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British Films Distributors

Gaumont Company


Alfred Bromhead (called A. C.) had been the assistant of John Le Coutour who was the agent for Gaumont films and Demeny film equipment from France in 1897 under the company name of L. Gaumont et Cie. Le Coutour was more interested in experimenting with paper films trying to develop his Photographic Association of which he was the founder.. So he was dismissed by Gaumont.

A. C. was asked to become the new agent for Gaumont so A. C. formed the Gaumont Company in 1898 with his younger brother Reginald. A. C. set up offices at 25 Cecil Court in London. The Gaumont Company quickly became successful and he expanded into handling films for Hepworth, Elge (France) and Lumiere (France).

Business was booming so in 1903, A. C.'s other younger brother Herbert also joined the company.

AS A SIDE NOTE: Gaumont was also the British distributor for Solax.

In 1912, A. C. wanted to move more into production so they built a studio called Lime Grove in Shepherd's Bush. The studio primarily produced actualities and cartoons. The project was successful enough that in 1915, A. C. bought additional property adjacent to the studio and expanded the facilities. With the new expansion, the decision was made to move more into feature films. Shown on the left is the studio in 1914.

AS A SIDE NOTE: During the First World War A. C. Bromhead attained the rank of Lieut.-Colonel and commanded special missions to Russia and Italy, for which he was awarded the CBE in 1918.

After the war, the studio struggled to regroup from the lack of actors and technicians. They brought in Thomas Welsh as General Manager who in turn brought in George Pearson as director. This only lasted for a short time because Welsh and Pearson left to form the Welsh-Pearson Film Company and set up their own studio in Craven Park.

In 1922, the Bromhead brothers bought out Gaumont's interest in the company and changed the name to Gaumont-British Pictures Corp.

In 1926, the Bromhead brothers decided that it was time to expand again. They received backing from the Ostrer brothers and did a £2,500,000 expansion. On their board, they added Simon Rowson from Ideal Productions and C. M Woolf from W&F Film Service. This surrounded the studio with needed services.

In 1928, Gaumont absorbed Gainsborough Pictures headed by Michael Balcon and formed a conglomerate which also included nearly 300 cinemas. Balcon remained head of production for the Gainsborough studio in Islington.

In 1929, A. C. retired and turned control of the studios over to the 5 Ostrer brothers. Isadore Ostrer became President, Mark Ostrer became Chairman, David (the oldest) became head over International Sales, Maurice became director and Executive Producer and Harry (the youngest and ex-school teacher) became head of the Script Department.

With the advent of sound, the Ostrer brothers set out to renovate the Lime Grove studio with sound systems. While the renovations were being made, Gainsborough Studios at Islington was used as the production arm with Michael Balcon operating at both facilities. Shown to the right is the newly renovated Lime Grove studio.

Gaumont established an alliance with Ufa of Germany and started work on British version of several major Ufa films. Unfortunately, this alliance ceased abruptly when Hitler took control of the country in the early 1930s.

In 1936, Balcon who was increasingly having trouble with management, left Gainsborough for a 2 year contract with MGM for a larger salary. Ted Black took over production at Islington.

In 1937, with the British market shrinking, Isadore Ostrer announced that Lime Grove would have to close down. C. M. Woolf and J. Arthur Rank came in with a package to take over the production of Lime Grove and move it to Pinewood and let Gainsborough continue its production. This package would slowly move ownership to Rank.

Ironically, Pinewood closed down the following year and Islington received a new burst of life from a contract with 20th Century Fox. Unfortunately, 1939 brought World War II and a lot of changes.

Another odd twist came when the chimneys at Islington became unstable and Lime Grove had to be reopened to take care of the production.

In 1941, Rank took control of Gaumont and shortly afterward Isadore Ostrer died the same year. The following year C. M. Woolf also died.

With Maurice Ostrer and Ted Black at the controls of the production and 20th Century contracts expiring in 1942, Black gambled that what Britain needed was some escapism films to get the publics mind off of the war. These became the most successful films in Lime Grove history, fueling a feud between Ostrer and Black. Black left Gaumont to join Korda at MGM.

At the end of the war, Rank, unhappy with Ostrer handling of production replaced him with Sidney Box. Several well accepted films were made but by 1949 the heavy overhead of the outdated facilities were too much. Rank liquidated Gainsborough and Gaumont. The Lime Grove Studio was sold to BBC television.

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