Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Granada Television is the United Kingdom ITV contractor for North West England. It previously held the "North of England" weekday franchise (which also covered large parts of Yorkshire) from 1954 (broadcasting began on May 3, 1956) until 1968 when its broadcast area was split into two franchises. It is part of ITV plc.
Granada was the only one of the original four ITA franchisees from 1954 which survived as a franchise holder into the twenty-first century, until the merger of its parent company, Granada plc in 2004 into ITV plc. The North West franchise continues to be held by Granada Television Ltd, part of ITV plc.
With some eighteen months between the awarding of their franchise and the start of transmission, Granada built a brand new studio complex, on bomb clearance land close to the River Irwell in Manchester. This was revolutionary on two counts; Firstly the new ITV companies tended to build production centres in London and just have regional offices in their constituencies (strategies used by both ABC and ATV and eerily similar to the prevailing direction of the present day ITV). Granada wanted to be 'at the heart' of their area and so built a main base in the centre of Manchester.
Secondly they were the first British television company to create facilities purpose-built for television production. Prior to this (and for some time after) companies converted former film studios, cinemas or other large buildings. The centre at Manchester pre-dated the BBC's Television Centre by four years. To embellish the scale of the company, the studios were numbered with even numbers only (2, 4, 6 etc.). Of the six original studios only four still exist: Studio 4, a continuity studio, was eventually mothballed and converted to office space. Studio 10 wasn't part of the Manchester complex at all, but was actually a theatre in Chelsea, London, used by Granada for recording dramas, or for other programmes with special circumstances. Studio 2 is currently a CSO studio, used for programmes such as What The Papers Say and Tonight with Trevor McDonald. All the existing studios are now operated by ITV's joint venture company with BBC Resources, 3sixtymedia.
The company also opened a small production office in Leeds to serve the area that would be eventually covered by the Emley Moor transmitter. In the early 1980s and in response to criticism the station was neglecting Merseyside it opened a news centre at the Albert Dock, Liverpool, since replaced with a smaller district office based in the Liver Building.
Granada was determined to develop a strong Northern identity for themselves — Northern voices, Northern programmes, Northern idents ("From The North — Granada", and "Granadaland").
This was counter to the practice of the other franchisees, who adopted fairly nondescript names such as Associated British Corporation, Associated TeleVision, and Associated-Rediffusion, which did not have regional associations so that they could easily move their franchises to other parts of the country — if they did well, in the future the ITA might reward them with a plum London franchise. The Northern identity immediately set Granada apart, making them immovable and embedding the company into the psyche of its viewers — so much so that the term "Granada" to this day instantly means Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and Cheshire to many viewers.
All this put great pressure on the early finances of the station. The predicted audiences for ITV were slow in coming and Sidney Bernstein had to personally visit large companies to persuade them to advertise on Granada. The company was having trouble paying salaries and was very close to collapse by early-1957.
Only the intervention of London station Associated Rediffusion prevented this when they agreed to underwrite Granada's costs in exchange for a significant share in their profits over the next eight years. Although this deal saved the company and seemed a good idea at the time, the popularity of ITV soon increased and the profits started flowing in, most of it going straight to Rediffusion. Understandably this upset Granada who asked if they could change the contract; equally understandably Rediffusion kept them to their word and this soured relations between the two for many years to come.
Granada's policy of regional identification was successful, and the ITA decided that all franchise contractors, large or small, should identify with their regions in this way — this was a problem which was to dog ATV for the rest of its existence and be the direct cause of the company's demise.
The Early Years
The culture of Granada was distinctly more Socialist than the more conservative companies further south. The company produced gritty dramas and hard-hitting documentaries such as the multi-award winning World in Action and Seven Up!. Jeremy Isaacs worked as a producer at Granada from 1958 and was involved with developing a significant portion of the channel's factual programming. The classic soap opera Coronation Street which started a 13-week, two episodes a week run on 9 December 1960, is still producing five episodes a week in 2006.
In 1968 it set up a unique experiment employing actors to work in television and theatre on the same contract - the Stables Theatre Company directed by Gordon McDougall.
Granada did not produce light entertainment extravaganzas of its own, but was quite happy to transmit those produced by its co-franchisees, but by the mid-1970s it was producing programmes for an international audience, such as Laurence Olivier Presents (1976-78), Brideshead Revisited (1981), and from 1984 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Also in that year came the dramatisation of The Jewel in the Crown. These shows (amongst many others) were sold overseas through a separate division known as Granada Television International.
The productions of Brideshead and Jewel were well received at the time, but coincided with the BBCs disastrous The Borgias and the screening of the American adaptation of The Thorn Birds in each instance, giving the commercial channel a certain glow in the Thatcher era over its public funded rival.
Another of its flagship programmes was the long-running quiz show, University Challenge — which was revived by the BBC in the 1990s, although still produced by Granada. One of the Granada's longest running programmes, What The Papers Say, is unique in having had three different broadcast "homes". The programme, which began in the same year Granada did, 1956, was also picked up by the BBC in the early 90s, after having been previously shown by Channel 4 as well as ITV. Granada also produced the long running quiz programme The Krypton Factor.
In the 1970s Granada produced a number of successful situation-comedies, often based around its constituency of north-west England. These included Nearest and Dearest, The Lovers and The Cuckoo Waltz. This theme ran into the following decade with shows such as the Brothers McGregor and Watching.
For children the station drew on the success of 1970s pop music with shows such as Lift Off with Ayshea and giving The Bay City Rollers their own show, Shang-a-lang. The station also produced Marc, presented by glam rock star Marc Bolan. The show was still in-production when Bolan was killed in a car accident in 1977.
In 1968, Granada's contract was changed from weekdays across the whole "north of England" region (Lancashire and Yorkshire) to one covering the whole week in the North West (served by the Winter Hill transmitter). This led Sidney Bernstein to declare that 'if the ITA (Independent Television Authority) interfered in the territory of Granadaland he would go to the United Nations'. The Yorkshire contract (now to be served by the Emley Moor transmitter) was awarded to the Telefusion Yorkshire and Yorkshire Independent Television consortia.
Granada had little difficulty in retaining its franchise in the 1980 round and despite bidding significantly less than its rivals survived the 1991 round by virtue of the "quality threshold" applied by the regulator. (Granada had been out-bid for their franchise by rivals Mersey Television, but the other company was not granted the licence as their package was not deemed to meet the required quality threshold)
By the late 1980s it was thought that the UK commercial broadcasters were too small to be able to compete in the world television market - a problem exacerbated by the 1990 Broadcasting Act which instigated quotas on independent programming, removed the ITV's advertising monopoly and instigated the expensive auction process of the 1991 franchise round. Granada won the 1991 franchise round on quality grounds.
The Conservative government responded by relaxing the regulatory regime, so that ITV contractors could take each other over, and Granada responded by going on an acquisition spree, which resulted by 2002, in Granada establishing an effective duopoly of ITV with Carlton Television, excepting only the franchises in Central and Northern Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Islands.
One charge that has been levelled at the company over the years is that it neglects certain areas of its franchise - particularly Liverpool and Merseyside - and has shown a slant in the setting of its programmes, levels of investment and local news coverage that show a favouritism towards the Manchester area.
This was one of the main reasons cited by Mersey Television in their failed bid to win the northwest franchise in the 1990s. Whatever the truth of the accusations, it must be noted that Granada increased its levels of investment in the city in the late eighties, moving the regional news service to prominent buildings in the city's Albert Dock complex and basing its daytime networked show This Morning there for several years. The programme moved to The London Studios in the late 90s, and the reason cited for this was that it was difficult to get top name guests to travel from London to Liverpool that early in the morning. Since then, the Albert Dock studios have been vacated and sold.
With changes in the broadcasting environment making loss of its franchise highly unlikely though, some have argued that Granada has again returned to earlier ways, with investment in the Liverpool area comparatively small when compared with the facilities that exist in Manchester.
In 1996 Granada teamed up with BSkyB to form a joint venture Granada Sky Broadcasting to provide content and new channels to the satellite platform. Granada Breeze, the lifestyle channel (an amalgamation of several earlier channels, including Granada Talk TV, Granada Food and Wine, Granada Health and Beauty, Granada TV High Street and Granada Home and Garden), was broadcast from a custom-built conservatory studio in the grounds of the existing studios, but closed in 2002. Granada Plus (a channel devoted to showing Granada's back catalogue of TV programmes, including classic episodes of their most popular show, Coronation Street) was first retitled 'Plus', and then eventually turned into ITV3 with just minutes' notice to staff in November 2004. Only the male-oriented channel, Men & Motors, which is now fully owned by ITV plc, remains from the now ceased relationship.
Granada Sky Broadcasting