ITV is to air a 90-minute celebration of their famous Quay Street studios in Manchester as they wind down after nearly sixty years of television production in Goodbye Granadaland.
ITV in the North West is on the move. Since May 1956 the studios on Quay Street in Manchester have produced some of the most memorable television programmes in ITV’s history. From serial to drama, variety and comedy to music and chat. The home of Granada Television has seen every television genre possible.
“We wish to become exclusive programme contractors for the Manchester-Liverpool station for seven days a week” Wrote Granada boss Sidney Bernstein to the television regulator in September 1954. By May 1955 Granada had been awarded the weekday contract for ITV North West. The company had a history in the South of England as a chain of Theatres and cinemas, choosing the north for their television service in order not to compete with their own big screen ventures down south. It wouldn’t be until 1968 that Granada went seven-days a week and at the same time losing the Yorkshire region which they never had intended to broadcast to anyway, thus offered little to that area. Yorkshire Television finally filled the role for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire..
Initially the site of an old bus station on Bridge Street/New Bailey Street in Salford was chosen for the TV Centre, next door to Salford Central Railway Station – but for technical reasons it was later decided to use land a few minutes away on the other side of the River Irwell in Manchester.
Within eight months the Granada Centre, designed by architect Ralph Tubbs, had its first phase competed – on the 4 and a half acre site – at the southern end of Quay Street. More buildings would follow later, including the highrise tower block. While it was being constructed the adjacent 100-year-old Bonded Warehouse became the temporary office accommodation for the broadcaster.
BBC Television Centre had been planned in 1949 but it was Granada who beat the corporation to opening the first purpose built TV studios in the UK when in January 1956 the first studio became operational. It would be another four years before London’s TV Centre swung into operation.
Granada also decided to ‘get into the region’ unlike any other broadcaster at the time. While ATV may have been credited as the first to bring ‘regional news’ to UK screens (not that much of it was serious news in the early years – or from the same day as transmission – with reports often recorded the day before broadcast) Granada were to bring local news and features direct from ‘portable studios’ with their Travelling Eye outside broadcast units offering a much more up-to-date service than ATV’s output and with live regional pictures the news and events were current for the Granada viewers.
On May the 3rd 1956 Granada began transmitting to the North West. Yorkshire, due to transmitter issues, joined the service some weeks later. The Guardian newspaper reviewed the opening night:
“Last night with whatever feelings of excitement or that faint, creeping sense of disloyalty which is believed to affect newcomers to ITV, they were able at 7.30pm to throw a switch and enter a different orbit…
“The transmitter at Winter Hill was sending out a fine strong signal: there were reports that it had even reached the Midlands, and that it might conflict with ATV – a situation unparalleled in the whole history of British Television. An audience of over one million, [with a] hope that they would get something stupendous in return for the brass spent on adapting their TV sets sat about waiting for the start.
“They knew about one minor novelty, the Granada programme would begin with God Save The Queen – the BBC ends with it…”
The opening programme saw Quentin Reynolds take viewers on a tour of Granada Manchester meeting personalities and staff at the studios in Meet The People.
Since those early days thousands of productions have graced the studios including memorable ones such as ITV’s flagship saga Coronation Street, talent show Stars In Their Eyes, game shows including Criss Cross Quiz and The Krypton Factor, dramas such as A Family At War and Brideshead Revisited, investigative series World In Action, sitcom Nearest and Dearest, variety with The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club and music show Lift Off. In 2010 the studios also made history when they became home to the first televised leader debate which saw the three main political party leaders promote their beliefs and reasons to be elected into power.
Granada has given debuts to some of the comedy giants of the past 56 years, from Woody Allen making his only ever UK stand-up appearance in 1965 and brought to a wider audience many club stars who went onto bigger things including Jim Bowen, Paul Shane and Frank Carson. The strong backing of new generations of northern comedians meant Granada programming enjoyed the talents of comedy stars such as Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, Steve Coogan, Caroline Aherne and John Thompson.
Despite Granada’s great spin-machine it wasn’t immune to the criticism which other broadcasters such as LWT, ATV and Yorkshire Television were hit with by the television regulator. The IBA placed Coronation Street on its ‘dubious quality‘ list and some years earlier the serial had also been accused of ‘leveling down, rather than up‘ the quality of British television production standards.
The IBA also frowned upon Granada’s self importance, and their ease at dismissing other ITV regions’ output. Notably classing Tyne Tees as nothing more than a regional station and ATV as lowbrow variety. These long running mis-conceptions seem to be handed down to Granada staff with some even today believing the spin over the fact.
However it cannot be denied that Granada has provided some of the top quality output for ITV over the years, especially in the days when production and pleasing the audience came before stats, youth-aimed advertisers and profits before programme quality. “You can make good television and make money, though it’s much easier to make money without making good television.” former Granada MD Denis Forman said in 2012 in an attack on the current standard of ITV output.
The standards are raised on Saturday 15th June when ITV airs its fond farewell to the powerhouse of production that has been Granada Studios in Manchester. ITV in the North West have relocated ironically where Granada originally planned to be based over in Salford. Only Coronation Street is left to re-locate. The original site in Salford is now an NCP car park, the future of Quay Street seems to be with Ikea.
Presented by comedian Peter Kay (pictured below with the famous Granada rooftop sign which is now in storage at the Bonded Warehouse) the show features a rich archive to celebrate the huge number of productions that were created and produced there.
The documentary tracks the story of Granada from its inception in 1954, including rare archive footage of its co-founders – brothers and entertainment moguls Sidney and Cecil Bernstein, who set out their ambitious vision for the company from the outset: “We still want the best, what’s good enough for London will be good enough for the north, but they want something in addition. What Manchester sees today, London will see eventually.”
Over ninety minutes Peter romps around the studios from the rooftop to the basement, exploring all the nooks and crannies, unearthing the hidden secrets, and meeting the people who make the building tick.
Goodbye Granadaland, Saturday the 15th of June, 8.30pm – 10.00pm on ITV.