Object of the Week : T for TV

Monday 21 June 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week :  T for TV

This year, the BBC Elstree Centre site celebrates its 60th birthday as a hub for television production.  It opened in Borehamwood on 7th April 1961 as Associated Television.  The occasion was made memorable by a strike by staff which took all the live programming off air on that date.

The Centre stands on a significant site.  It was here that the film industry arrived in 1914 with the creation of Neptune Studios.  Production ceased during 1917, and the studio was sold to the Ideal Film Company who used the site up until 1924. In 1928, the studio was sold again and leased to Joe Rock Productions during 1934.  It was at this time, the Centre was known as Rock Studios.

Between 1939 and 1948 the site was again sold and taken over by the British National Films Company.  This was short-lived however as a large proportion of the studio was taken over by the British government for war work.

During 1953, the studios were bought by Douglas Fairbanks Jnr mainly for television production  and were later sold to Lew Grade's Associated Television  (ATV). The Eldon Avenue centre became the main television production hub for ATV. The smaller Studios A and B were used for schools and sitcoms, while Studio C was a drama studio. Studio D, with permanent audience seating, was used for light entertainment programmes such as the ATV Morecambe and Wise series Two of a Kind (1961–68) and The Muppet Show (1976–81)

Neptune House and the Fairbanks Building on the site are a nod to the Centre’s heritage.

ATV was restructured as Central Independent Television in 1982 which remained in operation until July 1983.  The popular TV series Auf Weidersehen, Pet used the backlot as the set for its 'Dusseldorf' building site in its first series - Canterbury House could often be seen in the background.

Auf Wedersehn, Pet 'Building Site' with Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy & Pat Roach with Stratfield Road behind

When the BBC then bought the site in 1984, this backlot became the set of Albert Square in the new soap opera EastEnders which aired in February 1985.

The BBC has gone on to make many other programmes at the Elstree Centre. Some of which are listed below. Holby City is one such drama.  A spin off from Casualty, which first broadcast in 1986, Holby celebrated 20 years on air in 2019.  The hospital drama is filmed in the former studio admin office building, Neptune House, which has been converted to resemble a hospital and its wards.  In the light of news that the BBC plan to cancel production of Holby City from March 2022, the current exhibition in the Museum is an important recognition of this popular series. 

As soon as restrictions ease and the Museum can be fully open again, the Holby at 20 exhibition will remain in place until the end of the year.

Just some of the shows produced at Elstree Centre: The Muppets - 1976, EastEnders - 1985, Market in Honey Lane - 1967, Emergency Ward 10 - 1957, 'Allo 'Allo - 1988, Celebrity Squares, Grange Hill - 1978, Going for Gold, General Hospital - 1972, Shine on Harvey Moon - 1981, Sapphire and Steel - 1979 - Carry on Laughing - ATV took many of the personalities of the Carry On movies and placed them in half-hour comedy situations, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet  - 1983, Top of the Pops - 1991-2001 at Elstree, Family Fortunes - 1978 - Edward the Seventh - 1975, Holby City - 1999

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