Having recently completed a course at the National Film and Television School, I was intrigued by the history of Beaconsfield Studios, which has not only been home to the NFTS since 1972, but also some of Britain’s greatest films, including, This Sporting Life, Richard Harris’ breakthrough picture.
Notable NFTS alumni include director, writer and animator, Nick Park, who started his first Wallace and Gromit film, A Grand Day Out, while he was a student at the school. Interestingly, as with all productions created at the school, the film is credited as being the copyright of NFTS.
To-date, Nick’s innovative Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep productions have attracted eight BAFTA nominations and four awards, along with six Oscar nominations, with awards for Creature Comforts (1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995) and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).
Beaconsfield Studios began construction in 1921 when producer George Clark and actor Guy Newall raised sufficient finance to move production from their cramped facilities at Ebury Street in Central London. Following a promising start in 1922 the studios quickly fell victim to an economic downturn and by 1924 production had ceased. Eventually the studios were sold to the British Lion Film Corporation, which adapted the facilities to produce sound pictures and focussed on churning out quota quickies. During the second world war the studios became the home of the Crown Film Unit, which is credited with fifty-one productions between 1940 and 1952, many of which were made at Beaconsfield.
Numerous producers have come and gone from Beaconsfield, including Peter Rogers, who was based there before he moved to Pinewood and created the infamous ‘Carry On’ film series.
Independent Artists were the last production company to be based at Beaconsfield and were responsible for some of the best British films from the 1950s and 1960s, including Blind Date (1958), Tiger Bay (1959), Battle of the Sexes (1959), Never Let Go (1960), The Bulldog Breed (1960), Very Important Person (1961), Crooks Anonymous (1962), The Fast Lady (1962), Father Came Too (1963), This Sporting Life (1963) and The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963). The last film to be made at Beaconsfield was Norman Wisdom’s 1966 comedy Press For Time.
Once production had stopped and the lights went down, the studios suffered the indignity of becoming a warehouse for the North Thames Gas Board. Beaconsfield was rescued in 1972 when it became the home of the National Film School thanks to a loan from the Rank Organisation, which at the time owned Pinewood Studios a few miles down the road.
The National Film School evolved into the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in 1982 and has become the preeminent home for film and television education in the UK. Past students have gone on to become some of the world’s leading film and television makers.
The BBC described the NFTS as the “leading centre of excellence for education in film and television programme making.”