VE Day 75th anniversary: Film studios’ starring role during World War Two

PUBLISHED: 09:15 08 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:57 22 May 2020

Posters of shows at the Garrison Theatre at Elstree Studios during World War Two. Picture: Elstree Studios

Posters of shows at the Garrison Theatre at Elstree Studios during World War Two. Picture: Elstree Studios

Elstree Studios

Today – Friday, May 8 – marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in World War Two.

The Garrison Theatre in 1947 at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree StudiosThe Garrison Theatre in 1947 at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree Studios

With this milestone, organisations around the world are remembering what part they played during the war, and while there was a general pause in the film industry, Elstree Studios continued to be of use.

Prior to the start of the Second World War in 1939, it is estimated that more than 200 films had been made at Elstree Studios.

Among these were Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn (1939), St Martin’s Lane (1938) and Mimi (1935).

At the time, Elstree Studios was owned by British film producer and businessman John Maxwell, and studio manger Joe Grossman oversaw the site.

Royal Army Ordnance Corps sign at the Garrison Theatre at Elstree Studios during World War Two. Picture: Elstree StudiosRoyal Army Ordnance Corps sign at the Garrison Theatre at Elstree Studios during World War Two. Picture: Elstree Studios

As a facility, the Government saw a purpose for the Elstree Studios site during the war years and it was subsequently requisitioned by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

The Corps had several uses for the studios but it was mainly used as a depot.

The large open-space buildings on site provided useful storage for essential supplies – weapons, equipment and food.

As the Second World War continued, various devices that would go on to aid the war effort were secretly created inside the workshops at Elstree Studios.

Elstree Studios.Elstree Studios.

In addition to storage, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps built a 550-seater auditorium on the Elstree Studios site and named it the Garrison Theatre.

The Garrison Theatre brought together troops who worked on site or who were based locally and kept them entertained.

This played an important part in boosting the morale of the armed forces during the uncertain times of war.

At the end of the WW2, Elstree Studios did not reopen as a production facility until 1948.

Outside the George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree StudiosOutside the George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree Studios

John Maxwell died in 1940, and his wife sold large shares to Warner Bros who agreed to substantially rebuild the facility during 1946 and 1947.

In September 1948, the town of Borehamwood saw the opening of a new Elstree Studios – named then the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC).

This was followed by a boom in production at Elstree with the release of some of the most famous post-war films.

Box office hit The Hasty Heart (1949) starring future US President Ronald Reagan, Alfred Hitchcock’s crime film Stage Fright (1950) and, of course, Michael Anderson’s The Dam Busters (1955) were all made at Elstree Studios in the following years.

The George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree StudiosThe George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios. Picture: Elstree Studios

READ MORE: Behind the scenes of The King’s Speech

Today, Elstree Studios are owned by Hertsmere Borough Council.

The Shenley Road site has a range of film and TV studios from 3,000sq ft to 16,000sq ft, with the George Lucas stages being one of the tallest in Europe with a height of 50ft.

Known as the birthplace of Star Wars, some of the most famous films in the world have been produced at Elstree Studios, including the Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies, Superman, The Shining and Labyrinth starring David Bowie.

More recently, major feature films such as The Danish Girl starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, Paddington starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Bonneville, Under The Skin starring Scarlett Johansson, World War Z starring Brad Pitt, and The King’s Speech starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter were all made at Elstree.

Television shows produced at Elstree include Strictly Come Dancing for BBC, Netflix series The Crown, Celebrity Juice, A League of Their Own, The Chase, Pointless and Room 101.

Visit www.elstreestudios.co.uk for more about the studios.


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