Chelsea Palace (Granada)

I wrote earlier that of the four big ITV companies that provided network shows when ITV began, three had their main studios in London with the fourth – Granada – building a brand new TV centre in Quay St, Manchester.  This is partly true – the first studio in the Granada centre opened on 3rd May 1956. (The same year the foundation stone of the main block at BBC TV Centre was laid.) 

By 1958 they had five studios including studio 12, which for many years remained one of the largest in the country at 98 x 70 ft within firelanes.  (This was the studio regularly used for example in later years by Stars in their Eyes.)  The head of Granada, Sidney Bernstein, decided to number his studios with even numbers only, to give the impression that they had twice the actual number.  Thus, in Manchester were studios 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12. So where was studio 10?  Studio 10 was in London and was actually a theatre known as the Chelsea Palace in the King’s Road.

 

For once, this building was not designed by Frank Matcham but by the architectural practice of Wylson and Long.  It had opened in 1903 and was a very successful variety theatre in its day.  It had a large auditorium – one source states a capacity of 1624, another ‘about 2500’.  It fell under the ownership of Granada Theatres in 1951 when the company that ran it came under the control of Bernstein.  Granada was of course a cinema chain – however, the Palace was never converted into a cinema but remained as a theatre for a few years. 

 

In August 1957 Granada decided that they had to have a London studio to stage the acts that would or could not make the journey to Manchester, so conversion began for TV use.  Granada used it for shows such as The Army Game and, perhaps surprisingly, some advertising magazine programmes or ‘admags.’  However, it was best known for its popular variety show – Chelsea at Nine.  A typical early programme from Chelsea included Yehudi Menuhin, Charles Laughton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, a skiffle group, vent act Edgar Bergen and ‘Charlie McCarthy’, choristers, chorus and a ballet.  Whew! Sounds like they got their money’s worth in those days.  Several one-off spectaculars were made here including a concert in 1963 featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Incidentally, Dennis Weinreich has informed me that Edgar Bergen was Candice Bergen’s father (fancy that) and that he and his puppet Charlie were a very successful radio act between 1937 and 1956.  And you thought that Peter Brough and Archie Andrews had it all to themselves.

 

It seems that some plays were also made here.  (Not an ideal studio acoustically for drama I would have thought.)  The picture below shows The Iceman Cometh in rehearsal and was sent to me by sound man Michael Harrison.

chelsea palace iceman cometh michael harrison 430p (1)
When Michael Harrison sent me this pic, which he took himself all those years ago, I rather rudely questioned whether it was in fact the Chelsea Palace as the grid seems quite low and doesn’t look what one would expect in a TV theatre.  However, the image below, definitely of The Palace, has a similar rather surprising arrangement of scaffolding cross-bars linking the main over-stage lighting bars and the lamps in use appear to be identical.

 

The Chelsea Palace stage had an area of 2,373 sq ft and was extended forward over the original orchestra pit and first few rows and to the back of the stalls on camera left.  This additional area of 820 sq ft was to allow space for cameras to track in front of the performers.  The audience was thus restricted to dress circle and gallery, giving a total capacity of 669.

chelsea palace studio and mole michael harrison 430p
The Chelsea Palace during rehearsals for a typical show.  On the left, a Mole crane operating exactly as the one used to do in the BBC’s TV Theatre.  I can’t help noticing that there is no safety cage behind the cameraman’s head.  In the BBC’s theatre this was added to the crane in case the swinger craned the jib up whilst an enthusiastic tracker was driving back too fast – thus crushing the cameraman against the front of the dress circle.  I assume Granada’s trackers were thought to be better drivers.  (Before you write to me – I tracked or swung the Mole at TV Theatre on a few occasions many years ago and having had one or two near-misses am very glad the safety cage was there!) 
Note the pit on the camera right of the stalls under the dress circle – this was a space for the orchestra.
with thanks to Michael Harrison
chelsea palace looking toward audience michael harrison 430p
Looking towards the audience – obviously.  The new orchestra pit can just be made out behind the Mole crane.  Looks like the audience didn’t get much of a view behind all those 4-lights.  Michael Harrison, who sent me this pic, tells me that the person delivering the warm-up is Bernard Braden.
with thanks to Michael Harrison

 

The lighting arrangements were extensively modified.  As a music hall, the total lighting load was 50 kW.  This was increased to 150 kW. with 20 kW available in direct current for arcs.  The old liquid dimmer pot switchboard was superseded by a Strand Grand Master switchboard and a saturable reactor dimmer board.  This gave a total of 60 dimmable circuits.  The lights used were almost wholly Mole Richardson incandescent units – mostly 2Ks, scoops and 4-lights, from looking at these photos.

Pye 3in. Image Orthicon cameras were used at first, three being operational and one spare, with a fifth retained for maintenance rota.  (Following a refurb, probably in 1959, the cameras were replaced with Marconi Mk IIIs.)  Houston pedestal camera dollies and a camera crane were used.  Sound channels were by Pye, with an assortment of different types of moving coil and ribbon microphones of various makes.  There was no telecine or slide equipment.  A high quality cable route was utilised to the Museum Telephone Exchange, for connecting vision, sound and control circuits with Granada’s Manchester headquarters and also the ITA network.

chelsea palace sound mixer michael harrison 300p
The original sound mixer seen here with James Goldby at the controls.  It was later replaced after a big technical refurb but for the first few years this was it!
The mixer was in a cubby hole just to the right of the stage.  The equipment was Pye OB kit, and the sound supervisors of the day only had 16 channels to cope with full orchestra, two booms and small music groups.  The shortage of channels was coped with by replugging microphones – the plug board can be seen on the left.
Mike Roberts mixed most of the shows and he showed enormous skill and a cool head by re-plugging during live and very expensive top-class shows.
with thanks to Michael Harrison

 

There was a permanent staff of 70 at the Chelsea Palace.  Sydney Berstein is said to have taken a close interest in the appearance of the studio – insisting that it looked ‘spick and span’ at all times.  A report in the February 1958 edition of ‘Practical Television’ describes a visit by its reporter.  He is most impressed by the ‘smart grey-shirted uniforms of the camera and floor crews.’  However, David Hounsell has written to me and denied all knowledge of this!  He worked there between 1958 and 1963 so he should know.  The photos above certainly seem to confirm this. Maybe the crew uniforms only lasted a few days from when it opened or more likely it was just the ushers and usherettes who had to dress up.  However, one of Bernstein’s ideas I have had confirmed was that each member of the studio audience was presented with a stick of peppermint rock after each show.  Naturally, it had the word ‘Granada’ running through it.

 

The studio was in operation until the mid ’60s. When Granada left the site it was sold to developers who built a Heal’s furniture store.

 

 

Incidentally – there was a period of about six weeks, probably in 1959, when I am told that Granada moved its London operation to the Metropolitan Theatre in Edgware.  This was to enable a technical refit and the reconstruction of the control rooms to take place at the Palace.  (Six weeks is an astonishingly short time for such major work to take place.)  The Met was originally a music hall, opening in 1862 but extensively reworked by Frank Matcham in 1897 with a capacity of 1,855.  It survived until April 1963, when it was demolished to make way for a road scheme.  The interior can be seen during a scene in the classic Ealing film The Blue Lamp .