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Granada Television

Broadcaster, Production Company

Main image of Granada Television

Cecil and Sidney Bernstein, as the owners of Granada Theatres, were originally lukewarm, at best, about television, more concerned that it would hit cinema audiences. While they had looked into the possibility of distributing television for display on large screens in their theatres - much as Gaumont-British had before the war - the brothers only became serious about commercial television when it became inevitable after the Tory General Election win in 1951 and the success of a Conservative back-bench pressure group in convincing the new government.

Shrewdly acknowledging that they would be better off with interests in both the cinema and television, and noting that most of their theatres were in the south of the country, they applied for a station in the north of England to minimise internal competition, hoping for a seven-days-a-week franchise for the region covering Lancashire and Yorkshire. In fact, the way that the Independent Television Authority (ITA) divided the initial regions in the country's three major population centres - London, Midlands and North - into four franchises of approximately equal earning capacity (based on population times weekly broadcasting hours) meant that there wasn't such a franchise to be had; instead the Bernsteins' offer, which was immediately accepted, resulted in Granada taking weekdays only in the North, with the weekends going to the Kemsley-Winnick group until its collapse brought ABC Weekend into the picture.

It is very likely that another reason for the Bernsteins' initial reluctance to join Independent Television was political. All three of the other founding contractors were firmly on the right - a fact which led the Daily Mirror to describe the new network as 'Toryvision' - but the Bernsteins were very much on the left; Sidney, very much the company's front-man, was falsely alleged by some to be a communist. Questions were raised in Parliament as to whether these were fit people to run a commercial television station, but they successfully overcame opposition and the Granada contract went ahead.

While several of the initial contractors had to rush to get their facilities ready for air, converting theatres and other buildings to turn them into studios, Granada had a full year and a half between being awarded a contract and going on-air on 3 May 1956. The company was thus able to build a television production centre from scratch in the heart of Manchester, on Quay Street and have it at least partially operational on opening night. Architect Ralph Tubbs, who had designed the Dome of Discovery for the Festival of Britain, was called in and was given a comprehensive brief during ongoing planning sessions by Sidney Bernstein, who had quite an ability as an architect.

The Granada studio complex was the first purpose-built television studio production centre to go on the air in the UK. It was built in a modular fashion, so that the station was able to open with the minimum required to provide a service, although in the early days that sometimes meant using other facilities. By 1958, however, the complex included a studio of almost 10,000 square feet, at that time the largest in the country. It was made to sound even larger by Sidney's decision to give the studios even numbers only. The practical-looking building, finished finally in 1962, looks very much of its time, with rectangular lines and a lot of glass, and is still in use, though its future is now in doubt with the consolidation of ITV. To emphasise their commitment to the region, the Bernsteins established apartments in the complex, and in fact this regional imperative was so pervasive that ultimately 'Granada' and 'from the North' became inseparable and the Bernsteins referred to their empire as 'Granadaland'. The ITA eventually decided that all contractors should address their regions in such a wholehearted manner.

The brothers went about recruiting top talent from the UK and overseas, including Denis Forman, from the British Film Institute (Forman was to play a vital role in the company for four decades, first as effective programme controller and then as Chairman) and several Canadian producers. This, and building the station's infrastructure, cost big money, and when the station went on the air it was effectively broke. While all the founding 'big four' contractors expected to make a loss in the first couple of years of operation, Granada's was significant, exceeding £175,000. Soon, however, all the contractors went into profit, although Granada, which on the surface appeared to be doing extremely well, turned in surprisingly low profit figures the following year - £1 million, less than any of the other three founders - and for several years after that. It finally emerged towards the end of the decade that, in that first year, Granada had been poised on the brink of insolvency. The company had done a deal with the London weekday contractor Associated-Rediffusion (whose parent, British Electric Traction, had deep pockets, and without whom the ITV system might well have been unsustainable in the months before it found its feet) which took care of Granada's debts - but also took a hefty chunk of future profits too, right up to 1960. What it did do, however, was give Granada's programming a guaranteed outlet in the vital London market, something which Howard Thomas, at ABC Weekend, had tremendous difficulty getting from Lew Grade at ATV.

Initially, Granada broadcast to a 'pan-North' region, covering both sides of the Pennines from transmitters at Winter Hill and Emley Moor, a situation that didn't change as a result of the 1964 franchise round. However in 1968, Lord Hill of the ITA, partly as a means of reducing the power of the 'big four', moved to abolish weekday/weekend splits outside London and created a new Yorkshire region, giving Granada the north west while ABC and Rediffusion were metamorphosed into Thames Television. A Liverpool-based challenger emerged unsuccessfully in the 1981/82 round, but probably resulted in Granada paying more attention to that part of its patch.

From the beginning, Granada made an enormous impact on ITV's programme content, with its reputation founded primarily on more serious programming. What The Papers Say, launched in 1956, was one lasting innovation. Current affairs flagship World In Action (1963-1998) showed that Granada was unafraid of authority, whether regulators or governments, both of which the programme-makers ran up against on numerous occasions.

A highly successful spin-off from World in Action was Seven Up (1963-), which featured 14 seven-year-old children and their aspirations for the future. Originally designed as a one-off, it was revisited by director Michael Apted to follow the subjects' development at seven-year intervals, resulting in a series of documentaries that is unique in television history. The most recent update, 49 Up, appeared in 2005. Disappearing World (1970-93) and All Our Yesterdays (1960-89) continued Granada's reputation for factual programming.

Still more revolutionary, however, was Coronation Street (1960-), probably Britain's most enduringly successful programme. Forman forbade the term 'soap opera', preferring to describe it as a 'human comedy', although comedy was only a part of its rich mix. From the very first episode the serial combined pitch-perfect characterisation - particularly in its female roles - with kitchen sink-style social commentary and deft humorous touches. It seized the top of the ratings in its first year, and has rarely let go since.

Granada was to make its name in high drama too. The lush, expansive Brideshead Revisited (1981) and The Jewel in the Crown (1984) set a new standard for classic literary adaptations on television, and were instrumental in creating the 1980s 'heritage boom'. The broadcaster's earlier Hard Times (1977) was almost as impressive, while other highlights included the superb The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-85) and its successors, starring Jeremy Brett; Lynda La Plante's drama Prime Suspect (1991-), which gave a memorable role to Helen Mirren; and Jimmy McGovern's similarly intense Cracker (1993-95).

Such high-impact titles proved ITV capable of at least matching the BBC. Granada has offered a broad spread of programming over the years, with successes in comedy and light entertainment - The Army Game (1957-61), Bootsie & Snudge (1961-63; 1974), Criss Cross Quiz (1957-67), The Krypton Factor (1977-95) - and children's programmes like Clapperboard (1972-82) and The Ghosts of Motley Hall (1976-78). University Challenge, based on US show College Bowl and introduced in 1963 with question-master Bamber Gascoigne, introduced a new level of difficulty to the quiz show. Broadcast on ITV until 1987, it was subsequently made by Granada for BBC2.

Granada scored a lucky success with music show So It Goes (1976-77), fronted by future Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson (previously a reporter on local news show Granada Reports), which became the first to document the emerging punk movement and featured the Sex Pistols' TV debut.

After its success in the 1992 franchise auction, Granada began a series of acquisitions, including London Weekend, Tyne Tees and Yorkshire, extending control until by 2002 there were only two independent television companies left in England and Wales, Granada - which had by now essentially lost its Northern identity - and Carlton. Granada annexed the latter in 2004 to create 'ITV plc', which now broadcasts an almost entirely non-regional, homogenised, nationally-networked schedule and provides the 'third channel' to the entire country outside Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Channel Islands. Thus Granada can claim to be the only original ITV contractor still broadcasting.

Richard G. Elen

Peter Black, The Mirror in the Corner, (Hutchinson, 1972);
Asa Briggs, The history of broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Vol. 5: Competition (OUP, 1995);
Denis Forman, Persona Granada (Andre Deutsch, 1997)
Transdiffusion - 'ident', 'studio one' and elsewhere (;
Independent Teleweb (

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Albion Market (1985-86)Albion Market (1985-86)

Shortlived soap set in a Manchester covered market

Thumbnail image of Alfresco (1983-84)Alfresco (1983-84)

Alternative sketch show with Fry, Laurie, Elton, Coltrane and Thompson

Thumbnail image of Brideshead Revisited (1981)Brideshead Revisited (1981)

Lavish, standard-setting adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel

Thumbnail image of Coronation Street (1960- )Coronation Street (1960- )

Britain's longest-running soap opera marked its half-century in 2010

Thumbnail image of Coronation Street - The 1960sCoronation Street - The 1960s

The first decade of TV's longest-running soap opera

Thumbnail image of Hard Times (1977)Hard Times (1977)

Acclaimed adaptation of Dickens' Northern industrial melodrama

Thumbnail image of Jewel in the Crown, The (1984)Jewel in the Crown, The (1984)

Acclaimed drama series set in the 1940s Indian Raj

Thumbnail image of World in Action (1963-98)World in Action (1963-98)

Granada's long-running and highly respected current affairs strand

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