BBC Elstree Centre

Entrance to BBC Elstree Centre, 2010

Entrance to BBC Elstree Centre, 2010

Studios at Elstree
Elstree was a major centre for film production from the early days of cinema. There’s a great deal of confusion about which studios at Elstree were used for which movies / TV shows.

This page covers BBC Elstree Centre (also known as Clarendon Road Studios, Neptune Studios, Rock Studios, National Studios, ATV Studios, Central TV Studios). The location has been used for movie / TV production since 1914 and has been the home of BBC Soap ‘Eastenders’ since 1985 (see below)

EastEnders

Unfortunately there are no public tours of the Eastenders Sets or of the studio itself at any time.

This gritty and groundbreaking BBC soap opera has been based at the BBC Elstree Centre since day one back in 1985.
The soap is based in the fictional London borough of Walford in the east end. The Albert Square permanent exterior set was designed by the late Keith Harris, the senior designer in the EastEnders production team.
Extensions including a fictional Tube station have been added over the years.
In 2014 it was announced that a new, 20% larger exterior set would be built for EastEnders, within the BBC Elstree Centre grounds.
Following planning permission, construction work took place in 2015 & 2016 to prepare the new site. Although it was originally planned to have the new sets operational by 2018, it’s now believed that part of the set will be available from 2019, with the entire development not complete until 2020.

Tours of EastEnders:

Unfortunately there are no public tours of the Eastenders Sets or of the studio itself at any time. This has never been possible due to the production schedule and additional security concerns.
Please do not contact this website about tours, as there are none available.
Some BBC facilities offer tours (but NOT this location) so please check the BBC Tours website for more information. 

The Eastenders exterior sets with studio buildings beyond - Aerial photo from Windows Live Local

The Eastenders exterior sets with studio buildings beyond – Aerial photo from Windows Live Local

BBC Elstree Centre sign (2010)

BBC Elstree Centre sign (2010)

More information about the facilities at BBC Elstree Centre

Other Studios in the Elstree Area;

  • Elstree Film Studios (also known as Shenley Road Studios, British International Pictures, Associated British Pictures, EMI Elstree Studios, Cannon Elstree Studios, Goldcrest Studios, Elstree Film & TV Studios)
  • Millenium Studios
  • Gate Studios (also known as Station Road Studios)
  • Danziger Studios (also known as New Elstree Studios)
  • MGM Borehamwood (also known as Elstree Way Studios)

History of the BBC Elstree Centre site

1914 Percy Nash and John East, early British filmmakers, built Neptune Studios at Boreham Wood, near Elstree village. Although conveniently close to London, it was far enough away from the metropolis that the air was clear of smog and traffic fumes. One of the stages was over 70 feet in length and was described as the first ‘dark’ stage in Europe as it had no glazed roof and relied totally on artificial illumination.
1917 Neptune Studios closes due to World War 1, and the site is bought by the Ideal Film Company.
1924 Ideal Films moves out of the premises.
1928 Ludwig Blattner, inventor of an early sound recording system, took over the studios, making them the last in the Elstree area to be converted for sound recording.
1934 The studios are leased by Joe Rock, an American producer, the same year as Blattner committed suicide.
1936 Joe Rock buys the studios outright (now known as Rock Studios) and constructs the four main stages, still in use today as studios A-D. This major investment ensured the future use of the studios for many years to come.
1939 The Rock Studios are taken over by British National Films, and almost immediately, the studios are taken over by the government for war dutues. After the war British National Films continued to make films on the site, now known as National Studios.
1948 The studios go dark for five years.
1953 Douglas Fairbanks Jr buys the studios. He uses the four stages to make filmed TV programmes for the American company NBC. His initial contract was for an astonishing 39 films as well as many commercials. Many of the short films made for the US market were shown in the UK as part of Douglas Fairbanks Presents from 1955.
1958 May: Lew Grade’s ATV purchases the former National Film Studios.
1960 One by one the four studios are brought into use as (at the time) state-of-the-art television studios. Many classic TV series used the ATV facilities: Robin HoodLancelotThe Saint (with Roger Moore), The Persuaders and TV specials for stars such as Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. Later, The Muppet Showstarted life here, along with Emergency Ward 10The Plane MakersThe Power Game, Sergeant CorkThe Golden Shot (game show), Sapphire and SteelTiswas (Saturday morning kids show) and the first 13 episodes of Carry on Laughing.
1982 ATV lost it’s London TV franchise and was reshaped into Central TV. Central remained at Elstree while their new facilities in Nottingham were constructed. Many staff (and much equipment) moved to Nottingham when the studios there were finished. 
Auf Wiedersehen Pet
 filmed at the studio in the meantime.
1984 16th January – The official documents are signed, transferring ownership of the site to the BBC, and it’s renamed The BBC Elstree Centre. Popular BBC shows including Grange HillTop of the Pops and Kilroy move to the new site. The backlot area formerly used as the Auf Wiedersehen Pet building site is used to construct the exterior Albert Square sets for EastEnders.
1985 19 February: Eastenders debuts on BBC1 television, and the Albert Square sets are seen for the first time.
1999 Holby City, a spin-off of BBC medical drama Casualty (filmed in Bristol) starts filming at Elstree, using Neptune House, one of the existing BBC office buildings, as the hospital.
2008 The Times reports that Eastenders may shift production to another location (e.g. Pinewood Studios) due to the deteriorating quality of the 25 year old sets at Elstree. The original sets were never designed for this length of run, and under the unforgiving HD cameras, the fake brickwork and wooden walls are beginning to be very obvious.
Link to The Times article 
2010 Eastenders is to remain at Elstree ‘for the foreseeable future’, with sets being upgraded when necessary.
2016 Work is underway to prepare a new site slightly east of the existing location for an expanded Albert Square, with higher quality sets, some of which may be practical. Build cost is believed to be £15million.
> Link to The Guardian article about the move
> Link to Metro article about delays to the work
Sources:

 


Productions shot at BBC Elstree Centre


Feature Film (1)

TitleReleasedDirectorIMDB
The Elusive Pimpernel (aka The Fighting Pimpernel)1950Michael Powell, Emeric PressburgerIMDB Database page about The Elusive Pimpernel (aka The Fighting Pimpernel)

TV Series (17)

TitleReleasedDirectorIMDB
David Walliams Wall Of Fame2011Various
Bamzooki2004-2010 Rupert HarrisIMDB Database page about Bamzooki
Holby City1999 - VariousIMDB Database page about Holby City
The main BBC office block features as the hospital. The series that Holby City span-off from (Casualty) was filmed at studios in Bristol (Series 1 to 26).
The Ink Thief1994Paul SpringerIMDB Database page about The Ink Thief
Shot around the backlot at BBC Elstree Centre
Kilroy1986-2004IMDB Database page about Kilroy
Eastenders1985 - VariousIMDB Database page about Eastenders
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet1983 - 1985VariousIMDB Database page about Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
This Central TV (formerly ATV) production filmed on the backlot as well as in the studios at Elstree. The building site location is now the site of the permanent Albert Square set for Eastenders. The show was filmed here for the first series only.
Grange Hill1978-2008Phil RedmondIMDB Database page about Grange Hill
1985 - 2002: Production was based at BBC Elstree. The BBC had bought the site the previous year. Neptune House was featured as the lower school exterior, simplifying production.
The Muppet Show1976-1981VariousIMDB Database page about The Muppet Show
Shot between 1976 and 1980 in Studio D, using Philips cameras. The final production day was Friday 22nd August 1980.
Inigo Pipkin (aka Pipkins)1973 - 1981Dorothy Denham, Pembroke DuttsonIMDB Database page about Inigo Pipkin (aka Pipkins)
UFO1970-1Gerry Anderson, Sylvia AndersonIMDB Database page about UFO
The office block featured in the title sequence is Neptune House at the former ATV Studios, now BBC Elstree Centre. It also features in Holby City.
This is Tom Jones1969-1971VariousIMDB Database page about This is Tom Jones
The Liberace Show1969Norman CampbellIMDB Database page about The Liberace Show
It Must Be Dusty1968Michael KentIMDB Database page about It Must Be Dusty
Top of the Pops1964-2016IMDB Database page about Top of the Pops
1991 - 2001: Elstree filming of TOTP took place on 4 stages, nicknamed John, Paul, George and Ringo. The show moved to the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith when EastEnders needed to expand as they started showing the soap four times a week.
Doctor Who (classic)1963 - 1989VariousIMDB Database page about Doctor Who (classic)
HG Wells' Invisible Man1958-1960IMDB Database page about HG Wells

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