Granada Studios Tour
Castlefield, Manchester, England, United Kingdom
Granada Studios Tour was an entertainment theme park at the Granada Studios complex in Castlefield, Manchester which operated from 1988 to 1999. The park was located in the heart of Manchester city centre adjacent to the Granada House building.
The tour attracted over 5 million visitors, but visitor numbers were waning by the late 1990s and Granada Television had to prioritise other economic problems such as the failure of ONdigital. As a result the Granada Studios Tour closed to the general public in 1999 and for good in 2001. The Coronation Street set - part of the original theme park - was temporarily re-opened to the public in April 2014 for a six month period.
The park was the brainchild of Granada producer David Plowright, who had long been interested in developing the land around the Granada Studios complex in Manchester. There was scope to the plans as the studio facilities were only used for filming once a week, allowing visitors and production to work harmoniously. Furthermore much of the land that Granada owned was derelict and underused, with Plowright believing that such land should be cultivated.
Plowright's aim was to create a 'Hollywood-on-the-Irwell', a reference to the River Irwell which runs through Manchester. The Granada Group hierarchy which was the parent of Granada Manchester were pessimistic about Plowright's plans. Fortunately for Plowright, he gained the support of the Granada Television hierarchy, such as John Williams and commercial director Chris Mather.
A key part of the tour would be for visitors to walk down Coronation Street, but the Tour would also centre around the Bonded Warehouse adjacent to the main Granada House building. Plowright ordered the renovation of the Victorian Warehouse for the Studio Tour at a cost of £3m.
Granada Studios Tours opened in July 1988 and quickly surpassed all expectations. A feasibility study prior to its opening estimated first year visitor figures of 250,000 to 275,000, but within 8 months the Tour had 600,000 visitors.
As the 1990s drew to a close, the theme park gradually fell into neglect and disrepair, and visitor numbers fell. Granada was going through a period of unprecedented change, and many of the company's divisions were sold off in the wake of the OnDigital fiasco. The tour complex was seen as a loss-making enterprise and plans were made to close it, unbeknownst to the public at large, who always saw the Coronation Street visit as the most important part of the whole complex.
The formation of 3sixtymedia, a joint venture facilities company based primarily at Granada's Quay Street studios and co-owned by BBC Resources and Granada, spelled the final end for the Tours, as the company moved into the Bonded Warehouse on the site, and started using some of the other buildings (such as the Starlight Theatre) for additional studio and warehousing space.
For a short while before its final, abrupt closure, the complex was open only to pre-booked parties, such as corporate events, fan club visits, and Manchester Mardi Gras' "Treat on the Street", a themed night time event during the August Bank Holiday weekend.
In 2000, one year following its closure, parts of the tour were demolished allowing Granada the opportunity to expand the set of Coronation Street, to include a new viaduct (to allow filming on Rosamund Street without exposing the Quay Street Studios which run adjacent to the rear of the set), Roy's Rolls café, the renovation of the derelict Graffiti Club into a new medical centre, a new building yard, two shops joining the cafe (the new kebab shop called Prima Doner - originally Sally Webster's hardware shop - and Elliott and Son's Master Butchers) and a few new houses. Since the closure of the tour, the exterior set has been seen more often in the soap.
The former Baker Street building was turned into a new studio for Coronation Street, named Stage Two, containing more studio sets.
In 2008, a rumour was circulated that ITV were considering reopening the tour as well as licensing real 'Rovers Return' pubs. These reports came to nothing, as it would have involved a considerable amount of site reorganisation, at a time when Granada were discussing a move to a smaller location in Trafford Park.
In March 2009, it was announced Coronation Street would stay on the current Quay Street site "for the foreseeable future". Also, Granada's studios had become the home of shows displaced by the reorganisation of the Yorkshire Television studios in Leeds, including Channel 4's Countdown. However, following a change of hands at ITV management, talks between ITV and The Peel Group for the move to Trafford Park site reopened in January 2010 leading to a deal which was finally announced in December 2010. This means that Granada Television will vacate the Quay Street complex by 2013, and the area sold off.
There still remains some doubt over the future of the actual Coronation Street outdoor set itself once production transfers to the new Trafford Park complex. Manchester City Council owns part of the land upon which the studios are built, and talks are underway to discuss the possibility of the outdoor set being taken over by the adjacent Museum of Science and Industry to create a Coronation Street attraction.
In 2012, it was reported that an application for heritage listing had been made to English Heritage on the premise that the site was important to the cultural history of the North West and nationally. The application included the Coronation Street set and Granada House building where the majority of Granada programmes have been produced since 1962. However, in June 2012 English Heritage announced that the request for Listed status had been rejected.
The exterior of the complex was a New York street setting replicating Times Square, complete with yellow cabs, large neon advertisements and entertainers role-playing police officers. This area was the site of the first exterior set of Coronation Street, used from 1968 until 1982 (chosen for the Victorian viaduct which lay behind the New York facade).
The guided tour itself, which lasted around an hour, comprised various mock sets from Granada productions, including a recreation of Downing Street, the Sherlock Holmes-era Baker Street backlot set from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series, and the giant room from Return of the Antelope, where furniture was designed on a much larger scale to create the illusion of small humans. The lounge of 'Home Farm' from Emmerdale, and the cafe from Coronation Street were also mocked up for the tour.
In the early days of the Tours, a bus would take you through a mockup of Checkpoint Charlie, and then down Baker Street towards Coronation Street, where you would disembark. This feature was later discarded, and the Baker Street set had a warehouse-style building erected around the outdoor set, creating an indoor street.
The focal point of the tour was the opportunity to walk down the actual cobbled street used in Coronation Street since 1982. The tour was closed on Mondays, as this was the day that the set was used for filming at the time.
Live action shows were performed at intervals throughout each day, including a parody of a political debate in the House of Commons chamber set used for First Among Equals. This set was often used by other television productions wanting to set scenes in the Commons chamber, such as The New Statesman, and in 2002 was purchased by the scriptwriter Paul Abbott so that it could be used in his BBC drama serial State of Play. Abbott, himself a former Granada Television staff writer, bought it personally as the set would otherwise have been destroyed and he feared it would take too long to get the necessary money from the BBC. Abbott kept the set in storage in Oxford.
Other attractions included the opportunity to appear in a special Coronation Street scene in the Rovers Return with the main characters, using the chroma key process. Also, a ride named MotionMaster was developed whereby people could watch a short adventure film while being strapped into chairs which moved in synchronisation with the action on the large screen. One such film was based upon the film Aliens, when the squad entered the base in a transporter. Latterly, other rides such as a single-person monorail called a "Solocoaster", and other fairground-style rides were installed, including a 3D film show. Granada Studios Tour had also featured the shop featured in Sooty & Co.. One of the country's most famous Wurlitzer organs made regular concert appearances in an "old-style" venue, but following the closure, was sold to Folly Farm in Tenby.
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