Many, many years ago the 14-year-old me set off on an adventure with three friends. It was the first time we’d been allowed to go to Manchester on our own. If we’d been cool teenagers we’d have headed straight for Afflecks Palace and spent the day rooting out the perfect pair of faded Levis. And if we’d been really cool we’d have missed the last train home, blagged our way into the Hacienda and enjoyed a night of mind-blowing, life-changing clubbing.
We were so not cool. We went on the Granada Studios Tour instead.
Back in the late 1980s and 1990s members of the general public could gain access to the Granada Studios complex on Quay Street, Manchester. Billed as a theme park (think Universal Studios as done by Del Boy and Rodney) the only reason anyone paid to get in was to have a good nosy round the actual Coronation Street set.
In those days The Street only aired twice a week, leaving the outdoor set idle for significant chunks of time. Me and my mates were able to toddle down the cobbles, caress Jack ’n’ Vera’s stone cladding and enjoy a pint in The Rovers (liberating a Newton And Ridley’s glass on the way out).
Happy memories, which all came flooding back 25 years later when I was invited, along with a herd of other journalists, to the ‘reveal’ of the brand-spanking-new Coronation Street production facility at Trafford Road Wharf, MediaCityUK, Salford.
We were shepherded into a darkened marquee and shown some time-lapse photography of the build before surging forth onto the all-new Coronation Street itself! Which looked…pretty similar to the old Quay Street lot, to be honest. Of course it did. The main aim of the project has been to improve and future-proof the show, without making it blindingly obvious to the viewers at home.
After having my photo taken outside The Kabin and scratching my initials on the door of Webster’s garage, I hung around the bus stop on Rosamund Street where I managed to collar the show’s executive producer, Kieran Roberts, and get his take on the momentous move.
“The key challenge for us was to lovingly recreate the build whilst finding ways in which it could be enhanced,” says Roberts.
“One of the biggest problems for us was that the Quay Street lot was built in 1981 using bricks sourced from various companies, many of whom have now gone out of business. We employed some wonderful people who managed to find us reclaimed bricks, and sometimes even manufactured bricks especially for us, so we could get the perfect match.”
Another challenge was replicating the tree that stands outside Audrey’s hairdressing salon. Just dig it up and replant it, right? Wrong. The Alnus Icana in question is 25 years old, 40 feet high and weighs six tons, so a new one had to be ordered…from Holland.
“It’s strange to think that there are now two complete, parallel Coronation Streets in existence,” muses Roberts, with the shiny-eyed enthusiasm of a man who’s seen enough tile samples to last a lifetime. “It’s all there, even down to the windowsill where Dennis Tanner scratched his name.”
But as well as being the same, the new Coronation Street is also different. Roberts again. “We’ve widened the actual street by 2.5 feet so that we can have vehicles travelling safely in two different directions. It also means we can get a fire engine round the corner, which is always handy in this part of Weatherfield.”
Other changes include the scale of the set (the old one was roughly three quarters life-sized and now it’s just over four fifths), the telephone box (now a lightweight replica that can be moved if needs be), a specially-adapted bus shelter (with hinged glass side-screen that can opens to allow better camera angles) and an extra window upstairs at The Rovers (where once there was one, now there are two). But probably the most exciting change is the addition of a new street.
“We now have a proper brick terrace behind Coronation Street called Mawdsley Street,” reveals Roberts. “I can imagine a point in the future where we meet a character having a slanging match across the ginnel and that character will gradually be introduced into the show. There are plenty of new possibilities.”
It’s taken 3,000 people two and a half years to create the new production facility which sprawls over a 7.7 acre site. The external set alone required 400,000 bricks (144,000 of which were reclaimed from a derelict street in Salford) and 54,000 cobbles. All a far cry from the very first episode of Coronation Street which was broadcast in December 1960. Filmed in black and white, all the external shots were filmed inside a studio where the cobbles had been painted on the floor.
Filming has yet to start at the Trafford Wharf site but will probably begin sometime in mid-January with the first of the ‘new’ episodes being screened at the end of February or the beginning of March. It will mark a momentous change in the show’s history, and one that represents a huge commitment by ITV in both the North West and in the future of TV production outside of London.
Moving Coronation Street to MediaCityUK gives ITV a presence alongside the BBC, who already produce their Children’s, Radio 5 live, 6 Music and BBC Breakfast output at the site.
“The new set and production facility is a fantastic investment by ITV in the future of Coronation Street,” says Roberts. “It says, ‘this programme is going to be around for many decades to come’.”
Not only is this great news for everyone who works on Coronation Street, it’s also great news for everyone who watches the show (including me). Here’s to another 50-odd years of Corrie. How cool is that?
By Jo Dearden