Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Film history began at Shepperton Studios in 1931, when Norman Loudon , a dynamic Scottish businessman, bought Littleton Park with its surrounding 60 acre (240,000 m²) 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 in 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.
The new company's main function was not film production but the provision of distribution and financial guarantees for independent producers. Among those appointed to a re-organised board of directors were practical film-makers such as Roy and John Boulting , Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, all of whom were to make a number of films at the studios. These included Sidney Gilliat's The Constant Husband (1954) and Left, Right And Centre (1959) ; Frank Launder 's Geordie (1955) and Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957); the Boulting Brother’s Seven Days To Noon (1950), Private's Progress (1956) and I'm All Right Jack (1959). The films made at Shepperton in the 1950s and 1960s reflected the influence of the strong independent producers and directors who used the studios, rather than the paternal dominance of former head Alexander Korda.
Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes arrived to create Beaver Films , and adopted a new policy of deferred payment for the artists which enabled the film The Angry Silence (1960) to be made for the astonishingly-low sum of £97,000. Bryan Forbes went on to write and direct another Shepperton production in 1962, The L-Shaped Room (1962), produced by Richard Attenborough and James Woolf . The Angry Silence and The L Shaped Room were examples of films that echoed the social and economic changes that had stirred the late 1950s and 1960s, and reality became the essence of the `New Wave' school. Films of this genre made at Shepperton included Room At The Top (1958), directed by Jack Clayton; John Schlesinger's A Kind Of Loving (1962); Billy Liar (1963) and Darling (1965). Early in 1961, there was a new departure as British Lion and Columbia formed BLC Films to be responsible for marketing the films of both companies in the UK, an arrangement that lasted until 1967. In 1963, the company announced that £600,000 of the Government loan had been paid off.
However, in 1964, the Government sold the company back into private enterprise to a group headed by Michael Balcon. Profits dropped in the first year and in 1965 Lord Goodman succeeded Balcon as chairman. Nevertheless, a number of notable films were produced at the studio during that decade including two Pink Panther films and The Day Of The Jackal (1973) directed by Fred Zinnemann. In 1978-9 there was tight security on the stages at Shepperton for Alien (1979), a science fiction film with a difference directed by Ridley Scott. From 1970, Richard Attenborough made some of his finest films at Shepperton; these included Young Winston (1972), Gandhi (1982) and Cry Freedom (1987). In 1984, the manor of Littleton acquired a new owner when Lee International paid £3.6m for the studios. The Lee Group invested a considerable sum of money in refurbishing the facilities, and plans were drawn up for new workshops that were built in 1987.
Excellent films continued to be made at Shepperton during the 1980s such as The Elephant Man (1980), The Missionary (1982), The Company Of Wolves (1984), A Passage To India (1984) and Kenneth Branagh's first film production, Henry V (1989). Also among the 1980s productions at the studios were Privates On Parade (1982) and Michael Radford 's film of the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (filmed in its title year). The 1990s saw Neil Jordan's Oscar winner, The Crying Game (1992); Louis Matte 's Damage (1992); Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) and Nicholas Hytner's award winning The Madness of King George (1994) , Lord Attenborough's Chaplin (1992) and Shadowlands (1993).
The Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, acquired Shepperton in January 1995 . In 2001, Pinewood Studios, famed for its James Bond movies, bought Shepperton studios to enable the joint company to attract big-budget film-makers. The two studios continue to retain their individual trading identities despite the merger but will be under common ownership and management.
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