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The BBC invested heavily in electronic studios during the 1950s and 60s, but shooting on film was often a necessity for programmes like Doctor Who.
Cybermen bypass the security at Ealing Studios main gate in a publicity photo for The Moonbase (1967).

“The BBC is now the biggest single user of film in the world,” proclaimed the BBC Handbook 1961, “and the Ealing Film Studios alone produces the equivalent of 140 full-length feature films a year.” In the rapidly expanding television industry of the early 1950s film was in great demand, most notably for news coverage but also for inserts on live sitcoms and dramas. On 19 October 1955, the Corporation announced its acquisition of the Ealing Studios at Ealing Green, five miles west of the planned Television Centre at White City. Ealings first film stage had opened in 1907; subsequently taken over by Associated Talking Pictures, it was rebuilt with four stages by 1931. It was here that producer Michael Balcon would oversee such classic Ealing-branded films as King Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).

By 1955, the growing popularity of television was taking its toll on the film industry and British cinemas were closing.

Aware of Ealings financial problems, the BBC bid £350,000 for the four-acre site, taking vacant possession in January 1956 to house Lime Groves expanding Film Department. The enraged film industry appealed to the Board of Trade to reverse a decision which it believed accelerated televisions onslaught upon cinema.

Television work commenced with inserts for the Jesus of Nazareth serial in early 1956. According to a BBC Engineering Division monograph in January 1960, Stage 2 (125 x 75 feet, opened in 1931) was for “large or complicated sets [with a] water tank”, while Stages 3A and 3B (each 85 x 70 feet, opened in 1933) could form one space with 3A “used for general filming” and 3B for “rehearsals and very simple filming of the… close-up type”. There was also a 79 x 61-foot model stage.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

In 1963 Sydney Newman and Donald Wilson devised an ambitious concept that would stretch the BBC’s technical resources to the limit. In its earliest days Doctor Who was jeopardised by a fierce dispute over facilities. The programme survived, but never stopped demanding the very best from its studios and dedicated crews. This is the inside story of Doctor Who’s evolution from relatively primitive beginnings to the cutting edge of modern television production.