I have for a long time been fascinated with an obituary I read about a South Benfleet Resident sometime in the 1970s. It stated that the lady was a Benfleet resident and had been a film star pre-war. What is more she had starred in her husband’s films which had been shot in a studio in Benfleet.
I tried investigating to see if there was any connection with the Hollywood restaurant. My Archive colleague, Eileen Gamble, has explored this and found that the Hollywood was the name of a proposed housing estate with no film studio shown on the plans.
There the matter lay until the Archive’s chairman, Mark Thres, while looking for something else found two adverts and an article in the Benfleet Weekly Gazette for 1928 which I have put on the site. From these I can say the following:
- The film company was the “Carter-Boston (British) Film Producing Company”.
- The studio was at Boston Hall, Clarence Road, Benfleet.
- The Managing Director and Producer was Mr Albert Boston.
- The Secretary and Director was Mr Thomas E. Carter.
- Mr Carter lived in Blackheath
Since then I have found further evidence. The first piece is the 1953 Coronation Programme produced by Benfleet Council which had an advert and two competitions in it which suggest that Boston Hall is what is now a block of houses from 23 to 45 Clarence Road.
The other piece of evidence has come from old telephone directories that show that “The Carter-Boston British Film Co. Ltd” was operating for about four years from 1928 to 1933.
There are still a number of questions, but this evidence proves that a company with the purpose of producing films did exist in South Benfleet during the early 1930’s.
Studio Location: Boston Hall Clarence Road
The article and adverts say the studio is located at Boston Hall in Clarence Road, which raises the question of where, as Boston Hall does not exist in 2011. However when Eileen Gamble put the 1953 Coronation Programme on this site this was solved. In it was an advert for “The Boston Unit of the Albert Boston Co.” along with two competitions sponsored by the company owners for House Decoration and Flower Gardens.
The company were builders and contractors, general electrical and constructional engineers operating from “Garry”, 37 Clarence Road, South Benfleet. It was headed up by Albert Boston, with two other people mentioned A. Boston and L.M. Boston. They had telephone number South Benfleet 3326. The picture in the advert shows six pairs of semi-detached houses of which one is number 37. The houses are still there now. A further study of the Rate Books for Benfleet at the Essex Record Office shows that Boston Hall was redeveloped soon after 1939 as the new properties, and that Albert Boston rented them out.
Furthermore in the 1939 telephone directory is the first mention of the “Boston Unit Bldg Contrs, Boston Hall Clarence rd S.Benfleet 3326”. The number and company are therefore at this address, with Albert Boston in charge and this is the same address as the Carter-Boston Film Producing Company.
This evidence proves that Boston Hall was where 23 to 45 Clarence Road are now and this was the site of the studio.
I have no idea how the studio was laid out. The only source available is the original article in the Benfleet Weekly Gazette which stated:
- There was a “huge raised platform” which was “the second largest screen of its kind in England, being very little smaller than that at Elstree”. The platform was finished but the screen was still to be developed at the cost of £160.
- They intended building “a large Crystal Studio in the grounds, a building mainly of glass, for the purpose of doing as much film work as possible with natural light.”
- They were going to have their own dark rooms.
- They were going to have their “own Electric Light Plant”.
- The original advert stated that “Elaborate bungalows have already been built on Oriental and Japanese design, with a view to production”.
This is a lot to build on what I guess to be a small site. So possibly the site was bigger than I think. Especially as the original advert states that “Extensive film Studios” are to be developed on the grounds of Boston Hall.
Studio Time Span: 1928 to 1934
The only evidence discovered for when the studio existed comes from the telephone books of the period. The 1929 edition first shows that “The Carter-Boston British Film Co. Ltd” was in Clarence Road and had telephone number S.Benfleet 124. Later editions of the directory have the same information up until the 1933 edition. After that there is no mention of the company. This suggests that the company was going for about four years from late 1928 up until 1933.
The telephone directories give an additional piece of information – the star beside the entry. This means the studio had a private branch exchange which had two or more external exchange lines. Not many businesses would have more than one telephone line, and it also implies somebody was employed to to operate the exchange. This suggests a substantial business.
Studio Managing Director: Albert Boston
I know little about Albert Boston. The original advert stated that “The General Management of the Company is to be under the entire control of a well known local gentleman, Mr Albert Boston, who has had extensive experience in the film world.” I do not know how old he is and what his experience is, but I can judge that he is possibly the one with the money especially as the site is called Boston Hall.
The other mention I have of Albert Boston is in the 1953 Coronation Programme, where in the advert he states he is “Donee of His Most Gracious Majesty The Late King George VI”. I have no idea what this means, but it sound impressive.
Studio Actress: Louisa Mary Boston
The 1929 Electoral Register for Benfleet shows an Albert Boston and a Louisa Mary Boston living at Boston Hall. Louisa Mary Boston has a right to vote from residence and from her husband’s occupation. This shows that they were married, and that she was over 21 years of age. (The right for all people over 21 to vote was granted in 1928.)
Louisa Mary Boston is most likely to be the actress whose obituary I read. The question is when did she die? The records show a Lucia Mary Boston who died in 1972 which coincides with when the Boston Unit ceased to appear in the telephone directory. So this could be her.
Studio Company Secretary: Thomas E. Carter
I know little about Thomas E. Carter. The article interview states he has “given up a lucrative post with Lasky’s to put my hand to this.” Lasky’s presumably refers to the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation which became the Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation in 1927; later Paramount. So this would be an impressive background. What he did there I do not know.
I know nothing more. However BMD records show the death of a Thomas E Carter registered in the first quarter 1935 in Rochford aged 42. This is not him as a T E Carter is in the phone book with a Blackheath address in 1938.
I do not know of any films produced by the company, or who starred in them. I have tried various sources but with no luck. However the Radio 4 programme, Back Row, broadcast on 3rd July 2004 stated that eighty percent of British silent films are missing. They were scrapped to recover silver and melted down to turn them into waterproof paint. So it will be difficult the find any. Even if I did they are likely to be Nitrate stock which deteriorates with age and can be highly flammable. So the most I can hope to find is some records.
I also do not know who starred in these films. I have not been able to find the obituary of the artist which started me on this trek – I just know I read it. So it is unlikely I will find any film showing us what the studio produced.
Studio Business Model
I do not have any business model or prospectus for shares. However I can say a few general things about the business.
It is possible that the driver behind setting up the studio was the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 which stated that 7.5% of films shown by British Exhibitors had to be British. However the studio was most likely a silent production house but from 1926 onwards films slowly moved over to having sound with the classic The Jazz Singer appearing in 1927. By the early 1930s sound films were dominating, along with early colour films. So the studio might have found it difficult to sell its product.
The article shows that the original capital was £30,000 of which some was spent on building the studio. The wage bill is stated as being £200 per week. The average wage in the 1930’s was probably about £200 per year so this implies a staff of about 50 people, although some would be on considerably more than the minimum, it still implies a fair sized staff. £200 per week comes to £10,000 per year which means the studio could exist for sometime on the initial capital with nothing coming in and, with reductions in staff, could last several years.
It looks like the business might have been set up correctly but the market went against them. It cost considerably more to set up a film production company to produce sound and colour movies, and even some of the big American film production companies struggled to find the finance. So the company might have just failed.
Studio Further Questions
Though the evidence to date proves the company existed, and where it was most likely situated there are a number of questions still about it. So far I have stumbled over the evidence while looking for something else. If anybody has any more information, no matter how small, I will gratefully receive it and use it to update this page.