Bovingdon Airfield (including ITV studio)

2017 – present

(Revised February 2024)

 

 

 

Bovingdon airfield in February 2022.  Top right is a prison where the old RAF hangars once stood.  The business called ‘Bovingdon Airfield Studios’ owns the land next to the prison where stages and workshops can be seen as well as the main runway to the right.  The ITV studio is located on the far end of the left runway and is also on their land.  The buildings to its right are three large sound stages and a temporary one – these opened in 2022.  The circular Bovingdon VOR navigation beacon can be seen in the centre foreground.
photo thanks to Steve Sharpe

 

Bovingdon Airfield is located south-west of Hemel Hempstead, north of the M25 about 8 miles from Leavesden Studios.  It closed as an airfield in 1972.  Most of the old wartime military buildings have been demolished and the area where they once stood is now occupied by a prison.  For 40 years one of the notable things about the airfield was that it held the UK’s largest Saturday market.  This moved from the site in August 2022.

Also located at Bovingdon is a VOR navigation beacon.  This is one of four used by aircraft approaching Heathrow – they orbit the beacon at various altitudes waiting for permission to land.

 

 

Bovingdon in 1946

RAF Bovingdon (not to be confused with Bovington Camp in Dorset, where the army has its tank museum) was constructed as a bomber airfield in 1942.  After a few months’ use it was handed over to the USAAF who based several squadrons here during the war, mostly flying B-17 Flying Fortresses.  The airfield was the location for the Eighth Airforce HQ and General Eisenhower’s personal B-17 was housed at the base.  It returned to RAF use in 1947 and became a diversion airfield for commercial flights as it was often clear when Heathrow and Northolt were fog-bound.  BEA also used the airfield for commercial flights and BOAC had a maintenance base here.

Bovingdon was then handed back to the USAF between 1951 and 1963, when C-47 Skytrains were located here.  After the USAF left, the airfield was used as a base for the Air Training Corps, who had gliders here between 1968 and 1970.  Bovingdon closed as an airfield in 1972 and the land was offered back to the owners of the original farms that were taken over during the war.  That is the explanation for the boundaries between the current business owners.

 

 

 

Filming at Bovingdon during the years as an active airfield

 

The airfield has been used for various feature films over many years including Battle of Britain, Mosquito Squadron and The Man With The Golden Gun.  In 1962 scenes for The War Lover, starring Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner were filmed here, using three B-17 bombers sourced from the US.  

The classic 1964 war film 633 Squadron (available as a DVD or on Amazon Prime) shows the airfield very well.  The distinctive control tower, which still exists and is due to be restored, is featured prominently.  Scenes for the David Essex movie Silver Dream Racer, released in 1981, were also shot here.

TV dramas to use the airfield many years ago included Blake’s 7 and The Avengers – and the opening title sequence of The Prisoner, with Patrick McGoohan driving his Lotus Seven, is said to have been shot on one of the runways back in 1966.

 

 

 

ITV Studio

 

Dancing On Ice was a popular programme made by ITV in George Lucas Stage 2 at Elstree between 2006 and 2014, apart from 2011 when it was made at Shepperton.  It was then axed and was assumed to have run its course.  However, in Jan/Feb 2018, ITV brought it back with a few format changes but the stage at Elstree was unavailable so an alternative studio had to be found.  Clearly it had to be large enough to accommodate the ice rink and surrounding set so this limited the options.

In fact, they decided to create a temporary studio on the land owned by Bovingdon Airfield Studios.  This consisted of a structure similar to those used for exhibitions or events.  It had PVC sheets at the gable ends and thin, uninsulated panels in the side walls – described to me rather brutally as a huge tent.  A smaller enclosure was erected alongside to house a practice rink for the contestants.  This experiment was not entirely successful.  It was very cold inside and the structure moved alarmingly in any wind – I’m told that the follow-spot operators who were hanging from a truss had difficulty following the skaters at times, as they were swung about by the flexing metalwork.  When the ‘Beast From the East’ struck the UK, the gable end blew in and parts of the roof tore off.  Not an experience any of those involved wished to repeat.

 

The principle of using Bovingdon was deemed a good idea but it was acknowledged that the structure they used for the 2018 series was less than ideal.  So in the summer of that year a far more substantial space was erected by specialist staging company Acorn Structures.  It has 80mm insulated panels in the walls and sits on a bespoke concrete pad.  This stage is 229 x 114ft wall to wall with a 5ft firelane running all round the working area.  Working height is 60ft.  So, pretty big as TV studios go.  In fact, enormous.  Large enough to accommodate the main DOI set at one end and the practice rink behind a black drape at the other.

I have visited the studio and it really is impressive.  The roof structure has a very high weight loading, enabling trussing to be rigged anywhere you choose.  Very complex lighting and sound rigs can be carried out.  Alongside, and connected via a corridor is a supporting ‘village’ of temporary buildings that feel very permanent when you are in them.  There are ample dressing rooms, wardrobe stores, offices, green rooms etc for the largest of productions.

There is a 1.25MW high voltage power supply to the site, which is more than sufficient.  The live shows use generators in case of a power cut but in the first year of use, generators had to supply power every day throughout the run of the series – a constant stream of fuel tankers came and went.  Thank goodness this is no longer necessary.

When I visited, the production gallery was an OB truck from Telegenic – with its double folding sides it formed a larger room than in any permanent studio I have seen.  The cameras were racked in a temporary building alongside and lighting control was in another large and comfortable temporary building.  All very impressive indeed.

 

bovingdon 1 460p (1)
The functional, if somewhat unattractive stage built by Acorn Structures  for ITV in 2018.

bovingdon 2 460p

 

The 2019 series of Dancing On Ice was the first TV show to use this facility and later that year it was the location for the UK version of The Masked Singer – a format originating in South Korea.  The sheer size of the building enabled a set to be built that looked massive on camera.  More series were recorded in 2021 ’22 and ’23.  The 2020, ’21, ’22 ’23 and ’24 series of DOI were also made in this studio and ITV’s talent show Starstruck was recorded here in 2021.  Although owned by ITV, the facility has been used to record several series of Michael McIntyre’s popular BBC1 gameshow The Wheel and in 2019 the stage was used to film a 3-part adaptation of A Christmas Carol, starring Guy Pearce, for BBC1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This plan of the area owned by the business called Bovingdon Airfield Studios indicates how large the site is.  The stages are on the far right. The diagonal runway is where the market used to be located but this has moved away so this area is now available for filming.  Various back lot areas are indicated.  The main runway is where the stage for Wembley Stadium was built for Bohemian Rhapsody.  The Triangle backlot is where the no-man’s land scene was filmed for 1917, the Control Tower backlot was where the German town was built for Fury.
with thanks to Bovingdon Airfield Studios

 

The land currently operated by Bovingdon Airfield Studios was requisitioned and taken over by the Government in 1940 before being offered back as farmland in the seventies.  The land was, and remains, in ownership of the successful Mash farming family that has a rich heritage dating to late 18th century London and which expanded its fruit and vegetable growing to Chesham orchards when it purchased the first of many Buckinghamshire farms during Queen Victoria’s reign in 1896.  Today WJ & M Mash farms over 1,300 acres of arable and breeds champion French Limousin cattle – one of the UK’s premier beef producing animals.

 

Bovingdon Airfield Studios have hosted several films on their land in recent years.  Wembley Stadium (or at least, part of it) was constructed here for the Live Aid scenes in Bohemian Rhapsody and some of the World War 1 trenches that feature in the film 1917 were dug here.  Other recent movies to have shot scenes here have included Justice League, Fast and Furious 6, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt1, Fury, Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Unwelcome, Argyle, See How They Run and Deadpool 3.  Recent TV dramas have included Good Omens (2019), Britannia 2 (2019), The Good Liar (2019) and Last Christmas (2019).  Some scenes for Masters of the Air were shot here but most of it was filmed on specially constructed sets at Newland Park, near Chalfont St Giles.

 

In 2020 a production company asked if they could build a temporary stage on the main runway, as well as some exterior sets.  The owners of the business decided to take the opportunity to clear an earth bund and the stage was constructed in a more suitable place next to the runway.  Then more requests for temporary stages came along and they decided to bite the bullet and construct some permanent stages.  This was due to a request from the production company making season 2 of The Rings of Power for Amazon Prime TV.  They had already booked all the stages at Bray but needed additional stage space here at Bovingdon as well as building some exterior sets.  Filming commenced in 2022 and wrapped in the summer of 2023.

Several planning applications were made in the autumn of 2020 and again in May, June, August and September 2021.  These related to proposals to construct the three permanent sound stages and to clear areas enabling those to be used as a back lot for filming or temporary workshops.  Permission was granted in November 2021.

 

Another view of the Bovingdon Airfield Studios site probably early summer in 2022.  In the foreground is the Triangle Backlot.  The runway in the centre is covered with market stalls – these have now all gone.  Behind the runway is the Control Tower Backlot – the building itself can just be made out amongst the greenery.
The site in February 2023.  Interesting to compare it with the photo above.  As well as the stages on the left near the ITV studio there are now 2 more temporary stages at the other end of the site.  These look much more substantial than the first temporary stage and I’m guessing have a life of at least 10 years, planning permission permitting.  Interesting to note that the shrubs next to the market runway have been replaced with an earth bund.  This has been planted with a variety of native trees and shrubs to form a more effective natural screen for the stages and workshops behind it.
photo thanks to Steve Sharpe

 

In January 2023 there were three temporary stages as well as the three permanent ones.  There are also a considerable number of workshops located around the site.  The first temporary stage (stage A) was dismantled during 2023.  The area it occupied is due to have a permanent stage built on it but in February 2024 this had not yet happened.

The dimensions of the stages  as in January 2024 are as follows:  Stage B – 206 x 131ft (27,000 sq ft), Stage C – 188 x 111ft (21,000 sq ft), Stage D – 131 x 206ft (27,000 sq ft).  These are all impressively large.  The dimensions of the two temporary stages are not known but look to be similar.

 

the impressive interior of Stage B

 

Over the next few years the owners plan to develop a production hub centred on the old control tower.  This will include a memorial to the airmen based at Bovingdon who lost their lives in the Second World War.  An excellent idea.  They also intend to build another stage (stage A) next to the three existing ones.  Hopefully this will happen during 2024.  Further developments will include installing green roofs, solar power and additional tree planting.

 

The proposed production hub with the old control tower in the foreground.
image thanks to Bovingdon Airfield Studios

 

Long term plans are to construct a fifth stage near the current ones and an additional 4 stages at the south end of the site, where there are currently 2 temporary stages and some workshops.  In an interview with Cinematography World, Bovingdon Airfield Studios managing director Harvey Mash is quoted as saying,  “Within our masterplan vision we would like to evolve the site to become a complex with a total of 240,000 square feet of sound stages, 200,000 sq ft of production offices, 100,000 sq ft of workshops and 60 acres of multi-surface backlot.”  He also said “Our site has been designed with sustainability and user friendliness being at the centre of our design brief.”

I have also been told that the studios have been warmly supported by local people and that the business has formed a close working relationship with the neighbouring prison, offering employment opportunities at the studios – which sounds a very positive thing to me.

 

The three new stages – B and D above, stage C below.  The ITV studio and associated buildings are behind the trees at the top.  The temporary stage in the foreground (stage A) no longer exists and will be replaced by a permanent one some time soon.  This photo was taken in February 2022 when the stages were nearing completion.
photo thanks to Steve Sharpe
The proposed eventual expansion of the site – three of the five stages in the foreground exist already, the one marked stage A will replace the previous temporary one soon.  The rest, seen in the distance top left, will be built as and when finances permit.  There are already two temporary stages and some large workshops in that area.
image thanks to Bovingdon Airfield Studios

 

According to the tabloid press, the Bovingdon site is said to be haunted with some people experiencing a ‘creepy presence’ and a number of ‘unexplained incidents’ having happened over the years. These have included odd sounds and smells, and a mysterious mist that follows people around.  I’ll just leave that here.