“It’s been five decades since the Southall studios became dark. Those who worked there have all but disappeared and the films long since vanished. How can we find evidence of Southall’s contribution to Britain’s film and television heritage?” Bill Cooke asked me in March 2003.
Over the following years we tried to uncover everything we could about the disappeared West London studios. We spoke with elders from the Asian community but any hopes we entertain about their recollections of Gladstone Road soon vanish. There were fruitless trawls of old bookshops and car boot sales for any mention of the studios. A search of the archives at the Ealing Gazette, the Town Hall and appeals for local slides of the studios gave us no cheer.
Film projectionists were unable to supply anything on Southall although film collectors like Tony Hillman supplied us with some stills from the films produced at the studios. Other collectors provided copies of the Southall films. We had no luck from the archives of The BECTU union oral history project. The Heston Residents Magazine and the Actors’ retirement home in Twickenham do not reveal anything.
We tried internet research. IMdb proved helpful but facts were always double checked against other sources.
Books provided a useful source. The biographies of John Grierson, Arthur Lowe, Dirk Bogarde, Richard Attenborough, Joan Collins, June Whitfield, Frankie Howerd among others, gave a unique insight into the studios.
Sir Sydney Samuelson, son of the founder of Southall sent over some proofs from an unpublished book on his father’s life. We also discovered publications such as the 1958 Kinematograph Year Book confirming Southall’s soundstages.
Correspondence with actors Terence Alexander, Virginia McKenna, Rona Anderson, Ian Carmichael and John Horsley shed more light on the studios.
We came across Fred Lane and John Lofting who had worked at the Studios in the 1950’s. Southall library yielded local newspaper articles including pamphlets written by locals offering anecdotal reminiscences
An appeal for information in The Stage yields zero. Nor were we any more successful with the film maker magazine, Image Technology. As for the Brighton Argus and Saga Magazine, our hopes that the retirement community would reveal any former Southall employees were dashed.
Radio 4’s Making History came to interview us which generated a few replies from listeners offering information. Listen to the BBC Making History programme.
Our investigations at The Southall History Society, British Film Institute in London, Pearl and Dean help fill in some of the massive gaps in the Studios’ history.
Documenting the Studios’ history is still on going. Our site attracts interest from Southall ex-pats now resident in Australia and Switzerland: and we are always delighted to receive any information about the studios. So please drop us a line!
Bills interview with Hayes FM
Can’t hear audio? Try this one: