Elstree Studios during World War II

Friday 8th May 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day and the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany of its armed forced in World War II. With this milestone, organisations around the world are remembering what part they played during the war time and whilst there was a general pause on the film industry, Elstree Studios continued to be of use.

Prior to the start of the War in 1939, it is estimated that over 200 films had been made at Elstree Studios; amongst these were Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn (1939), St Martin’s Lane (1938) and Mimi (1935). At the time, Elstree Studios was owned by British Film Producer and Businessman, John Maxwell, and Studio Manger, Joe Grossman, oversaw the site.

As a facility, the Government saw a purpose for the Elstree Studios site during the war years and it was subsequently requisitioned by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. The Corps had several uses for the studios but it was mainly used as a depot; the large open-space buildings on site provided useful storage for essential supplies: weapons, equipment and food. As the war continued, various devices that would go on to aid the war effort were secretly created inside the workshops at Elstree Studios.

Royal Army Ordnance Corps sign at The Garrison Theatre.

In addition to storage, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps built a 550-seater Auditorium on the Elstree Studios site and named it the Garrison Theatre. The Garrison Theatre brought together troops who worked on site or who were based locally and kept them entertained. This played an important part on site in boosting the morale of the troops during the uncertain times of war.

The Garrison Theatre 1947

At the end of the war, Elstree Studios did not re-open as a production facility until 1948. John Maxwell died in 1940 and his wife sold large shares to Warner Brothers who agreed to substantially rebuild the facility during 1946 and 1947. In September 1948, the town of Borehamwood saw the opening of a new Elstree Studios – named then the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).

Show posters for The Garrison Theatre at Elstree Studios

This was followed by a boom in production at Elstree Studios with the release of some of the most famous post-war films. Box Office hit The Hasty Heart (1949) starring future US President Ronald Reagan, Alfred Hitchcock’s crime film Stage Fright (1950) and, of course, Michael Anderson’s The Dam Busters (1955) were all made at Elstree Studios in the following years.