Although American films came to dominate London cinemas during the 20th century, a significant body of films were made in or around London.
The first moving pictures to be shown in London were at the Kinetoscope parlour in Oxford Street in October 1894. A year later, British filmmaking began when an electrical engineer, Robert W Paul, made a short film of his house in Barnet. By the first decade of the 20th century, a number of small film production workshops had been established across London.
London’s early film studios were makeshift affairs: a studio at Kew bridge was a converted dance hall. Among the places involved in film production were Walthamstow, Dulwich, Cricklewood and Croydon. British filmmaking was boosted by the 1927 ‘quota Act’, which required British cinemas to show British films for at least 20% of their programmes.
Whilst the British film industry’s offices were in Soho, the studios all remained in the clean air of the suburbs. The 1920s and 30s saw a new generation of ‘super studios’ built to produce ‘talkies’ as well as silent pictures. At Elstree, a large new studio complex was built in 1925 for British International Pictures. Some studios were built further afield in the grounds of country mansions: most famously the Pinewood Studios in Iver, Buckinghamshire.
The great age of the London film studios ended in the 1950s as the rise of television made British filmmaking less profitable. Several of the film studios were taken over by television companies. The studio complex at Denham closed in 1954 and was used for warehousing before being demolished in 1981.
London’s major film studios included Ealing Studios, possibly the world’s oldest film studio still in operation, which was founded in 1902 by filmmaker Walter Barker. The studio was famous for its comedies produced between 1949 and 1955 including The Lady Killers, and Kind Hearts and Coronets. The BBC bought the studios in 1959.
Shepperton Studios were established when Norman Loudon, a businessman, bought Littleton Park in 1931 and opened the Sound City Film Producing and Recording Studios the following year. The studio’s location near the Vickers Armstrong aircraft factory made it vulnerable to bombing during the Second World War.
In 1912 Dr Ralph established a film company at St Margaret’s, housed in a former ice-skating rink. In 1927 Julius Hagen leased the studios, re-equipped them for sound and renamed them the Twickenham Film studios. The studios had their peak in the 1960 with productions such as A Hard Days Night and Let it Be, which starred The Beatles.
Cinematograph enthusiast Henry Chinnery acquired land in Teddington in the late 19th century. In 1931, filmmaker E G Norman and his partner Henry Edwards bought the studios and refurbished them. In 1934 Warner Brothers bought the site, built larger stages and sets and installed modern equipment such as editing suites. In 1955, the studios were taken over by the television company ABC.