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The rest of Britain - today (more or less)

 

Ever since I began this project I've had people emailing me asking me to include all the other studios around the UK.  Well, sorry, but I am trying to fit work, home and some sort of social life into my time.  However, tucked away at the end of my 'history of old ITV studios in London' page was a section that began as a summary of what happened to the old ITV studios around the rest of the country.  Since then it has expanded a bit to include a few other studios so it's probably about time it was given its own page.  This is it.

Incidentally - I'm only including TV production studios that make a variety of programmes for network transmission on UK channels - not those built for a specific soap (eg Doctors) or regional news studios.  I'm also covering 4-waller (film) studios making TV drama.

Please don't ask me why I'm not including the history of all the various Southern/Central/Border TV studios or whatever your particular interest is.  I'm simply summarising here what we have now and have had for the past four or five years in the UK.  If you want to create your own history of regional studios - feel free and I'll happily give your site a link!

 

 

 

film and TV studios listed below...

 

ex-ITV studios: (TVS TV Theatre - Gillingham; Maidstone Studios; NEP Studio 1 - Cardiff; EPIC - Norwich; Lenton Lane - Nottingham)

current/recent ITV studios: (The Manchester Studios; The Leeds Studios)

Independent national/regional studios:

Paintworks - Bristol (includes section on HTV Bristol/Bath Road Studios);  Bottle Yard Studios - Bristol

Black Hangar Studios - Hampshire

Dragon International Studios - South Wales; Barcud Derwen - North Wales; Pinewood Studio Wales - South Wales

UTV - Belfast; Titanic Studios - Belfast; Ardmore Studios - Bray, Republic of Ireland

Film City - Glasgow

Studio 81 - Leeds

Web Studios - West Manchester; The Pie Factory - Salford; Manchester Island - Bolton; The Sharp Project - North East Manchester; The Space Project - East Manchester

MediaCityUK (Peel/dock10) - Salford

Old BBC regional production studios (Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle, Southampton)

Current BBC studios (Llandaff - Cardiff;  Roath Lock - Cardiff;  Blackstaff - Belfast;  Pacific Quay - Glasgow;  Dumbarton - near Glasgow)

 

 

 

Ex-ITV regional studios

Since the mid 1990s most production studios around the country owned by Carlton and Granada - eventually becoming 'ITV plc' - have been sold off or closed down.  These were in Bristol (HTV West), Cardiff (HTV Wales), Birmingham (Central), Newcastle (Tyne Tees), Carlisle (Border), Plymouth (Westcountry), Maidstone (TVS), Nottingham (Central), Norwich (Anglia), Southampton (Meridian), Albert Dock Liverpool (Granada) and Gillingham (TVS).

Thanks to Matthew Hadley for this image of the TVS Television Theatre

 

Why Gillingham???

All right, it closed well before the mid 1990s so it shouldn't be included in the list anyway.  I'm just intrigued by an ITV production studio being built in a modestly sized town not previously or since particularly noted for its cultural output.  With apologies to the good people of Gillingham, obviously.

The studio in Gillingham had originally been a 1931 Plaza cinema.  It was quickly converted to a studio as the new Maidstone Studios would not be ready in time for TVS to begin broadcasting to the new South East ITV region on 1st January 1982.  They called it the 'TVS Television Theatre'.  It had a useable floor area of about 5,400 sq ft, permanent audience seating for 260 and was equipped with five Marconi Mk IXB cameras.

The original intention had been to sell it off as soon as Maidstone was open but TVS hung onto it for a while, making programmes such as regional afternoon magazine Not for Women Only and from 1986 The Television Show, which was broadcast live from here on Sunday evenings across the ITV network.

Oddly, the show that kept the studio open was Muppets spin-off Fraggle Rock, which ran from 1983-1987.  Once this ended the studio was hardly used so it was put up for sale early in 1988 and was purchased by Network One TV in June 1989.  (This company also took over the Greenwood in 1990.)  Masterchef was made here then, plus a handful of other shows.  It closed as a studio in July 1991 and following a brief spell as a Quasar laser gaming centre (that's more like it!) it lay empty for several years and was demolished in 2001.

The Gillingham studio as it appeared in an article in a local newspaper.  Thanks to Paul Burton for sending me this.

 

 

Outside London, apart from local news studios only The Manchester Studios (Granada) and The Leeds Studios (Yorkshire) are still owned by ITV.  More on them later.  However, it's not all bad news...

The ex ITV studios in Maidstone, Cardiff and Norwich have fortunately survived as independent facilities...

 

Maidstone Studios.  The large green building is studio 5.  The car park in front of the studios is due to become a housing development.  Since this photo was taken some of the grassed area at the back of the studios has become car parking to make up for the lost area in front.

with thanks to the Maidstone Studios website

 

Maidstone Studios were built by TVS in 1982/83.  In 1993 Meridian Broadcasting took over the south-east ITV franchise but not these studios.   TVS intended to continue operating as an independent production company but soon after were bought up by International Family Entertainment Inc who ran The Family Channel.  Meridian continued to rent a news studio from the new owner and continue to do so today - a small area of the building is still operated by ITV.

After a while the building became the HQ for Flextech, the satellite broadcaster, and a number of channels were played out from here for a few years.  The studios themselves though had little use. There is still an impressive satellite dish 'farm' on the site, although few are now being used for transmission.

 

In 2001 the studios were purchased by a group of businessmen and experienced television producers whose aim was “To be a self-sustaining studio and media production centre supporting creative development with local, national and worldwide potential in the new millennium and digital era”.  In other words, to attract programme makers away from their usual studios in London.

The studios  keep relatively busy and amongst other shows have specialised in children's programmes including Ministry of Mayhem, Basil Brush, Escape From Scorpion Island and Art Attack.  The four original studios are 1 - 2,000 sq ft; 2 - 6,000 sq ft; 3 - 500 sq ft and 4 - 250 sq ft.  In 2005 they opened a new 12,000 sq ft stage - 'studio 5' - a useful large space with which they hoped to attract big light entertainment programmes.  It is licensed for an audience of no less than 2,400 - although clearly this is standing room only!  Nevertheless, there is room for an impressively large seated audience. 

Studio 5 was originally constructed relatively cheaply but over the past few years has had some much needed money spent on it.  At first, it did not have its own production galleries but borrowed those of the other studios as and when required.  A dedicated gallery suite was opened early in 2007, a short walk across in the main building. 

The studio opened with a very basic lighting grid but is now partly equipped with motorised trusses.  These are a great improvement but are not as flexible as the bars or monopoles to be found in other large studios.  For example, it is not possible to replace a blown bulb or rerig a lamp without the use of a scissor lift mobile hoist once the studio set is in place. 

Bookings for studio 5 in the past few years have included the first series of Duel, Dale's Supermarket Sweep, 1 vs 100 and the BBC's Making Your Mind Up - which became newsworthy for all the wrong reasons when Terry Wogan announced the incorrect winner in 2007.  Productions during 2010 included ITV1's Easter Special gameshow The Door (which I had the experience of lighting), Got To Dance for Sky1 (in HD) and Five's talent contest Don't Stop Believing.  Bookings in 2011 included ITV1's dating gameshow Take Me Out.

 

I mentioned above that The Door was a bit of an experience.  Certainly, I have never worked before or since in such an extraordinary whiff caused by rotting vegetables, animal and fish carcasses, and with such an alarming range of creatures including snakes, rats, spiders, scorpions and tens of thousands of flies.  Some of  the above escaped at one time or other but most, I believe, were recaptured.  Not the flies, obviously.  The studio management were extraordinarily relaxed about all this going on in their studio.  Good for them.  I can think of one or two managers in other studios who would have had a small but spectacular explosive fit.

The management of Maidstone is keen to see the studios succeed and continue to invest in them.  They deserve success and with studio 5 improving all the time they will no doubt attract more work.  Interestingly, I hear rumours that they are considering constructing a very large studio - considerably bigger than studio 5 and larger than any other TV studio in the UK.  This, they hope, would attract those 'event' type TV shows that currently use film stages and OB units.  It would certainly be an interesting development and one that could secure Maidstone's future in the long term.  However, they have been beaten to it by Pinewood, who have constructed a 30,000 sq ft stage suitable for big TV shows and Elstree are also planning a similar sized stage that may or may not be built soon.  Sky meanwhile are definitely going to build at least one very large fully equipped studio within the next few years.

 

 

The old HTV Wales main production studio (7,500 sq ft) at Culverhouse Cross opened in 1984 and until its closure was operated by NEP Cymru as as Studio 1.

The television centre built for HTV Wales at Culverhouse Cross, just outside Cardiff.  The masts in the background are at Wenvoe - the main transmitter for South Wales.

photo by Christopher Ware

The main studio here was closed by ITV but operated independently as Studio 1 Facilities from the spring of 1993 until the autumn of 2006.  This very small company ran the studio within the huge ex-HTV site on the outskirts of Cardiff.  They mostly made programmes for S4C but the studio was also occasionally used for some of the early (new) Dr Who episodes as a film stage.  In 2005 I had the pleasure of lighting an Aled Jones music special here which went out on Christmas Day (in fact I won a Welsh Bafta doing it.)  I lit a chat show with Rob Brydon and the cast of Little Britain for BBC3 later in 2005 and returned in 2009 for a series with opera and West End musical singer, Shan Cothi.

The studio has a most unusual lighting grid - with monopoles and a complicated system of cross-over tracks where scopes have to be 'parked up' (don't ask).  It is also somewhat restricted by a number of enormous ventilation tubes that are distributed across the grid.

 

The ex-HTV site was for a while owned by media company UBM but apart from studio 1 and regional ITV programming in studio 2  the buildings were mostly empty.  In 2006 the whole site was bought back by ITV plc to be developed as a media centre and an expanded base for ITV Wales.  Studio 1 had seen very little investment for many years and attracted less and less work.  Eventually, towards the end of 2006, Studio 1 Facilities Ltd. ceased operation. 

The studio was then let on a seven year lease to Barcud Derwen, the Welsh TV facilities company.  The site was run by Barcud's HD OB management arm, Omni TV, and was renamed 'Omni Studio'.  It continued to be used for various entertainment series and gameshows, mostly for S4C and was booked by the BBC's Mastermind.  It was also used as a 4-waller for shooting commercials and as a rehearsal space for rock tours.  The studio has often been booked by local production company Presentable for their poker-based programmes, which they make for Channel 4.

Sadly, in June 2010 Barcud Derwen went into administration.  Their base in North Wales was closed down but the Omni division of the company, consisting mostly of an HD OB scanner and the lease on this studio, was purchased by US company NEP Broadcasting to become NEP Cymru.  They returned to the old name of 'Studio 1'.

There are no technical facilities remaining and all the lights were sold off but the studio operates very well as a 4-waller using an OB unit for facilities as and when required.  The dimmers and telescopes remain and the old prop room is used as a lighting gallery, which actually works better than before since it is closer to the studio floor.  The studio continues to be used for S4C's music, entertainment and quiz shows.

From 2008 Studio 1 was the home of popular BBC Four quiz show Only Connect with Victoria Coren.  There were an impressive 116 episodes made here.  However, late in 2013 a series was recorded in the BBC's drama studios at Roath Lock.

 

In August 2013 ITV announced that they would be leaving Culverhouse Cross and establishing a base for local news in Cardiff Bay next to the National Assembly by June 2014.  The old HTV studio centre was to be demolished and the site used for housing.  However, ITV's plans to redevelop the site were opposed by local residents and by those companies currently renting space in the building.  There were about 35 media-related businesses based on the site.  Planning permission was refused so the studio remained open for the time being.  The plans were revised and resubmitted to the Vale of Glamorgan council who announced in March 2014 that permission had been granted.

The studio is now closed but I have yet to establish what the last programme made here was - and when.  Can you help??

 

 

 

Meanwhile - 'from Norwich' as the quiz of the week used to proudly boast - there is a bit of good news.  The old Anglia studio centre in Magdalen Street was purchased by Norfolk County Council in 2006 and over £1m was spent on upgrading the facilities.  It is now marketed as the East of England Production Innovation Centre or EPIC

I was informed that...  it will function as a "Creative Industries Enterprise Hub".  In that role it will have three main functions: to provide first class production and post production facilities to local, regional and national production companies and broadcasters; to support new or existing production and production related businesses, particularly by offering production space on 'easy in' and 'easy out' terms to companies and start-ups; and to help produce the creatives of the future by providing training and education facilities which will be used for related courses by local H.E. colleges and other providers.  Phew!  You might have guessed that the previous words were not mine but those of Mark Wells, its centre director.  (No, not that Mark Wells - another one.)  Still - good luck to him.

studio E

with thanks to the EPIC website

The main studio - officially called 'Studio E @ Epic' - is 80 x 60ft within firelanes and about 6,000 sq ft overall.  It was refurbished following a £1.5m grant and is fully HD.  Six Sony HDC-1500 cameras were purchased for the main studio and all three studios (each of the other two are 1,000 sq ft) became fully HD capable in September 2008.  Of the two small studios, one is marketed as a 'discussion studio' - equipped with four JVC HD cameras and the other as a virtual studio.  This also has four JVC cameras and an Orad Smart Set system that was installed in April 2008. 

The main studio has mostly been used so far as a 4-waller for shooting drama, commercials etc but Question Time has used the studio's facilities.  It is surely only a matter of time before a few regular series are based here.  In June 2010 an edition of Frank Skinner's Opinionated was recorded in this studio.  The show returned in 2011.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that these studios are not the original Anglia House centre that opened in the 1950s.  That is still located on Prince of Wales Road.  That centre had four studios which inexplicably weren't enough for this small company so in the 1990s they expanded and took over a property in Magdalen Street, moving their news operation there.  In 2006 they moved the local news back to Anglia House and sold the newer studios to the local council.  It is these that are now the 'Epic' centre.  I hope you're following all this. 

Quite why Anglia needed so many studios (they even took over an old post office building next to the original studios) is a mystery yet to be solved.  As far as network multicamera shows go all I can remember coming from Anglia over the past 50 years is Sale of the Century, Gambit, Tales of the Unexpected - er - The Time The Place and of course Trisha.  Of course there have been a few single camera dramas too like The Chief so maybe that's why they needed studio space.

Anyway, the local ITV news is now rattling round in the otherwise deserted original studio centre.  I understand the old studio 1 was divided into two news studios when the department returned in 2006.

 

 

Central Studios, Lenton Lane, Nottingham - 1983-2004

These studios were in some people's opinion the best that were ever built in the UK.  They certainly drew upon the wide experience gained in other studio centres and incorporated many well-designed features.  They still exist (hence their inclusion here) - although no longer as a working studio centre.  They are part of the University of Nottingham who do still offer the largest studio as a 4-waller, although to my knowledge it is very seldom used to make a multicamera TV show.

The studios were built to a high specification and were much loved by those who worked there.  They began operation in the autumn of 1983.  As well as local news studios there were three main production studios - studio 6 (72 x 46ft), studio 7 (89 x 88ft) and studio 8 (89 x 79ft).  They had motorised lighting bars and studio 7 had a groundrow trench in the floor for lighting 'infinity' cycloramas.  It's worth pointing out that both 7 and 8 are much larger studios than the 'norm' at, say TLS or TV Centre.  About the same length as most studios but very usefully nearly 20 feet wider.  There was also a music studio that later became studio 11 (53 x 40ft gross) and studio 8X (43 x 35ft gross) that was converted from part of the scenery store in 2001.

At first they were very busy making local and networked programmes but Central was a very different company from ATV and the big spectacular entertainment shows that made ATV famous worldwide were simply not made any more.  By 1990 drama too was no longer shot in TV studios but on location or in film stages.  However, some sitcoms such as The Upper Hand and Barbara were made here. 

Lenton Lane particularly became known for its gameshows such as Blockbusters, Catchphrase, Family Fortunes, The Price is Right, Supermarket Sweep and Bullseye.  Celebrity Squares was revived here too between 1993 and 1996.  Matthew Hadley has kindly pointed out some other shows - The Midas Touch with Bradley Walsh ('95-'96), The Freddy Starr Show ('94-'98), Crazy Cottage ('96-'98), Mad For It ('98-'00), Body Heat ('94-'96) and Pot of Gold - a talent show fronted by Des O'Connor between 1993 and 1995.

In 1994 the studios became part of Carlton's empire - a company that apparently had little interest in making programmes themselves and running a studio centre was not something they particularly wanted or needed.

 

By 2001 the studio utilisation was relatively low but a lifeline came when Crossroads was recommissioned after many years.  All the production studios except 7 were used for this show with high quality permanent sets - parts of the exterior of the centre becoming the famous motel.  Unfortunately, that show was axed in 2003.

The writing was on the wall and the owners of ITV were ruthless in their disposal of what to them seemed surplus property.  The site was sold to Nottingham University, the deal being completed in March 2005.  The last shows to be made here in 2004 were Doctors and Nurses - a sitcom for BBC1 by Phil Hammond, starring Ade Edmonson and David Mitchell and Beat The Nation, a quiz for C4 with Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor.

 

Incidentally, the motorised lighting bars or 'boats' from studio 8 were purchased by AFM (now Panalux) for possible installation in one of the two TV studios at Pinewood.  However, perhaps following a lukewarm response by various lighting directors at the prospect, this never happened.  (Most LDs prefer monopoles, which is the system in use at Pinewood.)  The current whereabouts of the studio 8 hoists is unknown.

Most of the studios are now lecture rooms or used for storage but studios 6 and 7 still exist as 4-wallers and can be hired - but apparently seldom are by TV companies.  I'm told that the galleries for studio 7 are still there but all the equipment and monitors have been removed.  The lighting bars still exist, with some lights on them but what condition they are in is unknown.  Studio 7 is is used as an exam hall and occasionally for conferences but has been used by Question Time on several occasions.  Holes have been knocked through the walls for cabling through to an OB scanner and/or generator.

I believe the studio has been used occasionally for filming dramas but TV bookings are very rare.  Barry Wilson has kindly written to me - he worked on an edition of The Big Question with Nicky Campbell in February 2008.  Like Question Time, this show travels all round the country with its own OB unit and lighting rig.  It is likely frankly that the cost of paying for travel and accommodation for a whole crew, plus hiring all the necessary facilities would outweigh any other advantages of making a TV series here now rather than in an established studio elsewhere.

 

studio 6 in September 2010

photo thanks to Rich Holleworth

studio 7 in September 2010

photo thanks to Rich Holleworth

 

 

 

Current regional ITV studios

Please note that I am not attempting to cover the history of ITV's regional studios here.  That's a job for someone else to do.  I am of course aware that all over the country, studios have been closed or reduced in capability much to the anger of the people who live near them.

This section covers those ITV studios still in use now or until very recently, which is quite a contrast to the number there were when ITV began in the 1950s.

The famous studios in Quay Street during the good old days.  From the year 2000 known to men and women in suits as '3sixtymedia' or sometimes 'The Manchester Studios' but to the rest of the human race still as Granada Studios.  The transmitter tower by the way was purely for decoration.  And why not?

The Granada TV sign and the tower were removed by ITV during 2010 'for health and safety reasons.'  Of course.

image thanks to Wikipedia

 

3sixtymedia/The Manchester Studios (Granada) (1956 - 2013)

The first purpose-built television studios to open in the UK were Granada's in Manchester.  The BBC would have got there first with TV Centre but due to finance problems, construction was put on hold for a few years during the Centre's development.  Granada started broadcasting from its new studios in Quay Street on 3rd May 1956.  The company was awarded the franchise eighteen months before going on air.  They were thus able to take their time designing and building a centre that fully met their needs.  The two storey building seen in the foreground above was the first to be built, with the distinctive Granada House added later.

Sidney Bernstein, the owner of the company, decided to name the studios in even numbers only so it would appear that he had twice as many.  Studios 2 and 4 were the first to open with 6, 8 and 12 following in order. 

Studio 2 was in use until early 2013 as the home of Granada Reports - the regional news - as well as some sport and political programmes.  Studio 4 was originally a small continuity studio which was only in use for a few years, although it famously hosted the first TV appearance of The Beatles in 1962.  It was later converted to become the main reception area.  There was no studio 10 - that was the Chelsea Palace in London.  The last studio - 12 - opened in 1958 and until Rediffusion's studio 5 opened in 1960 was the largest in the UK.

Studios 8 and 12 were roughly the same width with 8 being about two-thirds the length of 12.  When originally built, one end of this studio had an area with a low ceiling (8ft 8ins) behind the cyc track.  This brought the total length of the studio floor to the same as studio 12.  Quite what this low-ceilinged space was intended for is a bit of a mystery - much too restricted to contain an audience and too low to put any sets in, let alone a lighting rig.  It would have been useful to store props I suppose but at some point someone must have wondered what the point of keeping it was.  The space was walled off and turned into rooms - editing suites I believe.  Oddly, when I lit a show in studio 8 in 2004, the studio plan I was given indicated that this area of the studio still existed (that's how I know the height of the ceiling!).

When they opened, the studios were of course equipped with black and white cameras but most of the studios were colourised around 1969.  Chris Whitehead has written with an interesting story.  It seems that Marconi were given the contract to refurbish studios 2, 4, 6 and 12.  Studio 8 was mothballed for a few years before being equipped with EMI 2005s in the mid '70s.  Studio 4 was the first to be fitted out - with Marconi Mk VIIs.  However, these were so disliked by cameramen and engineers that the subsequent studios were equipped with EMI 2001s - even though Marconi still carried out the work of upgrading the galleries and other equipment.  They must have been pretty cheesed off at having to supply cameras made by their arch-rival.

 

The studios were well designed for their day but a few shortcomings not surprisingly became clear over the subsequent decades.  For example, only one scene dock door for each studio opening onto a relatively small internal scenery/props storage area.  The shapes and sizes may also not have turned out to be ideal for the range of shows that ended up being made in them.  Curiously, despite decades of discovering what worked well and what worked less well, the managers of ITV North decided to copy what they had here almost exactly when they were involved in planning the new studios at MediaCity, rather than improve on them.  In fact, in some respects the MediaCity studios are less efficient and easy to work in than these 1950s studios, designed when people were still discovering how best to make TV shows.

 

In October 2000, a big change came to the way the business was run.  These studios and the BBC's in Oxford Road were struggling to attract sufficient work and contain their costs.  The two organisations decided to create a new company - 3sixtymedia - that would consolidate their Manchester operation at Granada's studios.  The board of 3sixtymedia was set up with three directors from Granada and two from the BBC with voting rights split 80:20 in favour of Granada.  A number of redundancies were made in both companies.  As part of the deal, both ITV and the BBC were forbidden from operating any other studios in competition with the new company in the Manchester area.  Thus, the BBC's studio A was closed and its technical equipment sold off or scrapped.

3sixtymedia then offered the following TV studios:

 

studio 6 - 4,425 sq ft approx (68 x 52 metric feet within firelanes) - used in latter years for the Jeremy Kyle Show, The Heaven and Earth Show and The Royle Family.

studio 8 - 5,600 sq ft approx (64 x 71 metric feet within firelanes) - used in latter years for University Challenge, Mastermind, A Question of Sport, Soapstar Superchef and Countdown.

studio 12 - 7,850 sq ft approx (98 x 70 metric feet within firelanes) - used latterly for Stars in Their Eyes, The Price is Right and Soapstar Superstar.  It was also used for the BBC's lottery show Who Dares Wins in 2011 - one of the last shows to use the studio and one which I had the pleasure of lighting.  The firelanes in this studio were only about 3 feet wide which made the studio feel narrower than similar studios - but it was the 'normal' 70 metric feet wide and much longer than most equivalent studios.  Interestingly, studio HQ2 at MediaCity which copied this one has the walls the same size but the firelanes are 4ft rather than 3ft.  Thus the working area of that studio is only 68 ft wide - a surprisingly significant limitation.

 

From 2005 to 2011 the old BBC studio A was operated by 3sixtymedia and offered for hire, albeit as a 4-waller.  3sixtymedia also had some warehouse buildings on or near the main Quay Street site. These were not equipped as television studios but some had TV lino or resin floors.  These other spaces were as follows:

 

studio A, Oxford Road - 7,200 sq ft (94 x 66 metric ft within firelanes) - used for Life on Mars and C4's Longford.  (Closed in November 2011)

The Garden Studio - 1,500 sq ft (could be controlled from the galleries of studios 8 or 12) - originally used by digital channels Granada Breeze and ITV Play.

The Starlight Theatre (two separate spaces) - 7,500sq ft and 4,500 sq ft - used for ITV Bingo and dramas Vincent, Cold Blood and The Street.

The Blue Shed (warehouse type stage) - 17,000 sq ft (155 x 110 ft wall to wall) - used for The Forsyte Saga and Casanova.

 

Compared with most London based studios, none of these were particularly busy with some remaining empty for many weeks of the year.  The exception was perhaps studio 6, with the Jeremy Kyle Show a popular fixture of the ITV daytime schedule.  However, Countdown moved to Manchester in June 2009, providing a much-needed regular occupant of studio 8.  University Challenge was the other user of this studio.  All three shows now share studio HQ4 at MediaCity, which is approximately the same size as studio 8 was.

 

I should of course mention that Coronation Street was made here from 1960-2013 - although not in the latter years in any of the studios mentioned above.  The popular soap had two dedicated studios to the side of the Quay Street site - stage 1 and stage 2 - along with the exterior set of the Street.  Stage 2 was previously occupied by the Baker Street set used by the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series ('84-'94), then roofed over and enclosed to become part of the Granada Studios Tour, which ran from 1988-1999.

Corrie did not start in stage 1 however.  For many years it used the normal studios - studio 6 mostly.  There were two episodes a week - in the early days the Friday one was transmitted live and the following Wednesday's show was recorded straight afterwards.  Quite an achievement to rehearse and then perform an hour's material in one day!  Between 1960 and 1968 there was no outdoor set - exteriors were shot in the studio.  A semi-permanent set was begun in 1968, initially made of wood, then developed using brick facades and back gardens during the 1970s.  The permanent outdoor set was begun in 1982, extended in 1989 and then further in 1999.  A new larger exterior set was built in Salford during 2013.

In fact, stage 1 was not purpose-built for Corrie.  Andy Stagles has informed me that it was originally used for live indoor bowling!  It was lit with a load of Blondes and Redheads and the grid was very high.  When Corrie moved in a new grid had to be suspended just above the sets and extension cables had to link the lights with the sockets way up in the roof.

When stage 2 was converted, the producer at that time said that it would only be used for single-camera shooting so no galleries were required.  A short time later galleries were installed due to the unexpectedly (ahem) slower speed of single camera working.

 

The threat of closure was hanging over the Quay Street studios for a number of years.  Indeed, it was a not very well-kept secret that the studios would be closing around 2011 and the operation would move to three almost identically-sized studios at MediaCity in Salford Quays.  However, ITV made a surprise announcement in March 2009.  It transpired that the developer, Peel, had 'dramatically scaled back' its financial commitment to the ITV element of the project.  An ITV spokesman stated that "as a result, ITV will remain at its Quay Street base for the foreseeable future."  Interestingly, the staff were told that the focus would now be on ensuring that the Quay St building was fit for purpose.

However, it was clear that the area could not support two studio centres within a few miles of each other, particularly when each had three studios the same size.  When the senior managers were replaced following a reshuffle at the top of ITV, the new ones reopened the negotiations with Peel.  These lasted through most of 2010 until an announcement was made on 16th December that the move would indeed take place.

 

The final edition of Granada Reports came from studio 2 on 22nd March 2013.  The last show recorded in the main studios was an edition of University Challenge made in studio 8 on 17th February 2013.  During the summer and autumn of 2013 studio 12 was used as a workshop to construct new sets for Coronation St.  Meanwhile, very interestingly, I am told that studio 8 was left fully equipped and in standby mode 'in case there were any problems at MediaCity.'  What could they have meant?  This studio was also used to record interviews for the Goodbye to Granadaland documentary.

Until the building closed, studio 6 was used as the base for Provision - ITV's lighting and camera hire company.  The monopoles from studio 6 were purchased by BBC S&PP and made their way to Elstree stage 9 where they were discovered to be about 4 feet too short.  Each therefore had to have a 4-foot drop-arm on it.  They didn't last long.  They were very heavy and frankly not terribly safe - I witnessed two collapsing during rigging on a sitcom at Elstree.  In the summer of 2013 they were replaced with new ones and the old Granada ones were skipped.

Meanwhile, Coronation St remained for the time being in its old studios.  This move was delayed until the end of 2013 due to various problems including the construction of the main production building in Salford which it is said had to be dismantled during its construction and rebuilt.  The last Corrie was made at Quay St on 20th December 2013.

The office staff moved into the Orange Building at MediaCity from the autumn of 2012.  As mentioned above, ITV have a block booking of studio HQ4 at dock10 for Countdown, Jeremy Kyle and University Challenge but the studio can also be used by other productions.

The old Granada sign symbolically almost hidden by ivy during 2012.  The neon sign on the roof long gone.  Ah well, that's progress.

photo thanks to Andy Dobbs

In August 2012 the press reported that the preferred bidder for the site was 'Genr8 Developments', who apparently offered more than £20m for the land.  That doesn't sound very much to me for a prime 13.5 acre site so maybe the press report was not accurate.  I also heard that the studios might have been occupied by IKEA.  (Make your own joke up here.)  However, in September 2013 it was reported that developer Allied London had joined forces with Manchester City Council to acquire the site - they paid a reported £26.5m.

In January 2014 it was revealed that Allied London have taken a 5 year lease on the studios and associated buildings whilst they 'work up' their plans for redeveloping the site. In the meantime, the buildings will become a new 'arts and cultural destination for Manchester.' 

The old Coronation St exterior set has been opened for public tours once again - but most interestingly, according to press reports, 8 studios will be made available as 4-wallers for filming for the next few years until redevelopment commences.  One assumes that these will be the 3 old TV studios (6, 8 and 12), the two Corrie stages, the Starlight Theatre with its two stages and the Blue Shed.  Apparently it is possible that some of the studios could be retained as part of the medium term plan. What brilliant news!  It makes the BBC's decision to destroy most of the studios at TV Centre look even worse when this demonstrates what a bit of imagination can achieve.

 

Thus - who'd have thought it? - the only large TV studios owned by ITV outside London are the old Yorkshire TV ones in Leeds.  Of which, see below...

 

 

 

The Leeds Studios (aka Kirkstall Road, Yorkshire TV)

Yorkshire TV Studios

thanks to Wikipedia

Across the Pennines are the Leeds Studios, which are owned by ITV.  They opened in 1968, when Yorkshire TV began its new franchise for the north-east.  The centre was constructed in Kirkstall Road on slum-clearance land and was said to be the first purpose-built colour television production centre in Europe.  The building opened with these studios...

studio 1/1A - two small presentation studios sharing facilities

studio 2 - 1,225 sq ft

studio 3 - 4,430 sq ft

These three original studios were equipped with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  In 1969 EMI 2001 cameras were purchased for the last studio to open...

studio 4 - 7,650 sq ft

Around 1976 Philips LDK 25 cameras replaced the Marconis in studio 3.

 

The studio centre - still referred to by most people in the industry as 'Yorkshire TV' - is the base for the northern transmission area for ITV.  Of the original four, only studios 3 and 4 remained in use during the first decade of the 21st century.  Studio 3 had been the home of Countdown since 1982 when Channel 4 began broadcasting.  Studio 4 had in recent years been mostly used as a 4-waller for dramas including Heartbeat, Where The Heart Is, The Royal, A Touch of Frost, Fat Friends, Bodies and Wire In The Blood, but was also used occasionally for multicamera work with Bruce's Price is Right ('95 - '01), My Parents Are AliensQuestion Time, Emmerdale, Bullseye and Win My Wage.  In March and April 2006 Mastermind was recorded here as ITV's Manchester studios were closed due to asbestos contamination.  A celebrity edition of the snooker show Pot Black was made for Sport Relief in May 2006.

Sadly, The Royal and Heartbeat were axed by ITV in 2008, with A Touch of Frost ending in 2009.  Once ITV's Manchester Studios were fully operational again the old YTV studios had very few bookings during 2008/9 so their long-term future became doubtful.  Countdown was the only regular occupant of studio 3, with 4 being empty for much of the time.

 

As many had feared, on 4th March 2009 Michael Grade announced that the main studios would indeed be closing and Countdown would move to Manchester.  (Him again Fancy that.)  Emmerdale's production offices, post production work and interior set shooting would continue to be based in the buildings adjoining the centre (with exterior filming continuing at the programme's purpose built facilities in Harewood) and the local ITV news programme Calender would also continue to be based in its existing facilities at the site. 

Incidentally, I noted that Michael Grade referred to the soap as 'Emmerdale Farm' in his interview on Radio 4's Today programme.  It hasn't been called that since 1989 so I'm sure that will have gone down well with the production team.  One assumes he wasn't a regular viewer himself.  When asked about the Leeds Studios closure Mr Grade dismissed the question by simply replying - "We move on."  With those blunt and rather tactless words he appeared to end 41 years of television from these studios.

ITV said that the studios would be 'mothballed' although the likelihood of them being brought back into operation by ITV looked slim.  For a while there remained a chance that the studios might be run by an independent company with support from Screen Yorkshire and/or Yorkshire Forward, offering facilities to independent production companies.  However, in May 2009 Yorkshire Forward announced that they had ruled out making a rescue bid.

The last edition of Countdown was recorded on 22nd April 2009.  The show moved to Manchester's old Granada studios operated by 3sixtymedia and is now made in Peel's studios in MediaCity.

 

In December 2009 there was a dramatic change of fortune for the studios.  Rumours that had been circulating for about six months were confirmed.  The studios received a £5.2m refit during 2010/2011 which included the latest HD tapeless facilities.  The work was completed in summer 2011 and Emmerdale moved its interior sets, post production facilities and production offices into the building.  These were previously housed in an old car showroom and were in need of updating. 

The refit has been considerable to say the least.  The building was radically changed internally and includes no less than five studios.  The two existing studios were completely refurbished and were joined by two converted from service dock areas and one in the former joinery workshop.  They have been acoustically treated and have TV resin floors and lighting grids.  A sixth new studio space was planned for internal shots of police stations and hospitals but has not yet been created.  These sets currently remain at 102 Kirkstall Rd.

Two new gallery suites were also constructed along with a number of dressing rooms, prop stores, make-up areas and other facilities.  This is all quite a contrast to the bad news announced by Michael Grade.

So the future of the studios is, after all, secure.  At least, for as long as Emmerdale continues to run.  (Don't mention The Bill.)

 

Thus the studios are now as follows:

studio 1 - a space on the 1st floor intended to be used for the police station and hospital.

studio 2 - was the scene dock of studio 3

studio 3 (original) - contains the Woolpack and back rooms

studio 4 (original) - contains the factory, cafe and Home Farm

studio 5 - was the scene dock for studio 4

studio 6 - was the chippies workshop.

Studios 2, 5 and 6 have simple scaffold lighting grids,  The two production galleries can control any of the studio spaces.  Occasionally the old space in Burley Road is used for sets shooting PSC.

 

 

 

The exteriors for Emmerdale have been shot since 1998 on a purpose-built set on the Harewood estate near Leeds.  The houses in the 'village' at Harewood are timber framed structures covered in stone cladding. The set is built on green belt land so all the buildings were originally classed as 'temporary structures' with a requirement to be demolished within ten years.  However, further planning permission was granted and the set is effectively permanent, at least one assumes for as long as the programme continues to run.

 

 

 

 

 

Independent regional studios

 

Endemol West/BBC S&PP at Paintworks - Bristol

part of the Paintworks complex.

with thanks to the Paintworks website

One relatively recent development on the regional studios front was the move of Endemol to Bristol, thus creating Endemol West.  This happened in 2004 when they moved into an old paint factory in the centre of the city.  Endemol is an international media business that owns several TV production companies, mostly specialising in gameshows, quiz shows and comedy.  They decided that for the kind of programmes they mostly make - long-running gameshows and quiz shows that take up a great deal of studio time - it would make sense to own their own studios rather than hire them.  Thus over a few years they steadily converted parts of the old factory into no less than seven multicamera studios, controlled by up to four production gallery suites - although these were put together using temporary flyaway kit, as and when required.

A typical studio space in the Paintworks building

with thanks to the Paintworks website

The studios have TV floors but only basic scaffold or trussing lighting grids.  Endemol didn't need anything more flexible as they were used for shows with standing sets which, once lit, could stay in position for weeks, months or in the case of Deal or No Deal - years.  The buildings Endemol West occupied are part of the 'Paintworks' development.  This is a large, trendy, Victorian industrial complex that contains a number of other media companies and some very small businesses such as artists and designers.  It includes an art gallery, bars and restaurants and is described as 'Bristol's new arts and media quarter.'  It is considered locally to be a great success and benefit to the community.

Between 2004 and 2009 these studios were busy making a number of Endemol shows including Brainteaser for Five, Efourum for E4, Art School for BBC2, Gala Bingo for Gala TV, The Restaurant for BBC2 and C4's huge hit Deal or No Deal which began in October 2005.  At their busiest, the studios reportedly transmitted eight hours of live television every day.  The operation here employed between 80 and 300 staff, depending on the work in hand.  However, Endemol's operation here was scaled back during the early part of 2010 and for much of that year Deal or No Deal was the only show being made here.

 

In a surprise development that frankly very few people would have seen coming, in October 2010 it was announced that BBC Studios and Post Production (S&PP) had taken over the management and operation of these studios, working for and with Endemol.  Deal or No Deal has continued but a few other shows have been made here too.  (Post production for that show has continued at The Farm).  S&PP is the BBC-owned company that used to run BBC TV Centre in west London.  However, it is unlikely that this was seen as a possible site to 'move' Television Centre to when those studios closed.  This contract is simply a way of increasing revenue for the S&PP business.

Up until October 2013 the studios offered by BBC S&PP were as follows:

studio 1 - 5,200 sq ft

studio 2-3 - 3,000 sq ft

studio 5 - 2,000 sq ft

studio 6 - 7,000 sq ft

studio 7 - 1,600 sq ft

 

Paintworks is owned by London-based firm Verve Properties.  From the autumn of 2013 they have been expanding the Paintworks site.  This  involves the demolition of some existing unused buildings but mostly construction of a large number of new ones - in the style of the existing old industrial units.  The BBC Studios building is being retained but sits directly alongside the new development so construction noise is preventing any work being done in the studios.

Now here's an interesting thought.  In Bristol, BBC S&PP are moving away from their studios whilst a bit of banging about is being done and will return when it's all over.  At Television Centre, the studios have been quiet and empty since April 2013 but they will be moving back to studios 1-3 in April 2015 just when the rest of the studios are about to be demolished and rebuilt.  Have I missed something?

 

The studios building will receive some upgrading and internal redevelopment enabling it to offer better facilities when it reopens in 2015.  This could enable BBC S&PP to pick up some of the work that has been moved out of London for political reasons that would otherwise have to be made in Salford or Glasgow.  (Remember, BBC S&PP is a BBC-owned commercial company and has no connection with either BBC Glasgow or MediaCity Salford, which is owned by Peel Media, not the BBC.)  Profits made by S&PP are ploughed back into the BBC's coffers so go towards programme making.  It therefore makes more economic sense for the BBC to make programmes here in Bristol than in Salford where studio rental costs go to help the profits of the vast Peel empire.  Unfortunately, somebody at the BBC signed a document that commits them to spending a set amount renting studio space from Peel over 10 years.  I bet they regret signing that now!

In the meantime BBC S&PP have taken over a warehouse in The Bottle Yard - a 4-waller very basic studio complex in Bristol.  Deal or No Deal has been made there since October 2013 until its possible (but not definite) return to The Paintworks.  The technical equipment from the old studio was moved to the Bottle Yard and a new set designed for the show.

 

 

Verve were also in negotiation during 2009/2010 to buy the old HTV Bristol studios from ITV, which are situated nearby on the Bath Road in Arnos Vale.  These were unused for some years, except as a base for the local ITV Westcountry news, although some office space was also let to a few media and software companies.  The local council apparently stipulated that the site had to be used for entertainment purposes so it couldn't simply be sold off for offices or housing.  Having said that, in fact the main studio was converted to offices some years ago.  A 125 year lease was begun in 1958 with the then ITV company TWW.  It seems that ITV failed to sell the property to Verve.

I understand that the sale did however go through later with another developer and the building was gutted and extensively refurbished by them to create contemporary office spaces.  ITV have retained their news studio facilities on the site which have been extensively refurbished.  The building is now known as Bath Road Studios.

Studio 1 - soon after opening with its EMI 203 cameras.  The image on the right hand end of the cyc is being back projected - see below.

 

The Bristol studios as built for TWW consisted of Studio 1 (90ft x 65ft) and Studio 2 (30ft x 20ft).   Intriguingly, the main studio (which was a very useful size anyway) also had a 'back projection tunnel' which added another 1,100 sq ft.  This was an extension to the studio enabling a projector to have sufficient throw to display a large image onto the back of a cyclorama.  To my knowledge, this ingenious design is inique in all the UK's TV studios (although the HTV Cardiff studio also has an extention about 15 feet deep on one wall which is sometimes used as an audience area so perhaps this could have partly been its original purpose.)  As well as adding some extra useful floor area at other times this BP area could also apparently be used as a small studio in its own right.

The BP projector in its tunnel or 'studio'.  The image can be seen on the right of the photo - this would appear on the cyclorama in the main studio.

Mike Emery informs me that the main studio was converted to colour in April 1970 with EMI 2001s - they were replaced in 1981 with RCA TK-47s.  These cameras were reportedly disliked by the cameramen due to their length and in 1990, when HTV closed their studio in Mold (North Wales), the cameras from there made their way to Bristol.  These were Sony BVP-360s and BVP-3 portables.

In the early 1970s the studios were refurbished by HTV and a new studio (53ft x 33ft) built for the local news operation.  This was apparently a temporary conversion of part of the vehicle garage.  The studios were also renumbered so the original large studio became Studio 5 and the new studio was called Studio 7. 

Studio 5 was decommissioned in April 1996 to make way for a £3m digital news and transmission centre.  Regional production studios were out of fashion in those days so like many others it had to go.  The whole building was extensively reconstructed and the result was a large open-plan office area with top-lit atrium and a 2,000sq ft news studio, located where the back-projection tunnel used to be.  The first news broadcast from this new facility was on 23rd April 1997.

 

 

 

 

The Bottle Yard Studios - Bristol

In 2010 yet another film/TV studio complex that was previously an industrial plant was opened.  Offering very basic facilities (therefore relatively cheap to hire) The Bottle Yard Studios have a number of large units - some with pillars but all offering a range of spaces in which to build sets.  A number of drama and comedy single camera TV productions have already made use of these facilities.  These include The Fear, Frankie, Inside Men, Trollied, Dirk Gently, Five Daughters, Excluded, Public Enemies, Hit the Road Jack, New Worlds and Wolf Hall.

 

A well as huge areas of sundry warehouse space, the facilities offered include:

Tank House 1 - 112 x 100ft

Tank House 2 - 157 x 100ft (includes a 90m long green screen)

Tank House 3 - two areas, one 69ft long, the other 56ft at a width of 102ft.  The first area has a roof height of an impressive 65ft!

Tank House 4 - an irregular shape with some columns of about 13,000 sq ft.

In 2013 one of the warehouse spaces was converted in just 4 weeks by BBC S&PP into a fully equipped TV studio for Deal or No Deal.  This show moved here from The Paintworks - also in Bristol.  The new 'studio' opened in October 2013.  The work at The Paintworks should enable the studios there to reopen in 2015 but whether Deal or No Deal will return has not been confirmed.

 

 

 

Black Hangar Studios, Hampshire

Located on Lasham airfield, a few miles from Basingstoke, this facility opened in May 2012.  It basically consists of a large hangar - 32,000 sq ft in fact - and associated buildings containing production offices, wardrobe, make-up and 12,000 sq ft of workshop space.  Its USP is that it also has an outdoor elevated water tank of 5,000 sq ft with an optical shooting panel in the side.  This usefully has a 180 degree natural skyline.  The business also owns nearby land that can be used as a backlot with natural countryside all round.  Clients include The Garden for ITV.

 

 

 

Dragon International Studios - South Wales

For nearly the whole of the first decade of the 21st century, various evolving plans were announced for an ambitious studio development in south Wales.  This was the Dragon International Studios site not far from Cardiff - nicknamed 'Valleywood.'  The complex was to be based at Llanilid which is just off junction 35 of the M4 near Bridgend.  The scheme was a £330m film studio and 'media city' with Richard Attenborough as its chairman. 

When first announced in 2001, the plans included twelve sound stages, five silent stages and two fully equipped TV studios of 8,000sq ft and 12,000sq ft respectively.  If it had been completed as originally planned, the complex would have been bigger than any other UK film studio.

the site of Dragon International Studios.  It occupies an astonishing 1,800 acres and was previously an open-cast coal mine.  The M4 is in the foreground - the site is near junction 35 but it was hoped that a new junction connecting directly to the site would eventually be built.  The drawing below shows how it might have looked upon completion.

 

When completed, the site was planned to include hotels, housing ('for actors to rent' - really?), office blocks, post production suites, training facilities and even a theme park.  It was hoped that other supporting industries would be attracted to the area, providing local employment.  As seen above, it was to be given its own new junction from the M4 when it had reached a large enough size.

Sadly, the project encountered many problems and its target date for opening was for ever being postponed.  In fact, that passed in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. 

Early problems were caused by a lack of support from the Welsh Assembly which was later secured.  Then came delays in obtaining funding, which threatened a move to another site.  In January 2004 Lord Attenborough announced that work was about to begin but as luck would have it some rare dormice were found living on the site in September which delayed work until 2005.  (I'm not making this up.)  The next delay was caused by issues surrounding permits for sewerage works.  Nothing happened until October 2005.  Bad weather then stopped the work (during a Welsh winter? - surely not) and construction was due to start in March 2006.  As far as I can discover, it did not happen after all.

In October 2006 it was announced that the first phase of five silent stages (described rather tactlessly by a local councillor as 'posh warehouses') would at last begin construction soon.  These were planned to open in 2007 but once again, it seems that construction did not happen.  At the time these stages were said to be aimed at 'TV drama and low budget feature film' production. 

However, at last there was some progress.  Judy Wasdell, the studio coordinator, wrote to me in January 2008 with some exciting news...

 

'We started construction in August 2007 on phase one of the development which consists of four sound stages (1 x 20,000sq ft and 3 x 10,000sq ft), each with adjoining production offices.  We anticipate the first of these will be completed by the spring with the final stage ready by the summer.

We hope to be submitting a detailed planning application shortly for phase two of the studios which will consist of a number of workshops and a studio village with further production/post-production space, a preview theatre and commissary.'

We originally planned phase one of our project to consist of a number of silent stages but have since upgraded the spec on these so they are now soundproofed.  We may have TV stages within a later phase but we won't have any stages specifically designed to TV immediately.'

 

 

Unfortunately, even this relatively modest development became another victim of the banking crisis.  Yet another setback occurred in March 2008 when the development was put on hold and the administrators were called in.  According to Broadcast magazine on 14th October 2008...

'The scheme, financed through a mix of private and public money and chaired by Richard Attenborough, apparently ran out of funding at a time when investors were starting to tighten up on property development money.  However, administrator Rob Lewis, a partner at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, hasn't yet ruled out the possibility of finding alternative means of finance.  "The preferred option would be to see studios completed and films being made there, or to mothball the site until something else comes along," he says.'  They appointed property consultants Edward Symmons to try to sell the studios and to market them as a going concern in the meantime.

One of the new stages

For a while it looked as though these studios might have been bought by the BBC no less.  In November 2008 the Corporation announced that they were looking at various sites to set up a new production centre.  Wales was planned to become a 'creative hub' for drama - with Casualty crossing the Severn estuary from Bristol in 2011.  The four almost-complete sound stages here were briefly considered as a possible base but in the end the attractions of Cardiff Bay won out and the BBC announced in 2009 that they would set up their new drama HQ at Roath Lock.  There seems to be a fascination for building studios next to water - have you noticed?

In fact the BBC did use one of the stages in 2010 for the first series of Upstairs Downstairs.  Curiously, one end of the staircase was located here at Dragon International but the other end was on a stage at Upper Boat studios (The Dr Who base) - several miles away.  Nope - makes no sense to me either.  For the second series both ends were united at the new Roath Lock studios.  Dr Who briefly used the studios in Sep 2010 for the 'Doctor's Wife' episode.  Whites (comedy series with Alan Davies) and Merlin have also been shot here.  Please let me know of any other TV shows filmed here.

 

The studios have actually now been used to make a movie!  Hurrah!!!  In 2009/2010 the film Ironclad, starring Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox and Derek Jacobi was shot here.  The four sound stages were used for interiors and a replica of Rochester Castle was built on the lot (plenty of space for that).  I have not yet heard of any further films being made here - do let me know if you have any info.  Certainly, the studios seem ideal for a movie that needs the privacy of a site all to itself and with 4 sound stages, plenty of space on the lot and spectacular countryside all around it should not be too difficult to find suitable clients.  The studios are still in administration and being managed by PricewaterhouseCoopers who are keen to sell the site as working film studios.  Hopefully the success of the first film to be made there will help find a purchaser.

 

 

 

Barcud Derwen - North Wales (1992 - 2010)

Based in Caernarfon, for a number of years Barcud established themselves as the leading provider of OB facilities in Wales.  Merging with Derwen in 1992 to form Barcud Derwen they set about building a couple of studios.

Studio 1 was 88ft x 72 ft (6,300 sq ft) and had pull-out audience seating on one wall for up to 250 people.  It had a saturated lighting rig with motorised bars and 450 dimmers.  The gallery was equipped to support up to 12 cameras.  Studio 2 had a simple scaffold grid and was 52ft x 31 ft.  The two studios shared one gallery suite.

The studios mostly made programmes for the Welsh market but did make one series I know of that was not purely for Wales - Captain Mack for CITV.

Sadly, in June 2010 it was announced that Barcud Derwen had got into financial difficulties due to cash-flow and entered administration.  The administrators immediately closed the Caernarfon facility with the loss of 30 jobs.  Sadly no buyer was found for these facilities and during the summer of 2010 much of the technical equipment was sold on eBay, the studio's Galaxy lighting console being bought by Riverside TV in Hammersmith.

 

 

 

Pinewood Studio Wales (2014 - present)

On 17th February 2014 it was announced that the Pinewood Group would be creating a new studio complex in south Wales.  The site was previously owned by G24 Innovations - a company that designed and manufactured small flexible solar cells.  Unfortunately, they went into administration in December 2012.  The business was purchased in March 2013 and a new company was formed - G24i Power Ltd.  This company moved to a new base just along the coast in Newport and recommenced manufacturing in November 2013.

The plant they vacated was known as The Energy Centre - it even includes its own wind turbine - and is located in Wentloog, between Cardiff and Newport.  It was constructed in 1998 and is said to be in very good condition.  The 180,000 sq ft building is near to the coast and would certainly be a very attractive place to make films or TV dramas.  Pinewood already own other studios in various locations around the world including Canada, Germany, Malaysia and the USA.

The BBC have invested heavily in their Roath Lock facility in Cardiff for their drama department.  Many other television dramas have been made by independent companies in and around south Wales in recent years in less than ideal adapted buildings so this facility is bound to be welcomed, particularly with the investment that Pinewood can put into it.  Incidentally, you'd think from the press and TV reports that the next James Bond movie is due to be made here.  Extremely unlikely I'd say - but on the other hand, with Pinewood itself tied up with the new Star Wars movies for several years - who knows?

 

The building is actually owned by the Welsh government - they bought it for a reported £6m.  Pinewood have taken out a minimum 5 year lease.  The government is putting up £1m towards fitting out the studios - the total cost is estimated to be £1.8m so for the price of a modest 3-bedroom house in London it looks as though Pinewood have got a pretty good deal there.  Within the building there will be 2 acoustically treated stages, each of 20,000 sq ft plus an additional 30,000 sq ft of shooting floor.   The height to roof beams is currently reported to be 7m (23ft), which is relatively low for purpose-built film stages (Pinewood's own stages range from about 35 - 50ft in height) but typical for converted industrial units such as these.  Unless the roofs are raised, this will limit the range of sets that can be built within them.

 

The Welsh government has also agreed to invest up to £30m into projects brought forward by Pinewood.  They will then share in any profits made from sales of productions filmed here that they have invested in.  Of course, the current tax breaks for large scale TV drama make the UK a very attractive place to film major international series.  Recent productions filmed in Wales have included Da Vinci's Demons and Atlantis.

The studios are due to be completed by the beginning of 2015.

 

 

 

 

UTV - Belfast

UTV - the independent TV company serving Northern Ireland - has a studio centre in Belfast but no large production studios.  It does have a 1,600 sq ft (149 sq m) studio that in 2010 was given an infinity cyc that can be used for green screen recordings (or blue or white if required.)  UTV's main studio (studio 1) is used for their daily UTV Live programme.

 

 

 

Titanic Studios - Belfast

Titanic Studios - the original Paint Hall to the right and the new stages on the left.

thanks to Jeff McCrory

Northern Ireland Screen have been renting Titanic Studios (formerly the Paint Hall studio) from Harland and Wolff shipyard since 2007 for use as four sound stages.  The building consists of four16,000 sq ft 'cells' within a huge structure, each with enormous doors to the outside world and connected by an internal road and streets.  The roof height is an impressive 90 ft and each stage contains a lighting truss grid that can be raised or lowered.  Seasons 1, 2 and 3 of Game of Thrones were made here for HBO and Sky Atlantic.  Season 4 commenced filming in July 2013 and ran to November.  Feature films have included City of Ember in 2007 and Your Highness in 2009.

In 2012 two new 20,000 sq ft purpose-built stages were completed here alongside the Paint Hall.  They are within one long building and were used for the third season of Game of Thrones along with the original Paint Hall stages.

Early in 2014 a planning application was lodged to expand the studios even further.  £14m has been set aside to build two more stages plus associated workshops and other facilities.  A decision is expected by the end of March.

 

 

 

Ardmore Studios - Ireland

Not in the UK of course but just in case you were wondering - Ardmore Studios in Bray, County Wicklow in the Republic of Ireland opened in 1958 after years of local campaigning.  Film making in Ireland before then had been limited to location shooting only - of which of course the country has many beautiful ones to offer.  Studios in the UK or Hollywood had previously to be used to complete pictures but once Ardmore opened they could provide a total service. 

They have been busy ever since making highly acclaimed international movies and TV dramas.   The studio has five stages -  the largest of which is stage D at 15,000 sq ft and is where the popular drama The Tudors was filmed between 2006 and 2010.  Other TV dramas have included The Old Curiosity Shop with Derek Jacobi made for ITV and Camelot (2010, 2011), which was an Irish-Canadian co-production starring Joseph Fiennes and Eva Green.  Moone Boy, a sitcom starring Chris O'Dowd made by Baby Cow for Sky 1 was also filmed here in 2012 and 2013.  At least three series are planned.  Other recent bookings have been Ice Cream Girls, The Widower and Mary Queen of Scots.  Many well known features have been shot here over the years too.

 

 

 

Film City - Glasgow

The creation of  Film City was driven by Gillian Berrie, co-founder of Sigma Films.  She was inspired by a visit to 'Film City' in Denmark in 2000 whilst being fully aware of the demand for a similar base for independent Scottish film and TV companies.  Govan Town Hall had been used for location filming several times before but when she worked there she realised that it was the perfect spot to take over as a permanent base for the local industry.  £3.5m was raised from various sources to refurbish the building and provide it with the necessary facilities.  It opened in phases from 2004.

The building contains an impressive new Dolby post production theatre plus a Foley stage, ADR stage, dubbing theatres and 9 edit suites.  There are also picture grading suites.

Currently, the old Victorian building provides office, meeting room and the post production facilities mentioned above but it also has the original 5,000 sq ft performance hall complete with audience seating on a balcony.  This is described by Film City as a 'build space'.  There is sufficient flat floored area in front of the seating to construct reasonably large sets with ground-support truss for lighting but it could not be described as a typical sound stage.  There is no acoustic treatment on the walls for example.  These facilities have been used for School of Silence (CBBC), Iron Chef UK (C4) and T4's Transmission amongst others.

Above is the build space being used for a simple shoot.  Below shows the attractive decor and the size of the room and its useful audience seating.

photo below thanks to www.iamdofilmmaker.co.uk

 

In May 2013 it was announced that Creative Scotland had ring-fenced £1m for further development.  This is likely to involve the redevelopment of existing buildings close to the Film City HQ in Govan Town Hall and will create 15,000 sq ft of production space..

There is also the prospect of two purpose-built stages, at least one of them around 20,000 sq ft, being built on open land between Film City and the BBC's PQ building.   £10m funding is being sought from various partnership sources.  More on this below.

The land that may be the site of new film stages.  Govan Town Hall - 'Film City' - is in the background.

 

In recent years there has been much discussion about the provision of large studio space in Scotland.  They have seen TV series like Game of Thrones being made in Northern Ireland and would like some of that kind of work too.  Some ex-industrial properies have been used on occasion for filming - most notably the international TV drama Outlander is being filmed in Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld.  This former Isola factory offers 65,000 sq ft of facilities.  There are currently 2 sound stages but it is hoped that once filming has ended, the studios will continue in use and more stages will be converted from the existing industrial units.  However, this series may go on for many years so the facilities will not be available for other productions until then.  The concern that Film City has is that money earmarked for investment in new stages in Glasgow will instead be spent on these facilities in Cumbernauld.

The former Isola factory that is now Wardpark Studios

The Scottish government seems to be very good at arranging reports and consultations on the need for film studios in Scotland but so far has achieved very little in practical terms.  Film City are desperate to build 2 new stages on land near their existing facilities - see the photo above.  They just need the green light and some cash support from the government which can then be matched with private funding.  The Welsh government have been very generous in supporting their industry and as a result Pinewood are opening a facility near Cardiff in 2014.  This news was met with anger and frustration by the Scottish film industry.

Another Scottish government report (involving 'Scottish Enterprise' and 'Creative Scotland') was published in March 2014.  This unsurprisingly came to the conclusion that yes, we do need more stages to make films and TV dramas in Scotland.  The sites they identified are exactly the same ones as were suggested in previous reports. Well I never.  This includes the Film City site in Glasgow of course.  So is the money about to be handed over enabling development to commence?  Apparently not.  The chief executive of 'Creative Scotland' is now going to prepare yet another report to see exactly what needs to be done.  The strategy document will be published in June 2014.  Meanwhile, big dramas and feature films are being made in new studios in Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, Leeds and London.

 

 

Studio 81, Leeds

Not far from the old Yorkshire TV studios in Kirkstall Road is Studio 81. This business opened in 2006 and has hosted a number of TV drama productions.  These include Wuthering Heights, Lost in Austen, White Girl, The Chase, Strictly Confidential, Red Riding, 5 Days, South Riding, Sirens, The Syndicate, DCI Banks and Just Henry.

There is one very large stage of 230 x 70ft plus workshop facilities and all the usual offices, dressing rooms and wardrobe/makeup rooms.

 

 

Web Studios, The Pie Factory, Manchester Island, The Sharp Project, The Space Project - Manchester

As will be explained below, Manchester has long been recognised as a centre of creative talent in music, drama and comedy.  As a result, a number of programmes are being made there now with a desire to reflect this on network television.  This has resulted of course in a new studio centre being constructed in the fashionable and trendy area of Salford Quays.  These MediaCity studios opened in 2011 but whilst they were being planned and constructed a few enterprising companies opened studios in other parts of Manchester.  The most recent is The Sharp Project, another is the Pie Factory - see below - but before them was Web Studios...

 

a typical set under construction in one of the stages at Web Lighting

with thanks to the Web Lighting website

Web Studios are an offshoot of Web Lighting - a hire company who decided that they could offer studio facilities that didn't seem to be readily available in the area.  They are based in Little Hulton, about 6 miles north west of MediaCity. 

They presently have three sound stages of 5000sq ft, 18,850sq ft and 19,250 sq ft.  The largest 'C' stage was built only a few years ago and is described as a 'state of the art' soundstage.  It even contains a tank.  Amongst several other shows New Street Law, Waking the Dead, Inspector Lynley Mysteries, the sci-fi comedy series Hyperdrive and Avalon/BBC comedy opera series Kombat Opera have been made in these studios.  Commercials and pop promos form a large part of their work.

 

 

The Pie Factory

Early in 2007 a new facility opened next door to the MediaCity site in Salford Quays called The Pie Factory.  This is a studio complex that was originally a pie factory.  No really.  It has three 'studios' (I would prefer to call them stages) curiously named after northern towns.  'Salford Studio' is 3,000 sq ft, 'Leeds Studio' is 5,500 sq ft and the largest 'Manchester Studio' is 6,800 sq ft.  They have already made a number of single camera TV productions including The Visit, Cold Blood, Drop Dead Gorgeous and Boy A.

The Pie Factory is part owned by the Peel Group, the company that built the huge MediaCity complex.  It was thought that by opening these studios a clientele of production companies would build up over the years leading to the opening of the four main multicamera studios in the new building in 2011.  The Pie Factory has remained in business even after the MediaCity studios opened, providing complimentary single camera facilities.

 

 

In 2008 Manchester Island was added to the cluster of studios owned by the Island group along with a couple of studios in South Africa and Duke's Island and Black Island in west London.  They are all owned by Panalux so not surprisingly, Manchester Island is situated at Panalux Manchester's base in Kearsley, Bolton.  They have a single 5,500 sq ft. stage which is 114 x 48ft.  It has a semi-permanent cyclorama.

 

 

stage 2 in the Sharp Project

with thanks to the Sharp Project website

In 2010 The Sharp Project, located in Newton Heath, north-east Manchester, was handed £6.3 million pounds by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund helping them to turn the former Sharp electronics factory into a 'digital production complex' that provides a range of sound stages, scenery storage areas, office and production space.  There are four stages: stage 1 (71 x 52ft), stage 2 (131 x 81ft), stage 3 (81 x 79ft) stage 4 (282 x 106ft). Typically for converted industrial buildings, they all have relatively low ceilings around 20 - 25ft.  The first TV programme shot here was actually Casualty 1909 for BBC1 in 2009 (before the redevelopment) whilst a CBBC series - My Genius Idea, was filmed here by production company Shine in the summer of 2010.  Comedy drama series Mount Pleasant was made here by Tiger Aspect for Sky 1 in 2011 and 2012.  Other productions include Fresh Meat (C4), The Making of a Lady (ITV) Old Jack's Boat (CBeebies) and The Gadget Show (North One TV for C5).

A number of media companies are now based here.  The Sharp Project has several converted shipping containers inside the building that it lets out as office space for small and startup creative businesses.  There are currently 32 of them and more will be added as the demand grows.

In May 2013 it was announced that no less than four sound-proofed green screen studios have been built here.  These are in addition to the existing stages and range in size from 450 sq ft to 1,270 sq ft.

 

In October 2013 work commenced on turning a former Fujutsu factory into yet another 4-waller studio complex - this one is called The Space Project.  It is in Gorton, about three miles from the Sharp project on the east side of Manchester.  The site is being run by the same people as the Sharp Project and has been created because they have had to turn bookings away from their facilities.  It opened in May 2014 and contains 5 stages.  These range in size from 8,891 sq ft - 11,194 sq ft.  Very specific dimensions there!  It is described as 'high quality but affordable.'  It is very much aimed at TV drama, rather than commercials or multi-camera productions.  The first booking was from CBBC drama World's End, which took over stages 4 and 5.

The stages are as follows:

1 - 140 x 81ft

2 - 133 x 80ft

3 - 104 x 98ft

4 - 104 x 98ft

5 - 98 x 92ft

Stages 1 and 2 are a useful 31 feet high but the rest are only 21ft high, which could limit the kind of sets that can be built.  The site also contains a workshop, prop store and all the usual dressing room and production office facilities.

above - The Space Project as it will be when completed - below, under construction in January 2014.

 

 

 

 

Now in case you hadn't noticed, around 2003 there appeared to be a dawning realisation that almost all the programmes shown on the UK's main broadcast channels were being made in London.  The reasons for this can be argued, but the fact is that both ITV and the BBC spent the 1990s closing down almost all of their regional production studios - so it was hardly surprising.  Simply put, they were not attracting sufficient work to enable them to pay their way. 

However, the pendulum began to swing back and it became the aim of the BBC, ITV and C4 to make a greater proportion of programmes outside the M25.  This was mostly of course due to pressure from Ofcom for the TV companies to represent the culture of the whole country rather better than previously. 

The BBC seemed to embrace this need for change rather more enthusiastically than the other companies - possibly sensing that property is a lot cheaper 'up north' than in London and in 2008 they announced an intention to make half of all their programmes outside London by 2016.

In fact, the BBC had indicated in 2004 that they intended to move various departments to Manchester and a proposed development by Peel Holdings in Salford Quays was selected in 2006.  Peel obtained detailed planning permission in 2007 and the rest, as they say, is history.  Read on...

 

MediaCityUK - Salford (dock10)

With a name as grand as this you know that they must have been planning something big.  Well - they were.  Since we are on the subject allow me to quote their website...

'MediaCity is all about connections:  connections with people, places, emotions, audiences and technologies.  It will ultimately represent - and redefine - a new era of global media communications'

You get the picture.  In fact, here is a picture...

This photo was on the BBC's website.  Quite interesting that that is where I found probably the most unflattering image of this centre on the Internet.

 

Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.  The collection of buildings seen above that make up MediaCity is apparently not exactly admired in the world of architecture.  MediaCity won the 'Ugliest Building in the UK' award of 2011 in Building Design magazine's annual Carbuncle Cup contest.  Amongst many unflattering remarks, the editor commented 'Quite how the BBC has stooped this low is hard to fathom.'  Ah well.  No Grade II listing with special status imminent here I suspect.  A bit unfair too on the BBC who played no part in the design of all this.

Personally, I think that criticism is a bit harsh.  Having worked in the place myself, I think it looks OK - not exactly award-winning but the mix of architectural styles in the various blocks and buildings does make it seem a little less 'planned' than some developments.  It does however look a bit as though a room full of architects have all gone off into separate corners and designed their bit without looking at what everyone else was doing - but I assume that's the effect they wanted.

 

Despite the size of the whole project, the number of medium/large TV studios is only four, (of which one is only 4,550 sq ft - the BBC's TV Centre in White City of course having eight, five of which were between 8,000 and 11,000 sq ft.)  Some people have compared this development with TV Centre but this is misleading.  Nevertheless, it has become the base for several thousand people working in television, radio and other media and has affected the industry in various ways.

Many people assume that this is a BBC development.  Not so.  Well, only partly so.  The BBC have of course moved several departments here from London including Radio Five Live, BBC Children's Department and BBC Sport. All of these were based at Television Centre in White City.  However, none of these departments made much use of the five largest production studios at the Centre so the move north did not significantly affect bookings in them.  In fact, only one small studio was used by the Sport department at TVC.  Children's department occasionally booked one other small studio for Blue Peter - and that's it.

The timetable for the move was as follows:  Blue Peter moved in the summer of 2011 - with the offices of other shows such as A Question of Sport and Dragon's Den moving here from BBC Manchester in Oxford Road between May and July.  Many CBBC and CBeebies staff  also moved up from London in this first wave.  Between August and October 2011 was wave 2 which included Newsround and CBBC drama.  Wave 3 was from October 2011 into early 2012 and finished off most of the move although the date for BBC Breakfast to begin broadcasting from Salford was 10th April 2012.

 

The BBC Breakfast move was particularly controversial as when in London the show frequently made use of many actors, film stars, musicians, celebs and politicians who just popped into the studio at TV Centre at the beginning of the day.  It has undoubtedly proved to be more difficult to persuade these people to make a special trip to Salford if they are performing in or visiting the capital city - or indeed for most Members of Parliament who will either be in their own constituency or in Westminster for most of their time.  Arguably the range of studio guests has indeed diminished although some people are interviewed in London down the line which never works quite as well.  This included the then Director General, George Entwistle following the 'wrong identity' Newsnight fiasco in November 2012.  I suspect he might have come out of it even worse if he had been been in the studio to face his grilling.  Mind you, the poor quality Chromakey making his face pinky-purple did him no favours.  Breakfast is of course news-based and BBC News has moved to brand new studios in New Broadcasting House in the centre of London - which is where many people expected the Breakfast show to be based. 

It is hard to fathom the editorial logic in moving this of all shows to Salford.  Two of the regular presenters refused to move as did just over half the staff working on the show - only 46% officially deciding to relocate.  The programme now shares the Northwest Tonight regional news studio, which is in one of the BBC office blocks rather than the main studio building.  In my view the look of the show has suffered - with its low ceiling and scaffold bar grid visible in every wideshot inevitably making it look rather cheap and second rate compared with the space and proportions of the set in Television Centre's TC7.  Let's be frank - it looks 'regional' - but then, that's exactly what the BBC wanted.

 

One does suspect that the fact that this show is made in Salford is because it represents 195 minutes of air time every weekday on BBC One which helps to alter the overall balance of programmes made outside the capital in a simple but effective manner, whether or not it is the right programme to be made there.  Let's face it - it helps to tick a box.

The BBC has declared that it intends to make 50% of all its programmes outside the capital by 2016.  This includes drama (much of which is now made in Wales) entertainment and comedy.  Although BBC Entertainment and BBC Comedy are remaining based in London there is now also a BBC Comedy North department based here.  They are therefore making some programmes here - mostly in studio HQ2 - which in previous years would have been made in London.  Also, programmes made by independent companies for BBC channels are subject to this quota so for example most Lottery shows are now made in Glasgow - and Salford is being used to make a number of comedies and entertainment shows.

 

The development has been built (not by the BBC - did I mention that?) by the Peel Group, who describe themselves as a leading property and transport organisation.  They began in textiles in the 1920s in Lancashire.  As the textile industry declined, they moved into retail warehousing and property development.  Later they acquired the Manchester Ship Canal and its port facilities.  The Trafford Centre was completed by them in 1998.  They own several airports in the north of England and in 2003 acquired Clydeport, Scotland's main sea port.  In 2005 they took over Mersey Docks, making them the largest owner of dockyards in the UK.  In 2007 they gained ownership of about a quarter of UK Coal plc.  So - an impressive portfolio of businesses in the world of ports, airports, property development, retailing and even coal mining.  However, no previous experience in the world of television - unless they have chosen not to state that on their website.  They have however created a new division - Peel Media - to administer this development.  Interestingly, in the summer of 2011 Peel expanded their influence in the world of media by purchasing Pinewood-Shepperton.  Make of that what you will.

 

MediaCity consists of several buildings - three of which are leased by the BBC.  However, the main studio block is separate and for a while it was assumed that the TV studios here would be operated by 3sixtymedia, the company that ran ITV's old Granada studios.  More on this later.

There are three small studios on the first floor of the studio building that were built for the use of CBBC and CBeebies.  Studio HQ7 is 49 x 33 ft wall to wall and studios HQ5 and HQ6 are both 41 x 24 ft wall to wall.  HQ5 and HQ6 are the homes of CBeebies presentation and CBBC presentation and NewsroundHQ7 is the Blue Peter studio and is roughly half the size of TC2 - the small studio they had been using at TV Centre for the previous few years.  No room for marching bands or elephants in here sadly.  No room for much at all in fact.  There was also at the planning stage an area designated 'Blue Peter Garden' - but this was on a roof, so not quite what we had been used to.  No more burying of time capsules, obviously.  I gather some rehearsals were done on the roof and it proved to be quite windy.  Who'd have imagined?  The BP garden is therefore now tucked away on the edge of a landscaped area right next to one of the MediaCity tram stop platforms. The 'Italian sunken garden' (pond) was moved stone by stone from Shepherds Bush to its new location along with Petra's statue.

The peaceful oasis of the new Blue Peter Garden - right next to the MediaCityUK tram stop.  That sound you can hear in the background is Percy Thrower rotating in his grave.

 

Incidentally, dotted around the landscaped area and the open piazza are a number of stainless steel bollards containing fibre links and some power, enabling cameras to be set up pretty well anywhere around the site and controlled by one of the studio production galleries.  This has proved to be useful on several occasions and is one of the few things one can genuinely say have been well planned with this development.  For example, Gok Live: Stripping for Summer (C4) used this facility to great effect in 2013 combining studio with live OB from the piazza.

BBC Sport has its production offices with editing and communications facilities and its 'BBC Sports Centre' studio in one of the BBC buildings.  Many of their studio links are done on location at OBs - but some programmes such as Match of the Day use HQ3, the smallest of the main four MediaCity studios.

 

 

So, to summarise the facilities...

The studio block has three small studios on the first floor (HQ5, HQ6 and HQ7) - and on the ground floor, four medium to large TV studios (HQ 1-4) and two audio studios, one of which is the home of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.  This is very large - effectively a concert hall - and includes audience seating.

Three of the TV studios are almost identical in size and shape to studios 6, 8 and 12 at Granada's Quay Street building.  (4,550 sq ft, 6,300 sq ft and 7,650 sq ft respectively.)  The reason for this may in some way relate to the non-competition agreement made by the BBC and ITV when they formed 3sixtymedia back in 2000.  Or of course it may be that they simply copied what they already had because nobody had a better idea.  (Do you know the reason?  If so, do let me know!)

Of particular interest is Studio HQ1 - a very large room officially stated to be 12,543 sq ft. Its dimensions are 124 ft x 90 ft within firelanes.  That's about the same width as TC1 or Fountain but 24 feet longer than TC1 and 6 feet shorter than Fountain.  Who this was intended for is anyone's guess.  Since Studio 12 at Granada sat empty for most of the time over its final ten or more years there didn't seem to be an obvious demand for very large TV studios in Manchester.  Indeed, for the first 2 years of operation since MediaCity opened, HQ1 was dark for much of the time.

I have heard that the BBC asked for a large studio to be included when they thought that TV Centre would be closing.  Apparently, a producer in the Entertainment department at that time requested a studio at least as big as TC1 for shows like Strictly Come Dancing if TV Centre was no longer to be available.  However, the 2011 series of Strictly did not move into this studio as expected by some but remained in TC1 at Television Centre in London as did the 2012 series.  In 2013 and 2014 it is being made in the George Lucas stage at Elstree.  In fact, my understanding is that the BBC Entertainment Dept currently have no intention of moving Strictly away from London.

 

It is also possible that the BBC needed to be sure that they would have access to a large studio for the coverage of general elections/Children in Need/Comic Relief etc after the closure of TV Centre.  Of course, things have since moved on.  Television Centre did close in March 2013 but the BBC Studios business is now using BBC Elstree D and three stages at Elstree Film Studios until the spring of 2015.  Then they will move back to TVC and occupy three of the studios there (and probably continue to use Elstree).  In any case, as previously mentioned the BBC have no direct connection with these studios but are simply clients like any other company. 

Well - not quite.  In the early stages of planning this project, somebody at the BBC signed an agreement with Peel that commits them to renting a certain amount of studio time over 10 years up to 2020.  This is reported to be the not insignificant sum of £82.8m.  (So, a little under half what they sold TV Centre for.)

Unfortunately, despite using these studios for quite a few shows that would previously have been made in their own studios in London, a report by the National Audit Office found that by September 2012 the BBC had underspent their commitment by half a million pounds.  They therefore have to spend more in the coming years, not just to catch up but to pay off the underspend.  Remember, this is money going to Peel Media, whereas in the past it was money going to their own subsidiary BBC Studios and Post Production, which could be re-invested in constantly improving facilities.  I have not even mentioned the cost of travel and accommodation for the various performers, producers and craft heads of department who are almost entirely still London based.  Oh, I just have.  Public money well spent?  You decide.

 

In January 2011, studio HQ2 (97 x 69ft within firelanes) was the first to be fully fitted out.  However, the first transmittable TV production to be made in the MediaCity studios was the teatime gameshow Don't Scare The Hare.  This series was recorded in January in studio HQ1 - which was in an unfinished state.  There was no lighting rig or any means of suspension installed so the whole studio had to be equipped with temporary trussing.  The gallery suite was not equipped so the control rooms of HQ2 were used. 

A Question of Sport was the first show to be made in HQ2 in February of that year.  Since then, this studio has been booked by a number of shows including The Sarah Millican Television Programme, John Bishop's Only Joking, John Bishop's Britain, In With The Flynns, Citizen Khan, The Wright Way and the 2012 series of In It To Win It.  HQ2 is a useful length but the working area is 3 feet narrower than TC8 or stages 8 and 9 at Elstree, which could affect the design of sets that would have fitted comfortably in those studios.

HQ3 (68 x 52ft within firelanes) is the smallest of the main studios and opened with cameras, lights and a fully equipped grid.  It is used for some BBC Sport programmes but CBBC show Justin's House and Frank Skinner's Opinionated have also been made in here.  The first Match of the Day came from here on Nov 5th 2011.  Its gallery suite was also used to drive HQ7, the Blue Peter studio for many months as that studio's galleries also remained unequipped until well into 2012.

In fact for the first 18 months or so of operation only two of the main studios were fully completed.  The flagship studio HQ1 was an empty shell with no cameras, no lighting hoists and with its gallery suite unequipped.  Sports Personality of the Year came from here in December 2011 and all the hired-in lights had to be mounted on temporary trussing.  A series of Tonight's The Night was made here in 2011 and a few editions of A Question of Sport in 2012.

An 8-part series of Lotto gameshow Who Dares Wins was recorded in this studio over 3 days in October 2012.  This show was originally recorded at TV Centre, a series was then made at TLS in London, then two more in BBC Glasgow, then a series in 2011 in studio 12 at 3sixtymedia (Granada) and finally here in HQ1.  All the other studios had fully equipped lighting grids enabling a quick and relatively inexpensive turnaround but in this studio a huge truss rig had to be hired in and installed - all for just 3 days' shooting.  Question Time has also used HQ1 but this show carries its own lighting rig including trussing round the country and is run from an OB unit. 

 

As you will by now understand, up to the middle of 2013 studio 1 had not received a large number of bookings because making any programme in here was relatively costly and time-consuming since it involved hiring in a load of trussing and lights.  However, in 2013 money was at last found to complete the fitting out of this studio.  In August it was equipped with motorised scene hoists and lighting bars.  These however are longer than in HQ2 and do not cover the corners of the studio in order to save costs.

Up until the autumn of 2012 programmes made in HQ1 had to use the gallery suite of one of the other studios along with that studio's cameras - meaning of course that it couldn't be used at the same time.  In October/November 2012 the galleries in HQ1 were at last fitted out, ready for the auditions part of The Voice in DecemberThat show returned the following year.

Other shows to use HQ1 have included The British Soap Awards and Alesha's Street Dance Stars, which shared the studio with Citizen Khan for several weeks in 2013, each show having its set at the ends of the studio, the audience seating being located in the middle and turned around to face the right way for each recording.  Very ingenious!

 

HQ4 (76 x 68ft within firelanes) was for many months similarly unequipped and still remains without  motorised lighting bars, although it has been used much more than HQ1 - mostly for children's programmes in the first year or so.   Lights were hung from temporary trusses whilst hired-in flyaway kit and rented cameras were used.  CBeebies series Justin's House was one of the first bookings and Dragon's Den was recorded here in 2012.  The galleries were eventually fitted out in the summer of 2012 - some of the kit being brought over from Quay St.  In fact, many of the lights in HQ4 have 'GTV' painted on them - having been bought by Granada Television many years previously.

The studio has had a densely packed set of trusses installed.  The light rigs for Countdown, University Challenge and Jeremy Kyle are all semi-permanently rigged but occasionally dock10  rent HQ4 out to other shows when ITV don't need it.  In which case I gather that the lighting rig is changed and then restored afterwards.  I have heard that HQ3 has occasionally also been used for one of these shows when recording dates clashed.

Interesting to note that the returning shows ITV North are booking this studio for are not exactly brand new cutting edge latest ideas in television entertainment.  Even the Jeremy Kyle Show is over 8 years old whilst Countdown began in 1982 and University Challenge in 1962 - over 50 years ago!  Can nobody working 'up north' in ITV now come up with any good ideas that will last?  Of course, only one of those shows is actually shown on ITV - the others are on C4 and BBC2.  It would appear that ITV are not quite as enthusiastic as the BBC to become less 'London-centric'.

 

Thus to summarise - by the autumn of 2012, all 7 studios had had their gallery suites fitted out.  Those for the four main studios are very spacious.  The only problem with them is that they are an astonishing two floors up at gantry level, rather than on the ground floor which most directors/producers/LDs etc prefer.  Not only that but because of the position of the studio stairs relative to the doors, you have to walk through the door and then the full length of the studio before descending - this on a steel staircase that rings with every step making a quiet nip onto the studio floor impossible.  It's even worse for the director - he or she has to go  out of the production gallery, along the corridor and into the lighting or sound gallery before making the lengthy trip to the studio floor.  Quite extraordinary.

There appears to be quite a bit of wasted space on the ground floor of the building - the foyer is huge - so one does wonder why the architect was not persuaded to rearrange things a little and build the galleries at floor level.

In case you are wondering - 'HQ' apparently stands for 'Harbour Quay.'

 

 

Back to the history...

Negotiations and discussions between Peel Group and ITV (the main owners of 3sixtymedia) continued throughout 2008 and into 2009.

Although these studios were designed and built after fifty years' industry-wide experience of other studio centres, good and bad, there are several aspects of their design that many people have found surprising.  For example, gallery suites 2 floors up, no toilets close to the gallery suites, each studio only having one scene dock door leading onto an internal corridor, no studio having direct access to outdoors, dimmers on the grid instead of in a proper dimmer room where they can be easily accessed and the general lack of storage and props/workshop space.

The studio design was it seems carried out by consultants TSL.  According to their website ' The early engagement allowed TSL to advise Peel on the technical and internal architectural and aspects of the design, such that Peel ended up with a facility that met the requirements of their anchor tenants.  Indeed most of the typical problems such a build would have encountered in being prepared for broadcast were solved at the design stage, allowing for completion to occur on time and on budget.'

Reading between the lines, I can't help but conclude that the priority may have been to finish on time and on budget rather than fully consulting with the people who would actually be using the studios, which might have caused delays and cost overruns.  TSL were originally asked to provide guidance regarding the costs of building the studios prior to Peel winning the contract.  On winning it, Peel approached TSL to carry out the detailed design.  Quite how many active producers, directors, designers, lighting directors, sound supervisors, scenic supervisors, make-up and wardrobe supervisors, floor managers and studio managers were shown the proposed plans and asked their opinion is not known.  If you were involved in the early design and planning I would love to hear more - confidentially of course.

What I have heard is that the studios were intended to be fitted out with all the latest HD and 5.1 kit, making them genuinely state of the art - as one would expect after all the fanfares.  However, the banking crisis changed everything and early in 2009 the budget for technical fitting out was severely slashed.  Decisions were taken about what was essential and what was simply nice to have, which explains why the studios opened with some not having lighting grids and equipped gallery suites.  Remember, apart from the studio dedicated to their orchestra, the BBC were not involved in any of these decisions - ITV North were the people who were liaising with Peel and TSL about the TV studios at this stage.

 

At the time ITV were involved in planning the MediaCity studios, they were intended to open in 2011 and Granada would then close its studios in Quay Street.  A site for a new building opposite MediaCity had been earmarked for them to move into so that the Quay Street offices could also be sold off.  However, on 11th March 2009 there was a surprising development.  ITV issued the following press release:

 

'ITV’s long-mooted move of its Manchester production base to Salford is not going to happen – meaning that the former Granada site at Quay Street will continue to be home to Coronation Street and other shows.

Discussions have taken place over several years about ITV joining the BBC at the massive new MediaCity development in Salford.

But Chief Operating Officer John Cresswell announced to Manchester staff today, during a visit to Quay Street, that negotiations with MediaCity developer the Peel Group have broken down.

In a statement, ITV said: "ITV can confirm that negotiations with the Peel Group over the possible move of the broadcaster's Manchester operation to MediaCity in Salford broke down this week after the developer dramatically scaled back its financial commitment to the ITV element of the project."

"As a result, ITV will remain at its Quay Street base for the foreseeable future."

John told Manchester staff that the focus would now be on ensuring that the Quay St building is fit for purpose.'

 

This decision initially appeared to leave the opening of the studios in some doubt.  If ITV/3sixtymedia were no longer involved and with the Peel Group severely scaling back its investment then would most of the studios be equipped at all?  Peel sought a commitment from the BBC that they would book a certain amount of studio time and on this basis (apparently £82.8m over 10 years) studios 2 and 3 were fitted out.  According to press reports, in April 2009 the Peel Group were said to be trying to persuade ITV to change their minds.  This was hardly surprising as to make running the studios financially viable Peel would need regular bookings from them too.  Throughout the following months rumours began to circulate that ITV might leave Quay St after all.

 

In March 2010 Peel announced that they had appointed Andy Waters as Head of Studios.  Andy is a decent chap who has a great deal of experience as a resource manager at BBC TV Centre.  If anyone can make things run smoothly here, he can.  He also has a long list of industry contacts so is no doubt trying to persuade many of them to make their shows here rather than in London.  Within a few months several other resource managers from TV Centre joined him - possibly the uncertain future of TVC helped in this decision.  Whatever their reasons, although some aspects of the studios' design might not be what they would have chosen had they been involved at the planning stage, I know that they are all determined to make this studio centre a popular and happy place to make programmes.

The studio management team have also been successful over the first two or three years of operation in persuading their shareholders to invest in a range of equipment and facilities, enhancing the attractiveveness of the studios.  It is no secret that when they opened, the studios were disappointingly equipped and in many ways unfinished.  This reputation quickly spread round the industry and did a great deal of harm.  The investment that has now taken place has certainly improved things.  It will not necessarily pay for itself directly but by making the studios an attractive place to work will pay off in the long run.

 

Meanwhile, back in November 2010 SIS (part of which used to be BBC OBs) was given a 10 year contract to supply the studios with camera, sound and engineering crews.  They used to operate the studio at the BBC Media Village in White City that produced The One Show.  Thus 'The Studios' at MediaCity became a joint venture between Peel Media and SIS.

A familiar object, inexplicably located in the foyer of the dock10 studio block.  Since these studios are not owned by the BBC and have no connection with Dr Who, one does wonder quite who is trying to fool whom.  And why?

Note all the wasted space that could have been used to build gallery suites by re-arranging things within the building.

 

On 16th December 2010 it was confirmed that ITV would indeed be moving to MediaCity, after many months of discussions and negotiations.  The office staff and local news are now occupying several floors of the Orange Tower which is the block that also houses the University of Salford.  The first local news broadcast from the new studio was on 25th March 2013.  On the other side of the water a 7.7 acre site next to the Imperial War Museum is now the base for Coronation Street.  A production block, two TV studios and a larger exterior set than currently used have been built and opened at the beginning of 2014.

The Coronation St site seen from MediaCity across the Manchester Ship Canal.  Foreground left is one of the two studios, the production block can just be seen on the left of frame and the new exterior set is just visible behind the car park.

 

The studios in the main Peel block are now being used for ITV's other productions (eg Jeremy Kyle, Countdown, University Challenge), which of course was the intention when the centre was originally designed.  It was thought that the move to studio 4 would happen in the autumn of 2012 but in fact it was early in 2013 - Countdown being the first ITV show to use HQ4 in January.  The Coronation St site took far longer to build than anticipated due apparently to some construction issues with the main 4-storey production block.  I am told that bemused MediaCity workers watched it rise in 2012 only to be dismantled and begun all over again.

What this does mean is that at least three of the four main TV studios now have regular bookings from ITV and BBC North.  This places the operation of the centre on a much more secure foundation.  In an interview in 2012 Andy Waters predicted that the centre would be running at 'full capacity' by 2013.  This (according to Broadcast) represents utilisation of 50%-60% which is the best he believes can be practically achieved.

The studios took on an interesting and rather surprising booking in 2014.  HQ2 is the home of a new Sesame St spin-off series for CBeebies starring Elmo and Cookie Monster called The Furchester.  It is being shot using single camera techniques and is due to be in the studio for, I am told, 12 weeks.

 

In September 2012 it was announced that 'The Studios' at MediaCity would be rebranded as 'dock10'.  Possibly this was in response to the widely held but erroneous belief in the industry that the studios here are run by the BBC.

 

 

 

Old BBC production studios outside London

It wasn't that long ago - well, the early 1990s - that the BBC had a medium sized production studio in three regional centres in England.  Five if you include the somewhat smaller one in Newcastle and even smaller studio in Southampton.  The rest were in Bristol, Manchester and the one that everyone over 30 remembers - Pebble Mill in Birmingham.  Who could forget Pebble Mill at One?  Even if you never saw it you'd heard of it.  In point of fact, it came from the foyer of the building, not its main studio but who cares?  It ran from 1973-1986 - with Donny McCloud, Marion Foster, Bob Langley, Jan Leeming, Judi Spiers, Peter Seabrook and a dozen or so other presenters who came and went.  Well, they've all gone now, the building is a pile of dust and the BBC's Birmingham operation is from somewhere called the Mailbox - although there is no production studio there, just a small regional newsroom.  That's progress.

 

Pebble Mill

R.I.P.

Birmingham's studio A was the home of dozens of popular dramas - All Creatures Great and Small, Howards Way, Juliet Bravo, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Bird of Prey, and A Very Peculiar Practice are some examples - but many light entertainment shows were made here too including Pot Black, Beadle's About, Call My Bluff, Telly Addicts, Can't Cook Won't Cook, The Basil Brush Show and (who could forget?) Emu's Broadcasting Corporation.  Of course, there was also Saturday Night at the Mill and the unimaginatively named Pebble Mill - the show that took over from Pebble Mill at One (I hope you're following all this.)  High/low point of that series was undoubtedly Paul Shane's rendering of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' in 1996A quick visit to YouTube is highly recommended.

The studio opened in 1971 and was 74ft x 64ft within firelanes, so quite a bit smaller than the medium/large studios at TV Centre.  It opened with four EMI 2001 cameras which were replaced in 1983 with five Link 125s.  In 1992 Pebble Mill bought four Sony BVP-370 studio cameras and two BVP-70 portable cameras.  In November 1997 work began on a major refurbishment of the studio. It included a new production control room complete with 36-channel vision mixer, new lighting/vision control room and re-equipped sound control room with new Calrec Q-series 60-channel desk.  This £2.2 million upgrade took nine weeks and Studio A re-opened by the end of February 1998 as a fully digital widescreen facility complete with new Sony BVP-500 and BVP-550 cameras.

Despite this huge investment it was announced only two years later at the end of 2000 by Greg Dyke, the then Director General of the BBC, that the main studio at Pebble Mill would close.  (Quite a different philosophy from that now in fashion where programmes are being moved from London to the nations and regions.)  Staff at Pebble Mill are said to have protested most strongly and suggested 'mothballing' the studio for a year in anticipation of the CBBC department needing a studio. Despite their best efforts and the very recent £2.2 million refit and upgrade the BBC chose to close Studio A for good.  It's perhaps worth noting that a year later the Corporation spent £1.7 million upgrading studio D at Elstree for CBBC.  So 'rationalisation' got under way at Pebble Mill and the next year Studio A was de-commissioned.

 

The following little tale will possibly come as no surprise.  It seems that the week after Studio A had closed, Country File had a massive story which required studio space.  Despite the fact that Studio A was at that time still fully equipped, the studio was prohibited from being used as it was 'officially closed'.  The production team therefore had to hire in an OB unit and use the 'conservatory studio' once used by Anne and Nick for their daytime show.

Incidentally - one claim to fame for studio A is that it was the home of a new kind of floor paint.  For many years all studio floors had been painted with water-based paint, with disastrous consequences if any liquid was spilled on it!  Before a new colour or pattern could be applied, the floor had to be washed and dried with special machines.  This wasted valuable time during studio turn-arounds.  At Pebble Mill they developed 'Pebble Mill Peelable' paint, which did what it said on the can.  This enabled the next floor to be painted on top of the old one, layer after layer, until it grew so thick that the cameras were bumping over the irregularities, at which time it was simply peeled off.  Brilliant.  Job done.

 

As with all the regional 'Network Production Centres', Pebble Mill also had a studio B for local news and sport.  This one was 40 x 25ft.

The Pebble Mill studios were originally intended to have a third 'drama' studio - studio C - but this was never built.  The foyer became the third studio instead, releasing studio A to make popular dramas.  At first the foyer borrowed the galleries of studios A and B but in 1983 'gallery C' was commissioned. 

Pebble Mill at One ended in 1986 but in 1988, Daytime Live was launched.  Essentially the same as Pebble Mill at One, it started at a different time and therefore had a different name.  This show also came from the foyer - now officially called 'studio C' - and was joined in 1992 by Good Morning with Anne and Nick which used a small area of this same studio.  Needing a bit more elbow room, it wasn't long before the construction of a conservatory studio within the courtyard area was completed and Anne and Nick moved in.   Both programmes were controlled from Gallery C.

The daytime drama series Doctors was also made at Pebble Mill between 2000 and 2004.  Despite the fact that there was a perfectly good television studio sitting empty, they weren't allowed to use it, so the windows of the foyer (studio C) were blacked out and that became the studio - with all its limitations.  A decision such as this clearly makes perfect sense if you are a very senior BBC manager.  Doctors also used an additional space - radio Studio 1.  This was 62 x 44ft wall to wall.

Studio 1 began as the main audio/music studio at Pebble Mill with enough space to accommodate a full symphony orchestra.  Initially, it was used for sound recording sessions plus the twice weekly live broadcasts for Radio 3's lunchtime concerts.  However, as well as radio this studio was equipped with a basic lighting grid and was used in its early years for the occasional television programme.  The studio lighting became controlled from gallery 'C' from the summer of 1983.

However, John Birt's 'Producer Choice' agenda in the early 1990's forced Pebble Mill to charge unrealistic rental rates for the studio and thus ensured that Studio 1 became too expensive for radio use.  Therefore Radio 3 moved out to Adrian Boult Hall in the centre of the city, with the newly developed BBC Resources turning Studio 1 into a full-time TV studio.  A scene dock door was added together with the installation of a more comprehensive lighting grid.

Soon after, Studio 1 was in daily use for the live transmission of  The Really Useful Show.  This lasted for three series, but I'm told that the long acoustic reverberation characteristics of the studio were not idea for TV sound.  Programmes to originate from Studio 1 included Daily Live, Anything You Can Cook and Front Room.  As mentioned above, in its final years Studio 1 was used as a sound stage for Doctors, although the associated radio cubicle continued to be used to produce Radio 4's Farming Today until the closure of Pebble Mill as a whole (in May 2004).

With the main TV studio closed and the orchestra having moved out it wasn't long before somebody decided that they might as well close the whole place down.   Local news and radio went to a building in the city centre called the Mailbox (or 'shoebox' as apparently the staff call it) and Doctors is now filmed at the 'BBC Drama Village' on the University of Birmingham campus at Selly Oak.

Pebble Mill opened in 1971, made its last broadcast from studio B in May 2004 and was demolished in 2005.

thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above info.

 

Postscript: Just when you thought it was all over... in October 2011 the BBC announced that as part of their 'Delivering Quality First' cuts they were planning to move factual programming away from Birmingham to Bristol by the end of 2012.  At one time it looked as though Doctors would be moving too but that now seems relatively secure.  Thus, no peaktime network programming is currently made in England's second biggest city.

 

 

 

 

Bristol's studio A was the home of Tony Hart's various art-based series as well as Animal Magic, The Really Wild Show, Why Don't You... and several other popular shows made by the Children's and Schools departments.

Mike Emery has written to inform me that the advent of colour in the region at the start of the 1970’s led to colour programmes being made in Studio A from 1972 in conjunction with the West region’s CMCR3 OB scanner. Also designated SW4 the scanner provided the necessary colour control room facilities together with its Philips PC-60 (LDK-3) cameras, which could always be recognised by their rich, warm tones. 

However, this was not an ideal operation.  The OB scanner would be on the road at the weekend often covering sporting events in the region, but on a Monday morning the kit was re-rigged in Studio A to provide the output from the studio - at least until the studio was eventually refurbished in 1979/80. This included the commissioning of a colour capable control room suite and four Link 110 cameras.  A second smaller OB unit equipped with three Link 120P cameras was brought into service around 1977/8.  This was often used for the Antiques Roadshow amongst other things, and allowed the use of the Link 120P cameras in Studio A on an ad hoc basis, albeit generally in place of a Link 110.  In the early 1980’s Ikegami HL-79D cameras replaced the Link 120Ps in the OB unit, and again were occasionally used in Studio A.

In 1985/6 Studio A was completely refurbished, although the Link cameras remained.  The work included a raised roof and new grid with new lighting hoists and new sound and communications, together with a new three machine VTR edit suite with four machine capability.  The studio re-opened in June '86.

Unfortunately, in a bid to save £25 million, in 1991 the BBC announced a studio closure programme and Bristol’s Studio A was one of six studios around the country that was to close, although much of the technical equipment was in fact left in situ.  Apparently for a while it was used to house some animals from Bristol Zoo.  No, I don't believe it either but that is what I am told.  Can you confirm this???

Thereafter Studio A pretty much remained dark until 1996 when  another redevelopment of the site led to part of the studio becoming  the home of the regional news programme Points West which had previously originated from the tiny 480 sqft Studio B.

David Croxson has written to inform me that...

'...By 1996, the BBC mooted the idea of merging radio and TV news operations and Bristol was chosen as the place to try it as both TV and radio production facilities at the centre were in desperate need of refurbishment.  So what was the scenery workshop became the bi-media newsroom and Radio studios and what was Studio A became: a 'new' TV studio, a production gallery, multi-format tape dubbing and TX area, a presentation studio and graphics area.  The old Studio A was partitioned with a stud-wall to create the new gallery and production areas, but the grid remained intact. 

To this day, the studio is mainly lit with dual-source luminaires hanging from the 1986 refit barrels.  In fact it's still possible to see the full size of the old Studio A by climbing the catwalk.  Many of the barrels above what is now graphics and edit suites are still in situ, though obviously they're disabled.  The floor-level hoist and barrel control panels have the corresponding bits covered up.  It's still referred to as Studio A and the old scene dock doors and studio audience entrance are still in use.'

David continues...

'In 2005 when I last explored, the old galleries were still there, though the technical equipment had long been stripped out and they were used for storage (mainly of junk).  When Points West moved into Studio A, Studio B closed and has since been demolished.  The area where it used to be is now a part of the car park.'

 

I have never visited myself, but I gather that parts of the BBC Bristol complex could be described as rather quaint as it is essentially a couple of streets' worth of attractive Victorian mansions all knocked together.  These old houses are to the right of the 1980s building shown in the photo above.  I am told that it has a genteel but rather higgledy piggledy feel as you walk from one house to the next, with grand staircases rising every so often to offices above.  Studio A is in what was once the back gardens of the two houses at the junction of the Tyndalls Park and Whiteladies Roads.  It had a scene dock and scenery workshop next door and a couple of quite cramped gallery control rooms in the 1st floor of these houses.  Studio B was a much smaller space and was used for the local news programme Points West and sport.

 

Of course Casualty was based in Bristol from 1987 (the first series was recorded at TV Centre.)  However, it was not made in these studios but in a converted industrial unit elsewhere in the city.  The show moved to the new BBC Wales Drama Centre in Cardiff in the autumn of 2011 - a very unpopular move with many people.

 

 

 

Manchester's Oxford Road studio A opened in 1976 with four EMI 2005 cameras - the only BBC studio to have the misfortune to be equipped with them.  Actually, not quite.  Stephen Neil has informed me that BBC Norwich had to suffer them too and Robin Vanags recalls them being at BBC Plymouth.where they were in use from about 1975 - 1988. 

When an Ikegami HL-79D portable camera complemented studio A's EMI 2005s in 1980 I am told that the pictures from it were such good quality they had to be downgraded by the vision engineers so they would match the rather dubious images produced by the EMIs.  However, I have been contacted by Mike Renshall who worked with these cameras and doesn't remember it like this.  He reckons the 2005s were pretty good - just like 2001s but with 3 tubes rather than 4.  Certainly no worse than the Link 110 which was mechanically poorly manufactured.  Well - maybe.  The view I have heard mostly expressed is that the 2005 produced soft, muddy pictures and one would have expected it to be an improvement on the 2001, not a backwards step.

The studio was initially only 66 x 53 feet within firelanes so quite a bit smaller than Pebble Mill's studio A.  The small size of the studio proved to a be a problem - limiting the range of shows that could be made here.  In 1989 an 18 month project was begun to lengthen the studio.  The area under construction extended into what had previously been part of the car park and increased the length of the studio by nearly 40ft.  As well as increasing the floor area the height of the studio in the new section was raised too, increasing its volume by some 80%.  A new 28ft high cyc rail was installed in the newly constructed end of the studio enabling wide camera angles to be used without shooting off the top of the cyclorama.  Once complete, Oxford Road Studio A became the largest BBC studio outside London, at 94 x 66ft within firelanes.

Whilst the refurbishment was going on, productions moved to a temporary studio at Brunswick Dock in Liverpool where they made two series of the kids show On The Waterfront, the BAFTA Craft Awards for 1988 and a few sequences for Red Dwarf, amongst other things.

The £6 million re-build and refurbishment was completed by May 1991.  The old EMIs were replaced by four new Ikegami HK-355 studio cameras and three HK-355P lightweights.

Although the first programme to use the 'new' studio A was Saturday morning kids show The 8.15 from Manchester, that show had in fact had a 22 week series the year before using the scene dock between studios A and B as a studio.  Alan Yardly, director, has written to me quite rightly pointing this out.  Props cages were draped with tinsel, and one area was turned into a very effective stage upon which all the top pop bands of the day performed.  This area became known as studio D.  The scenery in the scene dock was shifted into Studio B on a Friday night, then moved back out again later on the Sunday.

 

For many years studio A specialised in entertainment and comedy.  It was the home of Michael Rodd's Screen Test,  some series of  Record Breakers,  yoof programme The Oxford Road Show, The Travel Show, Cheggers Plays Pop, Open Air, Fax, Jossy's Giants, A Question of Pop, That's Showbusiness with Mike Smith ('91-'96) and The Sunday Show ('95-'97).  Bob Monkhouse's gameshow Wipeout came from studio A before moving to Granada's Quay St studios and the first series of Pass the Buck was also made here in 1998.  Its most famous sitcom was probably Red Dwarf (after the first few series this moved to Shepperton) but one of its other shows - A Question of Sport - is still going strong, having subsequently been made at Granada (3sixtymedia) or sometimes at TV Centre then becoming one of the first shows to be recorded in the new MediaCity studios in Salford.

Unfortunately studio A was another victim of the Director General's red pen and it closed in 2000.  The BBC and ITV formed a new company - 3sixtymedia - to run studio operations in Manchester, with ITV having an 80% stake and the BBC 20%.  The BBC's studio staff, or some of them at least, found themselves walking up the road to the great rival Granada to become part of the new business.

Studio B (2,500 sq ft), continued in use for regional news and sport programmes crewed by BBC staff.  Studio A was closed completely but curiously the scene dock area - studio D - continued in use for The Heaven and Earth Show through to 2004 which was broadcast live on Sunday mornings.   These programmes were crewed by 3sixtymedia staff who I'm told particularly appreciated the 6am call time.

 

Although studio A closed completely for a few years, in 2005 it became part of 3sixytmedia's portfolio, albeit as a 4-waller.  It was then  used for shooting several single-camera dramas including both series of Life On Mars and Channel 4's Longford

The last programme came from Oxford Road on Friday 25th November 2011.  It was an edition of North-West Tonight.  All staff left the building and moved to MediaCity during 2012.  The Oxford Road building was demolished in 2013 and the land became a car park.

 

thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above info.

 

 

BBC Newcastle

photo by Gary Richardson

 

Newcastle's studio centre was built in the mid 1980s, with the main TV studio A eventually opening in 1988.  The local BBC team moved to these very smart premises from less than perfect facilities in a very old building in the city centre.  The new base was nicknamed the 'Pink Palace' (see photo above) and contains a production studio of about 65 x 40ft (2,600 sq ft) that was intended to be used for some networked programmes as well as local shows.

Rather than use a TV flooring specialist company, a local contractor was used.  Strange as it may seem, none of the cameramen knew just how flat the floor should be in the new studio as they had only been used to the old studio that had ancient floorboards under the lino.  They could tell the new floor was flat...but was it flat enough???  They decided to call for a cameraman from Television Centre to come up and test the floor.  Unfortunately, every decent cameraman was busy so they looked around for someone who wasn't doing much and sent me.  No really.

The year was 1985 and the concrete and asphalt base had just been laid.  It had to be perfectly level so that when the lino was laid on top there would be no disturbance to the picture when the cameras tracked across it.  When I arrived at the building site I expected to meet just a couple of BBC suits but what seemed like the whole of BBC Newcastle plus a dozen or so managers and engineers from the construction companies were there to meet me.  Highly embarrassed, I felt like the man from Del Monte as I slowly tracked a camera ped back and forth across the whole surface, looking for bumps.  Not as easy as it sounds, I can assure you.  It only took a couple of hours but I was emotionally drained by the time we finished.  I did find a few little ridges and holes which I think justified my trip.  Funny old world.

 

The studio, with its perfectly flat floor, went on to specialise in Children's programmes including Jackanory and, of course, Byker Grove.  To think that Ant and Dec (or 'PJ and Duncan' as they were then) trod the floor I had checked.  It doesn't get much better than that. 

Local man Gary Richardson has informed me that other network shows made in the early days of studio A included the children's gameshow Knock Knock, the regional contributions to Children In Need, daytime request show Happy Memories with Cliff Mitchelmore, and the revival of Juke Box Jury with Jools Holland complete with studio audience.  Jools of course was no stranger to Newcastle having famously presented The Tube down the road at Tyne Tees Television on City Road in the 1980's.

During this period, the studio was also used for the regional magazine programme Look North when network shows weren't booked.  When A was unavailable, Look North decamped to studio B - a much smaller space that was designed for the daily regional news bulletins.  It is large enough for two presenters complete with a scaled down version of the news desk

Around the turn of the millennium, the studio ceased any pretentions of being able to make programmes for network TV and was handed over to Look North on a permanent basis.  This saved it from closure.  It had the curious advantage of not being too big - so it could be used for a programme like this.  If it had been larger like the studios 'A' in Manchester or Birmingham it would almost certainly have been closed down for good like they were.  On Sundays the studio is also used for the regional version of the Politics Show.  Go to this web address to see a 360 degree image of the studio with its Look North set...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/in_pictures/360_panoramas/look_north/

 

 

 

Southampton

David Croxson has pointed out to me that like Newcastle, BBC Southampton also contains what could be described as a production studio.  The centre was built slightly later than Newcastle - opening in 1991 - but by the same contractors and within the same BBC climate of wanting to be able to produce more networked programmes from around the UK.

Southampton studio A is slightly smaller than Newcastle's studio at about 1,900 sq ft.  The working area is 50 x 36 feet with some additional space near the scene dock door.  It is apparently audience capable, has a large scene dock and store, separate lamp store and three dressing rooms.  The lighting grid has 60 motorised hoist pantographs on tracks which are also motorised for moving along the grid (that's clever) with mainly dual-source lanterns.  Again like Newcastle, there is a studio B which was the original home of the Oxford sub-opt when it started in 2000 but its cameras went to Oxford when the sub-opt moved there in 2005.  These days studio B is apparently used once or twice a year when A has its grid safety inspections, but otherwise is used as a meeting room.

Unlike Newcastle, by the time the studio was commissioned, the idea of producing programmes from smaller centres was out of favour and only one networked programme ever came from Southampton - The Midnight Hour - (unless you know differently!!!).  Since then though, thanks to yet another BBC management idea that after a few years was quietly forgotten, they've been blessed with an excellent and somewhat over-specified news studio.

A corner of Studio A, BBC Southampton.  Smart floor!

 

Around 1988, BBC East in Norwich was also planned to have a similar sized studio costing £4m which would have enabled the occasional network programme to be made.  It was due to open in 1990.  The plans were publicly announced and featured on the local news programme.  Sadly for them it never happened (another victim of Michael Checkland's red pen) and instead they moved to The Forum in Norwich, where only a small news studio was built.

 

Of course, the BBC still have regional newsrooms in many major towns in the country but as far as production studios go there are none outside London apart from those in Cardiff and Glasgow, with a 4-waller in Belfast.  Cardiff's studio A used to be the base for local soap Pobol y Cwm but that moved to the new drama centre at Roath Lock in 2011.  The studio is now used for Crimewatch UK, which rather oddly was moved to Cardiff in 2011.  I don't know if the syudio is currently used for anything else - can you help?  still makes programmes for BBC Wales but hardly ever are any made for the UK versions of BBC1 or BBC2.  However, Scotland is emerging as a new centre for programme making in the UK.  The old BBC Glasgow studios closed in 2007 and a brand new 'state of the art' HD studio centre opened in a trendy location in Pacific Quay.  This is intended not just to become a programme making centre for Scotland but also to make comedies and entertainment shows for the whole of the UK. 

There is incidentally a misunderstanding with some people that the BBC will be opening new studios at Salford Quays in Manchester in 2011.  There is of course a huge new media centre opening there but the studios are not owned or operated by the BBC - however they have signed an agreement to use some of them for a number of days each year for the next few years.  The Corporation will of course be occupying a great deal of office space there and several departments are moving to Salford from London and the old Manchester centre.

 

 

 

Current BBC production studios outside London

BBC Cardiff

Broadcasting House, Llandaff

image thanks to BBC Wales website

The BBC site at Llandaff was purchased in 1952.  The initial development of 6 sound studios, concert hall, technical block and offices was completed in 1966.  TV studio C2 (1,500 sq ft) came into service in 1974.  This studio is used for local news and sport programmes.  The concert hall mentioned above is also known as studio A and was large enough to house the BBC Symphony Orchestra of Wales.  This orchestra moved its home to the BBC Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre in January 2009. 

The main production TV studio, C1, opened in December 1979.  It is 80 x 62 metric feet within firelanes, making the studio about  6,500 sq ft overall.  The grid has 88 motorised lighting bars with the usual BBC dual-source lanterns on them.  The production galleries are spacious and well equipped and from my experience of working there on a couple of shows it is a very nice place to make programmes.

studio C1 in 2014.  A very nicely equipped studio not being used for much at all these days.  I wonder how many production companies even know it exists.

with thanks to Louis Barfe via Twitter

From 1980 - 2011 the main programme recorded here was Pobol y Cym (People of the Valley).  This series actually began in 1974 - making it the BBC's longest-running soap.  It was initially recorded in the BBC's much smaller Cardiff studio in Broadway and occasionally even in Pebble Mill.  It used to be transmitted on BBC1 Wales but transferred to S4C when that opened in 1982.  Located at the back of the Llandaff building was an exterior set of a street with some house and shop fronts but all the interiors were shot in the studio.  For many years the programme used the studio on alternate weeks, allowing other shows to use it then.  Towards the end of its tenure here it was semi-permanently based in the studio.  The soap moved to Roath Lock in autumn 2011.

In January 2011 Crimewatch UK moved its base to Llandaff.  It had to use the music studio A at first but then transferred to C1 once Pobol y Cym had moved to Roath Lock.  The set for Crimewatch is now semi-permanently in the studio.  There are 10 live shows each year plus a few editions of the CW Roadshow which uses the studio for links.  Quite how this makes more economic sense (or any other sort of sense) than when the programme simply used one of the studios at TV Centre on a daily basis when required is a mystery only understood by very senior BBC managers.

The Pobol y Cym set.  It was built between two office blocks at the back of the main building.

Studio C1 has been home to several popular series over the years.  Most of these have been for transmission on BBC1 Wales or S4C but highly regarded drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George was made here in 1981, drama series District Nurse ('84-'87) with Nerys Hughes, Tiger Bay ('96-'97) and one series of Terry and June was famously recorded here when no studio was available at TV Centre.  Mastermind is now occasionally recorded here for transmission on BBC1.  Other series made in English for BBC1 Wales have included the popular sitcom High Hopes ('02-'08) and musical gameshow The Lyrics Game ('03) - both suffering from lighting by yours truly.

 

In August 2013 the BBC announced that it would be putting its Llandaff centre up for sale in the autumn.  They intend to leave by 2018.  This was confirmed in June 2014.   The new site is next to Cardiff Central rail station in the city centre and is about half the size of the current building.  It will house over 1,000 staff.  It is assumed that it will contain no replacement production studio for C1, just small news/sport studios.  Some facilities in the new Welsh HQ will be shared with S4C - which now gets its funding from the licence fee.  By coincidence, in the summer of 2013 ITV announced that they too planned to move their local news operation from Culverhouse Cross to a new HQ in Cardiff Bay.

 

 

 

 

Roath Lock - Cardiff

No - not the entrance to a theme park or seaside amusement arcade, this is Roath Lock, the BBC's Welsh Drama Centre.  The 'Dr Who Experience' is the dark blue building at the end of the road.

Chris Patten, BBC Chairman, described it as looking like a cross between the Doge's Palace and Ikea.  I think he meant that to be a compliment.

Actually, having seen it myself it is not quite as - well, 'Playschool' - as it appears in photos.  It is certainly striking though.

 

In July 2010 work began on the construction of the new BBC Wales Drama Production Centre.  Occupying a large part of the remaining undeveloped land in the Porth Teigr area of Cardiff Bay this 170,000 sq ft site now houses a number of popular BBC drama series.  Originally called 'Roath Basin', it changed its name to 'Roath Lock' early in 2011 following consultation with staff.  You may draw your own conclusions.

All credit due, the first shots were recorded only 14 months after construction of the studios began - an extraordinarily speedy process.  The studios were officially declared completely open on March 12th 2012.

Casualty, a genuine casualty of the BBC's drive to move programme making around the UK, transferred from its base across the water in Bristol to these studios during the summer of 2011, the first filming beginning on 16th September.  Pobol y Cym, the long-running soap, (longer in fact than EastEnders) moved here around the end of November from its previous base at the BBC Wales HQ on the other side of Cardiff in Llandaff.  It now has a larger exterior set and occupies two stages.

Dr Who was previously made in Upper Boat Studios - a former seat belt factory on an industrial site at Treforest, near Pontypridd.  The BBC had leased those buildings since the summer of 2006.  That operation moved to the Roath Lock site early in 2012.  The Dr Who base at Upper Boat provided space for workshops, video editing suites, six sound stages and a large props store.   It was said to be ten times the size of BBC Llandaff.  Spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures was also made at Upper Boat and was due to transfer to Roath Lock but following the sad death of Elizabeth Sladen in April 2011 the decision was taken not to make any more.  Early series of Torchwood were also made at Upper Boat but the fourth series, Miracle Day, was mostly filmed in the United States.

 

With Dr Who, Casualty, Pobol y Cym and other dramas such as Upstairs Downstairs being made here too, it is not surprising that the centre has no less than 9 sound stages of various shapes and sizes.  Upstairs Downstairs unfortunately was not recommissioned after its disappointing second series which was made in these studios.  However, Aliens vs Wizards started filming in spring 2012.

Three of the stages are occupied by Casualty, two by Pobol y Cwm and the remaining four are used by 'transient' productions including Dr Who.

The stages here are called studios but apart from having flat TV floors they have no technical facilities and very basic I-beam and scaffold grids so I would prefer to describe them as stages.  All are different sizes but most are the same height except for studio 4 which is several feet higher.

The dimensions wall to wall are approximately as follows:  Studio 1: 175 x 75ft;  studio 2: 100 x 60ft;  studio 3 120 x 60ft;  studio 4 140 x 80ft.  These are the stages for Dr Who and other dramas - the Tardis is a semi-permanent set at one end of studio 4.

When first built, studio 4 was fitted with a huge greenscreen which was intended for Dr Who and any other drama that needed it.  It was said to be the largest in Europe.  However, it was soon realised that this big stage would be more productively employed being used for large conventional sets - in particular those needing a lot of height.  A greenscreen is now fitted in the corner of one of the other stages - large enough, but not the largest in Europe any longer.

 

Studios 5 and 6 are both about 125 x 60ft.  These are the Pobol y Cym stages and they have a basic truss and scaffold grid suspended over the sets.  The sets are mostly permanent - as are the lighting rigs.  Each stage has a small room on the studio floor in which the LD sits along with a console op and racks engineer.  This show does not normally have a grade so it is essential that the pictures as recorded are transmittable.  The director sits at a table on the studio floor with the PA and a couple of monitors.  The two cameras are both recorded onto hard drive and edited later.  There is no vision mixer - unlike when the series was made in studio A in Llandaff.

 

Studios 7, 8 and 9 are dedicated to Casualty.  Studio 7 is about 80ft square and has a hospital ward set in one half and the other half is used for guest sets.  Studio 8 is the most impressive on the whole site.  It is about 125 x 100 ft and contains a fully ceilinged hospital set on two floors.  Everything looks completely believable - it is dressed and equipped as a real hospital would be.  There are soundproof barriers that can be used to block doorways or corridors - this enables two units to be filming at once within the stage.  Cameras are Arri Alexas.  Casualty is shot single camera but occasionally a second one is used.

Studio 9 is the only non-soundproof stage and is used as the Ambulance garage although guest sets are sometimes built within it.  It is about 75 x 50ft.  Outside this stage and studio 8 are small street scene exterior sets.  On the other side of the road from the hospital on the lot is a large pub set - this is used regularly by Casualty but also sometimes by Pobol Y Cym - with a little bit of re-dressing it becomes a Welsh country pub.  Pobol also occasionally uses one of the Casualty sets if it has a scene set in a hospital ward.

The Roath Lock studios.  The individual buildings are not all whole stages - some also partly contain prop stores and workshops.

From right to left  - the top three buildings contain studios 1, 2 and 3.  Then comes studio 4 - the largest and highest on the site.  This stage does fill the whole building.  These four are used by Dr Who and other dramas when that show is not filming.

The centre of the site is the Pobol y Cwm base - studios 5 and 6 and the exterior street set in the middle.  The houses and shops are not just frontages - some contain sets in which scenes are regularly shot.

The left hand end of the site is for Casualty.  Studio 7 is within the next building and is used for guest sets.  The large building bottom left is studio 8 and where the main hospital set is built.  This is on two floors within it.  The small extension to this building bottom left is studio 9 and is the Ambulance garage set.

Outside the 'hospital' and the 'ambulance garage' are exterior street sets.  These are 15 miles apart in the story.

with thanks to Googlemaps

 

Each show has its own extensive prop store but every prop is recorded on a database so is also available to the other shows that are made here - or indeed to any other programme - at a reasonable price!  There is some cross-fertilisation of crew members too since most are freelance but most tend to work on one series most of the time.

The Crimewatch production office is located here although they use the main studio at BBC Llandaff for their monthly transmission.  On the face of it an odd choice but Crimewatch does of course film dramatic reconstructions of the crimes it covers so they are able to draw upon local expertise for these.

 

The BBC has committed to a 20 year lease costing £1.35m per year.  The construction cost was shared between the Welsh government, Cardiff council and the development company, Igloo.  They also paid £10m up front to fit out the studios.  In July 2012 it was announced that the development had been awarded the highest possible environmental and sustainability rating - and is the first industrial building in the UK to obtain the prestigious BREEAM Outstanding certificate.  This has proved slightly problematic.  At first, the stages proved to be very hot to work in as they were so well insulated and there was no conventional air conditioning.  Extra air handling ducts have had to be fitted to some of them - and to the permanent Casualty set.  These still fit within the limitations of the BREEAM rules but have helped to lower working temperatures.

 

In some ways, these studios have taken the place of the old  BBC Film dept at Ealing Studios - but on a much bigger and more sophisticated scale.  The people working here seem genuinely impressed with the facilities, including those on Casualty who needed a lot of persuasion to move from Bristol.  I have visited the site and was very impressed with what I saw.  Also, all the reports I have read have been extremely positive.  There is little doubt that establishing this centre has been a success with programmes not only benefiting from excellent facilities but able to cross-fertilise experience and talent from one production to another.  This has had simple practical benefits too - for example, a prosthetic baby made for Casualty was borrowed to be used on Upstairs Downstairs.  It's all beginning to sound like the good old days at TV Centre!

Interestingly, although the site was intended to be shared with independent programme makers there is seldom room for them as the studios are busy with BBC work most of the time.  Even BBC programmes can't fit in.  The 2013 series of Sherlock was due to be made here but because it clashed with the Dr Who schedule it was made in the old Upper Boat studios.  Good job they hadn't't gone back to making seatbelts.

Despite the fact that these studios were intended for single camera drama - well, 2 cameras in the case of Pobol y Cwm - the first multicamera entertainment show was recorded here in November 2013.  It was Only Connect, the very popular (in my household at least) quiz show hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell.  Previously recorded in Studio 1 Culverhouse Cross, it moved here for reasons currently unknown but since that studio is due to close soon we can assume that Roath Lock will be its new regular home.  An OB truck was used for facilities.

Good luck to all those who work here.  Nice to hear a genuine success story.

 

 

 

Blackstaff - Belfast

In 1989 the BBC announced plans to develop ‘Blackstaff’ near Broadcasting House in Belfast into a 6,500 sqft studio with work starting in February 1990.  The facility also with accommodation for production departments and support staff was completed by the end of 1991 and replaced ageing facilities at Balmoral Hall.  Development costs were kept down by purchasing second hand lighting, mechanical equipment and audience seating.  Further cost savings were made as dedicated control rooms were not built (apart from a lighting gallery), with technical facilities provided by an OB vehicle when required.

the Blackstaff studio - on a very wide lens!

thanks to Peter Jones

When it originally opened the Type 6 OB in operation was equipped with Thomson 1531 and 1624 cameras, although the portable tube cameras were were replaced by 1647 CCD cameras around 1992.  These cameras were all replaced in the OB unit around 1997 by widescreen capable 1657 camera heads.

Later the same OB scanner was equipped entirely with widescreen digital technology including Thomson/Philips LDK200 cameras, a 32-input DD30 vision mixer and 36-channel sound mixer.  It was the principal unit used to provide technical and control room facilities for the studio.  In late 2011 this scanner was replaced with a refurbished one with HD facilities.  10 Sony 1500R cameras are available.

Blackstaff is the home of many locally transmitted shows such as Nolan Live and the Blackstaff Sessions.  It has also been used to make several UK network programmmes including Patrick Kielty Almost Live, Frank Skinner's Opinionated, Ask Rhod Gilbert and Question Time.  It has retractable audience seating for 290.  A new floor was laid in 2011.

I would appreciate any more info on other programmes made for network TV.  The studio may well get further network use with the increase in programmes commissioned by 'The Nations'  under the new BBC scheme of things.

In Broadcasting House, Ormeau Avenue, the BBC also have studio B - a 2,000 sq ft studio used for local news, current affairs and sport, and studio C - a small unattended studio with a single camera.  Studio One is an old radio concert studio across the road from BH and has been used for a few programmes including Sunday Morning Live and Sesame Tree.  There is also a small studio in the parliament building at Stormont.

thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above technical info.

 

 

 

Pacific Quay - Glasgow

Pacific Quay, formerly known as Prince's Dock, formed an important part of Glasgow's once thriving industrial docklands, being the first dock in the city to install the full range of cranes capable of lifting the heavy engines and boilers so important in establishing Glasgow's industrial influence across the world.  The cargo docks existed for more than 100 years before closing in the 1970s.  The site was subsequently chosen for the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 but when that closed it remained largely redundant until its rebirth as Pacific Quay in the early 1990s.  It covers 28 hectares and comprises a 500,000 square feet mixed-use development incorporating offices, residential, hotel, leisure and other supporting businesses.  The 10-acre Festival Park, to the south of the new development area, remains as a permanent reminder of the success of the flower festival.

The BBC's new HQ is a glass-fronted rectangular block, six stories high.  (Confusingly, actually five plus a mezzanine floor.)  The building is clad with a triple-glazed system, which I have read provides a natural air-conditioning system.  The interior of the building is far more interesting than the somewhat bland exterior.  Within the structure is a huge staircase, known as the 'street', that rises throughout the entire length of the design, housing the studios underneath and providing break-out spaces and informal meeting areas on top.  This is clearly what the architect was mostly interested in when he sat down with his blank sheet of paper. 

Making one's way from the studio to the cafeteria which is on the top floor is therefore not quite as straightforward as it is in most studio centres.  To be fair, there are of course lifts to the top floor although the complicated security pass system does mean that you might get trapped the wrong side of the door if you're not careful.

The 'street'.  This photo was taken on the first floor (actually the second floor as the first floor is called the 'mezzanine') so it doesn't show the entire height.

The interior reminds me of the turbine hall in Tate Modern - it's on a similar scale.  However, instead of a huge spider or giant trumpet, there is a massive staircase rising from the entrance on the ground floor to the cafeteria on the sixth.  Or fifth, as it says in the lifts.

 

The materials were apparently chosen to represent the history of the area - I'm told that the sandstone is the same as was used for the old dockside tenement buildings, the chromed metal represents the local ship building yards and the grey concrete blocks represent something else I've forgotten.  Sorry.

The view from the top level.  Extraordinary.

The offices on each floor open out with no fire doors or other barriers to be seen.

I gather that initially there were rules about what could be left on desks so the place didn't look untidy but from what I have seen, that rule has quite sensibly already been quietly forgotten.

 

It's not only BBC Scotland that has moved to this area - Scottish Television (formally SMG), the company that provides the ITV service to Scotland, is also based at Pacific Quay next door but one to the Corporation's building.  However, STV have no production studios in their complex, just small news studios.  They vacated their central Glasgow studio centre which included a 6,200 sq ft  studio but decided that it was not cost-effective to replace it.  That old Scottish Television studio had opened in 1974 and was demolished in 2007 shortly after STV moved here.  It does on reflection seem extraordinary that a nation with such a strong sense of identity as Scotland should have not even one large independent production TV studio to make programmes for its own market.

 

Just a quick note to record that from 1957 when they were created, Scottish Television occupied the Theatre Royal in Hope Street, which they used as a studio.  Some of the programmes made there were also shown south of the border.  In 1974 they moved next door to new purpose-built studios, which in turn were demolished in 2007, as mentioned above.  The theatre was then purchased by Scottish Opera.

I'm told by Leigh Mulpeter that...

'...The rear of the domed ceiling still opens up to reveal a second FOH lighting position put in place for the studio work. This, when I last toured there, still had the Strand Patt 793 2Kw profiles in place as they were far too big and heavy for the crew to manhandle out of the roof space.  The roof opening is operated by a still beautifully intact and operational wooden block and pulley system with some very old counterweights.'

Well fancy that.

 

 

Since STV no longer have any studios, the BBC are hoping that they will book studio space in their building from time to time as well as independent production companies.  This is not such a strange idea - programmes were made at BBC TV Centre in London for ITV and C4 for many years.  In fact one or two shows have indeed been made here for STV but sadly not anything like the number that ought to be if STV took their responsibilities to the Scottish nation seriously.  Why isn't there a regular Scots gameshow or quiz show, some music shows and a sitcom or two with Scottish scripts and actors?  If they were well made they would pull in the ratings and generate advertising revenue and some of these shows could be shown over the UK ITV network too.  That's what STV should be doing in Scotland - as should the BBC of course. (end of rant number 1.)  OK - STV are now making one quiz show - Postcode Challenge - in studio B at PQ.  It's a start.

I have been told a story that cannot possibly be true.  As everyone knows, PQ was designed as a 'tapeless' studio centre.  Except of course, until very recently it wasn't and all programmes made in studio A have mostly been recorded on videotape like in every other studio.  It seems that early in its existence, a runner was sent to deliver the day's recorded tapes to the STV building 'next door' where they were going to be edited.  She duly handed them into reception and went home.  Next day there was a flap on as STV hadn't received the tapes.  It seems that the runner had obeyed her instructions to the letter.  Unfortunately, the building literally next door is owned by the Scottish judiciary.  STV is next door but one.  The gameshow tapes had been taken in and included as evidence in an on-going legal case and could not now be released without permission from the judge, which would take several weeks to obtain.  I have yet to establish whether the runner was employed again.  More likely she was promoted and is now a producer of a Saturday night talent show.

 

The BBC's building here contains three studios, of which one is is relatively large - at something over 8,000 sq ft.  It is 90 x 70 metric feet within firelanes so pretty well identical in size to studios TC3, TC4, TC6 and TC8 at TV Centre.  One might think it was booked solid making shows for Scotland - to be shown on BBC1 Scotland and STV but sadly this isn't the case.  The way British TV is organised, the good people of Scotland mostly have to watch the same as the rest of the UK.  No wonder so many Scots want independence.

 

The main studio - studio A - is in fact occupied for much of the time with programmes being made for the UK versions of BBC1 or BBC2.  Since opening in the summer of 2007, several shows have been brought to the studio that might otherwise have been made in London.  These have included Get 100 and Copycats (CBBC gameshows), The National Lottery 1 vs 100, Who Dares Wins and In It To Win It, daytime gameshow A Question of Genius, sitcoms The Old Guys and Life of Riley and song and dance show Tonight's the Night.  Almost all of these had the production teams, directors, actors/presenters and various heads of craft departments flown up from London.  I am very pleased to report that the studio staff were very friendly and helpful to those who travelled up to work with them - I'm not sure I would have been in the circumstances.  I have certainly found this to be the case on the several shows I have lit in these studios.  The local staffers must find it a bit galling to have a bunch of Englishmen coming up to tell them how to do things that they probably consider they are quite capable of doing themselves but they certainly don't show it and could not be more accommodating.

Studio B is much smaller - smaller than TC2, say, at TV Centre.  In 2008/9 it was decided that daytime shows The Weakest Link and Eggheads would also move to Scotland and be made in this studio.  Weakest Link was being made in a large studio in Pinewood and was completely unsuitable to be transferred to such a small room.  However, despite the size of the Scottish studio being marked out on the floor of TV-One at Pinewood so all could appreciate the problem, certain BBC managers and producers apparently insisted that it would have to be made to fit.  After several months of discussions it was eventually decided to make the show in Studio A at PQ.  Eggheads, however, was made to fit in Studio B.  By chance, the set could just about squeeze into the tiny space with a little trimming but the 'question room' - previously an area just behind the set in the same studio - literally had to become another room in the building.  Another daytime quiz show - Perfection - has also made the move to Glasgow and squeezed into studio B.

 

The BBC is plainly keen to see these studios used as much as possible and to try to get more programmes made outside London.  However, I'm not sure that making a couple of sitcoms in Glasgow that from their scripts are plainly supposed to be set in the south-east of England is quite the way to achieve that.  Similarly, I wonder if making existing gameshows in Glasgow that have worked well in London is really helping to promote Scottish culture and identity throughout the UK.  I wonder how many Scots even realise that these shows are now 'Scottish?'  Nevertheless, in October 2008 Jana Bennett (Director, BBC Vision) announced  that...

'...Network spend [in Scotland] is planned to at least meet the population level by 2016, increasing from 3.3% currently to around 9%.'

She added...

'...We will double the amount of comedy from the Nations by 2012....Scotland will focus on five genres, in all of which it already has great strengths – and those are Children's, Comedy, Entertainment, Drama and Factual.'

I wonder, is it possible to 'focus' on quite so many areas of TV - that's almost all of it isn't it?  Oh yes - I almost forgot the Arts.  But Newsnight Review (now called The Review Show) and Alan Yentob's Imagine have moved here too.  Anyway, there was more...

'...Scotland's in-house Entertainment business will be reinforced by the move of key returning strands. We will be making at least one Saturday night Lottery show in Pacific Quay as well as one from the independent sector.  To bolster the in-house entertainment department we are planning to move Weakest Link to Scotland.'

Anne Robinson's reaction to the move was not recorded.  Jana Bennet continued...

'...Question Time, one of the BBC's leading political programmes, will be based in Scotland from 2010.  We are planning to commission a National Lottery show from an independent in Scotland in addition to one made in-house.'

Now, pretty obviously Question Time is a show that travels the country so will not be made in these studios - except perhaps when the show visits Glasgow.  As for the Lotto shows - it seems that the intention now is that all the BBC's lottery shows will be made here. 

What does seem odd and downright wasteful to many is that so many shows are being made in these studios that were previously made in London - but without any obvious benefit to Scotland or indeed to the BBC.  It must be costing far more, since so many of the key people involved are travelling up here from their homes around London and being put up in hotels for the duration.  The hired lighting equipment too has to be trucked all the way up the country and back again.  Local BBC staff cameramen, sound crews, electricians and scene shifters are of course employed on the shows - which is nice for them but tough on the freelance crews from all over the rest of the UK who originally worked on them.

 

It's easy to be cynical about these things but in principal the BBC is trying to do the right thing.  It can't seem right to many people all over the UK that so much of the country's television seems to be focused on London.  However, the essential problem will not go away - as has been discovered time and again; most writers and performers working in the worlds of theatre, comedy, music, film and television tend to gravitate towards London, wherever they were born and brought up.  London is arguably the cultural capital of the world, not just the UK.  There will of course always be individuals who fight that urge and decide to work in their local town or city but for most creative people the magnetic force of London cannot be resisted any more than people in similar professions in the US gravitate to Hollywood or New York.

That applies too to producers, studio directors and the various craft departments - set design, lighting, sound, cameras, vision mixing, costume, make-up, graphics, visual effects and so on - it's simply because they work on so many shows of all types that they learn how to do their jobs and are able to work quickly and efficiently to world-class standards.  If all that is fragmented then arguably the industry as a whole will suffer.

My guess (and I promise that this rant will be over soon) is that the important thing to most viewers is who the people are that they are watching on their TVs - and where the programme appears to be set - not where the programme has actually been made.  The Liver Birds and Bread had a few locations filmed in Liverpool but the majority of the running time was shot at TV Centre in LondonSo what?  Those comedies could not have been more Liverpudlian.  Two Pints of Lager was firmly set in Runcorn with a northern cast but apart from a few location scenes it too was recorded at TV Centre.  Does that matter?  Surely what really matters is that the culture of people who are not from the south-east of England is properly represented. 

Rant over.

 

 

Anyway - back to the studios.  As previously mentioned, there are three - A, B and C.  A is a little over 8,000 sq ft (90ft x 70ft within firelanes), B is 2,600 sq ft (53.3ft x 37ft within firelanes) and C is just under 2,000 sq ft.  (The 'within firelanes' measures are metric feet - i.e. 30cm.) 

Only A and C have fully equipped galleries.  B is basically a four-waller and uses an OB scanner as a production gallery although it does have a lighting and vision gallery.  C is used for local news and sport and A, as mentioned, mostly for entertainment and comedy shows.  A is equipped with eight Sony HDC-1500 high def cameras and C with five.  The studios were designed to be 'tapeless' - in other words, all material would be recorded straight onto hard drives where it could easily be edited.  However, for the first few years of use all shows recorded onto tape and disc-based recording only started in 2012.

 

The galleries in A are large and well laid-out, although perversely located at upper gantry level rather than at ground level which would have made much more sense.  The walk to and from the studio floor is thus longer than in any other studio I know of - apart from the new ones at MediaCity in Salford which is even further away.  Who has been telling the architects of these new studios that we'd like to be as far away from the studio floor as possible please?  I'd like to meet him!!!

At first glance, studio A appears to be almost a carbon copy of studios TC3 or TC4 at TV Centre.  It is almost exactly the same size and has widely-spaced long lighting bars so looks very similar.  I suppose this is a compliment to the team who built TV Centre 50 years ago.  Even now, the basic design can't be improved upon.

 

Lighting here is controlled by a very sophisticated data network, which as originally planned enabled 64 universes to control the three studios, presentation, reception and local areas.  Thus it is possible for a show using any gallery to control the lighting in any other studio as well as its own.  If that sounds a bit scary to you you're quite right.  I've been working there on and off since 2008 and the local data system is very scary indeed.

 

The lights are suspended from long motorised bars in A rather than monopoles (which is a bit of a shame if you ask me) and are controlled by ETC Congo desks.  The dimmers are on the lighting bars, rather than in a separate dimmer room so access for fault finding or resetting trips can be tricky.  Everything is linked to the very complex data network which can make even the simplest thing - like feeding a socket with mains - rather time-consuming and occasionally prone to network faults.  I detect the influence of 'consultants' who, let's be honest, have very little experience of actually making a television programme.

 

The lighting and scenery hoists are controlled by a complex computerised panel which reassuringly has two buttons to actually control the motion.  These were clearly manufactured specifically for this studio.  See below...

 

Studio B has a basic scaffold grid with bars about 3ft 6ins apart.  Rigging is via step ladders and scissor lifts.  (No quick relights in here then!)  There is a mix of new lights and the Colortran dual sources from the old BBC Glasgow studios.

Access to studio A is via two scene dock doors with clear access to the outside world for loading/unloading and there is plenty of space for storage.  This aspect of the building's design is excellent.  (Interesting to compare these studios in this respect with the new ones in Salford.)

 

There is no doubt that these are mostly well designed studios and have benefitted from a great deal of input from the BBC staff who moved from the old studios in Queen Margaret Drive.  In the words of Joe Breslin - staff LD at the time - "I aimed high, asked for everything, and got about 70%"  Good for him, I say.  At least they bothered to ask him.

 

 

So these excellent studios will no doubt be made to succeed - they can't be allowed to fail.  I genuinely wish them every success.  What I would truly like to see however are plenty of shows made here by the Scots for Scotland.  It would also be good if some of them were shown on UK network TV too - but they should be 'Scottish' shows, not London shows brought up to occupy the studio in order to artificially satisfy a quota.

 

 

 

BBC Dumbarton Studios

Above and below - the BBC Dumbarton site.  Top left is the external set for River City.  The internal sets are in the centre block below.  The one to its left is studio 1 - which is available for general hire.  Studio 2 is the lower of the larger buildings top right, the other is a workshop.

The glorious architectural splendour of the BBC's Dumbarton studios.  Lifts the spirits doesn't it.

 

Although unknown to most people living south of the border, River City is a very popular soap in Scotland.  It has been made by the BBC since 2002 and is based in studios that are a converted whisky bottling plant in Dumbarton, on the north west outskirts of Glasgow.  The site has three main stages converted from industrial buildings.  One is permanently occupied with the sets for River City and the other two (studios 1 and 2) are available for hire.  There is also a back lot with a permanent street scene set.  The site has workshops and all the usual facilities - make-up, wardrobe, dressing rooms, production offices etc.

In 2008 two stages were made available for use by other productions.  Studio 1 is 170 x 104ft and studio 2 is 197 x 147ft.  Both have relatively low roofs of only 16-22ft as you might expect from converted industrial sheds.  Studio 1 is an unbroken space but studio 2 has two rows of pillars within it, suppporting the roof.  Stage 1 has been acoustically treated and both stages have a 3-phase power supply.  Neither stage has a lighting grid.

Above - studio 1; below - studio 2

with thanks to the BBC Dumbarton website

There are no technical facilities - River City is shot using single camera technique (although 2 cameras are often in use.)  The two other stages are just basic 4-wallers.  They have been used for a number of dramas and films but Channel 4 daytime quiz show Face the Clock, hosted by Rory Bremner was also recorded in studio 1 in the autumn of  2012.  Fly-away facilities and cameras were hired in.  I'm told that the greatest problem during recordings was preventing the contestants from looking freezing cold on camera.

Since 2008 Dumbarton has been used for a number of dramas including Garrow's Law, The Deep, Hope Springs, Personal Affairs, Eagle of the Ninth and How Not to Live Your Life.

 

 

 

 

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