From Liz to Bond and beyond

A look back on the history of Pinewood Studios

Builder Charles Boot acquires Heatherden Hall, once the country home of Canadian financier Lt. Col. Grant Morden, and plans a film studio to rival Hollywood’s best. Industrialist J. Arthur Rank joins the £1 million project.

Rank, producer John Corfield and Henrietta Yule — founders of the British National Films Co. — become owner-operators of Pinewood. Yule would later sell her shares to Rank while Corfield would eventually resign from its board of directors.

Pinewood Studios opens. The keynote speech of Leslie Burgin, member of parliament, parliamentary secretary to the London Board of Trade, emphasizes the “British government’s interest in the progress of the British film industry” (Daily Variety, Oct. 15).

Pinewood Studios merges with Denham Film Studios, founded by producer Alexander Korda.

“Black Narcissus,” set high in the Himalayas but shot primarily at Pinewood, is the first of two masterpieces shot at the facility by the filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They would later make “Red Shoes” (1948) there.

After a 12-day strike and threats of having to close the studios, Pinewood reaches a deal with employees and remains open. (Variety, July 22).

Pinewood stages a massive party for its 21-year anniversary with an entire week of festivities. John Davis, managing director of the Rank Organization at the time, calls the facility “the biggest, busiest and most resilient studio in Europe.” (Variety, Jan. 8, 1958)

Fox’s production head Buddy Adler and producer Walter Wanger decide to transfer the studio production of Elizabeth Taylor vehicle “Cleopatra” to Pinewood and Shepperton. The film is “expected to top a budget of $5,000,000,” according to Daily Variety, and it’s claimed that “it will be the most expensive pic ever to be shot at Pinewood.” (Daily Variety, May 25)

Due to Taylor’s fragile health, “Cleopatra” relocates to the warmer climes of Rome. The film’s budget would eventually top $40 million and nearly bankrupt Fox.

The release of “Dr. No” kicks off the highly lucrative series of James Bond films, and is the first of several pics in the 077 spy franchise shot at Pinewood.

Facilities are added, including a theater tagged the only all-ratio, all-guage theater in Europe. Studio head E.A.R. (Kip) Herren tells Variety “Hollywood producers are not running away to London because they like the color of our eyes. They come here for very good and precise reasons, and because the film they want to make can best be made here” (Variety, Dec. 18).

As filming ramps up on “The Spy Who Loved Me,” construction begins on a vast new “silent” sound stage at Pinewood, the 007 Stage. To complement this stage, EON Prods., the outfit behind the Bond films, also pays for the building of a water tank capable of storing approximately 1,200,000 gallons.

Pinewood plans “to create a theme park on the backlot and promote studio tours” but the idea remains “pending via the slow-grinding bureaucratic mill” (Variety, July 18).

Rank turns down an offer by Francis Ford Coppola and other execs to buy Pinewood. “Besides Coppola, the syndicate includes Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and Michael Powell,” according to Daily Variety.

Fire destroys the 007 stage during shooting of Ridley Scott’s fantasy “Legend,” starring Tom Cruise. Fueled by exploding gas cylinders, the lunchtime blaze causes $700,000 in damage, including a key “Legend” set, film gear and the stage itself. It is rebuilt four months later and renamed Albert R. Broccoli’s 007 Stage in time to commence filming on “A View to a Kill.”

Pinewood’s 50th anniversary is celebrated with little fanfare. Managing director Cyril Howard tells Variety, “It is obviously a milestone in any history book but plans became so big I decided to say no. The (economic) climate is down, and it would have been immoral when we are doing badly to host a huge party.” (Daily Variety, Sept. 24, 1986)

Pinewood merges with Shepperton Studios, the other leading British production facility, and is renamed Pinewood Shepperton.

The merged entity acquires Teddington Studios. Collectively the company grows to 41 stages, including 10 digital television studios, one of Europe’s largest exterior water tanks and a new dedicated underwater stage.

The 007 stage is ravaged by fire yet again in late July, causing the roof to partly cave in. Construction of another begins in September and completed in less than six months.

A sales and marketing deal is struck with production facilty FilmPort, which becomes Pinewood Toronto Studios, billed as the largest of its kind in Canada.

A studio facility in Malaysia is announced.

A joint venture with Studio Hamburg is inked to form Pinewood Studios Berlin Film Services.

A new studio facility in the Dominican Republic is announced.

Spotlight: Pinewood at 75
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