The famous White House on Ealing’s grounds was bought by Will Barker for filmmaking in 1902, and it was here that he made one of the first screen versions of Hamlet in 1910. Since then, the cameras have never stopped rolling. Ealing is the oldest continuously working studio facility for film production in the world. The grade II listed sound stages were opened in 1931, when the studios were developed by Associated Talking Pictures under theatre producer Basil Dean.
In 1938, celebrated film producer Michael Balcon took over the Studios. He began to release films under the Ealing flag, ushering in the golden age of the Studios. The number of films produced over the next few decades which remain cherished today as national screen treasures, is remarkable. In the 1930s and 40s, the Studios made its name with comedies featuring musical stars like Gracie Fields, Stanley Holloway and George Formby. Balcon was the first British producer to invest high production values in comedy. The Studios were equally instrumental and innovative during wartime in employing documentary filmmakers to create more realistic war films. These included Went the Day Well, The Foreman Went to France and Undercover.
The postwar era saw an explosion of Ealing’s hallmark black comedies, satirising British life society at the time, which was going through rapid change. These classics include Whisky Galore!, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Ladykillers, The Titfield Thunderbolt, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit.
Balcon ran the Studios until 1955, when the BBC bought Ealing and based its Film Department here. At its peak, 56 film crews used the studios as a base for location filming of dramas, documentaries and other programmes. There were over 50 cutting rooms working on every genre.
Countless iconic BBC TV shows of the 1960s, 70s and 80s were produced in this period at Ealing. To name just a few, they include Cathy Come Home, Z-Cars, Colditz, Porridge, Monty Python, The Singing Detective and Dr. Who.
In 2000, the Studios were taken over by a consortium, including independent production company Fragile Films and the Manhattan Loft Corporation. They invested over £20 million in a wide-scale redevelopment, which brought the whole site up to date whilst preserving the original sound stages.
Ealing Studios also returned to producing feature films, releasing titles such as Lucky Break, The Importance of Being Earnest, Valiant, Dorian Grey and the St. Trinians’ Films.
Today, Fragile Films operates from the original White House, and has released cinema and TV titles including the St. Trinian’s films and ITV’s Maigret. Ealing’s stages and studios continue to host the best of British drama, from TV hits such as Downton Abbey, The Durrells and The Crown to acclaimed films like The Theory of Everything, The Darkest Hour and Bridget Jones.
Since its inception, Ealing has retained a distinctly British identity and community feel. It has been home to many families of filmmakers over the last century, each one committed to creating work which stands the test of time and builds on Ealing’s proud legacy.