April 24, 2014

Studios

Studio Photograph

The construction of Beaconsfield Studios commenced in 1921, and it was officially opened by its owner, George Clark, a Soho-based producer, in the spring of 1922. Like other producers of the day, Clark had chosen his site for three key reasons: to escape from the notorious London smog, to be within easy reach of London with a good railway service and to have a setting with country locations for outdoor filming. The new studio had one dark stage and a number of films were immediately initiated under the banner of George Clark Productions. The studios first production was the Guy Newall comedy two-reeler Beauty and the Beast (1922).

For some time Clark had been working with Guy Newall, director and popular leading man in silent films. Newall’s leading lady was the lovely Ivy Duke, and the couple married in 1922. One of their first films for Clark as a husband-and-wife team was Fox Farm (1922), and shortly afterwards they made The Starlit Garden (1923), both films directed by Newall. Productions had ceased by early 1925. The studios became derelict, and by the time the British Lion Film Corporation acquired them in 1927, they were in very poor condition. British Lion purchased Beaconsfield in anticipation of the realisation of the 1927-28 Cinematograph (‘Quota Quickies’) Film Act.

It was a new company with Sam Smith, who had entered the industry in Canada in 1910, as Managing Director. The company’s main purpose was to develop the novels of Edgar Wallace, who had agreed to give British Lion sole film rights and was invited to be its Chairman. Having extensively modernised the studios, the company raced into silent film production with Wallace’s The Forger (1928), directed by G.B. Samuelson. The arrival from America of ‘talkies’ changed the face of British film production. There was fierce competition to be the first with a British sound feature. There are mane conflicting claims and Alfred Hitchcock‘s Blackmail (1929) is usually regarded by the industry as Britain’s first entry into sound. However, Britain’s first all-talking feature was The Clue of the New Pin (1929), based on a novel by Edgar Wallace, starring Donald Calthrop, Benita Home and Fred Raines, made by British Lion at their Beaconsfield Studios.

Within a year of The Clue of the New Pin (1929), British Lion was in financial difficulty. Wallace left for Hollywood where he died in 1932 in considerable debt. In the early 1930s, Gaumont/Gainsborough used the studios while waiting for their own new stages to be completed, and Basil Dean made Sally in Our Alley (1931), starring the much-loved gawky Lancashire lass, Gracie Fields. 1932 marked a change of direction at British Lion. Up to that time, they had concentrated on the works of Edgar Wallace, but with his death it was decided to expand and experiment with other subjects, though still carrying on with the Wallace films in such productions as The Flying Squad (1932) and The Frightened Lady (1932). This policy meant a change in the cast list away from the old Wallace faithful, and it is interesting to see the names of Sophie Tucker and Florence Desmond appearing in Gay Love (1934).

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