The Television Centre of the north switches off its lights for the final time this weekend as Granada moves from its Quay Street facility to MediaCity UK. A special show, fronted by Granada fan and comedian Peter Kay airs on ITV1 tomorrow night to say goodbye to this iconic building.
Audiences for six decades have seen countless shows recorded from Stars in their Eyes to The Jeremy Kyle Show. It was even the site of a television themed theme park – the Granada Studios Tour – the first of its kind in the UK, the highlight of which was a trip down the world’s most famous cobbles.
Granada prides itself on “television worth watching” – a motto that is carved like a skein of rock into the studios on Quay Street. Join us as we run down some of the most successful and sadly forgotten gems – from the north – from Granadaland.
Quay Street Fast Facts:
- The Beatles’ first television performance was recorded here – as was the first televised General Election Debate in 2010
- It is claimed (although not verified) the Quay Street studios are built on the site of a pauper’s grave
- Granada beat the BBC to it by four years – the now demolished Oxford Road studios were built in 1961
No summary of Granada’s impact on the cultural landscape would be complete without some mention of Coronation Street. But less remembered was Granada’s attempt to take on Neighbours and Home and Away with daytime soap Families.
Families bridged the Anglo-Australian gap with its story lines concerning the Thompson family (in leafy Cheshire) and the Stevens family (in sunny Canberra). Tackling a number of taboo subjects for a daytime soap, including mental health problems, incest and suicide, it ran for three years in the early 90’s. Cast members included Jude Law in an early role, and the series continues to be fondly remembered two decades on from its last appearance.
Also see: Coronation Street, Revelations, Albion Market
Hard-hitting documentary series World in Action made many headlines during its 35 year run. Its perhaps most famous achievement was a long-running campaign to prove the innocence of the Birmingham Six. No organisation or individual was safe from its guerrilla journalism. Determined, dogged, and with an appetite for controversy, there has been nothing like it before or since.
Famously, David Plowright told junior researcher Paul Greengrass that Granada’s role was to “make trouble”. Granada certainly did and paid the price for this in the form of expensive libel cases when wrong accusations against the Metropolitan Police and Marks and Spencer were made in the 1990’s. World in Action’s continued war of attrition with the Independent Broadcasting Authority and other commercial pressures meant that the writing was on the wall and it was replaced by the Tonight programme in 1998.
Also see: 7 Up, Disappearing World
Proclaiming itself as television’s toughest quiz, The Krypton Factor, with it’s mix of brain-warping intelligence tests and the infamous assault course burst onto our screens in 1977.
Millions of viewers tuned in each week to watch contestants tackle rounds such as the dreaded flight simulator, whilst Steve Coogan (who would later find fame as Alan Partridge) made some early appearances in the Observation rounds. The Intelligence test devised by the University of Manchester’s Maths department led some contestants to tears with the complexity of some of the challenges.
The Krypton Factor’s end came with a final series that ditched many of the intelligence elements in favour of more physical challenges. It was finally cancelled in 1995. A remake of the series, fronted by Ben Shepherd, failed to ignite as much excitement in 2009.
Also see: University Challenge, Criss Cross Quiz, Runway
Granada Reports have always been trailblazing for a regional news bulletin. Indeed, to date, it is the only regional news broadcast to have won a BAFTA. With alumni including Tony Wilson, Bob Greaves, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan and Gordon Burns, it’s not difficult to see why.
Also: Party People, Granada Up Front
Created by Paul Abbott (Shameless) and Key Mellor (Band of Gold), Ward B1 of South Park Hospital was home to a number of hard-hitting story lines for which Children’s Ward won a BAFTA in 1996. Tackling cancer, drug addiction, alcoholism and rape over its 12 year run, it wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries of it’s Children’s ITV slot.
Producer Russell T. Davies (of later Doctor Who fame) was justifiably proud of his time on the series and often Children’s Ward courted controversy with some episodes viewed as graciously violent and unsuitable for children. The series also focused on the relationships between the adult characters as well as the children and being a fertile breeding ground for upcoming actors and writers.Patients through the doors of the ward included Tim Vincent, Jane Danson (now propping up the Rovers as Leanne Battersby), Ralf Little and Maxine Peake amongst others.
Children’s Ward demise came when the balance of drama tipped in favour of more comedy on the ward, resulting in the series losing its loyal following and the ward’s doors closed in 2000.
Granada was leading in yet another area during the 1970’s – in the promotion of home-grown music. This was thanks to the presence of music mogul Anthony H. Wilson, a well respected/hated (depending on who you asked) news presenter – and owner of Factory Records, famous for producing the likes of Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and the Happy Mondays. Wilson was at the forefront of the punk movement, and used So It Goes to showcase the Sex Pistols – four months before their encounter with Bill Grundy.
In a decade where the BBC was still whispering with Bob Harris’ Old Grey Whistle Test, Wilson was at the cutting edge – perhaps too literally as an expletive filled appearance by Iggy Pop and Wilson’s subsequent fall out with the bosses put paid to any hope of a third series. But for two summers in the 70’s, Quay Street was pushing the boundaries of music.
Also: The Other Side of Midnight, The New Sessions
Based on novels by Kenneth Royce, quirky drama The XYY Man followed the adventures of ‘Spider’ Scott, a cat-burgular who ends up very much in demand despite his efforts to go straight. Scott’s extra ‘Y’ chromosome meaning that despite his best efforts, going straight is not an option – especially with MI5 looking to utilise Scott’s ‘talents’.
Hot on Scott’s heels were Detective Sergeant Bulman and his sidekick Willis (Don Henderson and Dennis Blanche), both of whom would go on to have their own adventures in Strangers (1978-1982) and Bulman (1985-1987). Bulman’s eccentric character, combined with Henderson’s portrayal sealed his fate as one of television’s memorable detectives.
Also: The Jewel in the Crown, Strangers, A Family at War
It seems appropriate to hand over to one of the legendary continuity announcers, Colin Weston, for the final word.
Granadaland: From the North airs on Saturday 15 June on ITV1 at 8.30pm. Network DVD have a sale on many Granada titles (including Coronation Street, 7 Up and World in Action) for the next two weeks here.