The Riverside Story
In 1933, the Triumph Film Company acquired a former engineering works and foundry specialising in the manufacture of water pumps, and created two large sound stages from a jumble of workshops. The first film made at Riverside Studios was The Double Event and over the years it earned a name for itself producing a number of successful ‘quota quickies’. After Triumph’s demise in 1935, filmmaking continued until 1954 under a succession of proprietors - Julius Hagen (1935-37), Jack Buchanan (1937-48) and Alliance Films (1948-54) – and films made during this period include The Seventh Veil (1945) starring James Mason, The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950) starring Margaret Rutherford and Father Brown (1954) starring Alec Guinness.
The BBC bought the site in 1954 and converted it into the country’s first purpose-built television facility. Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother officially opened the BBC Riverside Television Studios in 1957. Some of the most famous programmes made at Riverside include Hancock's Half Hour (1957-60), Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59), Doctor Who (1964 – 68) and the children's programmes Blue Peter and Play School. The facility was in continuous use until the early 1970s, with the rooftop camera position providing one of the best vantage points for the annual University Boat Race.
In 1975, after the BBC moved out, a charitable trust formed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council took control of the building. Soon afterwards, two large multi-purpose spaces were shaped by architect Michael Reardon from the two main sound stages, to be used for a mixed programme of live theatre, music, dance and film.
In 1976, Peter Gill was appointed Riverside's first Artistic Director and soon established the Studios as a leading London arts venue with acclaimed productions of The Cherry Orchard starring Judy Parfitt, Julie Covington and Michael Elphick (1978), The Changeling starring Brian Cox (1979) and Measure for Measure (1979) starring Helen Mirren.
During the late 1970s and 80s, Riverside hosted the highly successful Dance Umbrella seasons, as well as a huge variety of international productions including notably the work of Polish theatre maestro Tadeusz Kantor and a series of legendary theatre workshops with the Italian playwright Dario Fo. On two occasions during the early 1980s, Samuel Beckett rehearsed productions at Riverside, later describing the venue as ‘a haven’. An influential gallery also flourished under the direction of Greg Hilty, hosting exhibitions by such luminaries as David Hockney, Antony Gormley and Yoko Ono.
Throughout the 1990s Riverside Studios continued its popular programme of theatre, film, opera, dance and music with notable productions including Hamlet starring Alan Rickman, Robert Lepage’s The Seven Streams of the River Ota, The Master Builder starring Brian Cox and Anthony and Cleopatra starring Vanessa Redgrave. Television production also returned to Riverside, with Studio 1 hosting such long-running shows as TFI Friday and CD:UK and, in more recent years,The Apprentice: You're Fired!, Celebrity Juice, Russell Howard's Good News and The Last Leg.
The 2000s saw companies such as Complicite and The Wooster Group bring their groundbreaking work to Riverside, while other notable theatre productions include Scaramouche Jones starring Pete Postlethwaite, The Exonerated starring Stockard Channing and Danny Glover, the smash-hit musical Salad Days, A Round-Heeled Woman starring Sharon Gless and Mies Julie by Yael Farber.
Riverside Studios closed in September 2014 for redevelopment, but is still very much a working organisation. While continuing to deliver live theatre (such as our productions of Jim Cartwright's RAZ at Trafalgar Studios and A Christmas Carol with Simon Callow at the Arts Theatre), Riverside has also been reaching out to new audiences with the FuturePlay digital arts festival in Edinburgh as well as filmed theatre productions for broadcasters such as BBC4.
Riverside’s future promises a wonderful new home in which the best of its past in film, theatre, comedy, dance and television is mixed with the latest technology to provide even more opportunities and inspiration for artists and audiences.