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.
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.
- 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.
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.