Early days as a cinema
The building started life as Byfeld Hall on 20th December 1906. It was built as an ‘entertainment centre’ for the local community. Although the bioscope, an early form of cinema was one of the first of its attractions – early audiences were treated to footage of King Edward VII’s funeral - the hall was used for a variety of entertainment activities:
The Barnes Official Guide of the time carried an advertisement, announcing that:
This Hall has a seating accommodation of 500, is equipped with a large stage and properties, allowing for the production of plays of modern requirements. For Dancing the floor is second to none, accommodating 150 dancers with comfort. Both halls are heated throughout, and lighted by electricity, and are up to date in every detail.
In 1910 the building was renamed as the Barnes Cinema on receipt of its first cinematograph licence; with the first week’s programmes including ‘The Lady of the Lake’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade screening to full houses. The Barnes Cinema gave way to the new Byfeld Hall Cinema, which was extensively refurbished after the First World War and in October 1919 boasted a tea lounge and a ‘high-class orchestra’. Seats in the new grand balcony were 2s. 4d.. Within a month, the name was altered to The Picture House (whose name can still be seen on the Eastern side of the building) and by 1922 it became the Barnes Picture House.
The West End comes to Barnes
During the mid 1920s, a young theatrical producer, Philip Ridgeway, acquired the lease to create Barnes Theatre. Despite being relatively short-lived, his venture was incredibly successful; his production of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, starring the young Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies, saw hundreds of people unable to get seats and the national press announcing that all the celebrities of the time were in attendance and that noted lords and ladies were turned away from the packed house. Ridgeway continued to bring the West End to Barnes, presenting a range of plays including a notable 'watershed' productions of Chekhov plays directed by Theodore Komisarjevsky, whose casts included the emerging talents of 22-year old John Gielgud, Jean Forbes-Robertson, 19-year old Robert Newton and Charles Laughton, making his professional debut with Claude Rains in Gogol's The Government Inspector.
Back to a cinema
The building reopened as a cinema again under the name of The Ranelagh in January 1930 billing itself as ‘the latest atmospheric cinema’. The Ranelagh continued as one of the district’s ‘most comfortable and intimate cinemas’ until March 1940 when the war forced its closure. But on Monday, November 15th, 1943, it re-opened once again, as The Plaza, with Betty Grable and Cesar Romero starring in ‘Coney Island’. A fire in the projection room caused The Plaza to close for a few months in 1951, and its reopening saw a new name – The New Vandyke.
After a few years as a studio for television commercials, in 1966 it was converted to the ‘Olympic Sound Studios’, with room enough to house a seventy-piece orchestra.
The Rolling Stones were among the first clients of ‘Olympic Studios’ recording six consecutive albums between 1966 and 1972. The Beatles worked at the studio to record the original tracks of ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Baby, You're a Rich Man’. The Who recorded their classic albums ‘Who's Next’ and ‘Who Are You’. It was also where Led Zeppelin recorded their debut in October 1968, prompting engineer and mixer Glyn Johns to call the album ‘a milestone…unbelievable…one of the best rock’n’roll albums ever made, and I’m just grateful that I was there’.
used the studio for their ground breaking album A Night at the Opera’. The studio saw the production of many other landmark albums and singles by artists such as The Small Faces, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
, and Procol Harum's
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’.
The studio also produced film music for The Italian Job (1969); the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show was recorded in Studio Two in 1975. Over the next 30+ years numerous artists recorded in 117-123 Church Road: from David Bowie, The Jam, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Queen, and Oasis to Barbara Streisand Madonna, Prince and The Spice Girls.
In its heyday of the early Seventies, Olympic achieved a turnover of £4m, and was acquired by Richard Branson’s Virgin company in 1987, subsequently becoming part of EMI’s portfolio when the major acquired Virgin in 1992. U2 were the last band to record there with their album ‘No Line on The Horizon’.
To see some of the artists who recorded and mixed at Olympic Studios, click here
Here’s a list of just some of the many artists who have recorded and mixed between these walls.
Artist roster 1966-2009 (Alphabetical)
Badly Drawn Boy
Barclay James Harvest
Chris De Burgh
Corinne Bailey Rae
Fine Young Cannibals
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Keith Flint (Prodigy)
Mott the Hoople
Pet Shop Boys
The Pretty Things
The Rolling Stones
Sammy Davis Jr
Steve Miller Band
Stiff Little Fingers
Tears for Fears
Terence Trent D’Arby
Thanks to Graeme Cruickshank and The Barnes & Mortlake History Society for helping us piece together the history of the site.