Islington/Gainsborough Studios

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

“London was dotted with studios, the most advanced being that at Poole Street in Islington, started by Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount Pictures) in 1920, and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, housed in a former power station, on land owned by Lord Alington. It was subsequently taken over by Michael Balcon and Gainsborough Pictures…

…The same year (1927) Gainsborough’s version of Easy Virtue appeared, starring Isabel Jeans, produced by Balcon and directed at Islington by Alfred Hitchcock, already one of Britain’s highest-paid and sought-after directors. Balcon claimed that this was Britain’s retort to the criticism that its film industry aped America… ‘…Mr Coward, as one of the most brilliant of (the young writers), is a notable newcomer to British films.’

There was, however, a considerable problem in adapting Noel’s dialogue to the then silent screen; its spirit was entirely lost in one-line titles…The climax comes with a second divorce trial, in which Larita’s address to the press photographers – ‘Shoot! There is nothing left to kill’ – was believed by Hitchcock to be one of the worst lines of dialogue he ever wrote. (Yet Lindsay Anderson commented that Hitchcock’s Easy Virtue was ‘almost as prodigious an accomplishment’ as Ernst Lubitsch’s adaptation of Lady Windermere’s Fan in 1925.)”

From an article by Mark Aston, from Barging Through Islington: 200 Years of the Regent’s Canal, an exhibition exploring the two century history of the Regent’s Canal:

[“source information taken, with grateful thanks, from Chris Draper’s Islington’s cinemas and film studios (1990)”]

“One hundred years ago, in November 1920, Islington film studios trade-screened its first movie, The Great Day. While the film was not a critical success, it marked the beginning of a distinguished 30-year production run. For those three decades Islington Studios, and then as Gainsborough Studios, produced some of Britain’s best-known early films, such as The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Man in Grey (1943) and Fanny by Gaslight (1944), as well as launching the careers of the many of the country’s cinema stars. Above all, one of the world’s greatest film directors learned his trade at the studios, east London-born Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980).

Islington Studios opened in 1919, converted from an old railway power station on Poole Street, a quiet road on the border between Islington and Shoreditch (now Hackney), on the south side of the Regent’s Canal. The building became the home of American film company the Famous Players-Lasky and was hailed as the biggest, most technically advanced film studios in the country. It boasted three stages, workshops and offices, as well as a sunken concrete tank with windows for water scenes. Poole Street was now rising from obscurity to become known as ‘Hollywood by the Canal’!

Most local people welcomed the opening of the studios and the accompanying glamour. They often looked out for the arrival of the film stars in their chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce’s and limousines. However, the young of the area missed the old power station. It poured hot water into the canal and had provided them with a free, heated swimming pool!

In January 1949 the closure of Islington Studios was announced. In October that year all the equipment and props were auctioned and the building put up for sale. It was bought in 1951 by James Buchanan and Co., Scotch whisky distillers for warehouse storage and, later, it was acquired by Kelaty Ltd as a store for oriental carpets, with no reminder that it was once the country’s biggest film studio.

This, however, was to change when the former power station and studios were to be incorporated and converted into waterside apartments, penthouses, workspaces and shops. Developed by Lincoln Holdings PLC, and designed by Munkenbeck and Marshall architects, the scheme was once more to be called Gainsborough Studios (see image) and, in April 2000, sales commenced. The new complex was completed in 2004.

The chimney has now gone but the surviving redbrick frontage on Poole Street and adjoining Imber Street remains.”

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