Associated British Picture Corporation

Last updated

Associated British Picture Corporation
Industry Film, television
FateFolded into EMI-Elstree
Successor EMI-Elstree

Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), originally British International Pictures (BIP), was a British film production, distribution and exhibition company active from 1927 until 1970 when it was absorbed into EMI. ABPC also owned approximately 500 cinemas in Britain by 1943, [1] and in the 1950s and 60s owned a station on the ITV television network. The studio was partly owned by Warner Bros. from about 1940 until 1969; the American company also owned a stake in ABPC's distribution arm, Warner-Pathé, from 1958. It formed one half of a vertically integrated film industry duopoly in Britain with the Rank Organisation.



From 1927 to 1945

The company was founded during 1927 by Scottish solicitor John Maxwell after he had purchased British National Pictures Studios and its Elstree Studios complex and merged it with his ABC Cinemas circuit, renaming the company British International Pictures. The Wardour Film Company, with Maxwell as chairman, was the distributor of BIP films. [2] He appointed Joseph Grossman, formerly manager of the Stoll Studios, his Studio Manager.

During its early years the company's most prominent work was that directed by Alfred Hitchcock, including the film Blackmail (1929), usually regarded as the first British all-talkie. Hitchcock worked on a total of twelve pictures for the company before leaving in 1933 to work for the rival British Gaumont, due to his dissatisfaction with the projects he was assigned at British International.

Under Maxwell's paternalistic management the company prospered and during 1933 it acquired British Pathé, which as Associated British-Pathé now functioned as the distribution division. [3] The company was renamed Associated British Picture Corporation in 1933 and was now in a position to vertically integrate production, distribution and exhibition of films. [4]

After Maxwell's death in October 1940, [5] his widow Catherine sold a large number of shares to Warner Bros., who, although the Maxwell family remained the largest shareholders, were able to exercise a measure of control. The studio at Elstree was taken over by the government for the duration of the war. Film production was restricted to B-Pictures made at the company's smaller studio in Welwyn Garden City, [5] which closed in 1950. [6]

After the Second World War

Much of the output of the studio was routine, which restricted its success outside the UK, but after World War II, the company contracted with Warner (by now the largest shareholder, owning 40% of the studio) [7] for the distribution of its films in the United States.

Robert Clark was head of production for the company between 1949 and 1958, and insisted on tight budgeting and the use of pre-existing properties such as books or plays as these already had a demonstrated "public value". Of the 21 films made by ABPC during the 1950s, only two were derived from original screenplays. [8] German-born Frederick Gotfurt was Clark's scenario editor in this period, but his command of English was imperfect and the contracted actor Richard Todd doubted Gotfurt's ability to assess the quality of the dialogue in a script. [9] "It was a dreadful place", said Richard Attenborough when remembering ABPC's Elstree facility. "It created nothing in terms of a feeling of commitment." [10] During this period though, the company produced its best remembered titles such as The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1954), and Ice Cold in Alex (1958), whose director J. Lee Thompson was ABPC's most productive during the 1950s. [11] [12]

In 1958, Associated Talking Pictures, the parent company of Ealing Films, was acquired.

Expansion into television

In 1955, the Independent Television Authority (ITA) awarded one of the four initial contracts for commercial television in the UK to ABPC (after original awardee Kemsley-Winnick Television collapsed). The contract was to provide programming on the new ITV network in the Midlands and northern England on Saturdays and Sundays. The board of ABPC had been unconvinced by the merits of entering the television market, but were eventually convinced by the ITA who believed they were the only acceptable option to take the contract. Former head of British Pathé Howard Thomas was appointed as the station's managing director.

Under the name ABC Television, the company came on the air in stages between February and November 1956. Among many television series ABC produced were Opportunity Knocks , The Avengers , Redcap , and the long-running Armchair Theatre drama anthology series.

Following a reallocation of the ITV franchises, ABC Television ceased to exist in 1968; however, unwilling to eject ABPC from the system, the ITA awarded the contract for weekdays in London to a new company that would be joint-owned by ABPC and British Electric Traction (parent company of outgoing franchisee Rediffusion), with ABPC holding a 51% controlling stake. Both companies were initially reluctant to this "shotgun merger", but eventually the new station, christened Thames Television, took to the air in July 1968 (two days after ABC's last broadcast). The 51% controlling stake passed to EMI upon its acquisition of ABPC the following year.

From 1958 onwards

Policies changed after Clark left in January 1958. New projects from the company were limited to those using contracted television comedy performers, and investment in independent productions. The use of Elstree for television production increased. [13] Later successful features from ABPC itself included several films built around the pop singer Cliff Richard, such as The Young Ones (1961) and Summer Holiday (1963). [11] The same year, ABPC acquired Associated Talking Pictures (parent of the original Ealing Studios) from The Rank Organisation (who had bought the studio in 1944).

In 1962, the company acquired 50% of the shares of Anglo-Amalgamated, and made an arrangement with the Grade Organisation to support the production of films by independent producers. [14] During the 1960s, however, the fortunes of the company declined, and in 1967 Seven Arts, the new owners of Warner, decided to dispose of its holdings in ABPC which was purchased in 1968 by EMI, who acquired the remaining stock the following year. [15] (For the subsequent history, see EMI Films.) The entire ABPC library is now owned by StudioCanal. [16]

Subsidiaries of Associated British Picture Corporation

Wholly owned

Jointly owned

Select filmography

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cinema of the United Kingdom</span> Overview of the cinema of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has had a significant film industry for over a century. While film production reached an all-time high in 1936, the "golden age" of British cinema is usually thought to have occurred in the 1940s, during which the directors David Lean, Michael Powell, and Carol Reed produced their most critically acclaimed works. Many British actors have accrued critical success and worldwide recognition, such as Audrey Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh, Glynis Johns, Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Ian Mckellen, Joan Collins, Judi Dench, Julie Andrews, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins and Kate Winslet. Some of the films with the largest ever box office returns have been made in the United Kingdom, including the fourth and fifth highest-grossing film franchises.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">ABC Weekend TV</span> Former ITV service for Midlands & North England

ABC Weekend TV was the popular name of the British broadcaster ABC Television Limited, which provided the weekend service in the Midlands and Northern England regions of the Independent Television (ITV) network from 1956 to 1968. It was one of the "Big Four" companies that between them produced the majority of ITV networked programmes during this period.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Rank Organisation</span> British entertainment conglomerate

The Rank Organisation, was a British entertainment conglomerate founded by industrialist J. Arthur Rank in April 1937, Rank also served as the company chairman. It quickly became the largest and most vertically integrated film company in the United Kingdom, owning production, distribution and exhibition facilities as well as manufacturing projection equipment and chairs. It also diversified into the manufacture of radios, TVs and photocopiers. The company name lasted until February 1996, when the name and some of the remaining assets were absorbed into the newly structured Rank Group plc. The company itself became a wholly owned subsidiary of Xerox and was renamed XRO Limited in 1997.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ealing comedies</span> Ealing Studios films, 1947 to 1957

The Ealing comedies is an informal name for a series of comedy films produced by the London-based Ealing Studios during a ten-year period from 1947 to 1957. Often considered to reflect Britain's post-war spirit, the most celebrated films in the sequence include Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Whisky Galore! (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955). Hue and Cry (1947) is generally considered to be the earliest of the cycle, and Barnacle Bill (1957) the last, although some sources list Davy (1958) as the final Ealing comedy. Many of the Ealing comedies are ranked among the greatest British films, and they also received international acclaim.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elstree Studios</span> 8 film & TV studios in Borehamwood, UK

Elstree Studios is a generic term which can refer to several current and demolished British film studios and television studios based in or around the town of Borehamwood and village of Elstree in Hertfordshire, England. Production studios have been located in the area since 1914 when film production began there.

EMI Films was a British film studio and distributor. A subsidiary of the EMI conglomerate, the corporate name was not used throughout the entire period of EMI's involvement in the film industry, from 1969 to 1986, but the company's brief connection with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Anglo-EMI, the division under Nat Cohen, and the later company as part of the Thorn EMI conglomerate are outlined here.

MGM-British was a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer initially established at Denham Film Studios in 1936. It was in limbo during the Second World War; however, following the end of hostilities, a facility was acquired in Borehamwood, which remained in use until it was closed in 1970.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gate Studios</span> Part of Elstree Studios

Gate Studios was one of the many studios known collectively as Elstree Studios in the town of Borehamwood, England. Opened in 1928, the studios were in use until the early 1950s. The studios had previously been known as Whitehall Studios, Consolidated Studios, J.H. Studios and M.P. Studios.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">ABC Cinemas</span> Movie theatre chain

ABC Cinemas was a cinema chain in the United Kingdom. Originally a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), it operated between the 1920s and the 1980s. The brand name was reused in the 1990s until 2000.

The Gaumont-British Picture Corporation produced and distributed films and operated a cinema chain in the United Kingdom. It was established as an offshoot of the Gaumont Film Company of France.

<i>The Moonraker</i> 1958 film

The Moonraker is a British swashbuckler film made in 1957 and released in 1958 and set in the English Civil War. It was directed by David MacDonald and starred George Baker, Sylvia Syms, Marius Goring, Gary Raymond, Peter Arne, John Le Mesurier and Patrick Troughton. It is based on the 1952 play of the same title by Arthur Watkyn. It was shot at Elstree Studios with sets designed by the art director Robert Jones.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">British and Dominions Imperial Studios</span> Former film studios in Elstree, England

Imperial Studios were the studios of the British and Dominions Film Corporation, a short-lived British film production company located at Imperial Place, Elstree Way, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. The studios were active from 1929 to 1936, when they were destroyed by fire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Maxwell (producer)</span> British film producer

John Maxwell (1879–1940) was a British film producer. Maxwell was the co-owner of British International Pictures, which emerged as the largest British studio following the Film Act of 1927. Maxwell was a Scottish lawyer who first came into contact with the film industry in 1912. In 1927 he took over the newly constructed British National Studios in Elstree after its founders ran into financial problems. Maxwell built a vertically integrated company incorporating film production, film distribution, initially through Wardour Films, and a large network of cinemas that enabled the company to compete with the leading German and Hollywood firms. Along with the facilities in Elstree, the company also acquired Welwyn Studios in Welwyn Garden City.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elstree Studios (Shenley Road)</span> Film and TV production facility in England

Elstree Studios on Shenley Road, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire is a British film and television production centre operated by Elstree Film Studios Limited. One of several facilities historically referred to as Elstree Studios, the Shenley Road studios originally opened in 1925.

Robert Clark (1905–1984) was a Scottish film executive best known for being head of production at Associated British Picture Corporation in the late 1940s and 1950s. It was a successful time for the company, films including The Dam Busters (1955).

Cleo Jesse Latta CBE was a British film executive best known for being managing director of Associated British Picture Corporation and Warner Bros. cinemas. He helped establish the Variety Club. He was awarded with a CBE in 1964.

Mayflower Productions was a British-based film production company of the 1930s and 1950s.

This is a timeline of the history of the former British television broadcaster ATV. It provided the ITV service for London at weekends and the Midlands on weekdays from 1955 to 1968, and for the Midlands all week from 1968 to 1982.

This is a timeline of the history of the British television company ABC Weekend TV, one of the first four contractors of the Independent Television network.


  1. "Foreign Trade: Cinemonopoly". Time. New York. 20 December 1943. Archived from the original on 23 October 2012.
  2. McFarlane, Brian (2003). The Encyclopedia of British Film. London: Methuen/BFI. p. 443.
  3. "History of British Pathé: A Golden Age: 1933 to 1958". British Pathé. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  4. Burton, Alan; Chibnall, Steve (2013). Historical Dictionary of British Cinema. Lanham, MD and Plymouth, England: Scarecrow Press. p. 43. ISBN   9780810880269.
  5. 1 2 Murphy, Robert (2000). British Cinema and the Second World War. London & New York: Continuum. p. 12. ISBN   9780826478979.
  6. Warren, Patricia (2001). British Film Studios: An Illustrated History. B. T. Batsford. p. 182.
  7. Davis, Ronald L. Just Making Movies: Company Directors on the Studio SystemVincent Sherman Interview 2005 University of Kentucky Press, p.96
  8. Porter, Vincent (2000). "Outsiders in England The films of the Associated British Picture Corporation, 1949–58". In Ashby, Justine; Higson, Andrew (eds.). British Cinema, Past and Present. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. p. 153. ISBN   9781135125158.
  9. Porter, p.156
  10. Porter, p.152
  11. 1 2 Alexander, Lou (2003–2014). "Associated British Picture Corporation (1933–70)". BFI screenonline. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  12. Porter, p.161
  13. Porter, p.163
  14. "Company Meeting: Associated British Picture Corporation". The Spectator. 16 August 1962. p. 25. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  15. Warren, Patricia (2001). British Film Studios: An Illustrated History. London: B. T. Batsford. p. 75.
  16. Mitchell, Wendy (17 December 2012). "Network Distributing acquires rights to 450 films from StudioCanal library". Screen Daily . Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  17. Farmer, Richard (2019). Transformation and Tradition in 1960s British Cinema. Edinburgh University Press. p. 44. ISBN   9781474423120 . Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  18. Luke McKernan "Pathé", BFI screenonline; Brian McFarlane Encyclopedia of British Film, London: Methen/BFI, 2003, p.511-12