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The National Film and Television School began as the The National Film School in 1971 - the culmination of a major effort by the Industry and government to create an institution to educate and train talent for the British film Industry.

Over 50 years on and the School has established itself as not only one of the world’s best film schools, but as a centre of excellence for television and games design and development too. It was honoured by BAFTA with the 2018 Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award, and the Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2017. NFTS alumni are some of the most in demand and well-known creative talents worldwide.

The site the School stands on first opened for business as Beaconsfield Studios in 1921, over 100 years ago and was previously an epi-centre of British film history. Read on to find out more about the School’s incredible legacy both on and off the screen.

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The Studios were built in 1921 by George Clark Productions. The first production was a two-reeler comedy, The Beauty and the Beast, written, directed and starring Guy Newall. Various productions followed until 1924 when all British studios went quiet. In 1928, the Films Bill limited foreign films to 22.5% of the market. There was a rush of production activity and among new start-ups was The British Lion Film Corporation Ltd., with Edgar Wallace, the prolific thriller writer, as Chairman. As Wallace lived locally in Bourne End, the company purchased Beaconsfield Studios.

Wallace's story The Ringer was the new company's first production, followed in 1930 by Beaconsfield Studios' first talkie, The Squeaker. Wallace then left for Hollywood to write King Kong.

A film production at Beaconsfield Studios in the 1920s

Between 1929 and 1939, those who came through the Beaconsfield studio gates included Sir John Gielgud, Sir Gerald Du Maurier, Emlyn Williams, Paul Robeson, Ben Lyon, Bebe Lyon, Gracie Fields, Margaret Lockwood, Jessie Matthews, Ray Milland, Herbert Wilcox, Val Guest, Hughie Green (as a boy actor), Sid Cole, David Lean (as an editor), Basil Dean, Carol Reed (as a writer), John Galsworthy, A.A.Milne and George Bernard Shaw. By 1939, another distribution crisis had hit the Industry and the Ministry of Works requisitioned the studios for Rotax to make aircraft engine magnetos for the war effort.

In 1946, Alexander Korda bought British Lion. He kept the company but sold the freehold of the Studios to King's College, Cambridge. The Crown Film Unit moved in and the government spent £146,000 on refurbishment and equipment. 75 films a year were produced for the Central Office of Information by filmmakers who included John Grierson, Humphrey Jennings and Lotte Reiniger. In 1949, following yet another exhibition crisis in the UK film industry, the Board of Trade introduced the Eady Levy, a tax on box office takings that was redistributed to British film producers as a mechanism to boost British production.

Aerial shot of Beaconsfield Studios in the 1930s

The Crown Film Unit was wound up in 1951, meanwhile the National Film Finance Corporation had set up Group 3, with a brief to encourage new British talent. They moved into Beaconsfield in 1953 and out again in 1955 when it was decided that a studio base was unjustifiable.

The producer Peter Rogers took over Beaconsfield Films Ltd in 1956, making The Tommy Steele Story (1957) before moving to Pinewood to launch the Carry On series. Television first ventured into Beaconsfield when Screen Gems Inc rented space in 1957-58 for their Ivanhoe TV series, starring Roger Moore. Next to take a lease on the studios were Independent Artistes who hosted a respectable run of British films including Tiger Bay, Blind Date, Battle Of The Sexes, Never Let Go, The Bulldog Breed, VIP, Crooks Anonymous, The Fast Lady, Father Came Too, This Sporting Life and The Wrong Arm Of The Law.

1963 brought yet another crisis and in 1964, Independent Artistes departed. The final feature film based at the studios was Press For Time shot in 1966, with Norman Wisdom in his last starring role. The studios were then leased to the North Thames Gas Board, who used the premises as a warehouse.

1971 saw a revival in the Studios' fortunes, when the NFTS purchased the freehold from Kings College with a grant from the Rank Organisation, making it the only UK film school with its own, purpose-built, film and TV studios and facilities.