Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher


Good Dog mentioned a couple of classic series and broke a memory… I was a Presentation trainee in Granada’s Manchester studios when they were making The XYY Man, and one of our control room monitors was hooked to the studio feed. So I saw everything the studio cameras saw, both during and between takes. I watched Paul Freeman getting shot and sliding down a fridge door four or five times, so they could get the blood smear right.

My Controller was a formidable lady named Paddy Owen – she’d been an army driver at the Nuremberg War Crime trials – and though she was terrifying to a new kid in the first year of his first job, she loved actors and they loved her. And she seemed to know all of them.

So when the shift was over we went across to the Stables bar, and I ended up drinking with Freeman and Paddy… I think Stephen Yardley was there for some of the evening as well. It’s hard to say. Working in TV in the 70s seemed to involve being drunk a lot of the time.

Before it was a bar the Stables had been a theatre for a while, but it had originally been a home for railway horses. Granada owned a large area of derelict warehouses and goods yards across the road from the Quay Street studios, and had been negotiating with city planners to develop the land.

The negotiations went on for years, and in the meantime various temporary uses were made of it. The set for the Coronation Street soap was over there; they built it on a cobbled marshalling yard, where the physical restrictions of the site meant that for several years of the show the cobbles ran at a strange oblique angle to the pavement. The Baker Street standing set for the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes went up in the same area, but that was after I’d left to go freelance.

Student vacation work apart, that time at Granada represents the only real job I’ve ever had. I was there for five years. Nowadays, a TV company is an office full of people and corridors stacked with boxes of photocopy paper. But Granada in the late 70s, the “David Plowright era”, was the real thing. They made stuff, all kinds of stuff, and an unofficial education was available to any employee with the right kind of curiosity. During night shifts I wandered the sets of Laurence Olivier Presents. I watched my friend Jim Pope synching commentary for World in Action. And out on that railway backlot I watched John Irvin direct the arrival of the circus troupe for the cracking adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times that started Granada’s run of big-budget filmed drama (and pointed Irvin, a former World in Action documentaries director, toward a feature career).

Later they developed the site for a short-lived studio tour and now it’s mostly offices. There’s still some production there – Cracker was made in Manchester, and the UK version of Eleventh Hour had its production office suite in the warehouse – but everything’s changed.

For nostalgia’s sake, I went looking for the old Central Control Room where I used to work.

I got lost.


5 responses to “Granada”

  1. Snap, Stephen, only I was lucky enough to start my career at ATV, and learned how to be a professional from the best… largely by osmosis. ATV was owned by Lew Grade who was at his desk every morning by seven so you not only felt his constant presence but also smelled his cigar smoke.

    I also got to see some classic TV in the making; everything from Shakespeare (with its reproduction Globe in the back lot, also used for Bing Crosby specials) to the Muppets.

    I always wanted to thank Lord Grade for giving me my first series, and for the rock solid foundation he gave me. I had my chance at a Bafta do when Lord Grade was in his nineties. He not only remembered my series from years before but also, without blinking, quoted me its overseas sales figures. Ecce homo!

  2. At Granada I was warned to be polite to any old bloke I found prowling about in carpet slippers late at night, as it would probably be Sidney Bernstein. He had an apartment on the top floor of the block, and used it often. Granada had a London office in Golden Square, but apart from Sales all the heads of department were required to keep their centre of focus within the North West. The wilful destruction of a federal ITV has been, in my opinion, the main reason for the channel’s dire situation today.

  3. For nostalgia’s sake, I went looking for the old Central Control Room where I used to work.

    I got lost.

    This is why they say “You can never go back again.”

    That must have been a great time. In environments like that, with everything going on, you get to watch, listen and learn.

    Looking back at the marvellous, distinctive dramas the likes of Granada, LWT, Thames/Euston Films, and ATV made, it’s an absolute crime what has happened to the channel since the birth of ITV plc.

  4. I agree! Various governments have given ITV away on a plate. It started with Thatcher raffling off the old ITV franchises which was the first nail in its coffin. And then Blair’s Communication Bill allowed for foreign ownership so we can kiss goodbye to ITV as the Lord intended (well, Lords: Grade and Bernstein.) I lobbied with the WGGB over the foreign ownership issue, but did Blair listen? Nahhhh!

    I still say that Lord Grade’s opening night ITV line-up couldn’t be bettered. It went something like this:

    Robin Hood
    I Love Lucy
    Sunday Night At The Palladium
    Armchair Theatre

    Something for everyone and class all the way!