The Twickenham Museum
Places : East Twickenham and St Margarets

Twickenham Film Studios
A string of box office hits
1912 to the present

Tiny studio in St Margarets

One of the oldest surviving studios in the country, the St Margarets-based film company is perhaps best known for its association with The Beatles and a string of box-office hits including Alfie (1966), The Eagle Has Landed (1976), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Shirley Valentine (1989).

London Film Company

The film connection began in 1912, when exhibitor Dr Ralph Jupp based his London Film Company at St Margarets. Housed in a former skating rink, the company produced its first silent film, The House of Temperley, in 1913. Later came Masks and Faces (1917), which was made to raise funds for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), and boasted on-screen cameos from George Bernard Shaw and J.M. Barrie.

The studio was sold in 1920 to the Alliance Company, whose short-lived output included Ivor Novello in The Bohemian Girl (1922). The studio was leased subsequently to the Ideal Film Company and Astra National.

The 'talkies'

In 1927 the British government responded to concerns of an American-based monopoly on motion pictures with the Cinematographic Film Act, which decreed that twenty percent of all films shown in Britain would be produced here. One of the first to take advantage of the immediate surge of film-making was the Hamburg-born film producer Julius Hagen, who secured the lease of the studio and renamed it Twickenham Film Studios. Under this definitive name the studio would continue to the present day.

Hagen was immediately faced with a major obstacle: the arrival of "the talkies" (talking pictures). In order to equip his new studio with the expensive RCA equipment required, he used the studio at night and leased it to others during the day. Hagen won a contract with Warner Bros in 1929 which proved very successful and allowed Twickenham Film Studios to develop a reputation for both quality and quantity.

One of Hagen's protégés was the American director Bernard Vorhaus. Vorhaus cast many well-known British stage actors of the day in his films, among them John Mills, Lewis Casson and the volatile John Garrick. Between them, Hagen and Vorhaus ensured that a high output of films continued throughout the 1930s. 20 films were produced at the studio in 1933 alone.

Post war glory

During World War II, filming was discontinued due to bomb damage. The studio struggled to recapture its former success throughout the 1950s, focusing primarily on early television productions. The turning point came with the appointment of Guido Coen as executive director in 1959. Coen developed the studio's international profile, beginning with the hard-hitting drama Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960), starring Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts. Under his guidance, Twickenham Film Studios would reach its peak in the 1960s.

The film that attracted the most attention was A Hard Day's Night, directed in 1964 by Richard Lester, and starring The Beatles. This engaging comedy was so successful that The Beatles continued their association with Twickenham Film Studios with Help! (1965) and Let It Be (1970).

Many scenes from The Beatles' films were shot in the Twickenham area. Ringo downs a pint in Twickenham's Turks Head pub during A Hard Day's Night, and all four Beatles are seen disappearing into four terraced houses on Ailsa Road, St Margarets, during Help! (The four houses are then magically transformed into one enormous Beatle mansion. The interior was actually a set at Twickenham Film Studios.)

Many other acclaimed films have been made at the studio, or have used its post-production facilities. They include Zulu, Gandhi, Blade Runner, Interview With A Vampire, An American Werewolf in London, The Fly, Superman II, A Fish Called Wanda and, more recently, the supernatural thriller The Others.

Studio Three at Twickenham Film Sutios

Television and commercials

Today, although the work at Twickenham Film Studios is centred on television programmes and commercials, there is a continuing film presence, with directors and producers relying upon the studio's state-of-the-art facilities to complete their motion pictures. The legacy of the 'tiny studio in St Margarets' carries on.


Sources:
The Museum of Richmond
The British Film Institute
The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History of the British Cinema 1929-1939, edited by Jeffrey Richards (I.B. Tauris, 1998)
British Film Studios: An Illustrated History, by Patricia Warren (B.F.I., 2001)

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