the last to open and the first to close. It would be unfair to tell the story of MGM British without giving some background to the other studios that occupied a large part of south Hertfordshire's countryside.
The first Borehamwood-based film facility, the Neptune Studios, opened in January 1914 under the management of Arthur Moss Lawrence. Under his control the studios only lasted four years and after several name changes, including the Ideal Studios and the Leslie Fuller Studios, they eventually became the Blattner Studios.
DIESER TEXT AUF DEUTSCH
The year 1926 effectively brought two more film facilities to Borehamwood - the British International Picture Studios, which was to become one of the most resilient studios in the area, and the B & D Imperial Studios, which were on adjoining sites on Shenley Road. Originally built as one single facility by J. D. Williams, W. Schlesinger and Herbert Wilcox, the site was originally known as the British National Studios.
Due to huge debts and increasing losses they were acquired in March 1927 by Scot John Maxwell, a former lawyer, who changed their name to the British International Studios (BIP). It was here that many well-known film directors made their first films.
Herbert Wilcox then formed The British and Dominions Film Corporation and leased part of the studios he had sold to John Maxwell, calling them B & D Imperial Studios. The BIP Studio's high turn over of films earned it the nickname "The porridge factory". The Quota Act of 1927, designed to protect the British film industry by requiring cinemas to show a minimum percentage of British-made productions, created a much-needed boost to the fledgling industry. Film production rose several-fold in Borehamwood, with many studios producing several features and a healthy supply of short films each month. These films became known as "Quota quickies".
In 1928, as the silent era was drawing to a close, a fourth studio, the Whitehall Studios opened on Station Road. With four successful studios, Borehamwood could now be called Britain's Hollywood.
The following year, with the advent of sound, the location of the Whitehall Studios became one of the most inappropriate for film production, with its stages only a couple of hundred yards from the mainline railway station. Because the initial output of the studio was silent films, the stages were never constructed to be soundproofed, so a stagehand was now required to stand on the roof and warn the film crew below of any approaching trains!
The late 1920s saw over 10 film production companies floated on the Stock Exchange, although with the advent of sound in the early 1930s, seven of these went bankrupt. John Maxwell shrewdly anticipated the revolutionary new technology and installed RCA recording equipment in all his stages. In 1929 Alfred Hitchcock made BLACKMAIL, the first British sound film, by reshooting the key scenes of his latest silent film with dialogue. The success of Borehamwood as the film centre of Britain grew from year to year and the BIP Studio's reputation grew almost twice as fast as it produced some of the most well- known British films of the time, attracting famous names from overseas.
By 1948, over 250 films would have been made at the BIP Studios. In 1933 John Maxwell formed the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) as a holding company to take over the capital of BIP, Wardour Films, Pathe Pictures and the ABC cinema chain, but the studios were still to be known under their former name until 1939.
During the early 1930s, the BIP and B & D Studios were in an increasingly strong position in Borehamwood, especially after the Blattner Studios went bankrupt and were bought by Joe Rock to become the Rock Studios. The success of the Whitehall Studios started to swing in the balance before it too changed hands, becoming the Gate Studios.
Disaster finally destroyed the happy balance of BIP and B & D on Sunday, 9th February, 1936, when a fire almost totally destroyed the B & D Studios. Six studios and their sound-recording rooms covering an area of 12 acres were razed to the ground, drawing all production at the site to a close.
Firefighters prevented the blaze spreading to the adjoining BIP Studios, ensuring their survival. Herbert Wilcox was unable to rescue the British and Dominions Film Corporation from the catastrophe that had struck and even John Maxwell, who had bought the site from Wilcox, could not help. Wilcox then made the move to J. Arthur Rank's recently established Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, from where he started afresh.
WHITE CLOCK TOWER
The following year, 1937, saw construction work start on what was to become Borehamwood's fifth and most luxurious film studios. The Amalgamated Studios were built on Elstree Way,
expanding the spread of the film studios to the east of Borehamwood. The studios had a notable landmark - a huge white clock tower as an entrance gate.
However, as soon as the studios were completed and ready for operation, the owners fell into financial trouble and found they not only had a white clock tower, they had a white elephant [Remark: something annoying causing high costs] as well, and they needed to sell the site as a matter of urgency.
Columbia Pictures made plans to purchase the studios and create a British base for themselves. John Maxwell had also set his sights on the Amalgamated Studios as a possible base from where he could not only expand but shake off the disaster of the fire that had engulfed the B & D Studios adjacent to him. So it started to look as if a battle was to ensue. However, before their plans were finalised, Columbia withdrew their bid. (It is interesting to think what might have been if Columbia's bid had been successful. THE PRISONER could have been "made at the Columbia British Studios Borehamwood" instead of "MGM").
This now left the field clear for John Maxwell to take over the studios. But with the imminence of the Second World War, he was notified that in the event of hostilities his BIP Studios would be commandeered by the Royal Ordnance Corps. With the threat of a loss of facilities, Maxwell backed down and the Amalagamated Studios were sold to J. Arthur Rank, who had also by now acquired the Gate Studios. Rank then sold the Amalgamated Studios on to the Prudential. John Maxwell died in 1940, never to see his dream of owning the Amalgamated Studios realised.
During the Second World War, film production in Britain almost ground to a complete halt. The 208 British films produced in 1937 dwindled to a mere 47 in 1941. Elstree was severely hit due to a majority of the studios being requisitioned for military storage. As a result, no films were in production at the ABPC Studios for over nine years. The Amalgamated Studios, which never managed to get into full swing as a film facility, were used by Handley Page Ltd. for the manufacture of military aircraft, and the white clock tower was used for fire-spotting by the local air raid wardens. The only studios producing films in Borehamwood during the war were the British National Studios (formerly the Rock Studios), but they were only able to operate on a much-reduced basis making such movies as Love On The Dole and the Old Mother Riley series of films.
Once the war was over, a massive amount of reinvestment took place in the British film industry. In 1948 Warner Brothers, who already owned a 25% share of ABPC, bought a controlling interest in the company and its distribution division from relatives of the late John Maxwell. This guaranteed them access to over 500 ABC cinemas throughout the UK.
They then gave the complex a major facelift, including a new facade to the administration block. This new frontage can be seen in the background of "The Girl Who Was Death" during Number Six' conversation with Potter at the shoe-shine.
In the first year, Warner Brothers produced STAGE FRIGHT starring Marlene Dietrich and Jane Wyman and THE HASTY HEART with Ronald Reagan. In 1950 the British National Studios were taken over by Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, from where he produced over 160 half-hour TV movies at a fraction of the usual cost. (Recently a retirement home in the neighbourhood was named after him in a ceremony he attended).
But one of the most significant American investments was in the purchase of the Amalgamated Studios from the Prudential by movie mogul Metro Goldwyn Mayer, who wanted a greater presence in the British film industry.
The British division of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer company was formed in 1936 and operated out of the now closed Denham Studios as MGM London Films Denham Ltd. MGM acquired the Amalgamated Studios on 28th July 1944, but were not able to take possession until 1947 due to bomb damage (the repair bill was paid by the War Damage Commission). MGM also bought up a further 90 acres of surrounding land to form a huge backlot where exterior sets could be constructed.
This also helped to keep any future local developments at a reasonable distance from where any filming was taking place (unlike the ABPC Studios which was always boxed in on two sides by housing). In 1946, the company changed its name to MGM British Studios Ltd before Handley Page officially handed over the site the following year.
The first production to be made by MGM at its newly acquired studios was EDWARD, MY SON in 1949 starring Spencer Tracy and Deborah Kerr. Directed by George Cukor and based on the play by Robert Morley, it was shot entirely in the studios.
Spencer Tracy had a unique contract for his only British film - shooting was to stop at 4 pm regardless of what stage had been reached. Deborah Kerr was very keen to do the film recalling: "I mainly took the part in order to work with Tracy who was a superb screen actor". Despite Deborah Kerr being nominated for an Oscar, the film was a box office flop. MGM's second production at their new studios was CONSPIRATOR made in 1949, MGM's Silver Jubilee year.
Due to the reputation and backing of its parent company, the 1950s brought some big Hollywood names to the MGM British Studios. NEVER LET ME GO, produced in 1952, starred Gene Tierney and Clark Gable - who also appeared the following year with Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner in MOGAMBO.
LOW-BUDGET AND HIGH QUALITY
In 1952 Robert Taylor, Joan Fontaine and Elizabeth Taylor made IVANHOE based on Sir Walter Scott's novel and directed by Richard Thorpe. The following year, Robert Taylor made another swashbuckling epic at MGM, KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE, with Ava Gardner - again directed by Richard Thorpe. Both of these epics made use of a huge castle constructed on the backlot. This was the largest such set of its time and was often mistaken by passing pedestrians for a real castle!
Lana Turner, Victor Mature and, for one last time, Clark Gable starred in BETRAYED in 1954. This was Gable's final film for MGM, after a contract lasting 24 years. Richard Thorpe directed his last swashbuckling epic, QUENTIN DURWARD in 1955, again starring Robert Taylor.
In 1956 the BBC acquired the Ealing Studios and Sir Michael Balcon, founder of Gainsborough Pictures and executive in charge of production at Ealing, requiring a new studio base, moved to MGM British, from where he produced several films.
Sir Michael, who was also one of the co-founders of the MGM British Studios, was quoted several years later saying: "The studios were at that date, in my opinion, among the best in Europe. They were well laid out, well equipped and the technical and craft workers very good indeed."
MGM's reputation for excellence extended from the production side down to how the actors and actresses were treated. A "star" working at ABPC, or "the sausage factory" as it was still known, was not that well looked after, but at MGM they were pampered to a style in keeping with the Hollywood studios. The studios even had its own greenhouse where plants and flowers could be grown for use in films.
Well-known British actress Sylvia Syms recalled that "MGM was the Rolls Royce of British studios. They put flowers each day in your dressing room and actually you felt like a star."
At this time (1956) the last new studio was built at Elstree, and was appropriately called the New Elstree Studios. Built by the Danziger brothers (Edward and Harry) they sited their studios at the junction of Elstree Road and Watford Way, some distance from the other rival studios. From their studios over a period of 15 years they made many easily forgettable TV series such as RICHARD THE LIONHEART.
In 1959, INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS, starring lngrid Bergman, was produced at MGM British, with the location scenes being shot in Snowdonia. After filming was completed in North Wales,
a plaster statue of Buddha (which had been made back at the MGM plaster shop) was given to Clough Williams-Ellis by the crew, some of whom had stayed at Portmeirion during the shoot.
An adaptation of John Wyndham's novel "The Midwich Cuckoos" was produced at MGM British in 1960 under the title THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. Starring George Sanders and Barbara Shelley, it made good use of the local Hertfordshire countryside, utilising Letchmore Heath and Aldenham as the village of Midwich plus the main building of the Haberdashers Askes School. THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED was a good example of the low-budget, but yet high-quality, productions made at MGM during the early Sixties. The same year, film production at the British National Studios finally stopped when the site was taken over by ATV for its sole use. It was then reopened in 1962, and during the Sixties, ATV recorded shows such as Emergency Ward 10 and The Power Game at their new base in Elstree.
MGM produced an epic three-hour re-make of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY in 1962 starring Marlon Brando, Richard Harris and Trevor Howard who recalled: "Brando seemed determined to ruin MGM by causing the film to overrun its schedule."
THE ADVENT OF TELEVISION
The advent of television in the 1950s spelt trouble for the British film industry, and for Borehamwood in particular. Much of the American finance dried up and a lack of new British backing (which was by now stretched by keeping Pinewood studios open) created a crisis point. The ABPC studios, now abandoned by Warner Brothers, was absorbed into the then-growing EMI empire to become the EMI Elstree Studios. In 1969, well-known British film director Bryan Forbes was employed as head of production.
No films were in production when he arrived. In his own words the studios were "in a sorry state". But under his guidance an unprecedented series of wholly British classics were produced in a relatively short space of time. These included THE GO-BETWEEN, THE RAILWAY CHILDREN and THE TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER.
Despite these successes, 1969 brought huge losses in the film industry and MGM was no exception, declaring losses of $35 million. In early 1970, it became clear that a withdrawal of American backing combined with the sharp fall in profits would mean the inevitable closure of the MGM British Studios. The announcement came in April 1970 when James T. Aubry Jnr, president of MGM, and John Read, chief executive of EMI, made a statement that MGM would close and a merger of the two companies would take place. The EMI Studios were renamed the EMI-MGM Elstree Studios, in return for which MGM guaranteed an annual subsidy of 175.000 Pounds.
One well-known TV series and two feature films were in the early stages of production when MGM closed. Director Fred Zinnemann, best remembered for his classic Western HIGH NOON, was preparing to shoot MAN'S FATE, an epic adaptation from a classic French novel. On the backlot, the construction of sets had already commenced, including the creation of an entire Oriental village complete with railway and moving rolling stock. Despite the advanced state of production, the film was scrapped and the sets lay idle. Another film, NO BLADE OF GRASS, was more fortunate. Location filming was already scheduled for May 1970 in the Lake District and it was decided to continue shooting - but where the interiors would be filmed was a mystery even to the crew. By the time they returned to Borehamwood a deal had been struck resulting in the completion of the film at the nearby EMI-MGM Studios.
In 1969, after making his first live action feature film, DOPPELGANGER (also known as JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN) at MGM British, Gerry Anderson decided to return to the studios to use them as a base for his first live action TV series, UFO. The show followed the fortunes of "Shado", a secret establishment hidden beneath the fictional Harlington-Straker film studios, which fights an on-going battle with an alien invasion force.
For the sequences set above ground in the Harlington-Straker studios themselves, the sound stages of MGM were used, although the more modern-looking ATV Studios were used as the main entrance. Several of the backlot sets were used, most of the time showing the scaffolding that supported them! When MGM closed only the first half-dozen episodes of the planned 32 for UFO had been completed.
As a result the entire production, sets, actors and crew alike were transferred to the Pinewood Studios. For the remaining episodes the sound stages of Pinewood doubled for the stages of the Harlington-Straker Studios. However, to maintain continuity, the ATV Studios still had to be used for the main entrance.
THE LOST 2nd VILLAGE OF THE PRISONER (GERMAN LANGUAGE)
SET PIECE: DIE STUDIO-BAUTEN (GERMAN LANGUAGE)
After just two years of being in charge of the EMI-MGM Studios and with 18 films completed, Bryan Forbes resigned as studio head, feeling that the penny-pinching accountants had taken over the running of the studios to a degree that he could no longer effectively operate as head of production.
MGM - BOREHAMWOOD: TERMINATED
In 1973 the connection between MGM and Borehamwood was finally severed once and for all.
MGM America decided to withdraw from distribution after a disastrous year. As a result, MGM terminated its 175.000 Pounds subsidy to the EMI-MGM Studios - leaving them struggling for survival. (Since then they have become known, successively, as the EMI Elstree Studios, the Thorn EMI Elstree Studios, the Elstree Studios and the Goldcrest Elstree Studios under their current owners the troubled Brent Walker Group.) So finally the end of an era came and Borehamwood was left with only one active studios but with severely reduced financial backing. The EMI Elstree Studios were to know one more period of prosperity when George Lucas and Steven Spielberg came to Borehamwood to make the STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES trilogies. It was a shame that the executives at the EMI studios did not take a chance and decide to move into the MGM Studios instead of vice versa. If that had happened the MGM Studios could still be open today, but probably under a different name. Continue...
The crew of THE PRISONER made extensive use of the facilities offered by the MGM British Studios and this extended as far as the impressive backlot where sets and mock-ups were left standing after the completion of the several hundred feature films produced at MGM over its 30- year history.
It is almost impossible to say for which production some of these sets were built. However, the backlot was used for many other TV series besides THE PRISONER - most notably UFO which was produced at MGM in 1970 just before the studios closed.
The sets concerned were surprisingly close together, as can be seen from our aerial photographs. Some exteriors seen in THE PRISONER were merely different views of the same backlot set, or, with some redressing, the very same facade heavily disguised.
The main cluster of buildings (A) contains most of the exteriors concerned. The set was centred around two oak trees, one of which (A1) was featured in "Living In Harmony" from where Kathy's brother is hung.
Going clockwise around the set, the first building (A2) was seen in "A. B. and C." where Katherine Kath, as Engadine, in her Alfa Romeo drops off Number Six before he meets "D". It was also used as the Sherriff's office in "Living In Harmony". This white twinturreted building can also be seen in the background at the end of "The Schizoid Man" when Number Six is about to board the helicopter.
The next building (A3) did not feature directly in the series but it can be seen in the background during "Living In Harmony". This view demonstrates how only the visible facades were constructed - there was no need for the construction boys of MGM to build sections of the set that would never be seen. Our next reference point (A4) is where our hero tries unsuccessfully to buy a horse in "Living In Harmony".
The final facade in this hamlet (A5) gives us our only clue as to the origins of the set. On the top of the gable above the entrance is a cross. This was obviously intended to represent a church. It is seen in the series on several occasions.
In "The Chimes Of Big Ben" it was used as the Recreation Hall where the Arts & Crafts Exhibition was held. It reappears in "The Schizoid Man" where Number Six battles with his double. In "A. B. and C." the building is seen as the impressive office used by "D". Its final appearance in the series was in "Living In Harmony" when, after a large amount of redressing, it became the Silver Dollar Saloon.
To the side of the Recreation Hall (A6) is where McGoohan comes out of The Colonel's office during the final scene of "The Chimes Of Big Ben". This set was used on the spoof James Bond film CASINO ROYALE (1966) where Woody Allen comes very close to being shot by a South American firing squad.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
A short walk from Harmony was the stock street which can be seen in several Prisoner episodes. There are two distinct sections of this street used in the series. The first section (B1) is where Number Six ultimately meets "D" in "A. B. and C.".
With some careful matching of sets and editing, the episode would lead us to believe that the street was through the doors of the Recreation Hall in the Harmony village (although nothing is ever what it seems in THE PRISONER!) The other section (B2) is utilised as the deserted village of Witchwood in "The Girl Who Was Death".
The French Chateau (B3) can also be seen prominently in "The Girl Who Was Death".
A small bell tower was added on to the top of the building (B4) to the right of the chateau. This was probably taken from the extensive studio scene dock where remnants of previous sets were kept for future use. (This bell tower can be seen clearly in "Checkmate" especially when one of the tower guards falls out backwards to an uncertain fate, landing in water which is not at the base of the tower in Portmeirion!)
At the time our photograph was taken (April 1966) this set was still under construction. There are various sections of the facades that are not complete and one house in the centre of the set has not even been started, although the outline of its foundations can be seen. Sadly these sets are no longer standing. However, it is surprising to know that despite the closure of the studios in 1970, these stock sets were still in existence as late as 1974.
During the 1960s the MGM British studio site in Borehamwood, just north of London was the largest of Britain's film-making facilities.
The Pinewood Studios - nowadays the UK's largest production base for feature films - is situated on a site totalling some 92 acres in the tranquil Buckinghamshire countryside. A proportion of this land is made up of woodland and formal gardens, which have been used as exterior locations for many films, most notably in the opening sequence of the 1964 Bond film FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.
The ABPC Studios at Elstree were situated on a site totalling 25 acres (including the administration blocks) - boxed in on three sides by housing and office space, allowing no room for expansion. But the MGM British Studios put the "back garden" of Pinewood and the "handkerchief lawn" of ABPC in the shade. An awesome 0,46 square km (114 acres) of prime Hertfordshire land was swallowed up by MGM's wide variety of production facilities.
A majority of this land was set aside for the construction of exterior sets of which less than a quarter was ever utilised. The remainder of the site was made up of fields. This helped to keep any local development at a reasonable arm's length away from where any filming was taking place.
The problem of keeping such a large area of land in order was neatly solved by the wholly-owned Thrift Farm, situated on the western-most boundary of the site. Amongst the farm's livestock was a flock of sheep which acted as a very effective lawnmower! (It is said that a tractor from Thrift Farm can be seen in the distance of an exterior scene during one of the swashbuckling epics produced at MGM during the 1950s).
Douglas Twiddy, the production manager for the first series of halfhour DANGER MAN episodes produced at MGM during 1959, recalled that when the MGM Studios' head gardener was promoted to estate manager he was more concerned with the upkeep of Thrift Farm than the production of films, telling crews they had to stay clear of the road leading to the farm, or the pigs would not get fed!
STAGE 6 FOR THE PRISONER
The ten sound stages of MGM British totalled a staggering 8.547 square meters of studio space. Most of this was taken up by Stages 1 to 6. Stages 1 and 5 were 22,6x29,3 meters, Stages Two and Four were 36,6x29,3 meters, Stage 6 occupied 30,2x36,9 meters and the largest single stage, Stage 3, was 59,8x29,3 meters. Stages 1 and 2 were separated by a dividing wall which, when removed, created a single stage.
It was on these combined stages that the "Fall Out" cavern was constructed. All previous studio scenes for THE PRISONER were appropriately shot on Stage 6.
The only known surviving Call Sheet for the studio work lists the psychiatric sequences of "Checkmate" and some scenes in Number Two's control room as being shot on Thursday, 26th October, 1966. From this sheet we can get an impression of how a day's studio filming was organised. The cast were called to the make-up department between 7.30 am and 8.15 am, ready for the start of shooting at 8.30. (Patrick had one of the earliest calls.) The crew were on call for 8 am. These Call Sheets also doubled as internal memoranda, with notes to several departments requesting facilities such as back-projection plates, props, visual effects and, on this occasion, a tea trolley for 85 people! Also listed is the viewing of the previous day's rushes in preview theatre four.
ALTERNATIVE CALL SHEET EXAMPLE (EXT. SHOTS)
During the 1950s, MGM built much of its reputation on its in-house staff. The staffing level steadily grew from 502 in 1956 to 671 in 1960 and 832 in 1961 before reaching just short of 1.000 when the studios closed in 1970. The combination of its highly skilled in-house carpenters, plasterers, painters, tinsmiths, drapers, make-up and hair-dressing staff, as well as a wide range of plaster, metal and woodwork shops and an extensive scene dock, meant that there was very little that they could not create.
FROM DANGER MAN TO THE PRISONER
The quality of set construction was demonstrated in the highly successful and best-known film to be made at MGM - 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968).
The mechanical effects team found their ingenuity taxed to the limits with huge revolving sets which were used to simulate the weightlessness of space. On several occasions the entire enclosed set, its lighting as well as the camera and its crew, were turned gracefully through a full 360 degrees.
Many key members of the production crew who worked on THE PRISONER, such as lighting cameraman Brendan J. Stafford, art director Jack Shampan, producer David Tomblin, script editor George Markstein and director Don Chaffey, had either worked on DANGER MAN or were employed on personal recommendations. However, the rest of THE PRISONER crew were made up of MGM's own inhouse staff. They were employed and paid by MGM British, but their time was chargable to clients, such as Everyman Films Limited.
The property department of MGM was headed by John Bigg (who worked on the entire DANGER MAN series as production buyer) and Sidney Palmer. Working under them were propsmen Peter Hancock and Mickey O'Toole as well as an army of props builders. The department operated a rota system with teams taking alternate productions as they came in. When THE PRISONER started production it fell to Sidney Palmer and Mickey O'Toole to act as property buyer and chargehand propsman respectively.
Back in 1954, one of the bestknown British films of the 1950s, THE DAM BUSTERS, was in production at the neighbouring ABPC Studios. It was the story of the development of the Second World War bouncing bomb and starred Michael Redgrave, Richard Todd and George Baker. Also in the film, playing a small supporting role, was a very young Patrick McGoohan. He played a military guard who had only one line of dialogue, and that was to a dog!
McGoohan's next visit to Borehamwood, after starring in a string of plays for the BBC and several films at Pinewood for Rank, was to start work on a new TV series, DANGER MAN. Thirtynine half-hour episodes were produced during 1959 and 1960 with Ralph Smart as creator and producer.
Like most TV series of the time, DANGER MAN used locations around Borehamwood for exterior scenes unless something special was required - such as, for example, in the episode "View From The Villa" where scenes set in Italy were filmed at Portmeirion.
The famous white clock tower of MGM made three brief appearances in the first season of DANGER MAN.
In THE HIRED ASSASSIN it can be seen in the background as South American dictator President Valesco waves to his "adoring" population unaware that an assassination attempt is planned which is of course foiled by our hero, John Drake.
In AN AFFAIR OF STATE it is again seen as Drake visits the office of a murder victim. Finally, in the episode entitled "The Prisoner" (!) the lower half of the clock tower is used as the exterior of an airport terminal on a fictitious Caribbean island where James Carpenter, played by William Sylvester, is helped by John Drake to escape from the secret police.
The first season of DANGER MAN finished shooting in late 1960 and there was then a gap of nearly four years before a second series started. In the meantime, McGoohan starred in several feature films including ALL NIGHT LONG in 1961, LIFE FOR RUTH in 1962, THE THREE LIVES OF TOMASINA in 1963 and DR. SYN alias THE SCARECROW in 1964 all of which were made at Pinewood.
Patrick's next visit to MGM Borehamwood was for the second series of DANGER MAN.
The format of the show was changed from half-hour episodes to one hour and the character of John Drake went through some alterations. A further 32 episodes were produced during 1964 - 1965 but with only the first 26 being made at MGM British. For the remaining episodes the crew moved to Shepperton. A third series of 13 black and white episodes as well as an aborted fourth series of only two colour episodes were also shot at Shepperton during 1965-1 966.
CLOSE ENCOUNTER: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Patrick then returned to MGM British in late 1966 to start work on THE PRISONER. Art Director for the second season of Danger Man was Jack Shampan, who worked on all the one-hour MGM episodes (except episodes 17-19 when he took a short break).
Jack, who was well known for being able to build new sets out of the leftovers from other productions, refused to make the move to Shepperton in 1965 protesting that "Shepperton has a lousy scene dock"! But he rejoined Patrick when he returned to MGM to make THE PRISONER.
When THE PRISONER started production the MGM British Studios were running at full capacity. The 17th December, 1966, issue of Kinematograph Weekly contained a production review for the period 13th October, 1965, to 30th September, 1966, listing all the major studios and the film and TV productions in progress. (The crew of THE PRISONER started work on the interior scenes at MGM on 3rd October, 1966, so this list is an interesting glimpse at contemporary productions at the same studios and other notable facilities).
It lists 11 productions shooting at the MGM British Studios. Although not the highest number at the time (Pinewood was leading the field with 22 productions) MGM's quota did contain a higher proportion of big-budget - now classic - films which would have occupied studio space for longer periods. The most famous production listed is naturally 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. There was an interesting cross over between 2001 and THE PRISONER whilst they were shooting.
For the triquetrum scene originally intended for "The Chimes Of Big Ben", the script required a shot of the night sky. This is impossible to film as stars do not emit enough light for a film camera to register. So film librarian Tony Sloman who knew the film editors working on 2001 inquired if there was a suitable starfield backdrop that could be utilised. A shot was located and
NUMBER SIX OBSERVING THE STARS: THE TRIQUETRUM
REMAINED UNUSED IN "THE CHIMES OF BIG BEN"
used - although it was cut, along with the entire triquetrium scene [Remark: A triquetrum is an astronomical navigation device that has been know in ancient times.], before the episode was broadcast. However, it survives to this day in the "Alternative version" of the episode.
Towards the end of its production time at MGM THE PRISONER was occupying studio space which had already been promised to Stanley Kubrick. As the series started to over-run Kubrick got agitated and it is said that an unofficial agreement was reached between Kubrick and Patrick McGoohan as to when the stages would be made available.
Also in Kinematograph Weekly's list of films in production at MGM is THE DIRTY DOZEN directed by Robert Aldrich. This, too, has notable connections with THE PRISONER. For the film, a huge chateau was specially constructed on the backlot. Once the film was over it, like many other such sets, was left standing to be used by other productions on tighter budgets. In "A. B. and C." "A" kidnaps Number Six in a white Citroen. They drive over the bridge leading to this chateau and a fight ensues in the forecourt of the building.
This set was also used in "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling" as the exterior of the country house where Janet holds her birthday party - and the rooftop of the chateau can also be seen in the distance in "Living In Harmony" behind the backlot set used as the town of Harmony.
Another film in production at this time was Roman Polanski's comic horror spoof THE VAMPIRE KILLERS. (This was released as THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS and later re-issued as DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES.) For this film, another huge castle was constructed on the MGM backlot a few hundred yards from the Dirty Dozen chateau. The castle, all dressed in snow, was a very impressive mock-up. Because MGM was at full capacity sections of THE VAMPIRE KILLERS were also being shot at the nearby ABPC Studios.
Another comic spoof film, CASINO ROYALE, was in production at the MGM British Studios during 1966 just prior to THE PRISONER. This, too, was simultaneously being shot at other studios - this time Pinewood and Shepperton.
Based loosely on lan Fleming's James Bond novel, it had almost everybody who was anybody starring in it - from David Niven to Peter Sellers, from Deborah Kerr to Ursula Andress and from Woody Allen to Ronnie Corbett! The cast also included a couple of PRISONER stars, with Richard Wattis and Colin Gordon playing minor roles. One of the camera operators for CASINO ROYALE was Jack Lowin who worked on the film during the production gap between DANGER MAN and THE PRISONER.
When CASINO ROYALE started to over-run its schedule Jack was unable to join the crew of THE PRISONER for the first two weeks of filming at Portmeirion.
The last well-known film in production at MGM British in early 1966 was Michelangelo Antonioni's classic cult film, BLOW UP starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. At this time, the ABPC Studios built three new sound stages (stages 7 - 9, totalling 1.997 square meters (21.500 sq ft) specially to cope with the increase of its television output. (These are now ironically the only stages left standing on the old ABPC site.)
They formed part of a 1 million Pounds expansion to the studios, which included a new cutting room and preview theatre block, more offices and a modern restaurant. Despite this, ABPC could still not fully compete with the extensive facilities provided by MGM British Studios.
Amongst MGM's facilities was an extensive in-house film library of stock shots and back-projection plates. As well as obtaining footage from World Backgrounds, situated in the ABPC Studios, it was from here that THE PRISONER's film librarian, Tony Sloman, acquired many shots that appeared in the early episodes. Shots such as the back-projection plate of the Champs Elysees used in "A. B. and C." were sourced from the MGM library.
In 1970, with the closure of MGM Studios, the library's contents was broken up. Some footage was given to World Backgrounds (this included some back-projection plates shot for THE PRISONER) and the rest to the newly formed EMI-MGM partnership at the old ABPC Studios. When this partnership finally folded the library, along with the EMI and ABC footage, was acquired by Weintraub now operating out of the Pinewood Studios. After MGM vacated their British studio base a vast area of land became available for local development but a commercial developer moved in before the housing needs of the area were considered.
CLOCK TOWER DEMOLISHED
The main studio site and its administration blocks were aquired by Christian Salvesen, a cold-storage company. The demolition of the stages commenced during 1974 and warehouses were erected on the existing foundations, making the new buildings almost exactly the same size as the huge stages that once stood on the site.
The clock tower did, however, remain standing with a Christian Salvesen logo substituted for the MGM letters. The building spent much of its remaining life as storage space for bananas! By 1985 the tower had sadly fallen into a state of disrepair and neglect. Many local residents and film historians wanted it to be listed for preservation but due to its appalling condition the local council would not approve it for listed building status. It was demolished in October 1986.
Christian Salvesen inherited one amusing legacy from the MGM British Studios. On the front of every Prisoner script, the address of Everyman Films Limited is listed as being the MGM Studios with the telephone number "Elstree 2000". In the reorganisation of the London area telephone system in the mid-1970s, Elstree exchange became 953 but Christian Salvesen retained the number 2000!
The backlot area at the rear of the studios was fenced off protecting the remaining sets from vandals. As a result they remained relatively untouched until the late 1970s but the elements and a lack of maintenance did result in many of them deteriorating and becoming unsafe. The backlot site was used on a feature film for the last time in 1980 when Stanley Kubrick took over the EMI Studios to make THE SHINING. Due to the backlot of EMI not being large enough to cope with all the sets required for the production the old MGM site was also utilised.
By the late 1980s, the redevelopment of the backlot area for housing had got fully under way with a combination of houses and blocks of flats. In a token gesture, the streets within the
Studio Way Residential Estate (as it is now known) have been named after some of the British film studios and their founders, as well as some of the stars who helped make them famous. The Pinewood, Bray, Denham, Shepperton, Ealing and Gate Studios all have either a "Close" or a "Way" named after them. The founders of the New Elstree Studios, Edward and Henry Danziger, as well as Sir Michael Balcon, the cofounder of the Ealing and MGM British Studios, are also remembered by a "Way".
THE LOST 2nd VILLAGE OF THE PRISONER (GERMAN LANGUAGE)
MORE: LONDON PRISONER LOCATIONS
Various distinguished actors and actresses such as Jack Hawkins, Dame Anna Neagle (who was married to Sir Michael Balcon), David Niven, Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester, James Mason, Vivien Leigh and Gary Cooper (!) also have either a "Close" or a "Crescent" bearing their names. The only reference to MGM itself in the town planners' corny scheme - commemorating the company's famous symbol - is Lion Court, where this writer lives.
There is now no tangible trace of the MGM British Studios in Borehamwood and the old ABPC Studios are fast disappearing under an office and shopping complex. It is sad that the major source of trade in the town for 70 years has now vanished thanks to penny-pinching and short-sighted businessmen.
Steven Ricks was a member of the Prisoner Appreciation Society SIX OF ONE. He published a number of well informed articles in the society magazines. I'd like to thank Steven for his kind permission for the publication of this work which is the first time on a German website. No part of it may be reproduced and published without the authors consent.
"Studio Days" was first published in issues 32 and 33 of "Number Six" in 1992. Ricks also did extensive research for his video documentary "The Prisoner Investigated" - available on DVD from the author - for which he interviewed many of the participants on THE PRSIONER, such as David Tomblin, Kenneth Griffith, Peter Howell, Jack Lowin and a lot more.
This major edition was followed by the release of still unused interview material under the titles "The Prisoner In-Depth", "The Prisoner On Location", "The Prisoner In Production", "The Prisoner Inspired" and "The Prisoner in Conclusion". They also are still available through the internet.
DIESER TEXT AUF DEUTSCH
Steven Ricks, früheres mitglied der Prisoner Appreciation Society SIX OF ONE, hat eine reihe sehr fundierter artikel in den mitgliedermagazinen veröffentlicht. Mein dank geht daher an Steven für die überlassung dieser arbeit, zum ersten mal auf einer deutschen website. Eine deutsche fassung existiert (noch) nicht. Die Reproduktion ohne erlaubnis des autors ist nicht gestattet.
"Studio Days" erschien erstmals 1992 im mitgliedermagazin "Number Six" nr. 32 und 33. Ricks ist auch der autor der eingehenden videodokumentation "The Prisoner Investigated" (auf DVD beim ihm erhältlich), für die er zahlreiche an der produktion von NUMMER 6 beteiligte personen interviewt hat, wie etwa David Tomblin (produzent), Kenneth Griffith, Peter Howell (schauspieler), Jack Lowin (kameramann) und viele andere.
Dieser hauptveröffentlichung folgten weitere mit nicht verwendetem interviewmaterial unter den titeln: "The Prisoner In-Depth", "The Prisoner On Location", "The Prisoner In Production", "The Prisoner Inspired" and "The Prisoner in Conclusion", die ebenfalls per internet verfügbar sind.