The Granada Studios Tour

If say 30 years ago you were considering a leisure break in the centre of Manchester, chances are you may have been laughed out of the office or pub. That is supposing this office or pub was in the centre of London or anywhere else outside the North of England.

In 1980, the centre of Manchester was facing a bleak future with unemployment set to double by the end of the year. Its main theatres were on the brink of closure. In spite of this, the city was buoyed by a new shopping centre, its popularity as a university city and was also the home of Britain’s coolest indie label Factory Records.

The most positive development affecting Manchester was the redevelopment of the Castlefield area. In 1980, the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry took over Liverpool Road station, plus surrounding warehouses and traction depot. The breakthrough came that same year, during the festivities of the 150th anniversary of the Manchester to Liverpool line’s opening. Soon after, the Liverpool Road station was restored, exhibits were moved to there as well as the Power Hall and a warehouse opposite.

The expanded Museum of Science and Industry moved from its cramped Grosvenor Street premises off Oxford Road to Liverpool Road in 1983. This was the catalyst to Castlefield’s revival. Two years later, the Air and Space Museum opened in what was formerly the City Hall. After years of hosting Ideal Home Exhibitions it then played host to exhibits like a replica of Alcock and Brown’s biplane and a section of Hawker Siddeley’s Trident jet.

Soon after the opening of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, Granada was planning another tourist attraction. Next door to the world’s oldest railway station, it would become Manchester’s answer to Universal Studios.

“You Won’t Believe It Till You See It…”

I remember visiting the Granada Studios Tour with Ewing School in March 1990. The whole attraction was open solely for a group of special schools like Ewing in and around the North West. As well as being open to the public, private and corporate parties could also book the Granada Studios Tour for a whole day.

The Granada Studios Tour opened on the 20th July 1988. Its unique selling point was that of being able to have a pint at the Rovers’ Return, and to walk the cobbles of Coronation Street. There was more besides, such as being able to take a tram through Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes’ set), joining a debate at a mock House of Commons, and joining The Return of the Antelope set.

I was most excited at visiting the Granada Studios Tour and found the tour most fascinating. With Ewing School, we entered through the main entrance before being directed straight to the tour departures. On entering the attraction, we were treated to a mock New York street scene complete with yellow taxis and a diner.

On my second visit in 1993 (Easter Monday), we queued for 45 minutes to get to the turnstile so we ate our butties in the queue. The admission was £9.99 for adults, which was quite an expensive amount back then. Compared with my experience with Ewing School, our tour was due some 2 to 3 hours after passing the turnstile. Prior to then, we explored the side shows which included the House of Commons set. Unfortunately for us, we were sat on the Conservative bench and participated in a debate on smoking.

On both tours I went on, we began at the newsroom with a mock-up of the Granada Reports set and the production control room. The running order of the tour included:

  • Production control room;
  • Make-up room;
  • Chromakey room;
  • Wardrobe department;
  • Return of the Antelope set;
  • A view of New York from the 42nd floor (natch);
  • The Sherlock Holmes Baker Street set;
  • Coronation Street.

Inside the make-up room, we were shown how some beleaguered make-up artist spent several hours applying a face mask. This was followed by the Chromakey room invited tour parties to sit on a seated raft, much more comfier than a Merseyrail specification Pacer unit. Looking towards the screen, we would see how the chromakey effects superimposed the raft over water, fire or an imagined universe light years away from Quay Street.

After braving fire, zero gravity and tidal waves (albeit fictitiously), we would enter the wardrobe department. As well as telling us how the wardrobe department functioned, we would watch a short video on Bet Lynch’s wedding dress (seen in 1988 during the wedding of Bet Lynch and Alec Gilroy). This was the first Coronation Street connection of the tour.

The fun began when we started exploring some of the sets. After learning about Bet Lynch’s wedding dresses, we were then whisked to a room with giant tables and a giant door. This was the set from Granada’s adaptation of the Willis Hall book ‘The Return of the Antelope’.

Prior to landing in 10 Downing Street, we would take a lift to what was supposedly the 42nd floor of a New York skyscraper. This was used as an ‘example’ of a model for such scenes – before the days of widespread CGI effects.

After passing a mock up of Downing Street (complete with pretend policeman) we would continue to Baker Street. On my first visit, we took a tram and was held up at a Checkpoint Charlie. On Easter Monday 1993, this was placed undercover rendering the restored trams redundant.  We would sit at an audience gallery before continuing to Coronation Street, listening to Sherlock Holmes’ housekeeper.

Soon after, we would reach the part of the tour which many people went to see first and foremost. That was the actual set of Coronation Street, complete with Rovers’ Return, Alf Roberts’ Mini Market (as it was at the time before Dev took over) and The Kabin. On my first visit, the houses on the site of Baldwin’s Casuals’ factory were recently built. The shops on Rosamund Street would appear later.

Unfortunately for me on my first visit with Ewing School, we were unable to walk along Coronation Street as they were filming an episode. Instead, we had to be content with the Coronation Street museum, which is now used as the Health Centre and Jerry’s chippy. Three years later, we were able to walk along the cobbles and look in disappointment at the fact that The Rovers’ Return didn’t really sell Newton and Ridley’s ales.

Instead, the Rovers’ Return where you could have a pint was a few yards down from the outdoor lot. This led us back to the New York street scene and concluded our guided tour.

It Happened One Night in Manchester…

Besides the guided tour, its other pieces de resistance were the cinema based attractions. On the far right of the street scene, you could watch Sea Dream, a 3D movie supported by a laser light show. Spectators were issued with plastic 3D glasses which were tinted like sunglasses rather than red and blue plastic lenses.

Then there was Motionmaster. This was my favourite non-televisual part of the Granada Studios Tour. Passengers would begin their ride in a mock-up of a 1930s cinema (of the independent variety rather than the Odeon style). The cue to join the main part of the ride was the emergence of King Kong’s head on the right hand side of the cinema screen. Doors would open on the right hand side leading to Motionmaster itself.

If anything it was like a simulator ride where your local multiplex’s seats would move in time with a spaceship from Star Wars or other reputable science fiction film. The sound and the fast paced nature of the ride was superb.

This was followed up in later years with UFO, a metal solo coaster ride where passengers would lie on their stomach like Superman in flight.

“It touched the hearts of millions…”

Though the Museum of Science and Industry was the catalyst of Manchester’s boom as a tourist destination, the Granada Studios Tour made more than just a contribution. It helped us to see the city centre as a fun place to visit. Manchester was indelibly linked with Granada since May 1956 and they thought that a Mancunian slant on Universal Studios would consolidate this further.

It did, with the unique selling point being a chance to see the Coronation Street set in the flesh – which it achieved successfully. The success of which led to a spin-off attraction in Blackpool entitled ‘The World of Coronation Street’. This short lived attraction took residence in part of the Sandcastle building facing the Pleasure Beach.

Sadly, the reorganisation of, and events leading to the formation of a single ITV conspired against its continuance as a tourist attraction, leading to its closure in late 1999. This was created by the reorganisation of the Granada business which saw its leisure interests being offloaded.

On both visits to the Granada Studios Tour, I never left disappointed. However, there is one thing I must regret, and that was not being able to purchase the Granada Studios Tour Souvenir Album. This release included television signature tunes from Granada Television programmes. There was a few rarities such as the theme tunes for Albion Market and Connections.

Trivia:

  • Granada Studios Tour had two mascots who wandered around the attraction. One was OB (so called as it is an acronym for Outside Broadcast), and his brother was Emmy (so called after a film award);
  • Since the opening of the then new Coronation Street lot in 1982, corporate bodies and private parties could book in advance to walk the cobbles, prior to Granada Studios Tour’s opening on the 20th July 1988;
  • Granada’s other leisure attractions included the Camelot theme park near Charnock Richard, Lancashire, and the American Adventure theme park near Ilkeston;
  • Prior to opening in June 1987, the American Adventure theme park was originally known as Britannia Park, a very short lived theme park celebrating the British Empire, open for 12 weeks in 1985;
  • The American Adventure theme park was also used for Young Krypton, a children’s version of The Krypton Factor hosted by Ross King from 1988 to 1990.

Finally

I would love to hear your comments about the Granada Studios Tour itself. Most welcome are comments from former members of staff as well as visitors.

S.V., 31 March 2010.

8 thoughts on “Remembering Manchester’s answer to Universal Studios

  1. Wow, what great memories. Over the years i was lucky enough to go on many school trips. A weekend in London, Alton Towers, etc but i dont think any ever compared to Granada Studios Tour.
    I think the thing that made it so special was that there was so many different things to see.
    I visited in late 1995 and we were lucky enough to reach Coronation Street just as filming had finished and we managed to catch a number of the cast still on set. They were all very friendly and Bill Roach even gave us a personal tour of the street.
    I also remember the mock Granada Reports set – i seem to remember i presented the weather.
    The New York Street was another favorite. Could you buy food from the diner?

    The thing that made it so special was the fact you were right in the middle of Manchester. You hadn’t spent 3 hours traveling on a coach. Just such a shame it closed although does it not still open once a year?
    Also i seem to remember they used to hold New Years Eve party’s there every year which were surpose to be very good.

    Thanks again for the recollection.

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  2. Hi Stotty,

    It was excellent, and the beauty of it was you could get a bus to the attraction from most parts of Greater Manchester. When I went with Ewing School, we caught one of the Wilmslow Road buses to and from the centre of Manchester. For my 1993 visit with my Dad, late Nana and my sister, we caught the 346, a 216 (which was one of them then new Scania N113s) and returned home on the 220.

    You could not only buy food to eat in the diner but also (in the case of my first) eat your sandwiches if with a private party.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  3. Hi Dave,

    I went a couple of times and loved it. Whereas Belle Vue Zoological Garden was loved among children brought up between 1836 and 1980, the Granada Studios Tour was a close second among anyone brought up between 1988 – 1999. Though no longer with us, the attraction possibly contributed to making Manchester a great place for city breaks. Now, it is one of the most visited cities in the UK, a far cry from 25 – 30 years ago.

    I would say the tour was a victim of Granada Group’s decision to concentrate more on its core activities [television], thus leading us to the single ITV we see today. At that time, they disposed of interests in motorway services, social clubs and the Camelot Theme Park. Sadly, Granada’s regional influence has been diluted by the Carltonisation of Britain’s most popular terrestrial channel. Several years on, they were hoping to reopen Coronation Street to the public, but I’ve not heard anything recently.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  4. I worked at G S T for 3 years
    I was OB the character that wondered about with the big head
    Great times £6.00 per hour

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  5. Hi Nick,

    It must have been sweaty in the summer months wandering around as a 6′ tall character based whose initials were inspired by outside broadcasting units. Rather you than me, but at £6.00 an hour, it must have been a respectable rate in the early to mid 1990s.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  6. I worked there from 88 – 90, top memories! We were on £2.20 an hour in the first and ten diner, I thought that was good back then! Moved on to the baskin robins ice cream parlour, what a laugh we used to have back then.

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    1. Hi Strangeways,

      £2.20 in 1988 – 90 would be equivalent to, I would say, £7.20 per hour in 2013 rates. I loved the faux Americana of the street scene with the yellow taxis. I had the joy of sitting in the First and Ten Diner on my first visit in 1990. I remember it as the first place where I heard ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ by Sinead O’Connor, and I thought the tune was wicked then.

      I never had the joy of trying a Baskin Robbins ice cream, but I would lovingly like to go back to the former studio lot and see it in its 1988 – 1999 glory!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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