Associated British Picture Corporation

Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC), originally British International Pictures (BIP), was a British film production, distribution and exhibition company active from 1927 until 1970 when it was absorbed into EMI. ABPC also owned approximately 500 cinemas in Britain by 1943.[1] The studio was partly owned by Warner Bros. from about 1940 until 1969; the American company also owned a stake in ABPC's distribution arm, Warner-Pathé, from 1958. It formed one half of a vertically integrated film industry duopoly in Britain with the Rank Organisation.

Associated British Picture Corporation
FateFolded into EMI-Elstree
England, United Kingdom

Film production, distribution and exhibition

From 1927 to 1945

The company was founded during 1927 by Scottish solicitor John Maxwell after he had purchased British National Studios and its Elstree Studios complex and merged it with his ABC Cinemas circuit, renaming the company British International Pictures. The Wardour Film Company, with Maxwell as chairman, was the distributor of BIP films.[2] He appointed Joseph Grossman, formerly manager of the Stoll Studios, his Studio Manager. During its early years the company's most prominent work was that directed by Alfred Hitchcock, including the film Blackmail (1929), usually regarded as the first British all-talkie. Hitchcock left the company in 1933 to work for the rival British Gaumont.

Under Maxwell's paternalistic management the company prospered and during 1933 it acquired British Pathé, which as Associated British Pathé now functioned as the distribution division.[3] The company was renamed Associated British Picture Corporation in 1933 and was now in a position to vertically integrate production, distribution and exhibition of films.[4]

After Maxwell's death in October 1940,[5] his widow Catherine sold a large number of shares to Warner Bros., who, although the Maxwell family remained the largest shareholders, were able to exercise a measure of control. The studio at Elstree was taken over by the government for the duration of the war, and film production was restricted to B-Pictures made at the company's smaller studio in Welwyn Garden City.[5] This studio complex closed in 1950.[6]

After the Second World War

Much of the output of the studio was routine, which restricted its success outside the UK, but after World War II, the company contracted with Warner (by now the largest shareholder, owning 40% of the studio)[7] for the distribution of its films in the United States.

Robert Clark was head of production for the company between 1949 and 1958, and insisted on tight budgeting and the use of pre-existing properties such as books or plays as these already had a demonstrated "public value". Of the 21 films made by ABPC during the 1950s, only two were derived from original screenplays.[8] German-born Frederick Gotfurt was Clark's scenario editor in this period, but his command of English was imperfect and the contracted actor Richard Todd doubted Gotfurt's ability to access the quality of the dialogue in a script.[9] "It was a dreadful place", said Richard Attenborough when remembering ABPC's Elstree facility. "It created nothing in terms of a feeling of commitment."[10] During this period though, the company produced its best remembered titles such as The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1954), and Ice Cold in Alex (1958), whose director J. Lee Thompson was ABPC's most productive during the 1950s.[11][12]

From 1958 onwards

Policies changed after Clark left in January 1958. New projects from the company were limited to those using contracted television comedy performers, and investment in independent productions. The use of Elstree for television production increased.[13] Later successful features from ABPC itself included several films built around the pop singer Cliff Richard, such as The Young Ones (1961) and Summer Holiday (1963).[11]

In 1962, the company acquired 50% of the shares of Anglo-Amalgamated, and made an arrangement with the Grade Organisation to support the production of films by independent producers.[14] During the 1960s, however, the fortunes of the company declined, and in 1967 Seven Arts, the new owners of Warner, decided to dispose of its holdings in ABPC which was purchased in 1968 by EMI, who acquired the remaining stock the following year.[15] (For the subsequent history, see EMI Films.) The entire ABPC library is now owned by StudioCanal.[16]

Subsidiaries of Associated British Picture Corporation

Wholly owned

Jointly owned

  • Warner-Pathé Distributors Ltd. (50%) from 1958[17]
  • Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors. (50%) from 1962


  1. "Foreign Trade: Cinemonopoly". Time. New York. 20 December 1943.
  2. McFarlane, Brian (2003). The Encyclopedia of British Film. London: Methuen/BFI. p. 443.
  3. "History of British Pathé: A Golden Age: 1933 to 1958". British Pathé. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  4. Burton, Alan; Chibnall, Steve (2013). Historical Dictionary of British Cinema. Lanham, MD and Plymouth, England: Scarecrow Press. p. 43.
  5. Murphy, Robert (2000). British Cinema and the Second World War. London & New York: Continuum. p. 12.
  6. Warren, Patricia (2001). British Film Studios: An Illustrated History. B. T. Batsford. p. 182.
  7. Davis, Ronald L. Just Making Movies: Company Directors on the Studio System Vincent Sherman Interview 2005 University of Kentucky Press, p.96
  8. Porter, Vincent (2000). "Outsiders in England The films of the Associated British Picture Corporation, 1949–58". In Ashby, Justine; Higson, Andrew (eds.). British Cinema, Past and Present. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. p. 153.
  9. Porter, p.156
  10. Porter, p.152
  11. Alexander, Lou (2003–14). "Associated British Picture Corporation (1933–70)". BFI screenonline. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  12. Porter, p.161
  13. Porter, p.163
  14. "Company Meeting: Associated British Picture Corporation". The Spectator. 16 August 1962. p. 25. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  15. Warren, Patricia (2001). British Film Studios: An Illustrated History. London: B. T. Batsford. p. 75.
  16. Mitchell, Wendy (17 December 2012). "Network Distributing acquires rights to 450 films from StudioCanal library". Screen Daily. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  17. Luke McKernan "Pathé", BFI screenonline; Brian McFarlane Encyclopedia of British Film, London: Methen/BFI, 2003, p.511-12
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