East of the M60 on BBC North’s move to MediaCityUK

BBC New Broadcasting House, Manchester
BBC New Broadcasting House, Oxford Road. Photo by Bods.

By the end of this year, BBC North will have settled into their new base at MediaCityUK, Salford Quays. With the move of Radio 5 Live and other functions hitherto based at New Broadcasting House, the new premises will take the BBC into the 21st century. Also moving to MediaCityUK will be the Blue Peter team.

For Manchester viewers, BBC One will be showing ‘A Northern Soul’ (5.30 pm: Sky Digital EPG numbers: 101 or 978). This will chart the BBC’s work in Manchester from Dickenson Road and Piccadilly to the present day. To mark the BBC’s move to MediaCityUK, this barely noticeable speck of server space will chronicle BBC North’s finest moments by each studio from the last 60 years.

Dickenson Road, Rusholme: A converted church on Dickenson Road was the unassuming birthplace for one of Britain’s most successful music programmes. Prior to Top of the Pops, this was the home of Mancunian Films, formed in 1947. In a similar position to today’s BBC, the company sought cheaper premises and an opportunity to strengthen its northern audience. Mancunian Films’ roster included the popular Frank Randle, Diana Dors and Josef Locke. As well as its own productions, it offered studio facilities for Hammer House of Horror.

Sold to the BBC in 1954, it became the British Broadcasting Corporation’s first studio outside London. The Dickenson Road studios were closed in 1973 and demolished in 1975. Another church in Longsight also housed Manchester’s Outside Broadcasting unit.

Programmes:

  • Top of the Pops: ten years after Frank Randle, the studios played host to The Supremes, Dusty Springfield and Jimmy Saville, before moving to London in 1967;
  • Grandstand: also consigned to televisual Heaven, BBC’s sports magazine programme started life there;
  • A Question of Sport: still going strong today, and the only BBC programme to have been filmed at Dickenson Road, New Broadcasting House and (by the end of 2011) MediaCityUK;
  • It’s a Knockout: daft costumes and even dafter games made popular by a laughing Stuart Hall and the dulcet tones of Eddie Waring.

Broadcasting House, Piccadilly: Their second Manchester base emerged three years later, above the National Westminster Bank on Piccadilly. This was used for regional news bulletins from 1957 to 1980. It was also the birthplace of Radio Manchester in 1970. Given its small size, it was only used for news programmes and radio prior to moving to the New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road.

Programmes:

  • Look North: prior to Northwest Tonight, and Look North West, Manchester’s edition was an offshoot of its Yorkshire and North Eastern parent. By 1969, it was one of the Nationwide regions.

New Broadcasting House, Oxford Road: BBC’s Mancunian output were transferred from two outdated studios to a state-of-the-art facility by 1975. As well as regional programming, BBC began moving some children’s programmes and religious programmes to Manchester. Everything was all in one place by the time Look North West moved from Piccadilly in 1981.

Programmes:

  • Cheggers Plays Pop (1978 – 1986): Manchester’s music based response to Runaround was popular for almost a decade and outlasted Southern Television’s franchise by five years;
  • Oxford Road Show (1981 – 1985): socially aware music and youth issues programme, possibly the bane of Conservative commentators due to its supposed left-wing stance. Also inspired Messrs Elton, Mayall and Edmondson’s fictitious Nozin’ Around, seen on the first episode of The Young Ones;
  • Look North West (1980 – 1983)/Northwest Tonight (1983 – 2010);
  • Def II: New Broadcasting House became Janet Street-Porter’s powerbase for ‘Yoof TV’ in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As well as reruns of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, this included original programmes such as Standing Room Only and Rough Guides;
  • Going for Gold (1987 – 1995): Manchester was also the home of the much-maligned European general knowledge quiz (I liked it though) presented by Henry Kelly;
  • Songs of Praise: even now, Songs of Praise is pretty much part of the Sunday televisual furniture along with Antiques Roadshow and Country File, and one of the beneficiaries of BBC’s Religious Programming department moving to Manchester;
  • No Kidding (1991 – 1992): awful Let’s Make Entertainment from Childrens’ Foul-Ups quiz show hosted by Mike Smith. Which, the writer of this article has had the misfortune of watching as a member of the studio audience. As a reward for good academic achievement from senior school;
  • Dragon’s Den: among the first programmes to make entrepreneurism palatable to a wider audience, in the form of a game show. Almost a victory for Thatcherite self-determination and commerce?

Towards MediaCityUK: at present, regional programming has moved to Salford Quays as have the BBC Breakfast show. With Blue Peter and Radio 5 Live soon to follow suit, interesting times are around the corner. Not least ITV Productions’ proposals to leave Quay Street in favour of MediaCityUK, taking the Coronation Street set with them. Let’s hope the Metrolink line’s in good working order by then!

S.V., 18 June 2011.

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