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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 02:18 GMT 03:18 UK
Ealing: Home of British film
The Lavender Hill Mob
The Lavender Hill Mob is among the re-releases

It is 100 years since the UK's Ealing Studios first opened its doors.

In that century its name has become synonymous with some of the most famous British comedies ever made.

The studio is one of the oldest in the world still in film production, and is celebrated at the cinema with re-releases of six of its most classic films on Friday.

Click here to vote for your favourite Ealing comedy

Modern audiences will now have the chance to see Passport To Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Ladykillers, Kind Hearts And Coronets, The Man In The White Suit and Whisky Galore - on the big screen in brand new prints.

The fact the films concerned British foibles in no way impeded their international accessibility

Sean Hinton, Ealing Studios

For many who may not have even have seen any of these films on TV, let alone at the cinema, it gives them an opportunity to relive what is widely regarded as the heyday of the British film industry.

But the studio has come a long way since it was founded in 1902 by impresario and filmmaker Will Barker.

His first film studio in Stamford Hill, north London, consisted of just a single stage, a cloth and some scaffolding.

By 1907 he had relocated to Ealing, where he built three glass stages and shot his first two-reel film, Henry VIII, in 1911.

Passport To Pimlico
Passport To Pimlico was an early Ealing comedy
The golden age of Ealing, however, began in 1938 when Michael Balcon took over as studio head.

Balcon's ability to nurture talent was a major asset to the studio, and during his time in charge, he produced war films, costume dramas and documentaries.

Comedies represented only 20% of the studio's output - echoing Balcon's initial reluctance to focus on comedy over the worthy dramas he was so keen on producing.

Yet the films earned their status as classics by blending the quaint eccentricities of the era with a dose of scathing satire and social commentary.
Whisky Galore is set on a remote Scottish island

Witness the politics of 1949's Passport To Pimlico, or 1951's The Man In The White Suit, which pokes subtle fun at unions and the corporate world.

Balcon himself described the films as "comedies about ordinary people with the stray eccentric amongst them - little men who long to kick the boss in the teeth".

Those ordinary people and eccentrics were expertly played by a cast of regulars, with Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, Margaret Rutherford, Joan Greenwood and Stanley Holloway among the familiar faces.

Guinness' finest hour is widely regarded as 1949's Kind Hearts And Coronets, in which he plays eight different members of the D'Ascoyne family, who are murdered by a relative eager to get his hands on their fortune.
The Man In The White Suit
Man In The White Suit takes on the corporate world

And he starred in 1955's The Ladykillers, about a gang who blunder through a series of attempts to murder their landlady, and bank robbery caper The Lavender Hill Mob, filmed in 1951.

Ealing regular Stanley Holloway takes the lead in the other two films being re-released.

Whisky Galore follows what happens when a consignment of whisky washes up on a remote Scottish beach, while Passport To Pimlico, one of the first Ealing comedies ever released, sees the South London suburb falling under French control.

The classic Ladykillers, widely regarded as one of the best Ealing comedies ever made, was the last film to be shot at the studios before it was sold to the BBC in 1955.

The studio remained the venue for the filming of many classic TV shows including Colditz and Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective - but it was nearly 40 years before another feature, The Hour Of The Pig, was filmed there.

The Ladykillers was the last Ealing comedy in 1955
Ownership passed to the National Film And Television School in the mid-90s.

Currently the studio is owned by Fragile Films, producers of Spice World, High Heels And Lowlifes and An Ideal Husband - all a far cry from the days of Balcon and Guinness.

Yet the future is looking distinctly promising for Ealing Studios, with the imminent release of a new adaptation of The Importance Of Being Earnest, starring Colin Firth, Dame Judi Dench and Reese Witherspoon.

"It's a classic film with broad appeal," says Ealing's managing director Sean Hinton, "but it's also very British."

"And that was always the essence of Ealing. The fact that they concerned British characters, British foibles, in no way impeded their international accessibility."

Which is your favourite Ealing comedy?

Passport to Pimlico

The Ladykillers

The Man in the White Suit

The Lavender Hill Mob

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Whisky Galore

510 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

100 years of Ealing

100 years of Ealing

See also:

09 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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15 Sep 99 | Entertainment
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