Helen Bench

Neighbourhood Culture

Ealing. Once upon a time it held the title of Queen of the Suburbs with its Victorian tube links and abundant green spaces. But during the twentieth century it played a surprisingly important cultural role in the capital.

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When Will Barker bought the White Lodge on Ealing Green in 1902, I’m not sure even he would have envisioned that Ealing Studios would become the longest running studio in the world for film production. It survived the transition from silent to talkies and had a bit of a hey-day in post-war London. The BBC took over the studios for much of the latter part of the twentieth century but more recently, it has continued to boast an impressive production list, from 1999’s Notting Hill to 2014’s films The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game as well as the recognisable downstairs of Downton Abbey (who needs Highclere Castle?).

Celebrity spotting or posing for headshots? Wallace loves Ealing’s green spaces, which usually have an interesting cultural history too.

Celebrity spotting or posing for headshots? Wallace loves Ealing’s green spaces, which usually have an interesting cultural history too.

Michael Balcon is a bit of big name among Ealing residents – not only is a cheap and cheerful watering hole named in his honour but he also headed up the studios during its Golden Era. For those who haven’t heard of him, Michael Balcon produced some of Alfred Hitchcock’s greats, including The 39 Steps. He has been described by the British Film Institute as ‘one of the most important and influential figures in the history of British film’. He’s also six-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis’ grandfather. Under his leadership, Ealing Studios became world famous.

Film still plays a role in Ealing’s cultural map. Now in its sixth year, Ealing Film Festival will take place in February 2018. It celebrates films which have a locational connection to Ealing, featuring 2016’s Eddie the Eagle which was shot in North Ealing, as well as locally-produced films in conjunction with the University of West London.

Additionally, Ealing featured very recently in the Doc n’ Roll Film Festival 2017 (the UK’s music documentary film festival). Suburban Steps to Rockland is a documentary about the Ealing Club, a music venue in 1960s Ealing from where the careers of the likes of the Who and the Rolling Stones were launched. Though the venue itself has ceased to exist, the showing of the documentary at the Barbican in November created a stir in Ealing’s cultural hubs. Ealing also hosted the venues for music videos including for Our House by Madness and Common People by Pulp.

Ealing continues to enjoy its music scene with the likes of an annual Jazz Festival, Opera in the Park and a Blues Festival, as well as the ever-popular Beer Festival, which all take place moments away from Ealing Studios in Walpole Park (where Pitzhanger Manor House – built by Sir John Soane – resides).

Walpole Park becomes the venue for many a summer festival frivolity.

Walpole Park becomes the venue for many a summer festival frivolity.

There’s a great deal of culture to be getting on with in Ealing and I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface in this blog. My advice is to stop for a pizza while you mull over your next move – Santa Maria Pizzeria, opposite Ealing Studios, was named a Timeout and Evening Standard Best London Pizza Restaurant (a top cultural accolade indeed).

Not to be missed – Santa Maria’s pizzas can also be consumed in next door’s (dog friendly!) Red Lion.

Not to be missed – Santa Maria’s pizzas can also be consumed in next door’s (dog friendly!) Red Lion.

Cultural Map:

  • Green – The Sir Michael Balcon Pub
  • Red – Santa Maria Pizzeria
  • Yellow – Ealing Studios
  • Blue – location of the Ealing Club

BFI quote: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tours/ealing/tour2.html

Doc n’ Roll: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2017/event/the-story-of-the-ealing-club-15-screentalk

Santa Maria top London pizzeria: https://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/londons-best-restaurants-for-pizza

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