In the mid 1920s young British film producer, Herbert Wilcox, and Hollywood producer, J.D Williams, were looking for a site to build a new motion picture studio.
The first feature film to be completed was 'Madame Pompadour' starring silent screen actress Dorothy Gish. However, Williams fell out with his South African investors resulting in the departure of both he and Wilcox and the facility passed into the hands of Scottish cinema owner John Maxwell.
John Maxwell named Elstree Studios 'British International Pictures' and signed up new talent including the up and coming director Alfred Hitchcock. John Maxwell greatly expanded the facilities and today his contribution is recognised with one of the buildings on site named after him.
Hitchcock went into the record books by directing 'Blackmail' at Elstree, which is credited as the first British talking film. During the late 1920s/early 30s the Studio was involved in motion picture breakthroughs including colour and multi lingual films. The film 'Atlantic' was shot 3 times with English, French and German casts. Image courtesy of StudioCanal.
Elstree in the 1930s launched the screen careers of such stars as Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Anna Neagle, Googie Withers, Ray Milland and Stewart Granger. Its output was enormous and by 1938 had produced over 200 features.
In 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, the facility was used as an ordnance depot and storage facility. In addition, a 550-seater Auditorium was built on site and named the Garrison Theatre. The Theatre brought together local troops and kept them entertained. This played an important part in boosting the morale during the uncertain times of war.
John Maxwell died during the War years and his widow sold a large number of his shares to Warner Bros. who agreed to substantially rebuild the facility during 1946 and 1947. Elstree got off to a good re-start, making 'The Hasty Heart' and bringing over future U.S President Ronald Reagan to appear in his only British movie.
The 1950s saw a raft of Hollywood stars appearing at Elstree including David Niven, Sophia Loren, Gregory Peck, William Holden and Errol Flynn in such movies as 'Moby Dick' and 'The Key' along with home grown talent such as Jack Hawkins, Dennis Price and Terry Thomas. The famous Elstree water tank was used for 'The Dam Busters.' Image courtesy of StudioCanal.
In the 1960s, Elstree Studios or Associated British Picture Corporation as it was then known, began signing up television talent such as Tony Hancock and Charlie Drake to star in 'The Rebel' and 'The Cracksman' along with Cliff Richard in 'Summer Holiday' and 'The Young Ones.'
In the early 1970s the studios went ‘four wall’, hiring out its sound stages for other producers to use and manned with freelance staff. Just prior to this move, Bryan Forbes had been appointed Head of Production by new owners 'EMI'. He green lit several movies, the most successful of which was probably 'The Railway Children.'
In 1975, Stanley Kubrick returned to Elstree Studios to film his new psychological horror film 'The Shining' starring Jack Nicholson. Kubrick had previously shot 'Lolita', '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'A Clockwork Orange' locally and remained living in Hertfordshire after 'The Shining'.
In 1976 a young American decided to base his new science fiction movie at Elstree. His name was George Lucas and the movie franchise - Star Wars. During the next few years he produced two sequels and also invited Steven Spielberg to Borehamwood to direct the Indiana Jones trilogy. A new large silent stage was built to accommodate this extra work.
In 1986, EMI decided to sell the Elstree Studios and it was purchased by Cannon who produced Superman IV. Brent Walker bought the site in the early 90s and gained permission to sell 12 acres to Tesco provided they retained and rebuilt the remaining 15 acres as viable modern studios.
In 1993 Brent Walker closed the Studio for production with just a few tenants remaining. Equipment was sold off and for three years the Studio remained empty until Hertsmere Council took Brent Walker to court and won a great victory, which resulted in the historic facility coming under the ownership of the local community.
The Studios were subsequently restored with millions of pounds spent re-equipping the stages and building the two 15,000sqft George Lucas sound stages, which were opened by H.R.H Prince Charles in 1999.
The Big Brother house relocated to Elstree Studios in 2002 where it stayed until it ended in 2018. During this time, 619 housemates entered the famous house and there were a total of 42 various series. 87 cameras and 110 microphones were set up in the house to so that no drama was missed.
In more recent years, Elstree Studios has been home to major international feature films including 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows', 'Under The Skin', 'The World’s End' and 'Suffragette'. 'The King’s Speech' won multiple Oscars and BAFTAs in 2011. 'Paddington' was named the highest grossing British independent film of 2014.
2014 saw the beginning of a new working partnership with BBC Studioworks. A number of Elstree Studios’ Stages became fully equipped for HD multi camera television production. HD gallery facilities have been built for the George Lucas Stage 2, which hosts the UK’s number one entertainment show: Strictly Come Dancing.
Elstree Studios became the production base of Netflix and Left Bank Pictures’ mutli-award-winning drama depicting the Royal Family: The Crown. The Crown’s Series 4 was released on Netflix in November 2020 and Series 5 is currently in production on site.
In television, Elstree Studios has been home to some of the highest rated shows in the UK such as ITV’s 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?', 'Dancing on Ice' and most recently 'The Chase' and 'Beat the Chasers', 'Celebrity Juice', 'The Voice' and 'The Voice Kids' and BBC’s 'Pointess'.
A multi-million pound development at Elstree Studios is now underway to provide new facilities and accommodate clients. 2 New 'Super Stages' will offer an additional 18,000sqft in filming space each. This work will increase the size of the studios by 25% and is the first major development at Elstree in over 15 years.