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Euston Films

Production Company

Main image of Euston Films

Euston Films Ltd was founded in March 1971, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Thames Television. There were a number of factors behind its inception, both creative and economic, but its remit was the production of filmed drama for the domestic audience with a view to further sales abroad. In the decades that followed, Euston was responsible for a stream of popular and critically acclaimed series and single films that form an important part of the history of television drama. As well as producing landmark shows like The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78), Minder (ITV, 1979-94), and Widows (ITV, 1983-85), it established enduring television careers for actors and writers such as John Thaw, Dennis Waterman, Tom Bell and Lynda La Plante. The company is probably best remembered for crime thrillers set in seedy London locations, but this only represented a part of its varied output. Euston is important because it popularised a method of television production that was filmed entirely on location, with rapid turnaround times and no rehearsal, which has become the standard method by which television drama is now made. It was a relentlessly ambitious company, and this ambition led to some artistic triumphs as well its gradual decline.

Euston Films was formed after Thames executives Lloyd Shirley, George Taylor and Brian Tesler recognised that the Mike Hodges-directed Suspect (ITV, 1969) could be a model for a new type of filmed drama. The company entered production with a reinvention of an existing Thames show, Special Branch (ITV, 1969-74). This decision was influenced by time constraints, and avoided the risk of developing something entirely new to the public. Although the series had a muted response, it enabled the regular crew to acclimatise to the new system of production and, most importantly, introduced Ted Childs as the producer of the second series. Childs went on to produce the single drama Regan (ITV, tx, 4/6/1974), in Euston's Armchair Cinema (1974-75) slot, and this in turn led to The Sweeney. The series gained massive ratings, press notoriety, and ran for four years. It made stars of John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, and will go down in popular history as the definitive Euston production.

While the new production methods had achieved success, there were also weaknesses which could lead to a predictable action formula described by the crew as 'kick, bollock and scramble'. But the success of The Sweeney allowed the company (under the influence of incoming producer Verity Lambert and script editor Linda Agran) to develop more ambitious projects. Lambert commissioned Out (ITV, 1978) from Trevor Preston (a writer on The Sweeney) with Barry Hanson acting as producer. Hanson had previously worked on Play for Today (BBC, 1970-84) and with David Rose for BBC Birmingham, and the mixture of dramatic styles generated popular acclaim and intense critical debate. Preston and director Jim Goddard worked together subsequently on Fox (ITV, 1980), and further evidence of Euston's ambition was seen in the lavish and much underrated revival of Quatermass (ITV, 1979). Although some of these serials, and other single dramas such as The Knowledge (ITV, 1979), were successful, by definition they were not destined for a long-running place in the ITV schedules, and it became increasingly important that a durable ratings 'banker' should be developed.

Euston found this with Leon Griffiths' Minder (ITV, 1979-94), which had a low-key start, mainly due to an interruption from the lengthy ITV strike and the fact that the audience found it initially confusing to see Dennis Waterman in a more comedic role, but it went on to become Euston's longest-running series, and a reliable backup when other productions were lacking. This was followed by Widows (1983) a huge popular and critical success which led to a glittering writing career for the former Euston actress Lynda La Plante.

Although Minder and Widows were set in familiar territory, Euston was eager to break into the lucrative US market, a policy that produced the glossy colonial travelogue The Flame Trees of Thika (ITV, 1981) and, more successfully, the epic spy story Reilly, Ace of Spies (ITV, 1983). Reilly's success led to a more specific focus on the production of export-friendly serials and mini-series, with occasional forays into series for minority audiences such as Prospects (Channel 4, 1986). It could be argued that the subsequent lack of long-term impact (Minder aside) in ITV's peak-time schedule, and the departures of Verity Lambert and Linda Agran sowed the seeds of Euston's eventual downfall.

By the late 1980s, Euston was simply one production company among the many that had emerged in an increasingly deregulated environment. An alliance with Goldwyn resulted in some undistinguished films intended for theatrical release, and attempts to create new popular drama series - such as Capital City (ITV, 1989-90) - failed, though Minder valiantly continued in the absence of new successes. Any chance of the company renewing itself was ended when Thames lost its ITV franchise, and ironically, an adaptation of Angus Wilson's Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (ITV, 1992) - one of Euston's last productions - was its best-received for many years. Minder continued to be made for Central Television until the mid-90s, but when the series ended the company simply faded away, its demise scarcely acknowledged in the media.

Euston had a radical impact on the television industry, leading the field in the shift from studio-produced drama to location-based filming, and creating a lasting model of a company with a small administrative staff hiring equipment and freelance staff on a project-by-project basis. But it will ultimately be remembered for the power of its best drama, and its early commitment to allowing writers, directors and stars to flourish creatively. There's an irony that HBO, the US company which currently produces highly-respected television drama, has flourished by drawing creative people away from the networks and allowing them to follow their instincts - an approach originated by Euston.

John Williams

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Sailor's Return, The (1978)Sailor's Return, The (1978)

An interracial marriage provokes disaster in Victorian England

Thumbnail image of Danger U.X.B. (1979)Danger U.X.B. (1979)

White-knuckle drama following a bomb-disposal unit in Blitz-torn London

Thumbnail image of Flame Trees of Thika, The (1981)Flame Trees of Thika, The (1981)

Epic drama of English settlers in 1910s Kenya, starring Hayley Mills

Thumbnail image of Fox (1980)Fox (1980)

Ambitious 13-part drama following a South London family

Thumbnail image of Knowledge, The (1979)Knowledge, The (1979)

Classic Jack Rosenthal play about four would-be London cabbies

Thumbnail image of Minder (1979-94)Minder (1979-94)

A nice little earner for George Cole and Dennis Waterman

Thumbnail image of Nation's Health, The (1983)Nation's Health, The (1983)

Uncomfortably realistic depiction of the British medical profession

Thumbnail image of Out (1978)Out (1978)

Gritty crime drama about a man seeking revenge on a police informer

Thumbnail image of Quatermass (1979)Quatermass (1979)

England's young are at the mercy of a mysterious extraterrestrial force

Thumbnail image of Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983)Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983)

Highly-rated Great War espionage drama

Thumbnail image of Special Branch (1969-74)Special Branch (1969-74)

Crime/espionage drama series, the forerunner of 'The Sweeney'

Thumbnail image of Sweeney, The (1975-78)Sweeney, The (1975-78)

Tough 1970s police drama with John Thaw and Dennis Waterman

Thumbnail image of Widows (1983-85)Widows (1983-85)

Lynda La Plante's groundbreaking female-led heist drama

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Thumbnail image of Goddard, Jim (1936-2013)Goddard, Jim (1936-2013)

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Thumbnail image of Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)

Producer, Executive

Thumbnail image of Preston, TrevorPreston, Trevor


Thumbnail image of ITVITV


Thumbnail image of Thames TelevisionThames Television

Broadcaster, Production Company

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