios. Six became purely television studios – Wembley (A-R, later Fountain), Joe Rock Elstree (ATV now BBC), Shepherds Bush (BBC Lime Grove), Hammersmith (Riverside), Highbury and Teddington.  Of those, four – Highbury, Lime Grove, Teddington and Fountain – have since closed.  Riverside reopened in 2019 following redevelopment.  Beaconsfield incidentally is now the home of the National Film and Television School.

The map is far from accurate.  For example, Teddington is shown south of the river and Twickenham appears to be right in the middle of the Thames!  In case you were wondering – Bray did not open until 1951 and Leavesden made its first film in 1994.

 

 

The arrival of television...

 

The table below shows the year each studio opened. The chart only covers London’s TV studios.  It is interesting to note the two main clusters of construction – around the launch of ITV and then during the early to mid 1960s.  News/presentation and small studios are not included unless they have special significance or are part of a larger complex.  Studios marked in red are no longer in use. 

Studios marked ‘TC’ are at BBC Television Centre, ‘LG’ were at Lime Grove and ‘TLS’ are at The London Studios.

Studios marked with an asterisk* were converted into a TV studio from previous use as a film stage.

 

1935  (180 lines, then 240 lines)

Crystal Palace 1, 2, 3 (Baird's regular transmissions began in February although the studios were in use for trials and experiments for at least a year before this. From November, resolution increased to 240 lines)


1936
BBCtv begins   (240 & 405 lines)

Alexandra Palace A and B (Began in November. A was 405 line EMI system, B was 240 line Baird system. Baird 240 line system ended in Feb 1937. Then B converted to 405 lines.)


1950

Highbury A* (b/w high definition cameras from 1950-1956); LGD*, LGG*


1951

1952

LGH*

1953

LGE*; TV Theatre

1954

1955
ITV begins  (405 lines)

Viking*; Granville; Television House 7-10; Wembley 1-4*; Wood Green Empire; Hackney Empire

1956  Riverside opens

Riverside 1*& 2*; King's Theatre Hammersmith

1957

Chelsea Palace

1958

1959  Teddington opens

Teddington 2*& 3*

1960  TV Centre opens. ATV Elstree opens

ATV Elstree C*& D*; Wembley 5 (later Fountain); TC2, TC3


1961

ATV Elstree A*& B*; TC4, TC5


1962

Teddington 1*

1963

1964
BBC2 begins  (625 lines)

TC1

1965

Hillside 1 and 2; TC7

1966

Elstree Film 8, 9 (Built as film stages with monopole grids, flat floors and space for control rooms but not equipped for TV); Pinewood J & K  (Built as film stages with monopole grids, flat floors and space for control rooms but not equipped for TV); Wycombe Road


1967
colour on BBC2

TC6  (first colour studio in UK),  TC8

1968

Ewarts Wandsworth A & B  (later Capital, then Marjan TV)

1969
colour on BBC1 and ITV  (625 lines)

Thames Euston 4, 5, 6; Golders Green Hippodrome; N1, N2 (later became TC10, TC11)

1970

Battersea A and B

1971

1972  LWT South Bank opens

TLS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

1978

Molinare 1

1979

Greenwood Theatre

1980

1981

Thames Euston 7

1982
C4 begins

1983
TV-am begins

Limehouse 1 & 2; TV-am 1 & 2  (later MTV)

1984

1985

Fountain New Malden

1986

1987

1988

LWT 10

1989
Sky TV begins

Sky 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; BSB 1, 2, 3, 4 (later QVC);  Merton 1, 2, 3 (later called Wimbledon Studios. They are now 4-waller film stages)

1990

1991

BBC Elstree Stage 1 (for EastEnders)

1992

Lock Keepers' Cottages

1993

TLS 7

1994

124 Studio; Teddington 4  (formerly music studio);  Bow Lock studio

1995

TC0  (formerly music studio)

1996

TLS 8, TC9 (formerly make-up store);  Disney Chiswick A and B (mothballed in 2005, occasionally used around 2008/9 but now closed.)

1997
Channel Five begins

Stephen Street 1 and 2;  HDS 1, 2, 3, 4 (now 4-wallers and called West London Film Studios.);

1998
Sky Digital & OnDigital (now Freeview) begin
16:9 widescreen available

Sky 6, 7 (now called F and G)

1999

2000

Pinewood TV-one* & TV-two*  (fully converted to TV studios from stages J & K); TC10 (formally N1); Mediahouse 1;  HDS A, B, C    (TV studios converted from what was then studio 2 - now 4-wallers)

2001

Cactus Kennington  (closed in 2012, reopened in 2014 as Kennington Film Studios); HDS 5, 6

2002

TC11 (formerly N2)

2003

The Hospital Club  - later called h Club London and now Celebro Studio H (first colour HD studio in UK);   Princess Studio

2004

Kentish Town 1; Teddington 6 (formerly viewing theatre/meeting room);  TC12 (formerly music studio control room - closed in 2008);  1 Leicester Square  (MTV studio - closed in 2007)

2005

Teddington 7  (formerly prop store area);  Teddington 8 (formerly edit suite); Sky A, B, C, D  (news studios)

2006
HD available  (1080 interlaced lines - service available via Sky or Virgin cable - Sky One and BBC trial HD channel amongst others.)

2007  (C4 HD channel begins via Sky. BBC HD Channel officially begins.)/span>

The One Show studio, White City

2008
Freesat begins in May   (All BBC, ITV and C4 channels available via free satellite service with BBC and ITV offering HD channels - ITV only some programmes via 'red button')

Kentish Town 2

2009

2010
ITV1 HD begins simulcasting all programmes from April, some in HD. Five HD from July, BBC1 HD channel launched in November.

2011

Wimbledon stage 1 converted into TV studio.  (Now a 4-waller film stage again.) Sky Studios 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

2012
Netflix launches its streaming service in the UK

Cactus 1 (Clapham)

2013
TV Centre closes.  BBC HD Channel becomes simulcast BBC2HD in March. BBC3HD, BBC4HD, CBeebiesHD, CBBCHD, BBC NewsHD begin in Dec.

BBC NBH A, B, C, E, F, G, H, J, K; BT Sport 1 & 2; Cactus 2; Wimbledon 3 rebuilt; IMG Stockley Park 1, 2, 3, 4; Elstree Studios George Lucas stage equipped with TV galleries;  Elstree stages 8 & 9 converted into TV studios; Riverside 2 reopens as TV studio; Pinewood TV-three opens for Lottery

2014
Netflix begins streaming some shows in 4K UHD

The One Show moves to NBH; BT Sport 3; Riverside closes. Teddington closes.

2015
BT Sport launches UK's first 4K UHD channel in August

BBC Elstree stages 2 & 3 (EastEnders)

2016
4K UHD available via Sky Q

Fountain closes.  LH2 becomes available as TV studio using fly-away kit.

2017

TC1, TC2 and TC3 reopen. TC1 is UK's first studio with 4K HDR.

2018
Netflix begins streaming some shows in HDR

TLS closes at end of April.  ITV opens 4-waller stage at Bovingdon.

2019

The new Riverside 1 opens in November.

2020
Some shows available in HDR via Sky Q box

First TV shows made in Riverside 2 & 3.
Hospital Studio temporarily closes.

2021

Versa London Studio opens

2022

Elstree stages 8 & 9 close due to asbestos and then RAAC concrete being discovered.

2023
BBC regional news now in HD

Hospital Studio reopens as Celebro Studio H. Elstree GL Stage 1 taken over by Studioworks and portakabin galleries moved to it from stage 9.
BT Sport studios close.

2024

Elstree stages 7, 8 & 9 demolished, leaving steel frame and grids, awaiting rebuild as TV studios.

It is worth mentioning that although HDS Studios closed as TV studios, they were kept on as dry-hire 4-wallers.  They have now been taken over and are marketed as West London Film Studios.  Also, Capital closed for redevelopment in 2008 but in 2010 the studios were reopened by an Iranian TV channel (Marjan TV Network) and were used by them.  The studios closed in 2014.  Then, Marjan moved to Wimbledon Studios and refurbished the site – they occupy most of the offices and studio 3. Stages 1 and 2 are now available again as 4-wallers.  Capital Studios were demolished in 2023, having briefly been used as a cinema and entertainment venue.

 

 

 

Incidentally, if you are wondering who actually invented television – click on the button at the top of the page.

Finally, I have taken the liberty of copying a superb sketch drawn in 1995 by Dicky Howett.  Dicky is a very knowledgeable expert on the history of British television cameras.  He owns dozens of them – most of which he has returned to full working order.  He and a colleague, Paul Marshall, run Golden Age Television Recreations  – a company that rents out period television equipment for use as working props in films and TV programmes.  Their expert knowledge has been called upon several times by me in the writing of this website.

Anyway – below is a drawing of the principal monochrome television cameras in use in London’s studios from 1937 to the beginning of colour in the late ’60s. Despite at first glance looking like a rough sketch it is in fact incredibly accurate and I have often found it invaluable in identifying camera types.  It was originally printed in 405 Alive magazine and I hope the people associated with that publication and Dicky himself won’t mind me copying it here…

dickie howett camera sketch