Troubadour Theatre: We tour Wembley’s new attraction, taking in its remarkable history as a film and TV studio
PUBLISHED: 15:11 02 August 2019
© DavidJensen 2019
From Beyonce to Chewbacca, Wembley’s cavernous 2,000 seat Troubadour Theatre has a long history of film and TV making, writes Bridget Galton.
Step into Wembley Park's new Troubadour Theatre and you are treading in the footsteps of Beyonce, Chewbacca and Blakey from On The Buses.
The cavernous bar that greets you was once part of Britain's largest single TV studio where Saturday night shiny-floor shows such as Britain's Got Talent, The Cube, X Factor and An Evening With Beyonce were recorded or broadcast live.
Indeed, the backstage corridor will be familiar to fans who watched X Factor judges doing the walkdown to enter the vast arena.
Today it's lined with gigantic photos of the talent show's climactic moments: Cheryl Cole celebrating with an ecstatic Little Mix, a fresh-faced One Direction, or Olly Murs duetting with Robbie Williams.
Our tour even took in Simon Cowell's former dresssing room, where the media mogul installed a bathroom simlar to his own at home - and, yes, there are mirrors and a big TV in there.
But before that, the site was home to the Lucullus Garden Restaurant during the 1924 British Empire Exhibition.
Wembley Stadium had gone up the year before the colonial exhibition, and the area was ripe for development.
After the expo closed, the restaurant site was bought amid dreams of building an American style film complex, which never quite materialised.
In 1928, British Sound Film Productions opened the first purpose-built sound studios with three sound stages.
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But a major fire curtailed production at the fledgling Wembley Studios, which were taken over by the American Fox Film Company in the 1930s to made cheap "quickies".
During the war, the sound stages were leased by the Army Kinematograph Service and RAF Film Unit although Ealing Studios made Ships With Wings there in 1941.
Then in 1955 the site was in at the start of independent television as the home of Rediffusion.
The newly constructed 14,000 sq ft Studio 5 first went on air in June 1960 with space enough for a circus ring, dance floor, full-scale orchestra, and an audience of 500.
It was the home of many of ITV's major productions, iconic shows like The Frost Report and Ready Steady Go! which, in 1964, clocked up its top rated broadcast with a performance by The Beatles.
From 1968 to 1972 it was taken over by London Weekend Television. TV dramas such as Upstairs Downstairs and comedy classic On The Buses were among the shows filmed there.
Then in the late 1970s and early 1980s it was used for feature films again, where scenes were shot for the likes of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Brazil, Yentl, and The Elephant Man.
From 1993 it was known as Fountain Studios - but the final X Factor show went out in December 2016 and it was sold for £16million to Wembley developer Quintain.
Its latest incarnation is as a theatre which can be configured into a flexible space seating 1,000 to 2,000, with generous toilet facilities and a suite of rehearsal rooms for hire.
It's currently hosting Dinosaur Live utnil Setpember 1 - we got a glimpse of the huge T Rex puppet on our tour - that will be followed by Chinese martial arts extravaganza Soul of Shaolin, then in October the National Theatre's award-winning War Horse. By then, a 300-seat restaurant is set to be be completed for audiences and Wembley Park visitors to enjoy.
Oliver Royds and Tristan Baker, founders of Troubadour Theatres, said: "We are delighted that Troubadour will provide diverse thetare programms at the heart of this area that has undergone an extraordinary transformation."