Birthing place to the likes of The Third Man, Alien and Gladiator, the walls of Shepperton Studios are thick with stories. So, sensibly, rather than go the stuffy academic history route, this plush volume pieces together an oral history from virtually everyone who ever lifted a boom or made a cup of tea there.
The star names are present — the late Sir John Mills, Tony Scott (one of the studios’ current owners), Kenneth Branagh, Richard Attenborough — offering their own potted history of how their careers bounced back and forth to the facility. But it’s the accounts of the people whose names, or even job titles, you’ve never heard that give the studios a sense of importance.
Many of those recounting their experiences have spent close to their entire career moving around the various departments of Shepperton, experimenting with multiple disciplines before finding their place among what is widely acknowledged as the greatest pool of technical filmmaking talent in the world. With each instalment is painted a picture of a community, rather than a business, riding through wars and other disasters on the strength of its workers.
This is not a book to be rushed through, but a cosy read to be absorbed slowly, preferably with something black-and-white playing on the TV in the background. It may be subtitled ‘A Visual Celebration’ — many of the previously unpublished shots are stunning — but it’s in the words and feeling of its contributors that this really celebrates its subject.
Reviewed by Olly Richards