Pinewood Studios Group is a major British film studio located in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, 32 km west of central London. The studios have hosted many productions over the years, from huge blockbuster films to television shows, commercials and pop promos, and is well known as the home of the “Carry On…,” Superman and James Bond film franchises.
Pinewood Studios were built on the estate of Heatherden Hall, which is a large, attractive Victorian house with spectacular grounds. Due to its seclusion, it was used as a discreet meeting place for high-ranking politicians and diplomats and the agreement to create the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed there.
The site was purchased by Canadian financier and MP for Chiswick and Brentford, Lt. Col. Grant Morden, who spent a fortune transforming the mansion into a showpiece home, adding refinements such as a huge ballroom, a Turkish bath and an indoor squash court.
On Morden’s death in 1934, building tycoon Charles Boot bought the land and turned it into a Country Club. The ballroom was converted into a restaurant and many of the bedrooms became furnished suites.
In 1935, millionaire Methodist and flour magnate J. Arthur Rank created a partnership with Boot and together they transformed the estate into a film studio. In December of that year the construction began, with a new stage completed every three weeks. The studios were finished nine months later having cost £1 million (approximately £37 million at 2012 prices). Five stages were initially completed, as well as a provision for an enclosed water tank capable of holding 65,000 gallons, which is still used.
In the years that followed he also undertook further work on both the Pinewood Film Studios and the Denham Film Studios, both of which had by then become a part of their newly formed Rank Organisation.
On 30 September 1936, Dr Leslie Burgin, Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, performed the grand studio opening. The studios’ first film director was Herbert Wilcox, completing “London Melody” with Anna Neagle, portions of which had already been filmed at Elstree Studios before a fire there halted production. The first film to be made entirely at Pinewood was “Talk of the Devil,” directed by Carol Reed.
Soon Pinewood Studios were leading the way in film industry innovation through the ‘unit system’. This enabled several pictures to be filmed simultaneously and ultimately Pinewood achieved the highest output of any studio in the world.
During WWII Pinewood was requisitioned and subsequently the Crown Film Unit, Army Film and Photographic Unit, RAF Film Unit and Polish Air Force Film Unit were based there. The Crown Film Unit completed many classic wartime documentaries including Roy Boulting‘s Academy Award winning “Desert Victory”.
1947 saw two outstanding films in production, “Oliver Twist” and Oscar-winning “The Red Shoes,” a landmark in British film-making, in part largely due to the creative cinematography of Jack Cardiff and his innovative use of the new technique of Technicolor.
By the end of the 1940s, however, Rank had ran up an overdraft of £16 million (the equivalent of £364.5 million in 2012), mainly due to big budget flops such as the 1946 “Caesar and Cleopatra,” which was originally budgeted at £250,000, but which eventually cost £1,278,000 (the equivalent of £33 million) and many of the studios famous directors being lured away by rival companies who promised greater independence.
In 1949, John Davis was appointed and charged with the task of turning around the Rank Organisation’s fortunes. Davis sacrificed both jobs and studios in the name of efficiency and sought to produce commercial films rather than pursue experimental initiatives.
During the 1950s, Pinewood gave birth to the huge financial successes of the “Carry On…” and “Doctor” films series, produced on behalf of Rank by Peter Rogers and his wife Betty E. Box and directed by the brothers Gerald Thomas and Ralph Thomas respectively (“Doctor in the House” was the most popular box office film of 1954 in Great Britain), and the Norman Wisdom comedies, which between 1953 and 1966 made more money than the James Bond film series.
The 1960s were buoyant years for Pinewood, which was no longer solely dependent on the Rank Organisation to fill its stages, now ‘Renters’ (producers hiring the sound stages for a film-by-film agreement) were using half of the stages.
1962 saw the dawn of Pinewood’s most famous enterprise, the James Bond franchise, that began with the Terence Young directed “Dr No.” That same year J. Arthur Rank retired as Chairman and was succeeded by John Davis, who had moved the Rank Organisation away from film production and towards more profitable areas like bingo and holidays.
The 1970s were an uncertain period for Pinewood and the film industry in general, with the studios being used more for television programmes. Throughout the lean years of that decade the Superman franchise almost certainly saved the studios from financial crisis.
Four James Bond movies (“For Your Eyes Only,” “Octopussy,” “A View to a Kill” and “The Living Daylights”), amongst several other very large productions, such as Tim Burton’s “Batman,” kept the studio busy during the consecutive decade.
Due in large part to unfavourable UK tax laws for inward investment in the UK film industry, the 1990s were precarious and witnessed an all-time low in British film production generally, but many large-scale productions such as Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” and three further Bond films (“GoldenEye,” “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “The World Is Not Enough”) kept Pinewood ticking over.
The Rank Group owned the studio until 1995, when they sold Pinewood to a group led by Michael Grade and Ivan Dunleavy. The purchase of Shepperton Studios from a consortium headed by Ridley and Tony Scott gave rise to The Pinewood Studios Group with both UK and international interests including Shepperton Studios, Teddington Studios, Pinewood Toronto Studios, Pinewood Indomina Studios, Pinewood Studio Berlin and Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, combining three studios steeped in heritage and prestige as well as new and modern state-of-the-art purpose built facilities. In 2009, Pinewood and Shepperton received a BAFTA Award for their Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema.
The Pinewood Studios Group was subject to a hostile takeover approach in 2011. Manchester-based The Peel Group acquired a 73% stake, but Warren James Jewellers retained a 27% stake, thus preventing a full takeover. As of 2012, Pinewood’s management is waiting to see if the Financial Services Authority will cancel the listing in recognition of the fact that nearly all the shares are held by two groups.
One of the world’s most famous film stages, the 007 Stage, was originally built for the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” and featured a massive water tank, one of the largest in Europe. The stage burnt to the ground in 1984. It was rebuilt four months later and renamed Albert R. Broccoli’s 007 Stage in time to film “A View to a Kill”.
Another fire on 30 July 2006 seriously damaged the stage, causing the roof to partly cave in. Construction of a new stage began on 18 September and was completed in under six months. Since then, the stage has accommodated huge productions, including “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (2010), “Quantum of Solace” (2008) and the whole fishing village from “Mamma Mia!” (2008).
The studios have acres of backlots where huge sets have been built, from castles, to whole villages including Godric’s Hollow from the Harry Potter series. As stated earlier, Pinewood is situated on the old estate of Heatherden Hall. The mansion, its gardens and other parts of the studios have been used in various productions over the years.
Heatherden Hall (converted to production offices) has appeared in several films: it was made to look fire-damaged and derelict for the 1972 children’s film “The Amazing Mr Blunden” and also appeared as the Indian residence of Governor Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in “Carry On up the Khyber.”
“Peeping Tom” (1960) shows people driving out through the main gate and has various shots in the studios, offices and corridors. The iconic main gate (now no longer used due to the construction of a purpose-built security entrance 500 yards further along the road) also features in “My Week with Marilyn” (2011). This film also contains many shots of the dressing room corridors in the main make-up block.