How our borough became a popular location for film and television
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.