Shepperton Studios


Shepperton Studios

Shepperton Studios, located in Shepperton, Surrey, England is a film studio with a long history of film making.

Formation

Film history began at Shepperton Studios in 1931, when Norman Loudon, a dynamic Scottish businessman, bought Littleton Park with its surrounding 60 acre (240,000 m²) grounds, which included a beautiful stretch of the River Ash at Shepperton. Loudon was new to the film industry, but he had had a prosperous camera business, Flicker Productions, which manufactured 'flicker' books. Littleton Park seemed ideal when Loudon decided the next step was to enter sound film production, and a new company, Sound City Film Producing & Recording Studios, was founded in 1932. By the end of the year Sound City had produced three shorts for MGM and two features, "Watch Beverley" (1932) and "Reunion" (1932).

By the end of 1934, demand for Sound City facilities necessitated substantial expansion. In 1936, after a short period of closure for modernisation, the studios reopened with seven sound stages, twelve cutting rooms, three viewing theatres, scene docks and workshops, while the old house was refurbished to provide hotel and restaurant facilities. Probably one of the best-remembered films from Sound City in the 1930s was "French Without Tears" (1939), based on a play by Terence Rattigan with a screenplay by Anatole de Grunwald. Carol Reed's "The Stars Look Down", an adaptation of A. J. Cronin's novel, was partly filmed at Shepperton in 1939. Also active at this time were the brothers Alexander, Zoltán and Vincent Korda, who produced "Sanders of the River" there between 1934 and 1935.

World War II special tasks

With the outbreak of World War II, the War Office considered Shepperton Studios a safe location as it was 14 miles away from the centre of London. However, filming was constantly interrupted and stray bombs fell into the studio grounds. The War Office had failed to consider that the huge Vickers-Armstrong aircraft factory was producing Spitfires and Wellington bombers a few miles across the river and was a prime target for the German air raids. After the factory was hit, the War Office immediately requisitioned Shepperton Studios, and put the skills of its craftsmen to good use creating replicas of aircraft that were to be used in the Middle East as decoys, plus fake guns and landing strips.

Post-war re-opening

In 1945, Norman Loudon announced the re-opening of Sound City's six-stage studio, although he was to retire from the film industry within 12 months. In the same year, Sir Alexander Korda severed what had been a brief connection with MGM, and purchased the controlling interest in British Lion Films. In 1946 London Films acquired a 74 per cent controlling interest in Sound City (Films) Limited for £380,000, together with its studios at Shepperton. Sound City (Films) Limited was renamed the British Lion Studio Company. British Lion was now in a position to become a powerful post-war factor in British film production.

One of the earliest films made at Shepperton under the new regime was an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" (1947), produced and directed by Alexander Korda. During the 1940s Sir Alexander Korda managed to obtain a long-term loan that amounted to £3,000,000 for film production from the National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC). However, British Lion incurred high production losses in 1950, and the financial crisis reached a peak in 1954 when the NFFC called in their loan, appointing a receiver and manager. British Lion Films Limited was formed in 1955 to take over the assets of its insolvent predecessor.

British Lion Films

The new company's main function was not film production but the provision of distribution and financial guarantees for independent producers. Among those appointed to a re-organised board of directors were practical film-makers such as Roy and John Boulting, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, all of whom were to make a number of films at the studios. These included Sidney Gilliat's "The Constant Husband" (1954) and "Left, Right and Centre" (1959) ; Frank Launder's "Geordie" (1955) and "Blue Murder at St Trinian's" (1957); the Boulting Brother’s "Seven Days to Noon" (1950), "Private's Progress" (1956) and "I'm All Right Jack" (1959). The films made at Shepperton in the 1950s and 1960s reflected the influence of the strong independent producers and directors who used the studios, rather than the paternal dominance of former head Alexander Korda.

Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes arrived to create Beaver Films, and adopted a new policy of deferred payment for the artists which enabled the film "The Angry Silence" (1960) to be made for the astonishingly-low sum of £97,000. Bryan Forbes went on to write and direct another Shepperton production in 1962, "The L-Shaped Room" (1962), produced by Richard Attenborough and James Woolf. "The Angry Silence" and "The L Shaped Room" were examples of films that echoed the social and economic changes that had stirred the late 1950s and 1960s, and reality became the essence of the `New Wave' school. Films of this genre made at Shepperton included "Room at the Top" (1958), directed by Jack Clayton; John Schlesinger's "A Kind of Loving" (1962); "Billy Liar" (1963) and "Darling" (1965). Early in 1961, there was a new departure as British Lion and Columbia formed BLC Films to be responsible for marketing the films of both companies in the UK, an arrangement that lasted until 1967. In 1963, the company announced that £600,000 of the Government loan had been paid off.

Government sell-off

However, in 1964, the Government sold the company back into private enterprise to a group headed by Michael Balcon. Profits dropped in the first year and in 1965 Lord Goodman succeeded Balcon as chairman. Nevertheless, a number of notable films were produced at the studio during that decade including two "Pink Panther" films and "The Day of the Jackal" (1973) directed by Fred Zinnemann. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s Shepperton was the home base for Amicus Productions, a rival of Hammer Films, which specialized in low-budget portmanteau horror pictures. In 1973, the band Genesis was filmed live with an audience. Only in 2007 were the original reels discovered, and purchased, though the band themselves do not have copies of the actual master film, but of a different transfer. In 1974, footage was filmed of Led Zeppelin on a mock-up stage identical to the one they had performed on live the year earlier at Madison Square Garden for their film "The Song Remains the Same". Similarly, in 1978 The Who shot mock concert sequences, live and in front of an audience, for their documentary "The Kids Are Alright". This would turn out to be The Who's last live appearance with drummer Keith Moon, who died later that year. In 1978-9 there was tight security on the stages at Shepperton for "Alien" (1979), a science fiction film with a difference directed by Ridley Scott. From 1970, Richard Attenborough made some of his finest films at Shepperton; these included "Young Winston" (1972), "Gandhi" (1982) and "Cry Freedom" (1987). In 1984, the manor of Littleton acquired a new owner when Lee International PLC in an agreement dated 16th August, 1984 between Mills & Allen (Holdings) PLC, Cardellina Holdings Ltd and Rathcoole Investments Ltd and Lee Electric Lighting Ltd whereby Lee Electric Lighting Ltd (a subsidiary of Lee International PLC) agreed to acquire the ordinary and the deferred shares of Headholme Ltd (the parent company of Shepperton) for an aggregate cash sum determined to be £3,365,746. The Lee Group invested a considerable sum of money in refurbishing the facilities, and plans were drawn up for new workshops that were built in 1987.

Excellent films continued to be made at Shepperton during the 1980s such as "The Elephant Man" (1980), "The Missionary" (1982), "The Company of Wolves" (1984), "A Passage to India" (1984) and Kenneth Branagh's first film production, "Henry V" (1989). Also among the 1980s productions at the studios were "Privates On Parade" (1982) and Michael Radford's film of the George Orwell novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (filmed in its title year). The 1990s saw Neil Jordan's Oscar winner, "The Crying Game" (1992); Louis Malle's "Damage" (1992); Kenneth Branagh’s "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (1994) and Nicholas Hytner's award winning "The Madness of King George" (1994) , Lord Attenborough's "Chaplin" (1992) and "Shadowlands" (1993).

From 1990 until 1998 the BBC hit sitcom "Red Dwarf" was filmed at Shepperton Studios. The programme used to be filmed for Series One, Two and Three in the BBC Studios in Manchester. These studios closed for refurbishment in 1990 and so Series Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight of "Red Dwarf" were recorded in Shepperton. Series Seven in particular used Shepperton's huge facilities to the maximum when the series was recorded on single camera and without an audience present, over a 4 month shooting period from May until August 1996. Series Seven was then shown in front of an audience in Teddington Studios so that the audience laugh track could be recorded and dubbed in for that series. The series returned to a live studio audience for the final series in 1998.

Acquisition

The Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, acquired Shepperton in January 1995. The brothers led an estimated £12 million buy-out of Shepperton from Lee International Ltd. They contributed £1.5 million to an investment group led by Candover Parteners, which stumped up some £7 million of the purchase price. Other investors included Intermedia/Film Equities Inc of Beverly Hills and Barclays Bank.

In 2001, Pinewood Studios, famed for the James Bond movies, bought Shepperton Studios to enable the joint company to attract big-budget film-makers. The two studios continue to retain their individual trading identities despite the merger. In 2004 Pinewood Shepperton floated successfully on the London Stock Exchange. In 2005 Pinewood Shepperton acquired Teddington Studios. Collectively the company now has 41 stages, including ten digital television studios, audio post facilities, preview theatres, backlots, gardens & woodland for outdoor shooting, one of Europe’s largest exterior water tanks, and a dedicated underwater stage.

References

* [http://www.pinewoodgroup.com/uploads/PDF/SheppertonStudiosHistory.pdf Official history]

External links

* [http://www.pinewoodgroup.com/ Pinewood Studios Group official website]


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