April 23, 2014

Studios

Studio Photograph

Film history began at Shepperton in 1931, when Norman Loudon, a dynamic Scottish businessman, bought Littleton Park with its surrounding 60-acre 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 small `flicker’ books of photographs, which gave an impression of movement when the pages were flicked with the thumb. Littleton Park seemed ideal when Loudon decided the next step was to enter film production, and a new company, Sound City Film Producing & Recording Studios, was founded in 1932. By the 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.

With the outbreak of World War II, the War Office considered Shepperton Studios a safe location as it was 14 miles from the centre of London. However, they 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. Filming was constantly interrupted and stray bombs fell into the studio grounds. After the nearby factory was hit, the Ministry of Defence 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.

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 brought London Film Productions. London Films then purchased the controlling interest in British Lion, and 1946 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.

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