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Tuesday December 5th 2023

Passport To Pimlico | 1949

Passport to Pimlico location: railway bridge,Lambeth Road, London
Passport to Pimlico location: ‘Pimlico’ declares independence from the UK: railway bridge, Lambeth Road, London

The London district of Pimlico, slightly shabbier than its grand neighbour Westminster, grabs the opportunity to secede from Britain in this classic example the comedies produced by the famous Ealing Studios after World War II – but Pimlico is not where it was filmed.

When bomb damage uncovers documents revealing that Pimlico belongs to the French Duchy of Burgundy, the neighbourhood declares independence from the tyranny of rationing and licensing laws introduced during the austerity following the war years.

The film was made, not in Pimlico itself, but about a mile away, on the other side of the River Thames, where a huge set was built on a cleared bomb site on the Lambeth Road, SE1.

Although the bomb-flattened area has been totally redeveloped, if you stand on the Lambeth Road between Hercules Road and Kennington Road and look north toward Lambeth Bridge, you can clearly recognise the railway arches that dominated the set.

Passport to Pimlico location: Ealing Studios, Ealing, London
Passport to Pimlico location: the famed Ealing Studios, Ealing, London

The old Ealing Studios, Ealing Green, are still standing, and have recently seen a resurgence of activity. You can't miss the familiar laurel wreath logo on the old studio building, best known for the series of classic comedies of the 40s and 50s.

The common theme of these gentle, though often quite dark, films touched a chord in strictly-regulated postwar Britain: resourceful common people subverting pompous bureaucracy.

As well as studio filming for Passport to Pimlico, it was at Ealing that villagers kept their local steam train on the rails despite the underhand efforts of a modern, efficient (and therefore untrustworthy) bus company (The Titfield Thunderbolt); a young Alec Guinness took on big business as the inventor of an indestructible new cloth (The Man In The White Suit) and Mrs Wilberforce thwarted the plans of the gang of robbers in The Ladykillers.

Ealing, a leafy suburb of west London, was a base for filming since the early years of the 20th century, though the studio itself dates from 1931.

In the Thirties, northern entertainers Gracie Fields and George Formby scored huge hits with their populist comedies, but it was under the guidance of Michael Balcon that the studio really hit its stride, producing not just the comedies but classic stiff-upper-lippers such as Scott of the Antarctic (with John Mills as ill-fated polar explorer Captain Scott) and Atlantic convoy drama The Cruel Sea.

After the studio’s fortunes waned in the late Fifties, it was taken over by the BBC to be used as television studios. Coming close to being demolished, the studio has been granted a new lease of life (scenes for Notting Hill and reshoots for Star Wars Episode II were filmed at Ealing).

Oliver Parker's 2002 The Importance of Being Earnest was the first production based in the studio since the Fifties. You can see the brand new entrance to the complex to the right of the old building.

Almost directly opposite the studio is the Red Lion, 13 St Mary’s Road, the pub where cast and crew would unwind after filming. The bar is adorned with Ealing Studios posters and photographs of the famous faces who worked there.