How our borough became a popular location for film and television

Tower Mill, Dukinfield
Tower Mill, Dukinfield: once the base of Lyme Electronics in the BBC drama 'Making Out' (1989 - 1991).

Though closer to Hollinwood rather than Hollywood (in Birmingham as well as in America), Tameside has over the last 50 years been a popular filming location. From Billy Liar to Scott and Bailey, it could claim to be the Northern equivalent to Elstree or Shepperton.

Most of us would assume that Tameside’s cinematic and televisual history began in 1986 when Jossy’s Giants used Stalybridge town centre for a lot of shots. Au contraire. A certain Mr Schlesinger cemented Tameside’s contribution to celluloid, and it all began at the Ashton Palais in 1963.

1. Billy Liar (dir. John Schlesinger, 1963): the film version of Billy Liar (starring Tom Courteney) was adapted from the theatrical play, where Albert Finney played the title role. Ashton-under-Lyne’s Palais was used for the ballroom scenes where Billy arranges a date with Rita and Barbara.

Today, the Palais is no longer there. By 1968, it was renamed the Birdcage. Then in 1980, it became the Wheels roller disco prior to demolition in 1985. On the site is the Deep Blue restaurant which started life as an auto spares garage before becoming the Atomic and Spectrum night clubs. As Atomic, Jason Donovan also did a gig where he was booed off. Shortly after, he relaunched his career and, in a Take That way, never looked back.

2. Yanks (dir. John Schlesinger, 1979): whereas Billy Liar filmed one scene in Ashton, Schlesinger turned his attention to Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Saddleworth. Most of the film is set around the four locations with the exception of the final railway station scene which is set in Keighley.

Yanks Locations in and around the Tameside area:

  • Hyde Town Hall: swing band and New Year’s Day party scenes;
  • Stalybridge Library and Post Office: GIs en-route to the railway station;
  • St Paul’s Church, Copley: orchestra concert;
  • Dobcross village (The Swan pub): GIs awake landlord at 1am asking for ‘half and half’;
  • Carrbrook/Millbrook (near Staley Hall): GI encampment;
  • Oldham town centre;
  • Hartshead Power Station cooling towers: an out-take?;
  • Manchester Ship Canal, Moore, Cheshire: oranges thrown to local children from a passing boat.

Today, locals fondly remember seeing Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave on their own doorstep. So much so that the filming of Yanks is commemorated each year. Events include a parade of American and British military vehicles along Uppermill and associated events from Hyde to Dobcross (for further details, visit Yanks are Back in Saddleworth). This year’s Yanks Weekend will start on Friday 12 August, finishing on Sunday 14 August.

3. Jossy’s Giants (Children’s BBC, Manchester, 1986 – 87): question: which actor has featured in this series as well as Yanks? Answer: Tony Melody, playing the part of Dave Sharkey. Jossy’s Giants followed the fortunes of Glipton Giants, a junior football team which had hitherto struggled till Jossy Blair took over.

Jossy’s Giants was the brainchild of Sid Waddell, leading darts commentator and creator of The Indoor League. The music was written by Mike Amatt, whose other credits included ‘Two of a Kind’ the signature tune of Mop and Sniff (a children’s programme set largely around Rochdale featuring a shorthaired cat and an Old English Sheepdog).

Though the on-pitch action was filmed in Middleton, most of the outdoor shots were filmed in Stalybridge. It shows the town centre in its full glory, with the Owl’s Hoot café a meeting place. If you see the footage on YouTube, you will find a Stalybridge bereft of empty shop units and bookmakers unlike now (though this argument’s best left for another topic).

Today, the Owl’s Hoot café, most of the shops and the home ground of the Glipton Giants have long gone. The latter is a housing estate and probably Nordens Road, the former ground of Oldham Town (if you know otherwise, please tell me).

4. Making Out (BBC One, UK/New Zealand, 1989 – 1991): second only to Yanks, Making Out was Tameside’s best known feature, and for the borough’s most celebrated televisual appearances. Prior to the first episode being shown, there was a real buzz around the borough. For me, it was the first television programme I saw where I could say ‘I know that place’, ‘I’ve seen these houses’ or ‘I’ve passed that mill several times’.

Created by Franc Roddam (whose other credits include Quadrophenia and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), the drama series focused on another aspect of Thatcherism: that of small hi-tech businesses instead of emigrant Geordie builders. It followed the fortunes of Lyme Electronics from the workers’ point of view. The signature tune was a modified version of Vanishing Point by New Order.

It also covered the lifestyles of each employee outside of the mill, redundancies and takeovers. Shirley Stelfox (Carol May), who most readers may recognise from Emmerdale and Keeping Up Appearances, is also born in Dukinfield.

Making Out Locations:

  • Ashton-under-Lyne bus station and Tameside MBC Council Offices shops;
  • Peel Street, Dukinfield: then-new Roland Bardsley houses;
  • Tower Mill, Tame Valley, Dukinfield: the nerve centre of Lyme Electronics.

The series has only been repeated once and has never been released on DVD. Other actors of note included Brian Hibbard (late of one-hit wonders The Flying Pickets), Margi Clarke and Keith Allen (whom most younger readers would recognise as being Lily Allen’s dad).

5. Coronation Street (ITV Productions/Granada, 1960 – to date): even Britain’s favourite Northern soap opera had to turn to Tameside for some of its scenes:

  • Ryecroft Hall, Audenshaw has been a popular location for Corrie’s botched wedding scenes, most notably the ‘marriage’ of Sarah Lou and Jason;
  • Portland Basin, Ashton-under-Lyne: seeing Richard Hillman, Gail and David in the Ashton Canal has ruined my enjoyment of the You and Me Song by The Wannadies forever. The repetitive playing of the said song sees David mithering Richard Hillman to stop the car. Instead it is too late as they plunge into Portland Basin;
  • Old Street/Stamford Street, Ashton-under-Lyne: 2004 saw scorned lover Maya burn a series of shops. The first one she burns is close to The Witchwood and the then closed Red Lion and King William pubs. Today, the St Petersfield development stands on the site.

6. Band of Gold (Granada, 1995 – 1997): another Granada production saw the potential of Ashton’s West End as a studio lot before Coronation Street. 32 years after Billy Liar, another part of Ashton doubled as Bradford. This time it was the mean streets of Old Street and Stamford Street towards Chester Square by The Witchwood and The Friendship. Its guise, the red light district of the Yorkshire city famed for wool, though more so these days its Indian restaurants, the National Media Museum, Morrisons and Seabrook’s Crisps.

With a loan shark breathing down her neck, Gina Dickson struggled for money till a friend, Carol, introduced her to ‘working The Lane’. As a prostitute, Carol introduced Gina to the Three Ps: Pimps, Punters and Police. Later episodes saw Gina, Carol and her fellows go legit by forming a contract cleaning business.

Another Coronation Street link is seen here; its writer Kay Mellor, who has also written for the Street in the late 1980s.

7. Scott and Bailey (Red Productions Company/ITV, 2011 – to date): once more, the Coronation Street and Tameside axis continues unimpeded. This time, our latest contribution is a detective drama set in Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham.

At odds with most detective dramas, women take the lead roles, instead of as secondary roles to male sleuths. The idea came about when co-creators Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay bounced a few ideas over a bottle of wine.

Scott and Bailey commanded respectable ratings with an average of 8 million viewers. With the drama slated for a second series by the end of this year, and an eight episode run, we shall be seeing more of Tameside on our screens under their tutelage for some time.

Any More Contributions?

This article only contains a small selection of film and televisual work. If you can name any other serials, films or one-off television programmes filmed or partly filmed in Tameside, feel free to comment. Perhaps you could add some more locations to the seven productions. If you have any memories of giving Richard Gere a lift, of bumping into Margi Clarke, or seeing a film crew around Ashton or Stalybridge, feel free to share them.

S.V., 29 July 2011.

31 thoughts on “Tameside on Television

  1. I’m slightly wobbly Stuart (just returned from the venerable ‘Rising Sun’ drinking establishment in darkest east Mossley!) but through this fuzzy haze can add two more small screen productions. ‘Common as Muck’ was filmed (in part) in Stalybridge and more recently ‘We are Klang’ was also filmed there, using the market hall as it’s town hall. A comedy that lacked humour in every sense btw!

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    1. Hi Alex,

      ‘We Are Klang’ is a glaring omission on my part. I remember them filming some scenes in April – May 2009 around Stalybridge Market and Armentieres Square and hoped the sitcom would be worthwhile viewing.

      On watching the first episode, I was sad to find ‘We Are Klang’ as the most unfunniest sitcom I had seen since UK Gold reran ‘Keep It In The Family’. I wasn’t 100% sure about ‘Common as Muck’ in terms of filming around Tameside but many thanks for that addition too.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      P.S.: Good choice of boozer! If the 353 ran once hourly instead of every two hours, it would have been a more regular port of call along with Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar.

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  2. Billy Liar ballroom scenes filmed at Ashton Palais, where Eric Morley, who later went on to be chairman of Mecca Ballrooms and Miss World was the Manager.
    BBC drama,. 32 Brinkburn Street filmed in Droylesden.

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  3. Part of the 1990’s ITV series Medics was said to have been filmed at Tameside Hospital.

    Before the M60 was finally opened around Daisey Nook, it was used as a film location for Granada TVs medical drama, ‘Always and Everyone‘. A trident aircraft was transported to the site to create a scene of an air crash.

    A pilot for a BBC comedy Magnolia was filmed on Cambridge/Ryecroft Streets/Trafalgar Square, Ashton in 2006.

    Coronation Street has also used the burnt down Claremont Motors on Stamford St. as “Ahmed’s Shop” and Ashton Model Supplies on Old Street was used as “Helens Secondhand Emporium” and a window blind shop.

    The League of Gentlemen was mainly shot in Hadfield, but some scenes were shot in Mottram.

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  4. Excellent contributions, Buspilot.

    As for The League of Gentlemen, they also used the Palace cinema in Stalybridge for one scene. Slightly further afield, ‘The Local Shop’ is supposed to have been filmed (or rather for its exterior shots, CGIed) in Marsden, West Yorkshire.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  5. Keep them coming in! I had also found out somewhere that one of the Tame Valley mills were also used in Clocking Off as well as Making Out.

    Did anybody go to Uppermill this weekend? I went today and you could barely move along High Street! Watching Greenfield brass band outside the Conservative Club this afternoon, I saw a German soldier pop in for a pint of real ale and a Herr Flick lookalike call in. If you went to the Yanks Weekend today or yesterday, feel free to comment on here.

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  6. Just to add to your list of Yanks locations
    Stockport Market Place
    The interior of the Davenport Cinema (sadly no longer standing) on the A6 in Stockport

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  7. Medics was indeed filmed partly at Tameside hospital. I remember seeing tom baker and jimmi harkishin a few times in the now heartshead north reception. And I remember me and my friend accidentally walking into a shot and they had to take it again! Making out had parts at the hospital. They used the then empty ward 27 and the corridor that led the the special care baby unit. The first episode of cracker ‘the mad woman in the attic’ had a scene filmed there. On what is known as the kitchen corridor and where the new heartshead south building now stands. And about 6 years ago a tv program called wythenshaw law filmed a part on ward 3 (now called women’s health unit) and the operating theatres. And I’m in it! Lol. Also my mother was in the conga scene in Billy liar at the old Ashton palais. Her payment? A token that was exchanged for a ham sandwich and a drink of orange.

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    1. Hi Lee,

      Interesting points on ‘Wythenshawe Law’ and the first episode of ‘Cracker’. I doubt as if anyone today would be happy with a ham sandwich and a drink of orange for a brief film appearance nowadays. They’d probably want cash instead.

      Also interesting to find two fictitious doctors in Tameside Hospital: one of which most likely to board a Tardis instead of a 350 to Hartshead Building North!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  8. Yanks also featured King St, Delph. John Schlesinger stayed at “New Barn”, a group of houses half way between Delph and Denshaw, while filming it. A new house was created Dobcross.on a full size canvas backdrop erected on Wood La,

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    1. Hi David,

      Yes, I thought I remember seeing Delph in ‘Yanks’. If I remember rightly it was near the end of the film prior to them joining the train at Keighley railway station. Interesting to find that John Schlesinger stayed nearby.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  9. Hi Stuart, I loved this, thanks very much for going to such efforts! I loved Jossies Giants as a kid, and also Making Out – which I watched lots of the filming for – especially the stuff at Queenies flat! It was such a buzz to watch it on TV and see places that were so familiar to me. I also very much enjoyed the mid 90’s series “Common as Muck” about some loveable bin men. I was pretty sure that much of that was filmed in Tameside and Oldham.

    Don’t know if you’ll remember this one, but in the early 1990’s BBC2 showed a film called You, Me and Marley – it was set in Northern Ireland about a young group of car thiefs. Because of the troubles, the BBC chose Hattersley to film this – apparently it looks identical to the estates of NI.

    Thanks again for a terrific article Stuart 😀

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    1. Hi Steve,

      Thank you very much for your comments. I was never into football till I went to secondary school, but I did like watching Jossy’s Giants due to the local interest.

      On its first transmission, ‘You, Me and Marley’ passed me by (perhaps I was too engrossed in ‘Magicland Dizzy’ or ‘Skooldaze’ to care at the time). In more recent times, I found the full film on YouTube (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUCnDLeyRLs) and watched it. Besides being filmed in Hattersley, some of it was also filmed on Sholver estate (a north easterly windswept corner of Oldham). It was hard to tell some of the subtle differences between the two locations, let alone the part of Belfast immortalised. This, more to do with the prefabricated building systems used to build these estates with in the 1960s.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  10. I am surprised that no one has brought up Ashes to Ashes filmed in part round tameside. Ashton police station being used for plenty of external shots among others.

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  11. I lived opposite Tower Mill when ‘Making Out’ was being filmed. I worked 3 shifts (6-2, 2-10, 10-6) you could tell which one I was working, if the car was outside (a blue Nissan Sunny) and the curtains upstairs were shut, I was on nights.
    We regularly entertained members of the cast, they would come in to shelter from the rain when filming outside.
    They used our German Sheherd dog in the program, Brian the security guard (that was his real job too) had to be filmed walking through the factory with Rebel (the dog.
    We moved away before the second series, I still have all the episodes on VHS, will get them transfered to DVD one day.

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  12. Hi Trevor,

    Amazed to find out about your German Shepherd dog’s supporting role. It is also a shame as to why Making Out was never rerun nor released on DVD.

    Warmly,

    Stuart.

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  13. Many tv managers and directors lived in Saddleworth during the ’70’s / 80’s.
    I worked near Granada Studios and used to car share with 2 who lived in the same terrace as me between Delph and Denshaw . I remember the day Jeremy Fox came home with us extremely excited–he had just got his idea for “The Krypton Factor” accepted by Granada. A lot of those Perspex puzzles ended up in the terrace. He live on the corner of Wood La and the Square in Dobcross. One of those neighbours became MD of Granada and later left with other top executives to set up what is now the largest independent UK TV production company. Not bad for someone who spent his youth in a backing group for Sandy Shaw.

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    1. Hi David,

      I’m amazed to find that ‘The Krypton Factor’s’ roots are in Saddleworth! On reading your comment I had visions of an assault course being near Pots and Pans, ending near The Cross Keys.

      I don’t blame anyone for setting up home in Saddleworth. In terms of commuting distance to Manchester and its rural setting, it is faultless. Not least the other fringe benefits of good walking territory and Whit Friday. The late Tony Wilson set up home in Charlesworth for similar reasons.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  14. hi I’m trying to find out what tv drama was filmed in and around tameside I think some locations was up ridge hill I think some could of been filmed in west end Ashton one and I’ve been searching and asking on Facebook one of the parts I remember a man was looking after his wife who has cancer and a nurse use to come to the house and care for her unfortunately the lady passed away and the man who has a son the father started seeing this nurse and the son was like this is not right and he found out the nurse was slowly poisoning his dad and the son ended up being locked up and she came to visit the boy and said don’t worry I will look after you dad then it was you mad your own mind up what happened their was a few others that was on a mother covered for her son he some how got a gun or a knife and killed some one and the mother went to jail for it not sure what happened hope someone can tell me what it was called it was on a few years ago about 5years I think

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    1. The Accused? First bit sounds like stephens story, episode 3, series 2. Last bit sounds like moe’s story, episode 2.

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  15. Hi, i’my trying to find out the name of a film or drama that was filmed or parts were filmed on hattersley. It has butterflies or butterfly some where in the title. It was made around the late 90s, early 2000s. Can anyone help?

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  16. Great article. A more recent addition to this would be the Danny Baker autobiographical series, starring Peter Kay, “Cradle to Grave” which was shot around the flats near the old Ashton Baths and into the West End. Brilliant series! Another would be “East is East”.

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