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Remember Granada – remember when it was any good?

Phil Griffin, Urbis, Winter Hill and Manchester’s role in TV history

Published on November 4th 2009.

Remember Granada – remember when it was any good?

WINTER Hill, above Bolton, is a big and dangerous place. Thirty-five people died here in February 1958 when their plane, on a flight from the Isle of Man to Manchester, crashed in heavy snow. There is a memorial marking the event on the wall of the Transmitter Station close to the crash site.

From 4 November we start the Digital Age, and the five Terrestrial Channels seem like another world. Frankly, anytime soon the notion of a TV channel will seem as quaint as the wind-up gramophone.

The exhibition, Ghosts of Winter Hill which opened this week at Urbis, is not marking this tragic event. Instead it marks the end of an era in which Winter Hill played a significant role. The ghosts in question, if they exist at all, are in the ether above the 1000ft mast: a mast that has transmitted television programmes since the 1960s.

Ghosts, in other words, from the haunted fish tank that has played such a large part in our lives for over half a century.

Britain discovered television one June morning in 1953.

Millions of people watched the young Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on their neighbour’s televisions and in TV-rental shop windows. Then, on an evening in May three years later, an off-camera actor said in voice-over, “From the North, this is Granada”, and that changed everything.

In 1956 Manchester didn’t just get any independent television company down Quay Street by the Irwell. It got Sidney Bernstein’s Granada Television, the crème-de-la-crème of ITV, and the “best commercial television company in the world”, according to the citation by the Banff International TV Festival in 1985. Bernstein is pictured on the roof of the Granada building in the sixties, top right on this page.

There followed an extraordinary migration of talent to the only company in the network that so clearly had a mind of its own.

“We were part of a unique enterprise and were one of the most important cultural factors in the cultural revolution of the 1960s. That alone would make working for Granada an exceptional experience, but it was much, much more to do with being based in Manchester and having that special point of view which was different.” So wrote Michael Parkinson of his early years at Granada, presenting Scene at 6.30.

For four decades ITV was, in Lord Thomson of Fleet’s words, “A licence to print money”. Right now, according to some dire predictions, ITV will be lucky to see Christmas. This week the Quay Street Studios have two programmes in regular production; Countdown and the Jeremy Kyle Show. And Corrie, of course, across the road in Stage One. Recession, falling audience share and the migration of advertising to new media are to blame for the ghastly shrinking of ITV. These, and a series of bad and expensive decisions, such as ITV Digital, and buying Friends Reunited.

From 4 November we start the Digital Age, and the five Terrestrial Channels seem like another world. Frankly, anytime soon the notion of a TV channel will seem as quaint as the wind-up gramophone. Tim-Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web speaking in July this year said: “I feel that if I have an internet connection I should be able to get at, and pay for if necessary, anything that has ever been broadcast… a complete random access library. I will be following links, not searching channels. The concept of a channel is going to be history very quickly – it’s no longer relevant”. Before that happens, and it assuredly will, you might like to take the lift to the third floor of Urbis where, if you’ll bear with me, I’ve done a bit of archive plundering on your behalf.

From the mid-fifties Manchester has taken a view on the world. Whether it was World In Action or What the Papers Say (the longest running programme on UK Television), Top of The Pops or Question of Sport, Mrs Merton or The Royle Family, Shameless or Clocking Off, some of the best and longest running programmes in British television history have come from here. That should not be a legacy easily surrendered.

The BBC’s move from Oxford Road to Salford Quays is business, and quite probably good business too. But the media flagship the BBC has become is likely to find its sails trimmed by an incoming government, if Rupert Murdoch has anything to do with it. And he most certainly shall.

In Urbis you will see bits of Manchester Television from each decade, from the fifties to the present. And there are themed screens; sport, drama, comedy, music, reporting the world. And hundreds of stills.

I have favourites; The World of George Best, Ray Gosling on Trafford Park, a quite remarkable film by the writer of Taste Of Honey, Shelagh Delaney’s Salford, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe on The Blues and Gospel Train from Chorltonville Station (pictured, left). It isn’t You Tube and it isn’t video-on-demand, but it is a small fraction of Manchester’s legacy to the world which I hope you will enjoy looking at.

Ghosts Of Winter Hill: Manchester Television and the City. Created & written by Phil Griffin. Curated by Phil Griffin and Paul Luckraft. Urbis November 4 to April 2010. Admission is free.

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Elaine M BrignallNovember 4th 2009.

I worked at Granada Television on Quay Street in the 60s'. A wonderful, wonderful place to work, so exciting and inventive at that time. I worked with Michael Parkinson and Johnny Hamp and used to fly on Lord Bernstein's private plane (pilot Captain Walters!) on a Friday to meet my boyfriend in London. Only 6-seater but anyone could have a seat if one vacant! Everyone eat together, stars and staff and programme-making was so very exciting and you were given the opportunities to progress within the company. I worked too, on World in Action and a friend at that time turned into a now Hollywood Film Producer. What a place, what a company, what a shame to see it decline.

sadnessNovember 4th 2009.

shame urbis is now closing to be turned into a football museum...a sad state of affairs

outragedofm1November 4th 2009.

I popped down to Urbis and found both this and the UK Hip Hop exhibitions fascinating, albeit tinged with sadness when you consider the home of World in Action is now little more than the home of late night bingo and the Jeremy Kyle Show. Some wonderful footage though and some truly inspiring and nostalgic photography to boot. Thanks!

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