Educational Cigarettes Teach Film Production – Part 2

The Lime Grove Studio (also called the Shepherd’s Bush Studio) started out making silent films and ended up as a TV production center for the BBC. Some of the stages illustrated on these cigarette cards were used in both Alfred Hitchcock’s best-known British sound films, including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) …as well as the first Dr. Who episodes starring William Hartnell.

They put quotations around the film title “Rome Express,” but could have put them around “In the Station” as well. Lime Grove was a huge place, according to British writer-comedian Frank Muir, quoted in the Radio Times: “My prevailing memory of it was getting lost. You would keep meeting the same people every few minutes in the corridor, all looking for different rooms. No matter what time you arrived, you only reached the studio in the nick of time.”

Let’s hope these two stagehands stayed above their snowstorm. Naphtha, cited as an ingredient in “studio snow” on the reverse of this card, was later found to be a carcinogen.

The fact that they also used soap flakes to impersonate snow provides sweet vindication for a friend of mine who put on puppet shows in his youth. One memorable show had a soap-flake blizzard scene unexpectedly interrupted by fits of soap-flake inspired uncontrollable sneezing that left the puppets speechless for quite some time.

“If you are working in the studios, you usually labor all day in an ill-ventilated, dusty studio,” according to director Ken Annakin, who worked at Shepherd’s Bush early in his career. And no one is safe from the fray. “Supported by my very expert crew,” Annakin says of one of his pictures, “the studio shooting went smoothly, apart from the Swimming Pool set, which developed a leak and soaked all our costumes stored in a room below.” Maybe that’s what the “needlewoman” at her sewing machine is worried about.

Ah, optical sound being captured. And what wonderful optical sound it must have been: it’s The Good Companions, a 1933 musical featuring Jessie Matthews teamed with John Gielgud (appearing in his first film). A reviewer on IMdb attempts to summarize the plot, saying “Four separate people in provincial Britain are on the tramp to somewhere…” which made me think about another film made the same year – “Hallelujah I’m a Bum,” an Al Jolson musical. Well, of course, in the UK, “bum” means “butt,” and who wants to see a movie called “Hallelujah, I’m an Ass.” So for the UK release, the Jolson feature was retitled “Hallelujah, I’m a Tramp.” Which would suggest something quite different to an American audience, of course.

Leave it to those movie guys. Who would have thought that they simulated rain by using water?

How many otherwise great movies have been ruined by inserted scenes using back projection? The jarring note of artificiality absolutely kills the comedy in a couple of Laurel and Hardy movies (County Hospital, for one). I guess contemporary audiences didn’t notice, but the frequently washed-out look of the background practically screams “they’re on a set!”

“Shewing?” That’s archaic British usage. As a matter of fact, by the time they printed the other side of Card 17, nobody was saying “shewing” anymore. The more contemporary “showing” was used instead.

British Film Studios – An Illustrated History,
by Patricia Warren, covers over 90 filmmaking establishments, some of which lasted just a year or two, while others, like Lime Grove in Shepherd’s Bush, spanned decades. Some studios were converted or repurposed when they outlived their usefulness; others went up in flames; and at least one (Teddington) was bombed out of business during World War II. But only temporarily: Teddington was rebuilt and occupies a warm spot in the hearts of those who have spent their life savings buying the complete Avengers TV series, which was shot in and around Teddington.

Alas, after serving as a TV studio for many years, Lime Grove was decommissioned in 1991. It was torn down and replaced with residential housing. The advent of “virtual sets” means there’s less and less need for huge studio spaces. Models and props are also likely to be “built” using computer software. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Frank Capra shot the final scenes for “Meet John Doe” in a refrigerated warehouse so that the breath of his actors could be seen; James Cameron digitally added visible breaths, one at a time, to Titanic during post-production. There are easier ways to do nearly everything today, and my guess is that the befogged figures of card 20 would have been happier without those smoke-pots just out of camera range. It so damn foggy, in fact, that I’m not quite sure whether there are two or three actors in there.

The man responsible for the demise of Lime Grove as a film studio was John Davis, an argumentative accountant who somehow managed to sneak his way up to become head of the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. Decommissioning was his specialty; when he married Dinah Sheridan, he ordered her to give up her acting career, even turning down offers on her behalf. (It would have been Dinah Sheridan rather than Glynis Johns as the princess in Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester, had Davis not intervened). Only after they were married did “J.D.,” as he was known, admit to Dinah that she wasn’t actually his third wife… but rather his fifth.

According to Dinah, ” When [Davis] came [home] he would go upstairs to bathe and change his clothes. He would lie in the bath and through the house we would hear an absolute satanic chortle. “What is Daddy laughing about?” The children would ask. “I don’t know,” I told them, but I did. I had learned what made John chuckle like that. I was quite sure that he was remembering some ghastly thing he had done to somebody or a plan he was working on to make someone either physically or mentally uncomfortable.”

To rectify the situation at Lime Grove, Davis decided to “slash budgets and sell off everything that did not immediately affect the survival of Rank’s Pinewood Studio,” according to Patricia Warren. He also fired scores of long-time employees, which must have given him many bathtub chuckles.

Didn’t realize I’d be writing about Dinah rather than the clapper boy, but so be it.

When Dinah asked J.D. for a divorce, he told her that his organization couldn’t stand the bad publicity such an event would create. “The solution is for you to sign a contract to remain a housewife, mother and hostess – no longer considering yourself my wife. I will get the contract drawn up. Go to Ronnie Leach (the Rank Organization’s financial brains) and he’ll tell you the name of a solicitor. We have to do this properly.”

Dinah finally got her divorce from Davis, but it was a battle. She immediately returned to acting and to the London stage, and much of her best work (including her favorite film, The Railway Children) was still ahead of her.

Having been a celebrated film studio, Lime Grove also went on to greater things in its subsequent incarnation as a BBC Television studio. In fact, Lime Grove logged more years as a TV studio than it did as a film studio.

There are some great pictures of the original silent studio here. Lime Grove looked more like a greenhouse than anything else – most studios did in the early days. A complete history of the BBC’s use of the facility for TV can also be found at the link above. There’s a great little 8mm ‘behind the scenes’ film shot by a TV crew member here.

The show being taped when the ‘home movie’ was shot included a performance by the Temperance Seven. Remember them? Well, then, I’ll send you off with my favorite Temperance Seven song, which appropriately blends two distinct musical eras.

  • Share/Bookmark

Behind Every Pressure Cooker Is A Silver Lining

[The beautiful Dinah Sheridan starred in Genevieve, a 1953 comedy that the British Film Institute has designated "one of the hundred favorite British films of the twentieth century." Research on publicity for Genevieve unearthed the publication seen above, the "Magazine of the Hawkins-Universal Pressure Cooker Users' Club." When forwarding this to my friend Dinah for her comments, I couldn't resist writing the following letter to accompany it, ostensibly from a modern-day Hawkins-Universal representative.]

Dear Miss Sheridan:

I come to you with a heavy heart, a knot in my stomach, a stiff upper lip, on bended knee with a worried mind, my hand outstretched in friendship. This is, as you might imagine, a most uncomfortable position for me.

First, I would ask that you refresh your memory by looking at the pictures attached to this e-mail, the cover of Silver Lining Number 12, from March of 1952, and a second photo from the interior of that same magazine. Should you have any trouble viewing the attachments, please let me know. (The promotional pictures show you with the Hawkins Pressure Cooker).

Recently the British Testing Institute for Cookery and Kitchenware completed its exhaustive testing of Hawkins pressure cookers. It has come as a bit of a surprise to us that they have asked us to recall all Hawkins pressure cookers sold during 1950, 1951, and 1952.

Initially, when they asked us to recall these units, we simply wrote back, “Yes, we recall these products very well, and with considerable fondness.”

The BTICK mistook our response for sarcasm, feeling we were having a bit of fun at their expense. Once the confusion was cleared up, we recognized for the first time the monumental task before us: to contact all known users of these products.

Sadly, or actually, happily, our records are woefully incomplete, due to a series of pressure cooker explosions you may have read about which took place in late 1961. We attempted to retrieve our records following these explosions, however, we found to our chagrin that the soggy carrots, lettuce, celery, and potatoes permanently affected the documents, which quickly deteriorated to the point of unreadability. Therefore, we have no list of pressure cooker owners… well, I’ve told a lie, we do in fact have a list. In point of fact, we have only been able to identify one of our owners from that era — yourself.

Because you posed for the cover of our magazine, Silver Lining, now long discontinued, we were able to identify the pressure cooker you held in your hands as one of the affected models. When I discovered this picture, I took it directly to the office of Mr. Whetherstone, our Vice President in Charge of Customer Relations and Kitchenware Recall. I handed your portrait with pressure cooker to Mr. Whetherstone and identified the photo as containing an affected model.

Mr. Whetherstone did not get my import, commenting, “She doesn’t look like a terribly affected model to me, but if you say so…”

I immediately assured Mr. Whetherstone that when I referred to the “affected model,” I referred not to the young lady in the picture, but rather to the recalled pressure cooker. Once he understood that you were the only customer for this particular model of pressure cooker that we had been able to trace, he suggested that I e-mail you as soon as possible.

On behalf of the firm, my sincere apologies, but I must advise you to cease all use of your Hawkins-Universal pressure cooker immediately. Please pack the pressure cooker securely and ship it back to us via airmail. While we are aware that such a heavy item will be expensive to send, we regret that we cannot reimburse you for these costs.

BTICK requires us to provide you with a replacement pressure cooker. However, we exited the pressure cooker business some time in the mid-1960s. Therefore we have no stock available, and will not be able to return a new pressure cooker to you.

When the market for pressure cookers blew up in our face, both literally and figuratively, we found ourselves with huge excess capacity in our manufacturing facility. Recognizing that our expertise related to hollow metal containers capable of withstanding great pressure, we undertook a retooling of our product line, expanding, enlarging, and enhancing our manufacture capabilities with a view toward directing them at an entirely new market, to wit, undersea exploration.

I don’t know how familiar you are with diving bells, submersibles, and pressurized robotic underwater probes, but Hawkins-Universal have become a leader in the field.

I write to you in the slim hope that you may have need for some underwater exploration equipment which we could provide to compensate you for the loss of your pressure cooker. The primary challenge we face relates to the value of your pressure cooker versus the cost of our underwater exploration robots. We find only one item in our current catalog which qualifies as an ‘even trade’ for your pressure cooker, taking into account normal wear and tear over the past 55 years. This is our part number 16DRE99UW-6, an exploding bolt assembly. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether an exploding bolt assembly would be of use to you, although if you are planning a surprise party or have a vacation property from which you would wish to deter would-be thieves, perhaps you could use one of these items, which are fully guaranteed.

You may continue to rely on the high quality of our products. I assure you that our explosive bolts are produced to the same rigid standards of our pressure cooker line.

On a personal note, this piece of correspondence represents my last bit of work on my last day here at Hawkins. How odd that I should spend it working on the very product upon which I first began, many years ago… our pressure cookers, which served the British housewife quite nobly and honourably for many years. As a part of our company history yourself, I would like to personally thank you for endorsing our pressure cookers, and to let you know that we in no way hold you responsible for the discontinuance of the line some 13 or 14 years following that participation.

All best wishes from your native country and here’s hoping that you have purchased, at some point in the past, a microwave, making all of the above moot.

Most sincerely yours,

Mr. Woodson Flent
Hawkins Undersea Exploration, Ltd.

  • Share/Bookmark