FEATURE: A look-back at Bray Studios as it faces closure in its 60th year
As the eve of its 60th anniversary approaches the iconic Bray Studios is facing closure. The final credits may roll on the home of British horror films because the owners want to convert it back into housing. Laura Enfield looks back at its history.
Down Place has stood on the banks of the River Thames since 1750 and was adopted by Hammer Film Production in 1951 as a base to make budget horror films. A year later the studios were built in the grounds.
During the next 14 years, the company produced 107 films and featurettes with Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy and The Werewolf all roaming the lot.
Bray Studios became known as the House of Horror and was graced by actors including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed, Donald Sutherland, Ursula Andress, Joan Collins, Bette Davis and Raquel Welch.
The last Hammer production made there was The Mummy’s Shroud, which wrapped on 21 October 1966 and a few years later the site was sold on.
Along with the neighbouring Oakley Court, it went on to be used as the base for other cult productions including the St Trinians series, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Alien, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Star Maidens and Space 1999.
It has also played host to legendary musicians such as Led Zeppelin, Status Quo, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and more recently Amy Winehouse and Kings of Leon. They used the base for rehearsals.
Cippenham resident Terry Adlam remembers his time working there in the 1980s on special effects for Gerry Anderson's Terrorhawks and Dick Spanner PI.
He said: “It was one of my favourite studios because it was so small and friendly. I was there when they were rehearsing for Live Aid and we had Wham, Boy George and people like that coming in and we would get a free concert at lunchtime.”
The 50-year-old said visual effect company Matte & Miniatures, which has been based there for 20 years, has recently worked on films including The Da Vinci Code and Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but that the studios are ‘more surviving than thriving’.
However, he said seeing them ‘disappear like a vampire on a sun-bed’ and replaced by a faceless residential complex would be the ‘biggest horror of them all’.
Terry, who now works as a script writer, added: “We just can’t see it go. Even if they turned it into a film school that would be better. When you think about the Hammer films and how much history there has been there it would just be such a shame.”
He is not the only one who thinks so. A Facebook group entitled Save Bray Studios attracted 100 members in its first 24 hours and now has 411 supporters.
Many formerly worked at the studios and say it would be a catastrophe if they closed.
Mark Burns described the plans as ‘British history swept under the carpet’. Joseph Piotrowski said: “I worked there on Hobsons Choice with Tom Gutteridge. A brilliant place. Full of aura and history. What a pity if it goes.”
Owner Bray Management Company was granted permission by the council on May 21 for repairs to Grade II-listed Down Place.
But in its application it stated the business is struggling to compete with rivals such as Pinewood Studios just 10 miles down the road and is no longer commercially viable.
It has said a further application is likely for extensive work to convert the site into housing.