Monday, 19 April 2010

So What Can Be Done?

Save Bray Studios is as much an appeal to the current owners and anyone else in the film industry who might be able to preserve the integrity of the site as not only a working studio, but an important cultural and social landmark in the history of British cinema.

The cry isn't yet 24 hours old, but we quickly must look at the question of what can be done to help save the Studio?

In the first instance we have to assume that a huge volume of cash is needed - Down Place itself is in an unhealthy state of repair. It needs a large amount of work done if the Grade II listed building is to be preserved. With the Studios not making the profit they once were (at present), the proposal appears to be to turn the site into residential property as a means of funding the restoration work. This plan will ensure the survival of Down Place, but it will necessitate the closure of the Studios, and the swift demolition of the old studio buildings. The site is as important because of the additional studio buildings as the house itself. Full plans have not been submitted yet, but it would seem possible that the building of additional houses/flats within the grounds is likely. This would radically alter the setting, and would diminish the impact of Down Place itself. One need only look at the extension work next door at Oakley Court to appreciate that even small changes have a huge impact on the feel of a site.

According to the information released Bray Studios is no longer viable as a business model - though we would suggest that the Studios need new capital investment to upgrade the equipment and allow it to compete once again. The present owners clearly have no intention or desire to do that. Instead they see the chance for a quick profit in residential accommodation that will unburden them of their responsibility. Bray Management Ltd looks at the studios as property rather than a cultural landmark and facility.

We are open to ideas and suggestions, and ways of raising funds to keep the studios alive and within the film industry. We want to maintain its historic integrity, and allow it to flourish. We want it to remain distinctive.

We want you to create awareness of this dire situation and as a community to find a way forward.

Perhaps investors can be found with millions to spare on developing, upgrading and protecting the site? Perhaps there is a way we can find for a stay of execution allowing a campaign to build and find the resources before the site is compromised.

As suggestions for discussion I put forward the idea that the studio be adapted into a film school, combining education with hands on practical experience. The space could still be hired out for productions and kept in operation while providing education.

Alternatively the space should be transformed into a working film museum, including a viewing theatre. The studio space could be preserved and some turned into gallery/exhibition space.

If you have other ideas, please share them. If you are reading this and have means to invest in the space, then get in touch. Bray Studios is a true independent studio space, and some fine examples of British film and television have been made here. Don't let that be destroyed.

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Photo: Bray Studios, 2007. (c) Robert J.E. Simpson, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 18 April 2010


 The world famous Bray Studios near Windsor, England is under threat. According to local news reports in the Maidenhead Advertiser (picked up by The Mirror) this week the current owners have put in an application for refurbishment work on the Grade II listed Down Place - the building at the centre of the studio complex.

However, they have also strongly intimated that they will propose to turn the building back into residential dwellings in the forms of flats, and indeed the entire Bray Studios complex will be turned from a working studio into private dwellings.

If this happens the character of the Bray Studios site will be irreparably altered and a piece of British film history will be written off.

Bray Studios came into existence when Hammer Films/Exclusive Films moved into Down Place from their temporary home next door in Oakley Court (now a hotel) in 1951. Taking on a 1 year lease before buying the site, Hammer would convert the main house into a workable studio space eventually building purpose-built studios in the grounds.

Known for a while as Exclusive Studios, it would soon be renamed Bray Film Studios. and Hammer would remain there until 1966, finally selling the property at the end of the decade. During that time Hammer made some of their most fondly remembered films and some of the most important cult British films ever - The Quatermass Xperiment, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Camp On Blood Island and Plague of the Zombies.

The space was also hired out - the Errol Flynn Theatre filmed there in the 1950s, The Who recorded and rehearsed at Bray during the 1970s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was made there, and tv series like Inspector Morse and Doctor Who have used the space.

Bray celebrates 60 years as a film studio next year, a rare survivor from the era of classic British cinema. Its the only one of the Hammer house studios that survives as a working studio. It would be a shame to see the premises closed and the history levelled.

This site is intended to alert people to the threat against the studios, and to share something of the history of Bray. If you're interested in contributing, get in touch.

Unless another film production company can invest time and money into the site it looks like the writing is on the wall. Perhaps it could be turned into a living film museum, an authentic film experience? A theatre? Anything but levelled and turned into a series of flats.

Photo: Bray Studios, August 2007. (c) Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved.