Alas for Twickenham

Filming the feature film London (1927) at Twickenham Film Studios, from

Yesterday it was reported that Twickenham Film Studios is to close. Administrators have been called in, and the business will have been wound down completely by June 2012. Twickenham had been used for such classics as A Hard Day’s Night, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Repulsion, Alfie, An American Werewolf in London and Blade Runner, and at least three films up for Academy Awards this year used the studios facilities in one form or another (War Horse, My Week with Marilyn and The Iron Lady).

The studio’s closure comes just one year short of its centenary. Twickenham must be one of the world’s oldest continually running film studios. It was founded in 1913 by Ralph Jupp, who purchased a former roller skating rink at St Margaret’s, Twickenham on the outskirts of London, and converted it into a premier film studio. Jupp was the UK’s leading film exhibitor, being the managing director of the leading cinema circuit Provincial Cinematograph Theatres. Together with film director Percy Nash and actor John East he formed the London Film Company, with the aim of producing high-qality feature films able to match the best of American product (American directors were imported, George Loane Tucker and Harold Shaw), to be made at what was then called St Margaret’s Studios.

According to Rachael Low, the studio had one stage 165ft x 75ft with a part glass roof (blacked out in 1916) and the lot occupied three-quarters of an acre. The studio employed 50-60 (plus a stock company of actors), utilised Pathé, Debrie and Moy cameras, for lighting employed 120 Westminster arcs, six mercury vapour tubes and eight Boardman ‘North Lights’, its power supply was a 300KW rotary convertor fed from the Twickenham mains, and it had its own film processing plant.

East and Nash had left in 1914 to form Neptune Studios (later Elstree), and Jupp sold out to the ambitious Alliance Company in 1918. Alliance made such comparatively lavish productions as The Bohemian Girl and Carnival before going out of business in 1922, after which the studios were leased out to various companies, with such notable British silents as The Flag Lieutenant and The Only Way being made there. In 1928 the new owner Julius Hagen formed Twickenham Film Studios and the studios were active throughout the 1930s, making low budget productions of which the quota quickies directed by Michael Powell are now the most celebrated.

Hagen died in 1938, and the studios were hit by a bomb during the Second World War, but they continued as part of Alliance Film Studio (no relation to the earlier Alliance), subsisting on TV work but then enjoying a revival in the 1960s, perhaps most notably as home for the Beatles’ first two feature films. Work continued into present times, though the small studio was generally used for TV, commercials and post-production work.

Twickenham Film Studios today

The Twickenham Film Studios website gives no indication of its impending closure, and one wonders what will become of the website itself. It has information not only on the studio facility and recent productions, but has a history section (with minor errors dotted throughout), a picture gallery, and a downloadable filmography. There is real pride there in ninety-nine years of motion picture production. How do other silent era British film studios do when it comes to recording the history online?

Elstree gives no more than its founding date (1926), overlooking the earlier film history of the site going back to 1914. Ealing Studios notes that there was a film studio on the site from 1902, formed by Will Barker (Barker’s first actual studio on the site was 1907) but then bypasses nearly forty years of history to focus on the Ealing comedies of the 1940s and 50s. Gainsborough Studios in Islington is now a block of flats whose site says nothing of the site’s distinguished film history. Lime Grove studios, founded by Gaumont in 1915, was a BBC studio until 1991, after which the site was re-developed as a housing estate (see the website for an extensive history). Beaconsfield, founded in 1921, is now part of the National Film and Television School, though you would never know that from the NFTS site. Teddington, founded in 1912 by Ec-Ko Films (Charles Urban may have used the same site) and now part of the Pinewood Group, is active as a television studio, but there is no indication of its long history on the Pinewood Group site.

Of the others – Walton-on-Thames (a history going back to 1899, became Nettlefold and closed in 1961), Welwyn (the British Instructional Films studios, founded in 1927, closed in 1951), Isleworth (Worton Hall), Cricklewood, Bushey, Walthamstow, Harlesden (Craven Park) and more, nothing remains physicially and nothing therefore exists officially online, though fan sites and other such histories can be found (see in particular the useful summary histories on the forum). So it looks like the studio that cared most for its history, Twickenham, is the one that is going under. A sad day.