Ian Hendry + Janet Munro – Teddington Studios + Armchair Theatre’s ‘Afternoon Of A Nymph’ (1962)

Recently I came across the wonderful TV Studio History website which gives a tremendous insight into the emergence of television and the background to production in the UK.

What caught my eye in particular was this fascinating picture taken at the studios in Teddington, London. It shows Ian Hendry rehearsing with Janet Munro for the ABC TV Armchair Theatre production ‘An Afternoon Of A Nymph‘ which was first broadcast in November 1962.

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Picture: Ian Hendry and Janet Munro rehearsing for ‘Afternoon of A Nymph’ (1961)

ABC TV Armchair Theatre – ‘Afternoon Of A Nymph’

Ian had his first big break in television with ABC TV in 1960 when he was cast as Dr. Geoffrey Brent in the TV series Police Surgeon. The series was short-lived (just 13 episodes) but Ian’s star potential was noted and ABC TV were keen to find him a new ‘vehicle’ for his talent. After much creative ‘brainstorming’ the series created was of course The Avengers.

As part of the contract negotiations for The Avengers, Ian also agreed with ABC TV to star in two of their future Armchair Theatre plays – one of which was to be ‘Afternoon Of A Nymph‘.

Janet Munro had been a child star – appearing in several Disney films – and was the better known of the two at that point. But show business had always been part of her life – long before Disney came along. Her father was the Scottish comedian and actor, Alex Munro. Born in Glasgow, Alex later joined his brother Archie and sister June in an acrobatic act called The Star Trio. They later changed their name to The Horsburgh Brothers and Agnes and became part of Florrie Forde’s music hall company with Flanagan and Allen.

During World War Two, Alex toured with the RAF show, Contact, and had his own BBC radio series The Size Of It. He headlined in a number of British variety theatres, before finally making his home in Llandudno, Wales. He was given creative control of the Llandudno Pier Pavilion Theatre in the 1970s. The Alex Munro Show ran at the Happy Valley in Llandudno for 30 years.

As Janet grew older she embarked on making the move from child star to more mature roles. Afternoon Of A Nymph represented a step in that transition along with films such as The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961), Life for Ruth (1962) and Bitter Harvest (1963). When Ian met Janet on set he was still married to Jo, his first wife, but a turbulent romance began and the two fell in love – eventually marrying in 1963.

Afternoon Of A Nymph was written by Robert Muller, the second of seven plays he wrote for the Armchair Theatre series. He also created sinister stories for the TV series Supernatural (BBC, 1977). These included the two-part ‘Countess Ilona’ which starred Ian Hendry and Robert’s wife of later years – actress Billie Whitelaw.

In ‘Afternoon of A Nymph’, Elaine (played by Janet Munro) is an anxious naive young actress with a fragile sense of self. An agent invites his young starlet to a party, to meet all the right people. A chance to move on from the commercials she has been doing, to bigger roles and maybe stardom. However while she is there, she realizes there is a price to pay. Peter Butterworth, William Gaunt, Patrick Holt and Aubrey Morris also starred in the production.

These TV plays were unique in many ways. The TV Studio History website describes why they were so special:

“Television dramas in the ’60s and ’70s attracted some of the most talented writers, directors and designers in the country. The ‘television play’ developed into an artform in its own right – neither theatre nor feature film it borrowed aspects from both but was appreciated by critics and viewers as a unique form of artistic endeavour. During the ’80s it gradually died out and is sadly no longer with us.”

The website also outlines the development of ABC TV’s studios at Teddington on their History of TV Studios in London page:

“ABC TV did not have a London franchise but realising that most acting and showbiz talent was based in London they decided that they needed to have a London-based production centre with large studios to make their network shows. They converted some old film studios located in Teddington, on the western edge of London.”

ABC purchased the studios and the site in 1958 and production of the first Armchair Theatre production began in 1959.

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Picture: Artistic drawing of the studios in 1931

A Brief History Of Filmmaking At Teddington

Film production on the site dates back to the early 20th century and the pioneering days of filmmaking. Originally an impressive mansion called Weir House stood on the site and its owner, wealthy stockbroker Henry Chinnery, took a keen interest in the early experiments in cinema and allowed filmmakers to use his greenhouse as a studio!

1912 – a company called Ec-Ko Films used the grounds of the house to make a series of low budget comedy and cowboy films. Ec-Ko stayed for three years before moving on to another studio in Kew.

1916 to 1929 – a new company – Master Films – took over in 1916. They built a ‘dark’ (i.e. not glass) stage in the grounds measuring some 60ft by 40ft. This was probably where studio 2 later stood. Master made many films but apparently they weren’t up to much – apparently they suffered from several small fires due to using the new-fangled carbon arcs in the stage. Eventually it burnt down completely in 1929.

1931Teddington Film Studios was constructed by Henry Edwards and E G Norman. It is said that Edwards’ wife Chrissy White was said to be the driving force behind this. She was an actress and very keen to be in the ‘talkies’ so persuaded her husband and his business partner to build her a studio.

1931Warner Bros take out a lease on the studios in the same year – later buying them outright – using them mostly to make ‘quota quickies – British-made films which fulfilled a legal quota (created by the Cinematograph Films Act 1927) before American-made films could be shown.

The studios were renamed ‘Warner Brothers First National Productions Ltd‘.

Filming continued at the studios during the war, although the buildings suffering from severe bomb damaged.

The restored studios were re-opened by Danny Kaye in January 1948 – he was in the country to appear at the Palladium. But then the British film industry went into a period of decline which eventually led to:

November 1951 – Teddington went into ‘care and maintenance.’ Film-making ceased and during the next few years the site was used by the Hawker Aircraft Company, who had a factory just over the river in Ham, for storage.

Renaissance Of The Studios

With the film industry still in the doldrums, it was the emergence of television that led to the ‘rebirth’ of the studios.

TV Studio History gives us some background to ABC TV’s acquisition of the studios:

“In November 1958 ABC Television bought the site and began the task of adapting the studios for TV use. Although ABC did not have a London franchise they still had to supply programmes to the ITV network. One of their most successful series was Armchair Theatre. This series was being transmitted live from Didsbury (Manchester) each Sunday night. The perils of live drama included actors forgetting lines and cameras breaking down. In fact, during one memorable performance of Armchair Theatre one of the actors was actually found dead in his dressing room just before transmission. The rest of the cast carried on like troupers and improvised his lines to keep the show going.”

Ian Hendry Janet Munro Armchair Theatre Afternoon Of A Nymph Teddington Studio 2

Picture: Studio 2 Plan for Act 2 of ‘Afternoon of a Nymph’ (recorded in the autumn of 1961).

TV Studio History also describes the people and process involved:

“The designer was Assheton Gorton and it was directed by Philip Saville – a brilliantly talented man who was extremely demanding of all those who worked with him. Although the play was recorded, it was ‘as live’ since videotape was hardly ever edited in those days.”

Assheton Gorton was also a key production designer on Get Carter (1971)

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Pictures: Screenshots from ‘An Afternoon Of A Nymph’

Teddington Studios – After ABC TV

ABC TV was forced to merge with Rediffusion by the Independent Television Authority (ITA) and Thames Television was formed (in which ABC’s parent company had a 51% stake), Teddington Studios became the main production centre for Thames’s entertainment programming (e.g. gameshows, children’s programmes, dramas and comedy), while documentary shows, news and sports programming were made at Thames’s Euston Road headquarters.

After Thames lost its ITV franchise to Carlton Television, which took over in 1993, the studio became independent. Without a major broadcaster or studio group owning the studios, their future was questioned (as Carlton was going to commission most of its entertainment programming from independent producers), but it survived and stayed independent for 13 years, when in 2005, the Pinewood Studios Group bought the complex.

Pinewood Group’s lease on Teddington Studios expired in 2014. The studios are due to be demolished and turned into housing, with many programmes currently made there moved to other facilities. The studio buildings will be replaced by three modern apartment blocks and other associated housing.

Alas, after a rich history of over 100 years of film and television production, the credits for the studios have rolled for the last time.

Best wishes

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry

Further Reading

A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography:

Read:  ‘Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry’ by Gabriel Hershman

Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry

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