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The Independent (13/Jun/1999) - Hitch's first film home to reopen



Hitch's first film home to reopen

The film studios where the director Alfred Hitchcock made his earliest movies are to be brought back to life as part of a pounds 30m inner-city development.

Plans have been submitted to revive Gainsborough Studios in London as a working venue for television and commercial work, 50 years after they went dark.

The film directors Alan Parker and Lord (Richard) Attenborough, who worked there early in their careers, are understood to have given encouragement to the proposals, which could help to transform the deprived area of Shoreditch Park.

The British Film Institute (BFI) will launch its national celebrations of the centenary of Hitchcock's birth at the studios this week. An exhibition commemorating Hitchcock will run at the venue at weekends until October.

In its heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, Ivor Novello, James Mason and Margaret Lockwood were among the stars of British cinema working at Gainsborough. The young Alfred Hitchcock started his career there as a sign-writer before plotting the scenario for the first Gainsborough Pictures film, The Passionate Adventure, in 1924.

He was then given the opportunity to direct The Lodger, A Story of the London Fog, starring Novello, which established his reputation. Downhill, produced by Sir Michael Balcon, and Easy Virtue followed in 1927. The most famous of Hitchcock's Gainsborough pictures was The Lady Vanishes, made in 1938 before he departed for the US.

Elderly residents near the studios in Poole Street can still remember the excitement of the filming. Often, the studios would knock on doors to borrow items for props. On other occasions, willing neighbours would be rounded up as extras for crowd scenes.

Keith Meehan, managing director of the new development company, Gainsborough Studios Ltd, said he was delighted to have acquired "a piece of very important history" from other developers after several years of trying to do so.

"I've been a very keen film fan for a long time and from my younger days can remember seeing Hitchcock films," he said. "There's a huge nostalgia."

A planning application has been submitted and Mr Meehan hopes to win permission by the autumn. If the scheme gets the go-ahead, work will begin next year.

The scheme includes a large sculpture of Hitchcock by the artist Tony Donaldson and accommodation. It is hoped that live-work spaces will encourage a "thriving artistic community" alongside the 5,000 square feet of studio space, Mr Meehan said.

Gainsborough was a former railway power station converted into a two- stage film studio by an American company, Famous Players-Lasky British Productions, founded in 1919.

Following a slump in films in the early 1920s, the studios were sold to Sir Michael Balcon and associates who established Gainsborough Pictures.

A slate of 160 pictures from farces to Boris Karloff horrors and Will Hay comedies were made before the studios were sold in 1949. They have since been used as a carpet warehouse.

A spokeswoman for the BFI said it was pleased to be involved with bringing Hitchcock back to life. "He is going back to where he started off. The exhibition will reinforce that."