August 21, 2014

Studios

Studio Photograph

Irving Asher lays the first foundation stone in 1934.

Research compiled and written by Malcolm Newnam between April 1995 and February 1996. Malcolm worked for Thames Television at Teddington Studios, after leaving the company he moved to Sussex, and later to Wales where he died in October, 2000.©

During the first half of 1912, W.P. Kellino, a member of the theatrical acrobatic group ‘The Flying Kellinos’ took a walk along the towpath between Richmond and Teddington Lock. Crossing to the south of the Thames he found Weir House. It stood in about three and a half acres of wooded grounds. Not long after, Kellino founded his company Ec-Ko films, using the Weir House grounds for the production of short comedy subjects lasting around five minutes. These usually featured ‘The Brothers Egbert’ and Sam T. Poluski. Ec-Ko was a moderately successful company, their first efforts appearing in October 1912. Production continued for the next few years but by 1915 it had tailed off and Kellino changed the name from Ec-Ko to Homeland on moving to studio space on the south side of Kew Bridge. Master Films, the next company to use Weir House, had previously used a studio at Esher on the Portsmouth Road.

By this time a single glasshouse building had been constructed at Weir House – the first enclosed stage at Teddington. It measured 60ft by 40ft and was equipped with Moy and Debrie cameras, Westminster arcs being employed for lighting. Master Films was the first company to produce full length feature films at Teddington. From about 1916-1922 they had a fairly large output, short films also being included with the features. Among the latter were Daniel Deronda (1921) starring Clive Brook and Corinthian Jack (1921) with Victor McLaglan and Warwick Ward. Many of the productions were directed by Percy Nash, others by Edwin J. Collins. For the most part production was cheap and careless with reviews complaining of horizons that swayed in unison with boat decks. Master’s output diminished in 1923 and by late 1925 the company had been liquidated. Other companies using the studio during Master’s tenure were Artistic and H.B. Parkinson.

By 1924 film production in Britain had dropped to its lowest point. With the demise of Master there was only a meagre output from Teddington for the rest of the 1920′s. Carlton Films made An Obvious Situation (1929) and was the last film made at Teddington in the twenties. Carlton was a company formed by an Italian, Guarino G. Glavany, who directed the film. It was first shown, with sound on disc in October 1930. The distributors were Warner Brothers. In October 1929 the Teddington studio was partly destroyed by fire and was to remain dormant until the advent of sound film. In the meantime the 1927 quota legislation had been framed and finally came into force on April 1st 1928. This meant that British film footage, starting at 5% and going up in annual stages to reach 20% in 1935, must be screened in British cinemas. The quota act was to run for ten years, and this, together with the coming of sound, was to have a profound effect on the Teddington studio site and the rest of the British film industry.

In January 1931 Henry Edwards and E.G. Norman announced a plan to re-equip the studio in the grounds of Weir House. Edwards, a well known actor in the previous two decades, had appeared in many silent films, some of them for the film pioneer Cecil M. Hepworth at his studios in Walton-on-Thames. The original intent of Edwards and Norman was to produce their own films and rent out the floor space to other companies. Teddington Film Studios Ltd opened in the following July. It was equipped with RCA sound and the latest lighting. Essentially there was one stage which could easily be divided in two. When used as a single stage it measured 130ft by 75ft. There was a large projection/recording theatre attached to the stage fronting Broom Road. A power house stood nearby and there were facilities for all the needs of production – dressing rooms, plasterers and painters shops, carpenters shop and editing rooms. The offices were situated in part of Weir House. There was space for an employee’s car park and exterior lot. The river frontage measured about 150 yards.

In the event only one film was made by Teddington Films, Stranglehold (1930) directed by Edwards and featuring Isobel Elsom, Allan Jeayes and Garry Marsh. Some of the exterior scenes were filmed in Teddington High Street. The film was shown by the distributor, Warner Brothers, in October 1931. Although the studios had opened in July, by August Warner’s announced that it had negotiated the lease on the studios for two years with the option to renew. The company, Warner Brothers First National Productions Ltd was registered as a private one with a nominal capital of £1000 on the 28th August. A figure of £200,000 was to be spent on the first dozen or so films. Warner’s brought over Irving Asher from their U.S. Burbank operation and installed him as Chairman and Managing Director. Also a long term Warner’s man, Doc Salomon came over and took the position of Studio Manager. For the next five or so years output was prolific with some of the films shot in as little as a week and one of the first films to be shown appeared in January 1932; Murder on the Second Floor (1932) directed by William McGann and starring John Longdon and Florence Desmond.

Many of Britain’s best scriptwriters were to work on these cheaply made films, Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, Guy Bolton, A.R. Rawlinson, Reginald Purdell, and John Dighton amongst them. Directors from both sides of the Atlantic were used, including John Daumery, Frank Richardson, John Rawlings, Leslie Hiscott, Ralph Ince and Monty Banks. Casts were drawn from the theatre and silent films, some of whom were already famous, others would become so. They included Roland Culver, Sebastian Shaw, Ida Lupino, Margot Grahame, Louis Hayward, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Hickson, Ian Hunter, Wendy Barrie, Edward Chapman, Claude Hulbert, Nora Swinburne, Martita Hunt, Cecil Parker, Rex Harrison, Margaret Yarde, Felix Aylmer, Laura La Plante and Margaret Lockwood. Like other production companies of the period turning out films purely for quota, few of these productions received critical acclaim either within the trade or from the public. Some of them were described as ‘banal and naive’ by the Kinematograph Weekly. Warner’s attitude to their British productions can be gauged from the fact that when they featured a young actor named Errol Flynn in Murder at Monte Carlo (1934), they quickly realised his worth and he was sent to Hollywood.

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