April 20, 2014

Studios

Studio 4

As World War II broke out, the Elstree studios were requisitioned and used in some form or another throughout the duration, primarily by the Royal Army Ordinance Corps. With peace in 1945, came a change of role for the studio, movie-making had changed; many of the old film hands and actors were not to return, many of the old studios had closed never to open again. John Maxwell had always hoped that his family would retain his film empire after his passing, but this was not to be. Warner Brothers acquired some family shares during the war and in 1946 they bought a vast bulk share from the Maxwell family, thus placing themselves in an unassailable position. Sir Walter Warter, Maxwell’s son-in-law, became chairman and mastered a complete reconstruction of their Elstree studios. In 1947 the new A.B.P.C. studios were not yet completed, but the company decided to go ahead with its first post-war production: My Brother Jonathan.

In 1950, AB.P.C. decided to sell their Welwyn Studios and concentrate on Elstree. The following year the film doyens decided to create a special offering to mark the Festival of Britain, and The Magic Box, the story of inventor William Friese-Green, was to be produced in and around the AB.P.C. studios. It became clear to the board that independent television was to become a reality in Britain, and they decided to enter the stakes in 1955 when awarded the contracts for Midlands and Northern programmes on Saturdays and Sundays. Walter Mycroft died in 1959, but John Maxwell’s other right-hand man, Robert Clark, was still firmly in charge of studio production. Although the threat of television must have been staring the studio squarely in the eye, the decade finished with some excellent productions like Ice Cold in Alex and Look Back in Anger.

The 1960′s saw many imported American stars arrive at Elstree to star in productions, and the boom brought about more investment in studio facilities. New stages, cutting rooms, ancillary services, an underground car-park, restaurant, movie-history museum and office block were planned and commenced with a mid-sixties completion date in mind. Despite the heady boom at A.B.P.C. admissions to UK cinema in 1966 had dropped to a weekly average of 6 million, compared with 6.9 the previous year and 8.1 in 1964. In 1969, EMI purchased the remaining Warner’s stake in A.B.P.C., and after a short fierce industry battle acquired a controlling interest in the company. The take-over saw Sir Philip Warter, Robert Clark and C.J. Latta go their separate ways, and EMI’s chief executive Sir Joseph Lockwood announced a new board of directors. John Read was appointed chief executive of EMI, Bernard Delfont was appointed chairman of A.B.P.C, Bryan Forbes became the new head of production at Elstree. Forbes had been an actor, screenwriter of some distinction, and finally a director of some merit.

In 1970 it came as no surprise that there was to be a massive withdrawal of investment in the M.G.M.-British studios at Elstree, Borehamwood. It became clear that the studios were no longer economically viable and that closure was imminent. The news was softened by a statement from John Read chief executive of EMI, to the effect that although M.G.M. was to close it’s own studios, it would immediately form a partnership to take advantage of the EMI Elstree studios. The studios were to be renamed EMI-MGM Elstree Studios Ltd in return for a guaranteed annual subside from M.G.M.

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