The Studios

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The Studio Snack Bar seemed to be the perfect place to stop for some lunch, and I'm pleased to say that the menu has changed since 1969! Sitting in the cafe I saw what remains of the Associated British Pictures Studios over the road. There were originally two different studios on this site, the British and Dominions' Imperial Studios and the British International Pictures, but the premises were combined as one after the former was partly destroyed by a fire in 1936. The BIP studios became the Associated British Pictures Corporation in the 1930s, and remained so until 1969, just after the Double Deckers were filmed, when they were taken over by EMI. Since then they have been renamed The EMI-MGM studios, The Thorn-EMI studios, The Cannon Studios, The Goldcrest Studios and are currently owned by the Brent Walker leisure group, and are now called simply The Elstree Studios. The subject of much controversy in recent years, the local council decreed that these premises were not allowed to be used for any purposes other than film making until 2013, so the owners were not allowed to sell off all the land for development. However they were permitted to sell off part of the land, and so what was originally the main building of the BIP/Associated British Picture Corporation (the whitewashed 1930s building seen in Robbie The Robot and briefly in Star Struck) has now sadly been demolished, and has been replaced by a Tescos supermarket. It was last in use in the late 1980s when it was owned by Cannon (see pic 21, courtesy of Tony McKay).

The end of the front section of this building was used in the sequence in Robbie The Robot where brains attempts to retrieve Tiger's Tiger from Frank Thornton's garden, whilst the larger back section with its forecourt was used as the Century Television Studios at the end of the episode when the gang enter Robbie in Inventor's Club. This forecourt which existed between the two buildings was also used in Tiger takes Off when Tiger in the hovercraft first encounters poor Albert.

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There was also the cottage at the front of the studio grounds which was used as Frank Thornton's house in Robbie The Robot. Sadly this charming little house with its beautiful garden is no longer in existence having also been demolished to make way for a small car park in the mid 1990s (see pic 22). This cottage was also used for close ups of the house the gang are working on to raise money in A Helping Hound (NB: the establishing shot with the gravel drive was a different, unidentified premises). This episode reveals that the red brick wall surrounding the garden in Robbie The Robot was a prop, errected to make the scene with the remote control and Tiger's toy tiger more dramatic. In reality the garden was surrounded by just a fence, which can be seen when Tiger arrives with Snowflake.

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Like the studios the cottage was last in use in the late 1980s (see pic 23, courtesy of Tony McKay) although by this point even the fence had gone, replaced by tall, unattractive metal railings. This picture is taken more or less from where Brains is standing when he is operating the remote control, the red brick wall obscuring the front of the cottage.

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In the episode Star Struck, the gang are waiting outside the gates of what is called The Century Film Studio, awaiting the arrival of their favourite film star Zizi Bagor. The real name of the studios (The Associated British Pictures Corporation) can be seen on the gate as the gang pursue the runaway dog along the main road (in actual fact these gates were originally the entrance to the British and Dominions studios which was adjacent to the Associated British). The security men's hut where the gang wait is still in existence today as are the large white and red brick buildings behind (see pic 24), which were once part of the sound stages. However it is impossible to see the other buildings and walkways which feature throughout the rest of this episode as they are hidden from the public eye. One of these buildings was also used as the Planet 7 warehouse in the episode Invaders From Space, and has been used for similar purposes in other shows such as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Jason King and Department S.

Elstree/Borehamwood was once described as "The British Hollywood" and it is sad to see these once-impressive studios so far removed from their former glory. However, despite the loss of so much of this important part of the town's film history, there is there was still enough left to remain familiar. And after all this was the most important Double Deckers location as it was here where all the studio shots were filmed (including The Case Of The Missing Donut where a whole street was created for the bakery and toy shop scenes), and of course the gang's scrap yard HQ, which was used in every episode.

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Picture 25 shows an aerial shot of the whole studio complex, where you can clearly see the old British and Dominions buildings on the left, the studio cottage at the front of the picture (built at a jaunty angle to the rest of the buildings), and the larger BIP/ABPC buildings on the right.

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