Recent ITV studios

This section covers Granada Manchester and YTV Leeds.

 

 

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 during the 1990s, studios were closed or reduced in capability much to the disappointment of the people who live near them.

This section covers those ITV studios still in use now, which is quite a contrast to the number there were when ITV began in the 1950s.  In fact, there are only two major studio centres remaining, and only one of those still belongs to ITV.  Arguably the most influential studios outside London – BBC or ITV – were for many years those belonging to Granada…

 

Granada (1956 – 2000)

3sixtymedia (2000 – 2013)

Old Granada Studios (2014 – 2018)

Manchester Studios (from 2019)

Versa Manchester (from 2022)

 

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The famous Quay Street studios during the good old days.  The Granada TV sign and the tower were removed by ITV during 2010 ‘for health and safety reasons.’  Of course.
image thanks to Wikipedia

 

The first purpose-built television studios to open in the UK were Granada’s in Manchester.  The BBC would have got there before 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 a centre that fully met their needs.  The two storey building seen in the foreground above was the first to be built, along with studios 2 and 4.

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.  Apparently, the rehearsal rooms in the main office block were also named ‘studios’ and given odd numbers.  Which is odd.

 

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This terrific aerial view of the Granada site is gratefully copied from the excellent website coronationstreet.fandom.com.  I hope they won’t mind me using it here but I can recommend visiting the site if you are interested in the history of Coronation St.  Incidentally, this photo is at 90 degrees relative to the old map above, if that helps to get your bearings.  The river is just out of shot at the bottom of frame.
It very clearly shows the layout of the various studios – as well as the original Grape St and later 1982 back lot sets for Corrie.

 

The first few years of Coronation St came from Studio 2In later years it moved to the slightly larger studio 6 and finally to Stages 1 and 2 in 1990.  This studio became the home of Granada Reports – the regional news – as well as some sport and political programmes and a late night magazine show.

Studio 4 was originally a small continuity studio which was only operational for a few years, although it famously hosted the first TV appearance of The Beatles in 1962.  It was later converted to become the studios’ reception area. 

Studio 6 opened in December 1957.  The distinctive eight-storey Granada House opened soon after.  Studios 8 & 12 were constructed in 1958, along with a wide corridor for moving scenery and lighting equipment between the studios that became known as the M1.  Studio 12 is about 8,000 sq ft and until Rediffusion’s studio 5 opened in 1960 was the biggest in the UK.  Studio 8 was not a working studio for many years.  It was built at the same time as 12 but was just used for scenery storage until it was equipped with EMI 2005 cameras, probably in 1972. 

The ‘missing’ Studio 10 was in fact the Chelsea Palace Theatre in London – which opened as a TV studio in 1957.

The next step in 1959 was a linking block which included the canteen. This block also contained a sound dubbing studio, which was turned into a music recording studio in 1979. This much later became a backstage area for the Jeremy Kyle Show but has now been brought back into operation – more on this later.  The technical block also opened in 1959.  It contained the regional newsroom.

 

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I noticed this black marble plaque in the corridor on the exterior wall of studio 2 near the old canteen when I was looking round the studios in September 2018.  The corridor is due to be lost in the redevelopment so I wonder what will happen to this?
The year is 1959, when the canteen was built.  I wonder where everybody ate for the first three years?

 

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 – too low to put any sets in, let alone a lighting rig.  However, Chris Whitehead has informed me that it was occasionally used to house a small audience for University Challenge.  (The other end of the studio had the Crown Court set semi-permanently in place so space was at a premium.)  I suppose at some point someone must have wondered what the point of keeping it was.  The space was walled off and turned into three large rooms – a wardrobe area, a costume store and a film vault.  In 2018 when I looked round, the shelves in the film vault were full of boxes of videotapes – many brand new.  Sadly worthless as they were obsolete formats.

Oddly, when I lit a show in studio 8 in 2004, the old studio plan I was given indicated that this area of the studio still existed (that’s how I know the height of the ceiling, which was helpfully marked on the plan).

Shows made in studio 8 included Lucky Numbers, The Shane Richie Experience and The Krypton Factor  (both the original and the first series of the revised version in 2008).

 

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A plan of the site in 2017 – very little had changed from when it was built. Studio 4 was to the upper right of studio 2.  It became a reception area – its curved desk can be seen on this drawing.  Everything above the ‘M1 corridor’ in this plan has now been demolished.
with thanks to the Old Granada Studios website

 

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 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 an internal scenery/props/lighting area with limited access to the outside for deliveries.  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 advise the developers to almost exactly copy what they had here when they were involved in planning the new studios at MediaCity, rather than improve on them.

 

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 – 4,500 sq ft approx (68 x 52 metric feet within firelanes) – used for the Jeremy Kyle Show,  The Heaven and Earth Show and The Royle Family.

Studio 8 – 5,400 sq ft approx (64 x 70 metric feet within firelanes) – used for University Challenge, Mastermind, A Question of Sport and Countdown.

Studio 12 – 8,000 sq ft approx (98 x 70 metric feet within firelanes) – used 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 productions to use the studio before ITV left and one which I had the pleasure of lighting.  The firelanes in this studio are 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 about 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 4-waller stages 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. (Demolished in 2012.)

The Garden Studio – 1,400 sq ft (could be controlled from the galleries of studios 8 or 12) – originally used by digital channels Granada Breeze and ITV Play.  (This studio is part of the new ‘Manchester Studios.’)

The Starlight Theatre (two separate stages) – 7,500 sq ft and 4,500 sq ft – used for  ITV Bingo and dramas Vincent, Cold Blood and The Street.  (This curiously shaped building, constructed on the old railway viaduct in the corner of the Granada site, was originally part of the Granada Studios Tour, which ran from 1988 – 1999.  It was demolished in 2018.)

The Blue Shed (warehouse type stage) – 17,000 sq ft (155 x 110 ft wall to wall) – used for The Forsyte Saga and Casanova.  This was on a site on the other side of the river in Stanley Street, opposite the V&A Hotel.  A Premier Inn now stands here.

 

Compared with most London based studios, none of these was 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 (with some people) fixture of the ITV daytime schedule.  However, Countdown moved from Leeds to Manchester in June 2009, providing a much-needed regular occupant of studio 8.  University Challenge was the other user of this studio.  These shows now share studio HQ4 at MediaCity, which is about the same size as studio 8.  The Kyle show was axed in 2019.

 

Corrie

 

I should of course mention that  Coronation Street  was made here at Granada from 1960-2013, although not in the latter years in any of the studios mentioned above.  The popular soap then 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.

Corrie did not start in Stage 1.  For many years it used the normal studios – at first studio 2, then mostly studio 6.  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.

Coronation Street on Set
Above and below – the sets in studio 2 in the mid ’60s.  The street along one wall, interiors along the other.  All squeezed into a studio with a working area of only about 68 x 36ft.
images thanks to iNostalgia.co.uk

Coronation Street on Set

 

In 1967, the producer was asked by Granada’s General Manager to meet him outside the building in Water St.  They walked down the road with the studio car park on their left until they reached Grape St.  This was a lane that bordered their property.  Walking up it, a large brick wall was on the right hand side of the road and passing through some gates they saw an open cobbled yard, with a viaduct in front and the old Victorian Bonded Warehouse on their left.  It was perfect!

This land owned by British Railways was purchased, enabling a basic street set to be constructed.  The first shot was filmed in January 1968.  However, most exteriors continued to be recorded in the studio for several months.  It took until May for all the houses and the Rovers Return to be finished and ready for filming.  The interiors of course were shot in the studio as before.

The house frontages were initially made of timber and plywood, supported by scaffolding.  A row of maisonette house fronts were built on the other side of the road using brick during the 1970s.  Their construction was made part of the storyline.  The wooden houses were rebuilt in brick during 1969, ready for the move to colour.  Back yards and ginnels were added in 1972.

 

A new street setting for Coronation Street.Granada T.V have built an out door set for shooting some of the scenes for future Coronation Street episodes.
The back of the first exterior set in the Grape St yard in May 1968. This was basically the scenery that had previously been used in the studio with an added first floor but no roofs. The cobblestones (actually ‘setts’) were of course original and added to the realism of the street set.
image thanks to iNostalgia.co.uk

 

This small area had its limitations so Granada purchased the land on the other side of the Bonded Warehouse between it and Lower Byrom St.  This enabled a much larger set to be built in 1982.  This was extended in 1989 and then further in 1999.

The Corrie set occupied about half this new area – also utilising the Victorian stables that were located at the end of the Bonded Warehouse.  On the land next to Lower Byrom St a large sound stage was constructed in the mid 1980s – but not for filming TV drama as you might assume.  It was initially intended to be used for televised Crown Green Bowling!  Quite sensibly, it was taken over by Coronation St in 1990 and named ‘Stage 1’.  It was extended in 1996 and is a very impressive 10,200 sq ft with an annex of 3,300 sq ft.  It is still in use as ‘Studio 1’

One of Granada’s most successful drama series was Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, and a Victorian Baker St outdoor set was constructed on top of the railway arches next to the Bonded Warehouse in 1984.  It became part of the Granada Studios Tour from 1988 to 1999 and was roofed over in 1993 to protect the set from the Manchester weather.

In 2002 this building was converted into Stage 2 for Coronation St.  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.  In 2017 Stage 2 was occupied by a ‘Crystal Maze Experience’ visitor attraction, which was still there in 2020.

In 2013, Coronation St moved to a purpose-built facility in Salford on the other side of the Ship Canal from MediaCity.

 

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Above is a Google Earth image taken in 2018 showing stage 2 and its 5,000 sq ft annex.  The annex was built to house a full scale replica set of the House of Commons and was constructed in 1986 for drama series First Among Equals.  It was subsequently used in some episodes of The New Statesman, starring Rik Mayall, between 1987 and 1994. It also became part of the Granada Studios Tour.
The set was sold to writer Paul Abbott, so it could be used in his BBC drama series State of Play, filmed in 2002.  It was then used for the 2011 film The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep.  Wimbledon Studios subsequently stored the set on site but it took up so much room that it was put on eBay in March 2013, receiving a winning bid of £123,400. Unfortunately, the bidder did not finalise the purchase so it was put up for sale again at an auction house in June of the same year.  I can find no record of who bought the set, if anyone.
According to press reports, around the time of the sale MPs decided to allow filming in the actual House of Commons at a rate of £10,000 per day.  This may have affected the value of the replica set.
Also seen in this image behind the Stage 2 annex are the Victorian stables that were used by the Studios Tour for a mock-up Rovers Return and subsequently to build various interior sets for Coronation Street including the medical centre.

 

 

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 thought at the time 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.

 

Andy Walmsley has written to me. He is a very successful production designer, now living and working in Hollywood, with an impressive CV that includes shows such as American Idol and America’s Got Talent.  He began his career aged 15 when Paul Daniels gave him the opportunity to design a show he made at Ewarts Studios in Wandsworth.  Following formal training, he then based himself here at Granada, working on dozens of LE shows when the studios were really busy.  He later worked in all the main studios around the country.

In June 2015 he happened to be visiting Manchester and decided to have a look at the outside of the Granada studios for one last time before they were demolished – considering this studio centre his ‘spiritual home.’  He discovered that the old reception area was now a coffee shop and bought a cup.  At some point, the security guard became distracted and uncharacteristically (he claims!), he slipped past and into the building.

He discovered that it was completely empty – no film work going on despite these studios being marketed as suitable locations – and he spent 20 minutes or so wandering the corridors and standing inside each of the studios which held so many memories for him.  I haven’t mentioned till now that he had become used to visiting the studios as a small boy as his father was a comic who appeared regularly in shows such as The Comedians, and many well-known entertainment stars were family friends.

He took a few photos on his phone, some of which can be seen below:

 

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Above is studio 2 – the first to open in 1956, 4 years before the BBC’s Television Centre.  The hard cyc is a recent addition – this studio was the home of Granada Reports.  Andy recalls that behind the left wall below the aircon vents the studio steps back at a lower height of 11 feet and this is where Bob Greaves sat behind his desk.  It was also the home of several Tony Wilson late night magazine shows, where he gave local pop groups their first break on TV, some later becoming big stars.  Andy tells me that studio 2 was also used for Coronation St in the very early years and the Rovers Return set was based in the lower part of the studio.
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Studio 6.  For decades the home of Corrie but also used for shows like The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club, which many viewers assumed was a real working man’s club.
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Studio 8. Often used for dramas in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – The Krypton Factor was made in here too.
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Studio 12. It was the home of many light entertainment shows including Stars in Their Eyes but during the heyday of TV studio drama, many classics were recorded in this studio with great actors including Laurence Olivier. His family had close links with Granada and he persuaded many top theatre and film stars to appear in plays that were recorded here.
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The corridor linking the studios – nicknamed the ‘M1.’  I never saw it as empty as this on the odd occasion I worked at 3sixtymedia (as it was called in its latter years) and I doubt it ever was in the Granada years.  It would have been full of lights, prop cages and loads of scenery.  Access between the studios and delivery trucks was simply across the corridor to large doors on the opposite side, unlike the studios at MediaCity, where the access corridor between the studios is buried deep within the building.

 

The final edition of Granada Reports came from studio 2 on 22nd March 2013.  The last show recorded by ITV 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, 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.  Some of 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 2014 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, Judge Rinder and University Challenge .

 

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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 up your own joke 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 had taken a 5 year lease on the studios and associated buildings whilst they ‘worked up’ their plans for redeveloping the site.  In the meantime, the buildings and area around became a new arts and cultural destination for Manchester called St John’s.  The old Granada studios were renamed… wait for it…  ‘Old Granada Studios’.

During this period they were used for single camera productions such as Peaky Blinders, To Walk Invisible and the US/UK TV series Snatch, starring Rupert Grint.  They were also used to record the 2018 series of Dragons’ Den.  The 2019 series of Dragons’ Den used the newly re-opened Stage 1, as it did in 2020.

 

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This Google Earth image from 2018 shows the Starlight Theatre being demolished.  It was built to be part of the Granada Studios Tour, which ran from 1988 – 1999.  Following that it was turned into two sound stages and used for filming dramas.  The Bonded Warehouse is on the left – this striking building was renovated for the Studios Tour and later used by Granada for offices and storage with some areas of the ground floor for Coronation St locations.  In Victorian times, you can see how one of the railway tracks entered the building through the arch on the right of the building at 3rd floor level.  There were turntables inside that enabled the trucks to be offloaded.  It is now part of ‘Versa Manchester’. The yard in the foreground was where the first Corrie exterior set was located.  For the Granada Studios Tour it became a ‘New York Street’, for reasons best known to the people running it.  Top left, the red building is Stage 2.  Originally built to enclose the Baker St set, it then became a Coronation St studio – since 2017 it has housed The Crystal Maze Experience. This area is the site of ‘The Factory’ – a striking (and somewhat expensive – thus much delayed) performance venue containing a 1,600 seat auditorium and a multi-purpose performance space with a capacity of 5,000.  It will become the home of the Manchester International Festival.  The Factory is now due to open in 2022.

 

 

Manchester Studios/Versa Manchester

 

Now, pay attention as this all gets a bit complicated.

In July 2018 the new head of the development, Melanie Jones, who clearly combines experience in property with enthusiasm for TV, made some interesting announcements.  The studios would be kept on after all!  In fact they would receive some new investment – gallery suites would be refitted and lighting rigs refurbished and they would be made available once more to be used as multicamera studios.  This was a surprise to many.  It had been assumed that the studios were just being made available as 4-wallers until their eventual demolition.

In an interesting interview in the summer of 2020 she said that when she took on the job she realised that the studios were too valuable an asset to simply demolish and replace with offices.  (Where was she when TV Centre and TLS were sold off?!)  So she made the case to Allied London and they agreed.  She said that the best use of any building is what it was originally designed for.  She also said that these studios are superbly designed in a way that would probably not be found in studios built today.

 

The studios are part of a redevelopment scheme in the St John’s area called Enterprise City and were initially marketed as ‘Manchester Studios.’   They are owned by All Studios (Allied London) but Versa is the company that is operating them.  They were planning to offer studios 2, 6, 8 and 12 as well as Studio 1 (Stage 1) and the Breeze Studio and garden.  Stage 2 has also been retained – as a visitor attraction.  It is currently the home of ‘The Crystal Maze Experience’ (the show itself is filmed in Bristol.)  There are no plans at the moment to make it available as a studio but it is part of the Manchester Studios/Versa Manchester portfolio.

 

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Above is a plan of the area around the studios, post redevelopment. 1, 2 and 3 are tower blocks containing flats and offices.  4 is called The Goods Yard and is a cluster of buildings containing offices and workshops for media and creative companies.  5 is the block containing Studios 2, 6, 8 and 12.  6 is ‘The Factory’ – a large new performance space.  7 is the Bonded Warehouse.  Stage 1 (now called Studio 1) has been retained and is in the area marked ‘Timber Yard.’
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The new ‘Manchester Studios’ – shaded in yellow.  The dressing rooms and make-up rooms at the top of the drawing next to studios 8 and 12 have been lost and are now part of the new building facing Atherton Street.  Note that much of the ‘M1 corridor’ appears to be taken up with some new toilets and another new area outside studio 6.  Not a lot of room left for temporary storage of props, scenery, flight cases etc. it would appear.  My guess is that for much of the time only three of the studios will be in use.

 

I visited in September 2018 and was astonished to see the floors of studios 8 and 12 covered in equipment.  This had all come from TLS, which had closed down earlier in the year.  There were dozens of monopoles (telescopes), lights, audience seating units, prop cages, teddy trucks, hoists and loads of other essential studio paraphernalia.  No technical kit had been purchased from TLS however – it was all far too old and worn out.

 

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Some of the ex-TLS kit on the floor of studio 12 in 2018.  More was being stored in studio 8.

 

The demolition of the surrounding buildings began in October.  The original office block, designed by celebrated architect Ralph Tubbs, has been retained and turned into a luxury hotel with a restaurant on its roof.  Interestingly, when it was originally designed, Bernstein asked for it to be easily adapted into a hotel in case the Granada business folded.

Alongside it is a new building with shops on the ground floor and flats above, with a swimming pool on the roof.  The area around will have houses and start-up workspace offices aimed at creative businesses.  It’s all very imaginative and clearly demonstrates what could have been done at BBC Television Centre and The London Studios – retaining the original studios within the scheme and developing the buildings and land all around them.  Shame on those who took the decision to destroy those invaluable, irreplaceable studios and well done to Allied London, showing how it should have been done.

 

In June 2019, it was announced that the first two studios would be available for hire from July – these are the 10,200 sq ft Studio 1 and the 1,400 sq ft Breeze Studio and walled garden.  Studio 1 has an annex studio of 3,300 sq ft accessed via a dock door (studio 1A).  The studio is often quoted as being 13,000 sq ft but this is the two parts combined. 

In June 2020 Studio 1 was fully fitted out as a 4K multicamera studio.  It has been configured for audience shows and now has fully equipped galleries with kit from Sony, Calrec, Grass Valley, Riedel and EVS.  There are also refurbished production offices, star dressing rooms, VIP and exec areas and green rooms.  This large studio is a welcome addition to the range of facilities available in and around Manchester.  Studio 1, previously used for  Coronation Street,  is in a separate building from the original Granada studios block.  It should perhaps be pointed out that this studio has a very basic lighting grid of scaffold bars in the roof.  This is far less flexible than the monopole grids found in the original studios in the main block.  Early bookings included Dragons’ Den and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.

 

In March 2021 I heard that a show was using studios 8 and 12, controlled via fibre from studio 1’s galleries.  Studios 2, 6, 8 & 12 were originally due to be fully available for hire from June 2021.  The plan was to have two or three fully equipped gallery suites that could be used flexibly between these studios.  A few bookings were indeed carried out in the summer of 2021 but some working on those shows reported that the galleries were not equipped and work on the studios had not been completed.  It does look as though perhaps the studios were opened a little too soon.  In fact (more info on this later) it appears that only studios 8 and 12 will be fully equipped and will not now be available until 2023.

All the TV studios have retained their resin floors of course.  Their lighting grids have been refurbished, replacing old scopes with those from TLS.  There are also some new dimmers, although Studio 2 only has hard power available – the assumption being that LED lights will be used.  Dressing rooms, green rooms and other areas have been created from spaces such as old dubbing suites, since the rooms behind studios 8 and 12 are no longer available.  A 750 sq ft audio recording studio behind studio 2 that has not been used for many years has also been brought back into operation.

 

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Stage 1, seen from Lower Byrom St. Coronation Street’s main studio from 1990 – 2013.

 

As well as these TV studios, Manchester Studios/Versa Manchester are offering an area in the Bonded Warehouse consisting of six small ‘creative content’ studios – one of 535 sq ft and the others of 624 sq ft.  These are interconnecting rooms that can be used as separate spaces or merge into a larger studio set-up.

Allied London, the company owning this development, are aware that by returning the TV studios to multicamera work they are unavailable for single camera drama productions so they have opened two acoustically treated new stages at Birchwood Park, just outside Manchester.  These are 8,500 and 5,500 sq ft respectively.

 

 

It’s worth mentioning that in the autumn of 2020, these studios were being marketed both by ‘All Studios’ and by ‘Versa Studios.’   The websites of both companies offered Manchester Studios, Leeds Studios (film stages converted from a former printworks) and a studio in London – which opened in 2021.  This is in Kendal Avenue, Acton.  They stated that they were due to open 20 studios/stages in 2021.  The Versa website closed down soon afterwards and the home page simply said ‘coming soon’.  It still said that in October 2021 so it appeared they were still not quite ready to fully launch all these studios.

In February 2022 the website was relaunched and there was a press release in which the following was stated:

 

Executive Director of Versa Charlie Ingall, said: “We are thrilled to be realising our ambition of expanding our operations into Manchester.  In Manchester City centre, by Summer 2023, VERSA will be operating three fully equipped TV broadcast studios and a further 10 that will cater for a diverse range of production types including non-scripted broadcast TV, scripted film & drama, music, commercials, content creation and gaming. Our spaces will be ideal for a variety of uses including performance and events.

 

So it appears that along with studio 1, studios 8 and 12 will become fully equipped TV studios – but not until summer 2023.  This is despite them initially being booked for a few productions during 2021.  All these studios are now to be marketed as Versa Manchester.   The new Versa Manchester website in February 2022 mentions studio 1 (and studio 1A), the Breeze studio, the 6 small studios in the Bonded Warehouse and the new ABC studio, built for the BBC’s Morning Live (see below).  However, it would appear that the old Granada studios 2, 6, 8 and 12 will not now be available until 2023.  Please contact me if this is not the case.

 

The Versa Manchester Studios map, released in February 2022.

 

Versa ABC Studio

Although not actually part of the old Granada Studios, this new studio is part of the cluster of studios that Versa Manchester is offering.  It opened in February 2022 and is a 1,500 sq ft ‘studio in the sky’ built on the top two floors of the ABC Buildings, a 1960s office block close to the Granada site.  With dual aspect city centre views and a large roof terrace this studio has full production galleries, dressing rooms, hair and make up, green rooms and production office.  The studio is now the home of BBC Morning Live, but is also available for use by other productions.

 

 

 

 

 

Some spooky anecdotes about Granada – for those who like such things…

 

In 2018 I lit the live Halloween edition of Inside Number 9 – the award-winning dark comedy series of plays by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.  This play was supposed to be coming from Granada Studios and we were hoping to actually make it there, just before the redevelopment took place.  Unfortunately it would have been impossible to get access to the studio in October so we made it at Maidstone and pretended we were at Granada.

The play was all about the ghosts that haunted Granada being unhappy about the people working there disturbing them.  It revealed some interesting stories about the studios.  They were, it was claimed, built over a huge graveyard where over 22,000 bodies were buried.  (It’s fair to say that this fact is disputed by some.)  In fact, St John’s Gardens border the Granada site very close to Studio 1 – they were originally where a large church was located (demolished in 1931), which was indeed surrounded by a graveyard.

In any case, some over the years have experienced odd occurrences that could not easily be explained.  In fact, Most Haunted carried out an investigation here in 2005.  They interviewed various members of the cast and crew of Coronation Street, who recounted various spooky happenings.

Stage One, the main Corrie studio, was said to have the most inexplicable events happening to people.  A common sighting was reported to be the figure of a woman with long brown hair in a navy coloured jacket.  She was seen in several sets over the years, sometimes sitting on furniture.

In fact, in 2017 after Corrie had moved to MediaCity, the studio was exorcised by a Catholic priest.  This happened because a band who had been rehearsing for a show in there had been ‘freaked out’ by inexplicable noises and poltergeist activity.  The band threatened to walk out unless something was done.

 

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Stage 1 being exorcised in 2017.

 

In 1984 a fire broke out in the New Botany Warehouse in Water St that contained the sets and costumes for the major drama The Jewel in the Crown.  Some have put this down to paranormal activity but of course it could perhaps more likely have been caused by something rather more earth-bound.  An electrical fault was reported at the time.

When I was looking round the building with the studios’ technical manager in 2018 I explained to him that the episode we were shooting was all about the studios being haunted.  He was not at all surprised and told me a couple of things that had recently happened to him.  On one occasion he went into a deserted studio 12 and looked up to see one of the lighting monopoles swinging back and forth.  It did this several times and then suddenly stopped.  There was no logical way this could have happened.  On another day he was showing a couple of guests round.  As they were climbing the stairs up to the grid in the same studio, one of the lighting monopoles ran along its track several metres before coming to a stop.  When they got into the grid there was nobody up there and no reason why the monopole should have moved.  He also said that there was a woman’s name that nobody mentioned in the studios.  She was said to haunt them and would carry out mischief if she disapproved of what was said about her.

I recounted these stories to Reece and Steve and they decided to incorporate a swinging lamp in one of the scenes in the play.  To be perfectly honest, I’m rather glad that we didn’t make the show here.  Who knows what might have been stirred up.

 

Thus, who’d have thought it? – as well as the new  Coronation St  set-up at MediaCity, the only large TV studios still owned by ITV are the old Yorkshire TV ones in Leeds. Of which, see below...

 

 

 

The Leeds Studios (aka Kirkstall Road, Yorkshire TV)   (1968 – present)

 

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Yorkshire TV Studios
thanks to Wikipedia

Across the Pennines from Manchester are The Leeds Studios, which are owned by ITV.  (Not to be confused with ‘Leeds Studios’, owned by Versa Studios and due to open in 2021.)  These ones 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 many 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 latter 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 Aliens, Question 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 (yes, him again) announced that the main studios would indeed be closing and Countdown would move to Manchester.  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 Calendar 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 hadn’t been called that since 1989 so I’m sure that will have gone down very 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 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 was considerable to say the least.  The building was radically changed internally and now includes 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 were 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.  As far as I am aware, these sets currently remain at 102 Kirkstall Rd.  Please email me if you know different!

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 has been 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.