Consortium prepares to take the home of Britain's film industry into the digital age

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EALING STUDIOS, one of the most famous names in British film, is to be turned into a digital studio in a deal announced by the National Film and Television School yesterday.

The studios are being bought by a consortium involving Fragile Films, an independent television company, The Idea Factory, a San Francisco- based digital development company, and the London-based real estate company, Manhattan Loft Commercial. The studios were bought by the National Film and Television School in 1995.

Barnaby Thompson, who co-runs Fragile Films, which was behind recent hits such as An Ideal Husband and Spiceworld, said that the revamped studios would combine traditional film and television production with new media and Internet start-ups. "Film-wise, we hope to reinvigorate the Ealing brand," Mr Thompson said. "Unlike Pinewood and Shepperton, which are thought of mainly as facilities, Ealing has this tradition of making films. We want to rebuild the studios on the American model, where they are about creating a community of like-minded people who are making things, but our paradigm is more related to the new media than the old."

The consortium beat off competition from around 20 bids. Mr Thompson believes that they won because of their commitment to continuing film- making at the studios, which produced classics such as Passport To Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets and Whisky Galore. More recently the studios were used for some scenes in Notting Hill. "There was a real keeness both from the National Film and Television School and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that the studios remain film studios," he said. "We make comedies which were inspired by the Ealing comedies." Fragile Films, which was founded in 1996, is currently in post production on Kevin and Perry, starring Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke. John Kao,founder of The Idea Factory, has been involved in producing films since 1987. His credits include work on sex, lies and videotape, Mr Baseball and The Golden Child.

Mr Thompson said: "Ealing is the greatest name in British film and we are thrilled to be taking this glorious institution into the 21st century," he said. "We hope the films we make there live up to the name."