Save Twickenham Film Studios

"Kes": the spirit of British film

News broke last week that justified my skepticism about the recent claim that we are in a golden era for British film – London’s Twickenham Film Studios has gone into administration and is up for sale. After 99 years making movies, it looks likely that it will be knocked down and the site redeveloped into luxury flats.  On hearing  this I was close to tears. Twickenham is the studio with which I have the longest relationship. I first worked there back in 1995 on a long-forgotten TV series called Frontiers, and I’ve had reason to pass through their gates pretty much every year since.  Apart from anything else they’ve done the sound mix  on three of my short films – and I want to return their kindness. At the end of this post I’m going to ask you to sign an online petition calling for a stay of execution.

Why should you care about Twickenham Film Studios? Unless you work in the British film industry you might not even know that there is a film studio there; the area is better known for its rugby ground. The studio doesn’t have the celebrity identification of the (sadly demolished) Gainsborough Studios, home to Hitchcock in the UK. Nor has it ever really been a studio with its own production brand, which has ensured Ealing Studios’ national treasure status.  And it’s nowhere near as grand or as swish as Pinewood or Shepperton.

Past and future meet in "Blade Runner"

But you do know Twickenham; you know it through its work. If you’ve ever watched The Italian Job (1969) on a Christmas afternoon, you’ve seen work done at Twickenham film studios. You’re a fan of the Beatles? Help and A Hard Day’s Night were made there. In fact many classic films –  to Kes to Blade Runner, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to Superman (I, II and III) – can trace their legacy to Twickenham.

But the studio’s glory is not all in the past. If you watched the Oscars at the weekend you will have seen wins for two movies that were made at least in part at Twickenham – War Horse and The Iron Lady. Many more wins at the BAFTA awards a few weeks before. Much of this is down to their sound facilities, which are amongst the best in the world, with crew to match.

In fact, Twickenham Film Studios is behind many of the stories within this blog. I’ve told you about the sound mix of The Others – that was done at Twickenham. I mentioned meeting my editor Celia Haining and break-out new British director Andrew Haigh in the cutting rooms of Calendar Girls – we were based at Twickenham. Even the film I’m cutting right now was shot at Twickenham, where it wrapped less than a month ago.

Twickenham is not only a vibrant force in British film, it’s a lovely place to work. It sits in a leafy suburb of west London, a world away from the caffeine-fuelled pace of Soho. It has a relaxed atmosphere, but stuff gets done.  It’s small, but has everything you need.  Wandering through its huddle of buildings, some 1930s whitewashed deco, others from the ’60s and beyond, you really feel you’re in a film studios (it was even used as a location for a 1960s studio in My Week with Marilyn).  Passing down the narrow passageways between these buildings, people greet you in a friendly manner. It’s like someone turned a sleepy English country village into a film studios. You might even spot Dickie Attenborough’s car parked there, trademark box of hankies in the back window. I don’t use the word ‘quaint’ much, but here it’s difficult to avoid.

The guys in theatre 1, with their infinitely long mixing desk

For me Twickenham epitomizes the very character of the British film industry. It’s small, eccentric and unassuming, always struggling to make ends meet, but somehow manages to punch well above its weight in the global industry, and challenge Hollywood on its own terms. Can we really stand by while it fades to black?

Please sign the petition  and make your voice heard.

Copyright © Guy Ducker 2012

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Comments
2 Responses to “Save Twickenham Film Studios”
  1. Stan Fus says:

    Very sad indeed. I’ve only worked there a few times in a career spanning over 20 years; a pity that Lord Attenborough, as you mention, associated with the Studios for many years (who I had the privilege to work with, albeit briefly, on ‘Chaplin’) is unwell, as I’m sure he would be leading the fight to save this historic Studio – how about all the other Producers that have benefitted from its facilities over the years?
    Stan Fus – Location Manager

  2. Rob James says:

    Guy, please forgive me for not having followed this up before.
    Thank you for your excellent exposition on the virtues of Twickenham. I wholeheartedly agree.
    Things are coming to a head now. There are at least two perfectly viable bids on the table to keep Twickenham as a centre of UK production excellence. The only stumbling block in the way is a bid from Taylor Wimpey to develop the site for housing. This is, unsurprisingly, much higher than the alternative bids. However, the local council has made it very clear that it will not countenance a change of use until the studio has been marketed as an ‘industrial site’ for two years. This diguises the most likely scenario. Which is that Taylor Wimpey wil buy it, asset strip it, demolish it and wait.
    If you do not wish to see that happen then please, come to the protest outside the studios on Thursday next (19th April) at 13:30 so that we can show the administrator the depth of feeling against such a course of action.
    You could also write to the MD of Taylor Wimpey:
    Mr Pete Redfern
    Chief Executive
    Taylor Wimpey
    Turnpike Road
    Buckinghamshire
    HP12 3NR
    Has to be snailmail because eamils just bounce. But please be quick!

    Rob

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