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The rest of the UK - today (more or less)

 

Ever since I began this project I've had people emailing me asking me to include all the other studios around the UK.  Well, sorry, but I am trying to fit work, home and some sort of social life into my time.  However, tucked away at the end of my 'history of old ITV studios in London' page was a section that began as a summary of what happened to the old ITV studios around the rest of the country.  It then expanded a bit to include a few other studios so I decided it was probably about time it was given its own page.  This is it.

Incidentally - I'm only including TV production studios that make a variety of programmes for network transmission on UK channels - not those built for a specific soap (eg Doctors) or regional news studios.  I'm also covering 4-waller (film) studios making TV drama.

Please don't ask me why I'm not including the history of all the various Southern/Central/Border TV studios or whatever your particular interest is.  I'm simply summarising here what we have now and have had for the past few years in the UK.  If you want to create your own history of regional studios - feel free and I'll happily give your site a link!

 

 

 

film and TV studios listed below...

 

ex-ITV studios: TVS TV Theatre - Gillingham; Maidstone Studios; NEP Studio 1 - Cardiff; Epic Studios - Norwich; Lenton Lane - Nottingham

current/recent ITV studios: Granada Studios/Manchester Studios - Manchester; The Leeds Studios (YTV)

Independent national/regional studios:

Bristol:  Paintworks (includes section on HTV Bristol/Bath Road Studios); Bottle Yard Studios; Feeder Studios

Southern & Eastern England/Midlands:  Black Hangar Studios - Hampshire Cardington Studios - Bedfordshire;  October Studios - Norfolk;  Raynham Hangar Studios - Norfolk;  Bentwaters Parks - Suffolk;  Rebellion Studios, Oxfordshire;  Mercian Studios - Birmingham;  Quartermaster Studios - Birmingham City University;  Heyford Park - Oxfordshire;  Ashford Studios - Kent;  Brooklands Studios - Surrey;  Dunsfold Park, Surrey

Wales:  Dragon Studios - South Wales;  Enfys Studios - Cardiff;  Barcud Derwen - North Wales;  Bay Studios - Swansea;  Pinewood Studio Wales/Seren Stiwdios - Cardiff;  Wolf Studio Wales - Cardiff

Northern Ireland:  UTV - Belfast; Titanic Studios - Belfast; Belfast Harbour Studios - Belfast;

Scotland:  Film City - Glasgow; Wardpark Studios - Cumbernauld:  Pentland Studios - near Edinburgh; Studio City Scotland - Dundee; First Stage Studios - Leith Docks, Edinburgh;  Saltersgate - near Dalkeith

Northern England:  Studio 81 - Leeds;  Versa Leeds Studios;  Peregrine Studios - South Yorkshire;  Yorkshire Studios - Church Fenton;  The Northern Studios - Hartlepool;  Littlewoods Studios - Liverpool

Manchester:  The Pie Factory - Salford; Manchester Island - Bolton; The Sharp Project - North East Manchester; Space Studios - East Manchester

MediaCityUK (Peel/dock10) - Salford

Old BBC regional production studiosBirmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle, Southampton

Current BBC studiosLlandaff - Cardiff;  Roath Lock - Cardiff;  Blackstaff - Belfast;  Pacific Quay - Glasgow;  Dumbarton - near Glasgow)

 

 

 

Ex-ITV regional studios

From the mid 1990s most production studios around the country owned by Carlton and Granada - eventually becoming 'ITV plc' - were sold off or closed down.  These were in Bristol (HTV West), Cardiff (HTV Wales), Birmingham (Central), Newcastle (Tyne Tees), Carlisle (Border), Plymouth (Westcountry), Maidstone (TVS), Nottingham (Central), Norwich (Anglia), Southampton (Meridian), Albert Dock Liverpool (Granada) and Gillingham (TVS).

Thanks to Matthew Hadley for this image of the TVS Television Theatre

 

Why Gillingham???

All right, it closed well before the mid 1990s so it shouldn't be included in the list anyway.  I'm just intrigued by an ITV production studio being built in a modestly sized town not previously or since particularly noted for its cultural output.  With apologies to the good people of Gillingham, obviously.

The studio in Gillingham had originally been a 1931 Plaza cinema.  It was quickly converted to a studio as the new Maidstone Studios would not be ready in time for TVS to begin broadcasting to the new South East ITV region on 1st January 1982.  They called it the 'TVS Television Theatre'.  It had a useable floor area of about 5,400 sq ft, permanent audience seating for 260 and was equipped with five Marconi Mk IXB cameras.

The original intention had been to sell it off as soon as Maidstone was open but TVS hung onto it for a while, making programmes such as regional afternoon magazine Not for Women Only and from 1986 The Television Show, which was broadcast live from here on Sunday evenings across the ITV network.

Oddly, the show that kept the studio open was Muppets spin-off Fraggle Rock, which ran from 1983-1987.  Once this ended the studio was hardly used so it was put up for sale early in 1988 and was purchased by Network One TV in June 1989.  (This company also took over the Greenwood in 1990.)  Masterchef was made here then, plus a handful of other shows. (Yes, that show really has been running that long - or at least, a version of it.)  It closed as a studio in July 1991 and following a brief spell as a Quasar laser gaming centre (that's more like it!) it lay empty for several years and was demolished in 2001.

The Gillingham studio as it appeared in an article in a local newspaper.  Thanks to Paul Burton for sending me this.

 

 

Outside London, apart from local news studios only The Leeds Studios (Yorkshire) and the Coronation St studios at MediaCity in Salford are still owned by ITV.  More on them later.  However, it's not all bad news...

The ex ITV studios in Maidstone and Norwich have fortunately survived as independent facilities...

 

Maidstone Studios a few years ago.  The large green building was studio 5 then - now called studio 1.  In 2018 a housing development was built on the car park between the studios and the road.  New parking was created at the rear of the site.

with thanks to the Maidstone Studios website

 

Maidstone Studios were built by TVS in 1982/83.  The four original studios were 1 - 2,000 sq ft; 2 - 6,000 sq ft; 3 - 500 sq ft and 4 - 250 sq ft.  Of these, only studio 2 is still in use.

In 1993 Meridian Broadcasting took over the south-east ITV franchise but not these studios.   TVS intended to continue operating as an independent production company but soon after were bought up by International Family Entertainment Inc who ran The Family Channel.  After a while the building became the HQ for Flextech, the satellite broadcaster, and a number of channels were played out from here for a few years.  The studios themselves though had little use.  ITV Meridian continued to rent a news studio from the new owner until 2004, when they moved to a purpose-built HQ in Whitely, near Fareham, Hampshire.  However, ITV continue to have an office with news crews based here at Maidstone.

Much of the building is now occupied by a data centre, owned by a company called Custodian.  If you're not sure what that is - apparently 'Custodian is a Tier 4 equivalent data centre.'  According to their website, ' We are a self built and operated facility specialising in Colocation, Cloud and Networks.'  So that's all perfectly clear then.

In 2001 the studios were purchased by a group of businessmen and experienced television producers whose aim was “To be a self-sustaining studio and media production centre supporting creative development with local, national and worldwide potential in the new millennium and digital era”.  In other words, to attract programme makers away from their usual studios in London.

Soon after reopening, the studios attracted several children's programmes including Ministry of Mayhem, Basil Brush, Escape From Scorpion Island and Art Attack

In 2005 they opened the new 11,600 sq ft studio 5 - a useful large space with which they hoped to attract big light entertainment programmes.  It is licensed for an audience of no less than 2,400 - although clearly this is standing room only!  Nevertheless, there is room for an impressively large seated audience. 

In 2018 this studio was more logically renamed studio 1.  The original studio 1 and studios 3 and 4 no longer exist as studios but are occupied by the data centre mentioned above.

 

Studio 2 is a very useful space being approximately the same size as Riverside's studio 1.  It is 81 x 58ft within firelanes and has partially equipped galleries on the ground floor and a lighting rig with 116 motorised bars.  Catchphrase and Blind Date with Paul O'Grady have been typical recent bookings but it would be ideally suited to panel shows and other comedy productions as well as gameshows.

In October 2018 I had the pleasure of lighting a live Halloween edition of the dark comedy drama series Inside Number 9 in this studio.  Well, not just in the studio itself, we also shot in the corridors, make up room and scene dock.  The experience convinced me that studio 2 deserves to be a lot busier than it is.

Maidstone studio 2's densely packed lighting hoists.

 

Studio 1 is 40m x 24m or 133 x 80 metric feet within firelanes.  It was originally constructed relatively cheaply but over the following years had some much needed money spent on it.  At first, it did not have its own production galleries but borrowed those of another studio as and when required.  A dedicated gallery suite was opened early in 2007, a short walk across in the main building.

The studio opened with a very basic lighting grid but is now partly equipped with motorised trusses.  These are a great improvement but are not as flexible as the bars or monopoles to be found in other studios.  For example, it is not possible to replace a blown bulb or rerig a lamp without the use of a scissor lift mobile hoist once the studio set is in place.

Bookings for this studio have included the first series of Duel, Dale's Supermarket Sweep, 1 vs 100 and the BBC's Making Your Mind Up - which became newsworthy for all the wrong reasons when Terry Wogan announced the incorrect winner in 2007.  Productions during 2010 included ITV1's Easter Special gameshow The Door (which I had the experience of lighting), Got To Dance for Sky1 and Five's talent contest Don't Stop Believing.

Bookings in 2011 included ITV's dating gameshow Take Me Out which returned every year until 2019.  In February 2020 ITV announced that they were axing the show, which will have come as a disappointment to Maidstone.  When TV Centre closed in 2013, studio 1 became the regular home of Later... With Jools Holland and the Hootenanny.  Later returned to TC1 in 2019 with a new set and changes to the style of the show - another loss of work for these studios.  However, some good news was that Supermarket Sweep returned in 2019.  Children's drama Hetty Feather has also used these facilities as a sound stage.

 

I mentioned above that The Door was a bit of an experience in 2010.  Certainly, I have never worked before or since in such an extraordinary whiff caused by rotting vegetables, animal and fish carcasses, and with such an alarming range of creatures including snakes, rats, spiders, scorpions and tens of thousands of flies.  Some of  the above escaped at one time or other but most, I believe, were recaptured.  Not the flies, obviously.  And I'm told a snake was discovered hiding in a pile of cables during the derig.  The studio management were extraordinarily relaxed about all this going on in their studio.  Good for them.  I can think of one or two managers in other studios who would have had a small but spectacular explosive fit.

The management of Maidstone is keen to see the studios succeed and continue to invest in them.  They deserve success and with the demand for studios now being so great they will no doubt continue to attract more work.

 

 

 

 

The old HTV Wales main production studio (7,500 sq ft) at Culverhouse Cross opened in 1984 and in its latter years until its closure in 2014 was operated by NEP Cymru simply as Studio 1.

The television centre built for HTV Wales at Culverhouse Cross, just outside Cardiff.  The masts in the background are at Wenvoe - the main transmitter for South Wales.

photo by Christopher Ware

The main studio here was closed by ITV but operated independently as Studio 1 Facilities from the spring of 1993 until the autumn of 2006.  This very small company ran the studio within the huge ex-HTV site on the outskirts of Cardiff.  They mostly made programmes for S4C but the studio was also occasionally used for some of the Christopher Eccleston Dr Who episodes as a film stage.  In 2005 I had the pleasure of lighting an Aled Jones music special here which went out on Christmas Day (in fact I'm rather pleased to say I won a Welsh Bafta doing it.)  I lit a chat show with Rob Brydon and the cast of Little Britain for BBC3 later in 2005 and returned in 2009 for a series with opera and West End musical singer, Shan Cothi.

The studio had a most unusual lighting grid - with monopoles (telescopes) and a complicated system of cross-over tracks where scopes had to be 'parked up' (don't ask).  It was also somewhat restricted by a number of enormous ventilation tubes that were distributed across the grid.

 

The ex-HTV site was for a while owned by media company UBM but apart from studio 1 and regional ITV programming in studio 2  the buildings were mostly empty.  In 2006 the whole site was bought back by ITV plc to be developed as a media centre and an expanded base for ITV Wales.  Studio 1 had seen very little investment for many years and attracted less and less work.  Eventually, towards the end of 2006, Studio 1 Facilities Ltd. ceased operation.

 

The studio was then let on a seven year lease to Barcud Derwen, the Welsh TV facilities company.  The site was run by Barcud's HD OB management arm, Omni TV, and was renamed 'Omni Studio'.  It continued to be used for various entertainment series and gameshows, mostly for S4C and was booked by the BBC's Mastermind.  It was also used as a 4-waller for shooting commercials and as a rehearsal space for rock tours.  The studio was sometimes booked by local production company Presentable (now part of Zodiak) for their Late Night Poker programmes, which they made for Channel 4.

Sadly, in June 2010 Barcud Derwen went into administration.  Their base in North Wales was closed down but the Omni division of the company, consisting mostly of an HD OB scanner and the lease on this studio, was purchased by US company NEP Broadcasting to become NEP Cymru.  They returned to the old name of 'Studio 1'.

No technical facilities remained and all the lights were sold off but the studio operated very well as a 4-waller using an OB unit for facilities as and when required.  The dimmers and monopoles remained and the old prop room was used as a lighting gallery, which actually worked better than before since it was closer to the studio floor.  The studio continued to be used for S4C's music, entertainment and quiz shows.

From 2008 Studio 1 was the home of popular BBC Four/BBC Two quiz show Only Connect with Victoria Coren-Mitchell.  There were an impressive 116 episodes made here.  However, the series made late in 2013 used the BBC's drama studios at Roath Lock and since 2014 it has been made in the Enfys studio in Cardiff.

 

In August 2013 ITV announced that they would be leaving Culverhouse Cross and establishing a base for local news in Cardiff Bay next to the National Assembly by June 2014.  The old HTV studio centre was to be demolished and the site used for housing.  However, ITV's plans to redevelop the site were opposed by local residents and by those companies renting space in the building.  There were about 35 media-related businesses based on the site.  Planning permission was refused so the studio remained open for the time being.  The plans were revised and resubmitted to the Vale of Glamorgan council who announced in March 2014 that permission had been granted.

The studios have now been demolished but I have yet to establish what the last programme made here was - and when.  Can you help??

 

 

 

Meanwhile - 'from Norwich' as the quiz of the week used to proudly boast - there was a bit of good news.  The old Anglia studio centre in Magdalen Street was purchased by Norfolk County Council in 2006 and over £1m was spent on upgrading the facilities.  It was initially marketed as the East of England Production Innovation Centre (EPIC) but is now known simply as Epic Studios.

I was informed that...  it will function as a "Creative Industries Enterprise Hub".  In that role it will have three main functions: to provide first class production and post production facilities to local, regional and national production companies and broadcasters; to support new or existing production and production related businesses, particularly by offering production space on 'easy in' and 'easy out' terms to companies and start-ups; and to help produce the creatives of the future by providing training and education facilities which will be used for related courses by local H.E. colleges and other providers.  Phew!  You might have guessed that the previous words were not mine but those of Mark Wells, its centre director.

studio 1 soon after its relaunch

with thanks to the EPIC website

studio 1 in its later form as a music performance venue

with thanks to Epic Studios

When the studio first opened as 'EPIC' it was advertised as being 80 x 60ft within firelanes and about 6,000 sq ft overall.  However, according to the Epic Studios website in 2020, studio 1 has a floor space of 10,000 sq ft.  I'm not sure how this has happened but maybe it has been enlarged or is being measured in a different way.  The studio can it seems be 'scaled' to a small, medium or large configuration and has the capacity for a seated audience of 1,000.  I gather the facility was originally a bowling alley so its grid is not as high as one might perhaps hope for in a studio of this size.  It was refurbished following a £1.5m grant and has fibre infrastructure and cabling for up to 12 HD cameras.  Additional facilities include a viewing theatre and dubbing suites with 5.1 and Dolby Atmos.

Six Sony HDC-1500 cameras were originally purchased for the main studio (it now has 7) and all three studios became fully HD capable in September 2008.  Of the two small studios, one was originally marketed as a 'discussion studio' - equipped with four JVC HD cameras and the other as a 'virtual' studio - an Orad Smart Set system was installed in April 2008.

The main studio was mostly used initially as a 4-waller for shooting drama, commercials etc but Question Time has used the studio.  In June 2010 an edition of Frank Skinner's Opinionated was recorded in this studio.  The show returned in 2011.

In 2012 Epic Studios was acquired by Norwich-based production company Extreme Video.  The studios are now very well equipped and supported by experienced and enthusiastic local crewmembers.

studio 1

with thanks to the Epic Studios website

Disappointingly, very few programmes for the main broadcast channels have been made in these studios.  Probably their relatively remote location is the reason.  However, the centre has found its niche as a venue for music performance - the added value of being able to televise concerts with the studio's HD kit and either stream onto the Internet or record DVDs of live concerts is an added bonus.

Encouragingly (although perhaps rather surprisingly), Epic Studios were chosen to stage ITV's new WOS Wrestling series in the summer of 2018.  Since 2019 a new Broadcast Facilities arm has been based here.

ITV's WOS Wrestling in studio 1 in 2018

 

It is perhaps worth pointing out that these studios are not the original Anglia House centre that opened in the 1950s.  That is still located on Prince of Wales Road.  That centre had four studios which perhaps surprisingly weren't enough for this small company so in the 1990s they expanded and took over this property in Magdalen Street, moving their news operation here.  In 2006 they moved the local news back to Anglia House and sold the newer studios to the local council.  It is these that are now Epic Studios.  I hope you're following all this.

Quite why Anglia needed so many studios (they even took over an old post office building next to the original studios) is a mystery yet to be solved.  As far as network multicamera shows go, all I can remember coming from Anglia are Sale of the Century, Gambit, Tales of the Unexpected, The Time The Place and Trisha.  Of course there have been a few single camera dramas too like The Chief so maybe that's why they needed studio space.

Anyway, the local ITV news is now rattling round in the original studio centre.  I understand the old studio 1 was divided into two news studios when the department returned in 2006.

 

 

 

Central Studios, Lenton Lane, Nottingham  (1983-2004)

These studios were in some people's opinion the best that were ever built in the UK.  They certainly drew upon the wide experience gained in other studio centres and incorporated many well-designed features.  The buildings still exist (hence their inclusion here) - although no longer as a working studio centre.  They are part of the University of Nottingham.  Most of the site is now occupied by their Manuscripts and Special Collections department.  However, they do in theory still offer the largest studio as a 4-waller, although to my knowledge it has very seldom been used to make any multicamera TV shows.

The studios were built to a high specification and were much loved by those who worked there.  They began operation in the autumn of 1983.  As well as local news studios there were three main production studios - studio 6 (72 x 46ft), studio 7 (89 x 88ft) and studio 8 (89 x 79ft).  They had motorised lighting bars and studio 7 had a groundrow trench in the floor for lighting 'infinity' cycloramas.  It's worth pointing out that both 7 and 8 were much larger studios than the norm at, say TLS or TV Centre.  About the same length as most studios but very usefully nearly 20 feet wider.  There was also a music studio that later became studio 11 (53 x 40ft gross) and studio 8X (43 x 35ft gross) that was converted from part of the scenery store in 2001.

At first they were very busy making local and networked programmes but Central was a very different company from ATV and the big spectacular entertainment shows that made ATV famous worldwide were simply not made any more.  By 1990 drama too was no longer shot in TV studios but on location or film stages.  However, some sitcoms such as The Upper Hand and Barbara were made here. 

Lenton Lane became known in particular for its gameshows such as Blockbusters, Catchphrase, Family Fortunes, The Price is Right, Supermarket Sweep and Bullseye.  Celebrity Squares was revived here too between 1993 and 1996.  Matthew Hadley has kindly pointed out some other shows - The Midas Touch with Bradley Walsh ('95-'96), The Freddy Starr Show ('94-'98), Crazy Cottage ('96-'98), Mad For It ('98-'00), Body Heat ('94-'96) and Pot of Gold - a talent show fronted by Des O'Connor between 1993 and 1995.

Sadly, in 1994 the studios became part of Carlton's empire - a company that apparently had little interest in making programmes themselves and running a studio centre was not something they particularly wanted or needed.

 

By 2001 the studio utilisation was relatively low but a lifeline came when Crossroads was recommissioned after many years.  All the production studios except 7 were used for this show with high quality permanent sets - parts of the exterior of the centre becoming the famous motel.  Unfortunately, that show was axed in 2003.

The writing was on the wall and the owners of ITV were ruthless in their disposal of what to them seemed surplus property.  The last shows to be made here in 2004 were Doctors and Nurses - a sitcom for BBC1 by Phil Hammond, starring Ade Edmonson and David Mitchell and Beat The Nation, a quiz for C4 with Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor.  The site was sold to Nottingham University, the deal being completed in March 2005 and became known as Kings Meadow Campus.

 

Incidentally, the motorised lighting bars or 'boats' from studio 8 were purchased by AFM (now Panalux) for possible installation in one of the two TV studios at Pinewood.  However, perhaps following a lukewarm response by various lighting directors at the prospect, this never happened.  (Most LDs said they preferred monopoles, which is the system still in use at Pinewood.)  The current whereabouts of the studio 8 boats is unknown.

Most of the studios are now used for storage, offices and lecture space but Studio 7 still exists and can be hired - but seldom has been by TV companies.  I was told a few years ago that the galleries for studio 7 are still there but all the equipment and monitors had been removed.   Some of the lighting bars (and dual-source lights) still exist but many have been removed.  Studio 7 has been used by Question Time on several occasions.  Holes have been knocked through the walls for cabling through to an OB truck and/or generator.  Question Time carries its own lighting rig on trusses from venue to venue so none of the studio's facilities would have been used for that show.

The studio has been used occasionally for filming dramas but TV bookings are very rare.  Feature films have included Control ('07), Bunny and the Bull ('09) and Goal III ('09).  No, me neither.

Barry Wilson has kindly written to me - he worked on an edition of The Big Question with Nicky Campbell in February 2008.  Like Question Time, this show travels all round the country with its own OB unit and lighting rig.  It is likely frankly that the cost of paying for travel and accommodation for a whole crew, plus hiring all the necessary technical facilities would outweigh any other advantages of making a TV series here now rather than in an established studio elsewhere.

 

In 2014 it was being marketed again. The University advertised the studio as 'Studio 1' on the Creative England website and stated that it had 'recently reopened to cater for major film and television production.'  I can find no record of any bookings.  Another search in 2021 revealed that the studio has gone back to being called 'Studio 7' and is being marketed as a venue for conferences and events.  It appears to have a regular booking by Heart Church.  It is still used by the University on occasions - as an exam hall.

In the Spring of 2021 studio 7 was used as a centre for administering Covid-19 vaccinations.  Many local people were surprised to discover that this large TV studio still existed.

Studio 8 is used by the University as a temperature-controlled store for documents and rare books and is not accessible to the public.  The old music recording studio (2,120 sq ft), located between studios 6 and 8 is now called Studio 11 and is advertised as a venue that can be rented for meetings etc.

 

Studio 6 in September 2010

photo thanks to Rich Holleworth

Studio 7 as it appeared in a Creative England marketing leaflet in 2014.  They called it 'Studio 1'.  My guess is that this photo may actually date back to the days of Central.

 

This photo of Studio 7 was taken in 2014 during the making of a documentary on The Price Is Right.  'Come on down!'

In March 2021 Nigel Wilson very helpfully took this selfie in Studio 7 whilst having a Covid jab!  It can be seen that many of the lighting hoists have been removed - apparently to save the cost of maintenance.

 

 

 

 

regional ITV studios still in use

Please note that I am not attempting to cover the history of ITV's regional studios here.  That's a job for someone else to do.  I am of course aware that all over the country during the 1990s, studios were closed or reduced in capability much to the disappointment of the people who live near them.

This section covers those ITV studios still in use now, which is quite a contrast to the number there were when ITV began in the 1950s.  In fact, there are only two major studio centres remaining, and only one of those still belongs to ITV.  Arguably the most influential studios outside London - BBC or ITV - were for many years those belonging to Granada...

 

Granada/3sixtymedia (1956 - 2013)

Old Granada Studios (2014 - 2018)

Manchester Studios (All Studios/Versa) (from 2019)

The famous Quay Street studios during the good old days.  The Granada TV sign and the tower were removed by ITV during 2010 'for health and safety reasons.'  Of course.

image thanks to Wikipedia

 

The first purpose-built television studios to open in the UK were Granada's in Manchester.  The BBC would have got there before with TV Centre but due to finance problems, construction was put on hold for a few years during the Centre's development.  Granada started broadcasting from its new studios in Quay Street on 3rd May 1956.  The company was awarded the franchise eighteen months before going on air.  They were thus able to take their time designing a centre that fully met their needs.  The two storey building seen in the foreground above was the first to be built, along with studios 2 and 4.

Sidney Bernstein, the owner of the company, decided to name the studios in even numbers only so it would appear that he had twice as many.  Apparently, the rehearsal rooms in the main office block were also named 'studios' and given odd numbers.  Which is odd.

 

I don't know about you but I do love an old map.  And this old map is really interesting if you happen to be familiar with Granada Studios - and maybe even if you don't.  That's the River Irwell on the left and just above the middle you'll see the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal flowing into it.  At the right hand end, just above Grape Street, is where studio 12 is now situated - and the canal is still there beneath it in a tunnel!  The small canal branch going northward was filled in and the studio block was built there and into the timber yard between Quay St and Grape St with the main office building fronting Atherton St.

Note the significant railway sidings at the bottom of the map.  They were all elevated on a complex system of viaducts and bridges.  The northernmost sidings pass by 'Charles St Warehouse.'  This was later called the 'Bonded Warehouse' and still exists.  To its right is a goods yard - this is where the Coronation St set was built in 1982 with Stage 1 between it and Lower Byrom St.  Stage 2 was built  on the old track bed to the south of it - both stages still exist.  The Byrom St Warehouse is now part of the Science and Industry Museum.

One last thing to note - Between Water St and the river, next to Princes Bridge, is the New Botany Warehouse.  This was taken over by Granada and turned into shooting stages and props/wardrobe storage for groundbreaking drama series The Jewel in the Crown. Sadly, it burned down in January 1983.

image thanks to obiproperty.co.uk

click on it to see in greater detail

This terrific aerial view of the Granada site is gratefully copied from the excellent website coronationstreet.fandom.com.  I hope they won't mind me using it here but I can recommend visiting the site if you are interested in the history of Coronation St.  Incidentally, this photo is at 90 degrees relative to the old map above, if that helps to get your bearings.  The river is just out of shot at the bottom of frame.

It very clearly shows the layout of the various studios - as well as the original Grape St and later 1982 back lot sets for Corrie.

 

The first few years of Coronation St came from Studio 2.  In later years it moved to the slightly larger studio 6 and finally to Stages 1 and 2 in 1990.  This studio became the home of Granada Reports - the regional news - as well as some sport and political programmes and a late night magazine show.

Studio 4 was originally a small continuity studio which was only operational for a few years, although it famously hosted the first TV appearance of The Beatles in 1962.  It was later converted to become the studios' reception area. 

Studio 6 opened in December 1957.  The distinctive eight-storey Granada House opened soon after.   Studios 8 & 12 were constructed in 1958, along with a wide corridor for moving scenery and lighting equipment between the studios that became known as the M1.  Studio 12 is about 8,000 sq ft and until Rediffusion's studio 5 opened in 1960 was the biggest in the UK.  Studio 8 was not a working studio for many years.  It was built at the same time as 12 but was just used for scenery storage until it was equipped with EMI 2005 cameras, probably in 1972. 

The 'missing' Studio 10 was in fact the Chelsea Palace Theatre in London - which opened as a TV studio in 1957.

The next step in 1959 was a linking block which included the canteen.  This block also contained a sound dubbing studio, which was turned into a music recording studio in 1979.  This much later became a backstage area for the Jeremy Kyle Show but has now been brought back into operation - more on this later.  The technical block also opened in 1959.  It contained the regional newsroom.

I noticed this black marble plaque in the corridor on the exterior wall of studio 2 near the old canteen when I was looking round the studios in September 2018.  The corridor is due to be lost in the redevelopment so I wonder what will happen to this?

The year is 1959, when the canteen was built.  I wonder where everybody ate for the first three years?

 

Studios 8 and 12 were roughly the same width with 8 being about two-thirds the length of 12.  When originally built, one end of this studio had an area with a low ceiling (8ft 8ins) behind the cyc track.  This brought the total length of the studio floor to the same as studio 12. 

Quite what this low-ceilinged space was intended for is a bit of a mystery - too low to put any sets in, let alone a lighting rig.  However, Chris Whitehead has informed me that it was occasionally used to house a small audience for University Challenge.  (The other end of the studio had the Crown Court set semi-permanently in place so space was at a premium.)  I suppose at some point someone must have wondered what the point of keeping it was.  The space was walled off and turned into three large rooms - a wardrobe area, a costume store and a film vault.    In 2018 when I looked round, the shelves in the film vault were full of boxes of videotapes - many brand new.  Sadly worthless as they were obsolete formats.

Oddly, when I lit a show in studio 8 in 2004, the old studio plan I was given indicated that this area of the studio still existed (that's how I know the height of the ceiling, which was helpfully marked on the plan).

Shows made in studio 8 included  Lucky Numbers, The Shane Richie Experience and The Krypton Factor (both the original and the first series of the revised version in 2008).

A plan of the site in 2017 - very little had changed from when it was built.  Studio 4 was to the upper right of studio 2.  It became a reception area - its curved desk can be seen on this drawing.  Everything above the 'M1 corridor' in this plan has now been demolished.

with thanks to the Old Granada Studios website

 

When they opened, the studios were of course equipped with black and white cameras but most of the studios were colourised around 1969.  Chris Whitehead has written with an interesting story.  It seems that Marconi were given the contract to refurbish studios 2, 4, 6 and 12.   Studio 4 was the first to be fitted out - with Marconi Mk VIIs.  However, these were so disliked by cameramen and engineers that the subsequent studios were equipped with EMI 2001s - even though Marconi still carried out the work of upgrading the galleries and other equipment.  They must have been pretty cheesed off at having to supply cameras made by their arch-rival.

The studios were well designed for their day but a few shortcomings not surprisingly became clear over the subsequent decades.  For example, only one scene dock door for each studio opening onto an internal scenery/props/lighting area with limited access to the outside for deliveries.  The shapes and sizes may also not have turned out to be ideal for the range of shows that ended up being made in them.  Curiously, despite decades of discovering what worked well and what worked less well, the managers of ITV North decided to advise the developers to almost exactly copy what they had here when they were involved in planning the new studios at MediaCity, rather than improve on them.

 

In October 2000, a big change came to the way the business was run.  These studios and the BBC's in Oxford Road were struggling to attract sufficient work and contain their costs.  The two organisations decided to create a new company - '3sixtymedia' - that would consolidate their Manchester operation at Granada's studios.  The board of 3sixtymedia was set up with three directors from Granada and two from the BBC with voting rights split 80:20 in favour of Granada.  A number of redundancies were made in both companies.  As part of the deal, both ITV and the BBC were forbidden from operating any other studios in competition with the new company in the Manchester area.  Thus, the BBC's studio A was closed and its technical equipment sold off or scrapped.

3sixtymedia then offered the following TV studios:

 

Studio 6 - 4,500 sq ft approx (68 x 52 metric feet within firelanes) - used for the Jeremy Kyle Show, The Heaven and Earth Show and The Royle Family.

Studio 8 - 5,400 sq ft approx (64 x 70 metric feet within firelanes) - used for University Challenge, Mastermind, A Question of Sport and Countdown.

Studio 12 - 8,000 sq ft approx (98 x 70 metric feet within firelanes) - used for Stars in Their Eyes, The Price is Right and Soapstar Superstar.  It was also used for the BBC's lottery show Who Dares Wins in 2011 - one of the last productions to use the studio before ITV left and one which I had the pleasure of lighting.  The firelanes in this studio are only about 3 feet wide which made the studio feel narrower than similar studios - but it was the 'normal' 70 metric feet wide and much longer than most equivalent studios.  Interestingly, studio HQ2 at MediaCity which copied this one has the walls the same size but the firelanes are about 4ft rather than 3ft.  Thus the working area of that studio is only 68 ft wide - a surprisingly significant limitation.

 

From 2005 to 2011 the old BBC studio A was operated by 3sixtymedia and offered for hire, albeit as a 4-waller.  3sixtymedia also had some 4-waller stages on or near the main Quay Street site. These were not equipped as television studios but some had TV lino or resin floors.  These other spaces were as follows:

 

studio A, Oxford Road - 7,200 sq ft (94 x 66 metric ft within firelanes) - used for Life on Mars and C4's Longford.  (Demolished in 2012.)

The Garden Studio - 1,400 sq ft (could be controlled from the galleries of studios 8 or 12) - originally used by digital channels Granada Breeze and ITV Play.  (This studio is part of the new 'Manchester Studios.')

The Starlight Theatre (two separate stages) - 7,500 sq ft and 4,500 sq ft - used for ITV Bingo and dramas Vincent, Cold Blood and The Street.  (This curiously shaped building, constructed on the old railway viaduct in the corner of the Granada site, was originally part of the Granada Studios Tour, which ran from 1988 - 1999.  It was demolished in 2018.)

The Blue Shed (warehouse type stage) - 17,000 sq ft (155 x 110 ft wall to wall) - used for The Forsyte Saga and Casanova.  This was on a site on the other side of the river in Stanley Street, opposite the V&A Hotel.  A Premier Inn now stands here.

 

 

Compared with most London based studios, none of these was particularly busy with some remaining empty for many weeks of the year.  The exception was perhaps studio 6, with the Jeremy Kyle Show a popular fixture of the ITV daytime schedule.  However, Countdown moved from Leeds to Manchester in June 2009, providing a much-needed regular occupant of studio 8.  University Challenge was the other user of this studio.  These shows now share studio HQ4 at MediaCity, which is about the same size as studio 8.  The Kyle show was axed in 2019.

 

 

Corrie

I should of course mention that Coronation Street was made here at Granada from 1960-2013, although not in the latter years in any of the studios mentioned above.  The popular soap then had two dedicated studios to the side of the Quay Street site - Stage 1 and Stage 2 - along with the exterior set of the Street.

Corrie did not start in Stage 1.  For many years it used the normal studios - at first studio 2, then mostly studio 6.  There were two episodes a week - in the early days the Friday one was transmitted live and the following Wednesday's show was recorded straight afterwards.  Quite an achievement to rehearse and then perform an hour's material in one day!  Between 1960 and 1968 there was no outdoor set - exteriors were shot in the studio.

Above and below - the sets in studio 2 in the mid '60s.  The street along one wall, interiors along the other.  All squeezed into a studio with a working area of only about 68 x 36ft.

images thanks to iNostalgia.co.uk

In 1967, the producer was asked by Granada's General Manager to meet him outside the building in Water St.  They walked down the road with the studio car park on their left until they reached Grape St.  This was a lane that bordered their property.  Walking up it, a large brick wall was on the right hand side of the road and passing through some gates they saw an open cobbled yard, with a viaduct in front and the old Victorian Bonded Warehouse on their left.  It was perfect!

This land owned by British Railways was purchased, enabling a basic street set to be constructed.  The first shot was filmed in January 1968. However, most exteriors continued to be recorded in the studio for several months.  It took until May for all the houses and the Rovers Return to be finished and ready for filming.  The interiors of course were shot in the studio as before.

The house frontages were initially made of timber and plywood, supported by scaffolding.  A row of maisonette house fronts were built on the other side of the road using brick during the 1970s.  Their construction was made part of the storyline.  The wooden houses were rebuilt in brick during 1969, ready for the move to colour.  Back yards and ginnels were added in 1972.

The back of the first exterior set in the Grape St yard in May 1968.  This was basically the scenery that had previously been used in the studio with an added first floor but no roofs.  The cobblestones (actually 'setts') were of course original and added to the realism of the street set.

image thanks to iNostalgia.co.uk

This small area had its limitations so Granada purchased the land on the other side of the Bonded Warehouse between it and Lower Byrom St.  This enabled a much larger set to be built in 1982.  This was extended in 1989 and then further in 1999.

The Corrie set occupied about half this new area - also utilising the Victorian stables that were located at the end of the Bonded Warehouse.  On the land next to Lower Byrom St a large sound stage was constructed in the mid 1980s - but not for filming TV drama as you might assume.  It was initially intended to be used for televised Crown Green Bowling!  Quite sensibly, it was taken over by Coronation St in 1990 and named 'Stage 1'  It was extended in 1996 and is a very impressive 10,200 sq ft with an annex of 3,300 sq ft.  It is still in use as 'Studio 1'

One of Granada's most successful drama series was Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes, and a Victorian Baker St outdoor set was constructed on top of the railway arches next to the Bonded Warehouse in 1984.  It became part of the Granada Studios Tour from 1988 to 1999 and was roofed over in 1993 to protect the set from the Manchester weather.

In 2002 this building was converted into Stage 2 for Coronation St.  The producer at that time said that it would only be used for single-camera shooting so no galleries were required.  A short time later, galleries were installed due to the unexpectedly (ahem) slower speed of single camera working.  In 2017 Stage 2 was occupied by a Crystal Maze Experience visitor attraction, which was still there in 2020.

In 2013, Coronation St moved to a purpose-built facility in Salford on the other side of the Ship Canal from MediaCity.

 

Above is a Google Earth image taken in 2018 showing stage 2 and its 5,000 sq ft annex.  The annex was built to house a full scale replica set of the House of Commons and was constructed in 1986 for drama series First Among Equals.  It was subsequently used in some episodes of The New Statesman, starring Rik Mayall, between 1987 and 1994.  It also became part of the Granada Studios Tour.

The set was sold to writer Paul Abbott, so it could be used in his BBC drama series State of Play, filmed in 2002.  It was then used for the 2011 film The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep.  Wimbledon Studios subsequently stored the set on site but it took up so much room that it was put on eBay in March 2013, receiving a winning bid of £123,400.  Unfortunately, the bidder did not finalise the purchase so it was put up for sale again at an auction house in June of the same year.  I can find no record of who bought the set, if anyone.

According to press reports, around the time of the sale MPs decided to allow filming in the actual House of Commons at a rate of £10,000 per day.  This may have affected the value of the replica set.

Also seen in this image behind the Stage 2 annex are the Victorian stables that were used by the Studios Tour for a mock-up Rovers Return and subsequently to build various interior sets for Coronation Street including the medical centre.

 

 

The threat of closure was hanging over the Quay Street studios for a number of years.  Indeed, it was a not very well-kept secret that the studios would be closing around 2011 and the operation would move to three almost identically-sized studios at MediaCity in Salford Quays.  However, ITV made a surprise announcement in March 2009.  It transpired that the developer, Peel, had 'dramatically scaled back' its financial commitment to the ITV element of the project.  An ITV spokesman stated that "as a result, ITV will remain at its Quay Street base for the foreseeable future."  Interestingly, the staff were told that the focus would now be on ensuring that the Quay St building was fit for purpose.

However, it was thought at the time that the area could not support two studio centres within a few miles of each other, particularly when each had three studios the same size.  When the senior managers were replaced following a reshuffle at the top of ITV, the new ones reopened the negotiations with Peel.  These lasted through most of 2010 until an announcement was made on 16th December that the move would indeed take place.

 

Andy Walmsley has written to me.  He is a very successful production designer, now living and working in Hollywood, with an impressive CV that includes shows such as American Idol and America's Got Talent.  He began his career aged 15 when Paul Daniels gave him the opportunity to design a show he made at Ewarts Studios in Wandsworth.  Following formal training, he then based himself here at Granada, working on dozens of LE shows when the studios were really busy.  He later worked in all the main studios around the country.

In June 2015 he happened to be visiting Manchester and decided to have a look at the outside of the Granada studios for one last time before they were demolished - considering this studio centre his 'spiritual home.'  He discovered that the old reception area was now a coffee shop and bought a cup.  At some point, the security guard became distracted and uncharacteristically (he claims!), he slipped past and into the building.

He discovered that it was completely empty - no film work going on despite these studios being marketed as suitable locations - and he spent 20 minutes or so wandering the corridors and standing inside each of the studios which held so many memories for him.  I haven't mentioned till now that he had become used to visiting the studios as a small boy as his father was a comic who appeared regularly in shows such as The Comedians, and many well-known entertainment stars were family friends.

He took a few photos on his phone, some of which can be seen below:

Above is studio 2 - the first to open in 1956, 4 years before the BBC's Television Centre.  The hard cyc is a recent addition - this studio was the home of Granada Reports.  Andy recalls that behind the left wall below the aircon vents the studio steps back at a lower height of 11 feet and this is where Bob Greaves sat behind his desk.  It was also the home of several Tony Wilson late night magazine shows, where he gave local pop groups their first break on TV, some later becoming big stars.  Andy tells me that studio 2 was also used for Coronation St in the very early years and the Rovers Return set was based in the lower part of the studio.

Studio 6.  For decades the home of Corrie but also used for shows like The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club, which many viewers assumed was a real working man's club.

Studio 8.  Often used for dramas in the '60s, '70s and '80s - The Krypton Factor was made in here too.

Studio 12.  It was the home of many light entertainment shows including Stars in Their Eyes but during the heyday of TV studio drama, many classics were recorded in this studio with great actors including Laurence Olivier.  His family had close links with Granada and he persuaded many top theatre and film stars to appear in plays that were recorded here.

The corridor linking the studios - nicknamed the 'M1.'  I never saw it as empty as this on the odd occasion I worked at 3sixtymedia (as it was called in its latter years) and I doubt it ever was in the Granada years.  It would have been full of lights, prop cages and loads of scenery.  Access between the studios and delivery trucks was simply across the corridor to large doors on the opposite side, unlike the studios at MediaCity, where the access corridor between the studios is buried deep within the building.

 

The final edition of Granada Reports came from studio 2 on 22nd March 2013.  The last show recorded by ITV in the main studios was an edition of University Challenge made in studio 8 on 17th February 2013.  During the summer and autumn of 2013 studio 12 was used as a workshop to construct new sets for Coronation St.  Meanwhile, interestingly, I am told that studio 8 was left fully equipped and in standby mode 'in case there were any problems at MediaCity.'  What could they have meant?  This studio was also used to record interviews for the Goodbye to Granadaland documentary.

Until the building closed, studio 6 was used as the base for Provision - ITV's lighting and camera hire company.  Some of the monopoles from studio 6 were purchased by BBC S&PP and made their way to Elstree stage 9 where they were discovered to be about 4 feet too short.  Each therefore had to have a 4-foot drop-arm on it.  They didn't last long.  They were very heavy and frankly not terribly safe - I witnessed two collapsing during rigging on a sitcom at Elstree.  In the summer of 2014 they were replaced with new ones and the old Granada ones were skipped.

 

Meanwhile, Coronation St remained for the time being in its old studios.  This move was delayed until the end of 2013 due to various problems including the construction of the main production building in Salford which it is said had to be dismantled during its construction and rebuilt.  The last Corrie was made at Quay St on 20th December 2013.

The office staff moved into the Orange building at MediaCity from the autumn of 2012.  As mentioned above, ITV have a block booking of studio HQ4 at dock10 for Countdown, Judge Rinder and University Challenge.

The old Granada sign symbolically almost hidden by ivy during 2012.  The neon sign on the roof long gone.  Ah well, that's progress.

photo thanks to Andy Dobbs

 

In August 2012 the press reported that the preferred bidder for the site was 'Genr8 Developments', who apparently offered more than £20m for the land.  That doesn't sound very much to me for a prime 13.5 acre site so maybe the press report was not accurate.  I also heard that the studios might have been occupied by IKEA.  (Make up your own joke here.)  However, in September 2013 it was reported that developer Allied London had joined forces with Manchester City Council to acquire the site - they paid a reported £26.5m.

In January 2014 it was revealed that Allied London had taken a 5 year lease on the studios and associated buildings whilst they 'worked up' their plans for redeveloping the site. In the meantime, the buildings and area around became a new arts and cultural destination for Manchester called St John's.  The old Granada studios were renamed... wait for it... 'Old Granada Studios'.

During this period they were used for single camera productions such as Peaky Blinders, To Walk Invisible and the US/UK TV series Snatch, starring Rupert Grint.  They were also used to record the 2018 series of Dragons' Den.  The 2019 series of Dragons' Den used the newly re-opened Stage 1, as it did in 2020.

 

Manchester Studios   

In July 2018 the new head of the development, Melanie Jones, who clearly combines experience in property with enthusiasm for TV, made some interesting announcements.  The studios would be kept on after all!  In fact they would receive some new investment - gallery suites would be refitted and lighting rigs refurbished and they would be made available once more to be used as multicamera studios.  This was a surprise to many.  It had been assumed that the studios were just being made available as 4-wallers until their eventual demolition.

In an interesting interview in the summer of 2020 she says that when she took on the job she realised that the studios were too valuable an asset to simply demolish and replace with offices.  (Where was she when TV Centre and TLS were sold off?!)  So she made the case to Allied London and they agreed.  She says that the best use of any building is what it was originally designed for.  She also says that these studios are superbly designed in a way that would probably not be found in studios built today.

The studios will be part of a redevelopment scheme in the St John's area called Enterprise City and are being marketed as 'Manchester Studios.'  (Versa is the company that runs the studios - they are owned by All Studios.)  Melanie confirmed that as part of the redevelopment, they will be offering studios 2, 6, 8 and 12 as well as Stage 1 and the Breeze Studio and garden.  Stage 2 will also be retained - as a visitor attraction.  It is currently the home of The Crystal Maze (the show itself is filmed in Bristol.).  There are no plans at the moment to make it available as a studio but it is part of the Manchester Studios portfolio.

Above is a plan of the area around the studios, post redevelopment.  1, 2 and 3 are tower blocks containing flats and offices.  4 is called The Goods Yard and is a cluster of buildings containing offices and workshops for media and creative companies.  5 is the block containing Studios 2, 6, 8 and 12.  6 is 'The Factory' - an exciting new performance space.  7 is the Bonded Warehouse.  Stage 1 (now called Studio 1) will be retained and is in the area marked 'Timber Yard.'

Below, the new 'Manchester Studios' - shaded in yellow.  The dressing rooms and make-up rooms at the top of the drawing next to studios 8 and 12 have been lost and are now part of the new building facing Atherton Street.  Note that much of the 'M1 corridor' appears to be taken up with some new toilets and another new area outside studio 6.  Not a lot of room left for temporary storage of props, scenery, flight cases etc. it would appear.  My guess is that for much of the time only three of the studios will be in use.

 

I visited in September 2018 and was astonished to see the floors of studios 8 and 12 covered in equipment.  This had all come from TLS, which had closed down earlier in the year.  There were dozens of monopoles (telescopes), lights, audience seating units, prop cages, teddy trucks, hoists and loads of other essential studio paraphernalia.  No technical kit had been purchased from TLS however - it was all far too old and worn out.

Some of the ex-TLS kit on the floor of studio 12 in 2018.  More was being stored in studio 8.

The demolition of the surrounding buildings began in October.  The original office block, designed by celebrated architect Ralph Tubbs, is being retained and turned into a luxury hotel with a restaurant on its roof.  Interestingly, when it was originally designed, Bernstein asked for it to be easily adapted into a hotel in case the Granada business folded.

Alongside it will be a new building with shops on the ground floor and flats above, with a swimming pool on the roof!  The area around will have houses and start-up workspace offices aimed at creative businesses.  It's all very imaginative and clearly demonstrates what could have been done at BBC Television Centre and The London Studios - retaining the original studios within the scheme and developing the buildings and land all around them.  Shame on those who took the decision to destroy those invaluable, irreplaceable studios and well done to Allied London, showing how it should have been done.

In June 2019, it was announced that the first two studios would be available for hire from July - these are the 10,200 sq ft Stage 1 and the 1,400 sq ft Breeze Studio and walled garden.  Stage 1 has an annex studio of 3,300 sq ft accessed via a dock door.  The studio is often quoted as being 13,000 sq ft but this is the two parts combined.

Studios 2, 6, 8 & 12 will be available for hire from June 2021.  The plan is to have two to three fully equipped gallery suites that can be used flexibly between these studios.  All the TV studios have retained their resin floors of course.  Their lighting grids have been refurbished, replacing old scopes with those from TLS.  There are also some new dimmers, although Studio 2 will only have hard power available - the assumption being that LED lights will be used.  Dressing rooms, green rooms and other areas are being created from spaces such as old dubbing suites, since the rooms behind studios 8 and 12 are no longer available.  A 750 sq ft audio recording studio behind studio 2 that has not been used for many years has been brought back into operation.

There was an announcement in June 2020 that Studio 1 (previously called Stage 1) had been fully fitted out as a 4K multicamera studio.  It has been configured for audience shows and now has fully equipped galleries with kit from Sony, Calrec, Grass Valley, Riedel and EVS.  There are also refurbished production offices, star dressing rooms, VIP and exec areas and green rooms.  This large studio is a welcome addition to the range of facilities available in and around Manchester.  Studio 1, previously used for Coronation Street, is in a separate building from the original Granada studios block.  It should perhaps be pointed out that this studio has a very basic lighting grid of scaffold bars in the roof. This is far less flexible than the monopole grids found in the original studios in the main block.

In March 2021 I heard that a show was using studios 8 and 12, controlled via fibre from studio 1's galleries.  The galleries of studio 12 were expected to be equipped soon, with 8 shortly after.  I gather that the Breeze Studio has been used for some of the BBC's home learning programmes for CBBC during the Covid lockdowns.  All excellent news!

Stage 1, seen from Lower Byrom St.  Coronation Street's main studio from 1990 - 2013.

As well as these TV studios, Manchester Studios are offering an area in the Bonded Warehouse consisting of six small 'multifunctional' studios around 624 sq ft each called Bonded Underground.  These are interconnecting rooms that can be used as separate spaces or merge into a larger studio set-up.

All Studios, the company owning this development, are aware that by returning the TV studios to multicamera work they are unavailable for single camera drama productions so they have opened two acoustically treated new stages at Birchwood Park, just outside Manchester.  These are 8,500 and 5,500 sq ft respectively.

It's worth mentioning that in the autumn of 2020, these studios were being marketed both by 'All Studios' and by 'Versa Studios.'  They are both based at the same address in Savile Row in London.  The websites of both companies offered Manchester Studios, Leeds Studios and a studio in London.  They stated that 20 studios/stages are due to open in 2021.  The 10,000 sq ft TV studio in London is a converted industrial unit in Kendal Avenue, Acton.

This is all great news and I wish them well!

This Google Earth image from 2018 shows the Starlight Theatre being demolished.  It was built to be part of the Granada Studios Tour, which ran from 1988 - 1999.  Following that it was turned into two sound stages and used for filming dramas.  The Bonded Warehouse is on the left - this striking building was renovated for the Studios Tour and later used by Granada for offices and storage with some areas of the ground floor for Coronation St locations.  In Victorian times, you can see how one of the railway tracks entered the building through the arch on the right of the building at 3rd floor level.  There were turntables inside that enabled the trucks to be offloaded.  It is now part of 'Manchester Studios'.

The yard in the foreground was where the first Corrie exterior set was located.  For the Granada Studios Tour it became a 'New York Street', for reasons best known to the people running it.  Top left, the red building is Stage 2.  Originally built to enclose the Baker St set, it then became a Coronation St studio - since 2017 it has housed The Crystal Maze Experience.

This area is the site of 'The Factory' - a striking (and somewhat expensive - thus much delayed) performance venue containing a 1,600 seat auditorium and a multi-purpose performance space with a capacity of 5,000.  It will become the home of the Manchester International Festival.  The Factory is now due to open in 2022.

 

 

Some spooky anecdotes about Granada - for those who like such things...

 

In 2018 I lit the live Halloween edition of Inside Number 9 - the award-winning dark comedy series of plays by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.  This play was supposed to be coming from Granada Studios and we were hoping to actually make it there, just before the redevelopment took place.  Unfortunately it would have been impossible to get access to the studio in October so we made it at Maidstone and pretended we were at Granada.

The play was all about the ghosts that haunted Granada being unhappy about the people working there disturbing them.  It revealed some interesting stories about the studios.  They were, it was claimed, built over a huge graveyard where over 22,000 bodies were buried.  (It's fair to say that this fact is disputed by some.)  In fact, St John's Gardens border the Granada site very close to Studio 1 - they were originally where a large church was located (demolished in 1931), which was indeed surrounded by a graveyard.

In any case, some over the years have experienced odd occurrences that could not easily be explained.  In fact, Most Haunted carried out an investigation here in 2005.  They interviewed various members of the cast and crew of Coronation Street, who recounted various spooky happenings.

Stage One, the main Corrie studio, was said to have the most inexplicable events happening to people.  A common sighting was reported to be the figure of a woman with long brown hair in a navy coloured jacket.  She was seen in several sets over the years, sometimes sitting on furniture.

In fact, in 2017 after Corrie had moved to MediaCity, the studio was exorcised by a Catholic priest.  This happened because a band who had been rehearsing for a show in there had been 'freaked out' by inexplicable noises and poltergeist activity.  The band threatened to walk out unless something was done.

Stage 1 being exorcised in 2017.

In 1984 a fire broke out in the New Botany Warehouse in Water St that contained the sets and costumes for the major drama The Jewel in the Crown.  Some have put this down to paranormal activity but of course it could perhaps more likely have been caused by something rather more earth-bound.  An electrical fault was reported at the time.

When I was looking round the building with the studios' technical manager in 2018 I explained to him that the episode we were shooting was all about the studios being haunted.  He was not at all surprised and told me a couple of things that had recently happened to him.  On one occasion he went into a deserted studio 12 and looked up to see one of the lighting monopoles swinging back and forth.  It did this several times and then suddenly stopped.  There was no logical way this could have happened.  On another day he was showing a couple of guests round.  As they were climbing the stairs up to the grid in the same studio, one of the lighting monopoles ran along its track several metres before coming to a stop.  When they got into the grid there was nobody up there and no reason why the monopole should have moved.  He also said that there was a woman's name that nobody mentioned in the studios.  She was said to haunt them and would carry out mischief if she disapproved of what was said about her.

I recounted these stories to Reece and Steve and they decided to incorporate a swinging lamp in one of the scenes in the play.  To be perfectly honest, I'm rather glad that we didn't make the show here.  Who knows what might have been stirred up.

 

 

 

Thus, who'd have thought it? - as well as the new Coronation St set-up at MediaCity,  the only large TV studios still owned by ITV are the old Yorkshire TV ones in Leeds.  Of which, see below...

 

 

 

The Leeds Studios (aka Kirkstall Road, Yorkshire TV)  (1968 - present)

Yorkshire TV Studios

thanks to Wikipedia

Across the Pennines from Manchester are The Leeds Studios, which are owned by ITV.  (Not to be confused with 'Leeds Studios', owned by Versa Studios and due to open in 2021.)  These ones opened in 1968, when Yorkshire TV began its new franchise for the north-east.  The centre was constructed in Kirkstall Road on slum-clearance land and was said to be the first purpose-built colour television production centre in Europe.  The building opened with these studios...

studio 1/1A - two small presentation studios sharing facilities

studio 2 - 1,225 sq ft

studio 3 - 4,430 sq ft

These three original studios were equipped with Marconi Mk VII colour cameras.  In 1969 EMI 2001 cameras were purchased for the last studio to open...

studio 4 - 7,650 sq ft

Around 1976 Philips LDK 25 cameras replaced the Marconis in studio 3.

 

The studio centre - still referred to by many people in the industry as 'Yorkshire TV' - is the base for the northern transmission area for ITV.  Of the original four, only studios 3 and 4 remained in use during the first decade of the 21st century.  Studio 3 had been the home of Countdown since 1982 when Channel 4 began broadcasting.  Studio 4 had in latter years been mostly used as a 4-waller for dramas including Heartbeat, Where The Heart Is, The Royal, A Touch of Frost, Fat Friends, Bodies and Wire In The Blood, but was also used occasionally for multicamera work with Bruce's Price is Right ('95 - '01), My Parents Are AliensQuestion Time, Emmerdale, Bullseye and Win My Wage.  In March and April 2006 Mastermind was recorded here as ITV's Manchester studios were closed due to asbestos contamination.  A celebrity edition of the snooker show Pot Black was made for Sport Relief in May 2006.

Sadly, The Royal and Heartbeat were axed by ITV in 2008, with A Touch of Frost ending in 2009.  Once ITV's Manchester Studios were fully operational again the old YTV studios had very few bookings during 2008/9 so their long-term future became doubtful.  Countdown was the only regular occupant of studio 3, with 4 being empty for much of the time.

 

As many had feared, on 4th March 2009 Michael Grade (yes, him again) announced that the main studios would indeed be closing and Countdown would move to Manchester.  Emmerdale's production offices, post production work and interior set shooting would continue to be based in the buildings adjoining the centre (with exterior filming continuing at the programme's purpose built facilities in Harewood) and the local ITV news programme Calender would also continue to be based in its existing facilities at the site. 

Incidentally, I noted that Michael Grade referred to the soap as 'Emmerdale Farm' in his interview on Radio 4's Today programme.  It hadn't been called that since 1989 so I'm sure that will have gone down very well with the production team.  One assumes he wasn't a regular viewer himself.  When asked about the Leeds Studios closure Mr Grade dismissed the question by simply replying - "We move on."  With those blunt and rather tactless words he appeared to end 41 years of television from these studios.

ITV said that the studios would be 'mothballed' although the likelihood of them being brought back into operation by ITV looked slim.  For a while there remained a chance that the studios might be run by an independent company with support from Screen Yorkshire and/or Yorkshire Forward, offering facilities to independent production companies.  However, in May 2009 Yorkshire Forward announced that they had ruled out making a rescue bid.

The last edition of Countdown was recorded on 22nd April 2009.  The show moved to Manchester's Granada studios operated by 3sixtymedia and is now made in Peel's studios in MediaCity.

 

In December 2009 there was a dramatic change of fortune for the studios.  Rumours that had been circulating for about six months were confirmed.  The studios received a £5.2m refit during 2010/2011 which included the latest HD tapeless facilities.  The work was completed in summer 2011 and Emmerdale moved its interior sets, post production facilities and production offices into the building.  These were previously housed in an old car showroom and were in need of updating. 

The refit was considerable to say the least.  The building was radically changed internally and now includes five studios.  The two existing studios were completely refurbished and were joined by two converted from service dock areas and one in the former joinery workshop.  They were acoustically treated and have TV resin floors and lighting grids.  A sixth new studio space was planned for internal shots of police stations and hospitals but has not yet been created.  As far as I am aware, these sets currently remain at 102 Kirkstall Rd.  Please email me if you know different!

Two new gallery suites were also constructed along with a number of dressing rooms, prop stores, make-up areas and other facilities.  This is all quite a contrast to the bad news announced by Michael Grade.

So the future of the studios is, after all, secure.  At least, for as long as Emmerdale continues to run.  (Don't mention The Bill.)

 

Thus the studios are now as follows:

studio 1 - a space on the 1st floor intended to be used for the police station and hospital.

studio 2 - was the scene dock of studio 3

studio 3 (original) - contains the Woolpack and back rooms

studio 4 (original) - contains the factory, cafe and Home Farm

studio 5 - was the scene dock for studio 4

studio 6 - was the chippies workshop.

Studios 2, 5 and 6 have simple scaffold lighting grids,  The two production galleries can control any of the studio spaces.  Occasionally the old space in Burley Road has been used for sets shooting PSC.

 

 

 

The exteriors for Emmerdale have been shot since 1998 on a purpose-built set on the Harewood estate near Leeds.  The houses in the 'village' at Harewood are timber framed structures covered in stone cladding. The set is built on green belt land so all the buildings were originally classed as 'temporary structures' with a requirement to be demolished within ten years.  However, further planning permission was granted and the set is effectively permanent, at least one assumes for as long as the programme continues to run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independent regional studios

Bristol:

 

Endemol West/BBC S&PP at Paintworks - Bristol  (2004 - 2013)

part of the Paintworks complex.

with thanks to the Paintworks website

One development on the regional studios front was the move of Endemol to Bristol, thus creating Endemol West.  This happened in 2004 when they moved into an old paint factory in the centre of the city.  Endemol is an international media business that owns several TV production companies making gameshows, quiz shows, entertainment and drama.  They decided that for the kind of programmes they planned to make here - long-running gameshows and quiz shows that take up a great deal of studio time - it would make sense to own their own studios rather than hire them.  Thus over a few years they steadily converted parts of the old factory into no less than seven multicamera studios, controlled by up to four production gallery suites - although these were put together using temporary flyaway kit, as and when required.

A typical studio space in the Paintworks building

with thanks to the Paintworks website

The studios had chipboard TV floors and very basic scaffold or trussing lighting grids.  Endemol didn't need anything more flexible as they were used for shows with standing sets which, once lit, could stay in position for weeks, months or in the case of Deal or No Deal - years.  The buildings Endemol West occupied were part of the 'Paintworks' development.  This is a large, trendy, Victorian industrial complex that contains a number of other media companies and some very small businesses such as artists and designers.  It includes an art gallery, bars and restaurants and is described as 'Bristol's arts and media quarter.'  It is considered locally to be a great success and benefit to the community.

Between 2004 and 2009 these studios were busy making a number of Endemol shows including Brainteaser for Channel 5, Efourum for E4, Art School for BBC2, Gala Bingo for Gala TV, The Restaurant for BBC2 and C4's huge hit Deal or No Deal which began in October 2005.  At their busiest, the studios reportedly transmitted eight hours of live television every day.  The operation here employed between 80 and 300 staff, depending on the work in hand.  However, Endemol's operation here was scaled back during the early part of 2010 and for much of that year Deal or No Deal was the only show being made here.

The 'studios' were as follows:

studio 1 - 5,200 sq ft

studio 2-3 - 3,000 sq ft

studio 5 - 2,000 sq ft

studio 6 - 7,000 sq ft

studio 7 - 1,600 sq ft

In a surprise development that frankly very few people would have seen coming, in October 2010 it was announced that BBC Studios and Post Production (S&PP) had taken over the management and operation of these studios, working for and with Endemol.  Deal or No Deal continued but no other shows booked space here.  Post production for that show continued to be done  by The Farm on-site in a separate part of the building.  S&PP was the BBC-owned company that operated BBC TV Centre in west London.  However, this certainly wasn't seen as a possible site to move to when those studios closed.  This contract was simply a way of increasing revenue for the S&PP business when Endemol were looking for a company to take over the responsibility of running the studio.

 

Paintworks is owned by London-based firm Verve Properties.  From the autumn of 2013 they expanded the Paintworks site.  This involved the demolition of some unused buildings and the construction of a large number of new ones in the style of the existing old industrial units.  The building containing the studios was retained but there were no longer any studios in it.

This, believe it or not, is the space that was used as the Deal or No Deal studio at The Paintworks.  (Not exactly Television Centre is it?)  This photo was taken on the last day of Endemol/S&PP's occupation.  Every last thing has been removed - except the chipboard floor.  Note the very low roof.  This was often seen in wideshots on the show and the studio the show moved to had its lighting trussing deliberately low in order to recreate this look.

photo thanks to Tim Deane

 

BBC S&PP then took over part of a warehouse in The Bottle Yard - a 4-waller studio complex on the outskirts of Bristol (see below.)  Deal or No Deal was made there from October 2013 - 2016.  The technical equipment from the old studio was moved to the Bottle Yard and a new TV studio was created for the show within the warehouse space.

 

 

Verve were also in negotiation during 2009/2010 to buy the old HTV Bristol studios from ITV, which are situated nearby on the Bath Road in Arnos Vale.  These were unused for some years, except as a base for the local ITV Westcountry news, although some office space was also let to a few media and software companies.  The local council apparently stipulated that the site had to be used for entertainment purposes so it couldn't simply be sold off for offices or housing.  Having said that, in fact the main studio was converted to offices some years ago.  A 125 year lease was begun in 1958 with the then ITV company TWW.  It seems that ITV failed to sell the property to Verve.

I understand that the sale did however go through later with another developer and the building was gutted and extensively refurbished by them to create contemporary office spaces.  ITV retained their news studio facilities on the site. 

The building became known as Bath Road StudiosHowever, I am informed by Drew McLellan that the name changed early in 2018 to 'HERE.'  Yes, you read that correctly - HERE.  I wonder how much someone was paid to come up with that one.  Anyone could have thought of the name of course - but it's the capital letters that make it a stroke of genius.  I can imagine the conversations with cab drivers - 'Where to mate?'  'Here please.'

 

Studio 1 - soon after opening with its EMI 203 cameras.  The image on the right hand end of the cyc is being back projected - see below.

 

The Bristol studios as built for TWW consisted of Studio 1 (90ft x 65ft) and Studio 2 (30ft x 20ft).   Intriguingly, the main studio (which was a very useful size anyway) also had a 'back projection tunnel' which added another 1,100 sq ft.  This was an extension to the studio enabling a projector to have sufficient throw to display a large image onto the back of a cyclorama.  To my knowledge, this ingenious design is inique in all the UK's TV studios (although the HTV Cardiff studio also had an extention about 15 feet deep on one wall which was sometimes used as an audience area so perhaps this could have partly been its original purpose.)  As well as adding some extra useful floor area at other times this BP area could also apparently be used as a small studio in its own right.

The BP projector in its tunnel or 'studio'.  The image can be seen on the right of the photo - this would appear on the cyclorama in the main studio.

Mike Emery informs me that the main studio was converted to colour in April 1970 with EMI 2001s - they were replaced in 1981 with RCA TK-47s.  These cameras were reportedly disliked by the cameramen due to their length and in 1990, when HTV closed their studio in Mold (North Wales), the cameras from there made their way to Bristol.  These were Sony BVP-360s and BVP-3 portables.

In the early 1970s the studios were refurbished by HTV and a new studio (53ft x 33ft) built for the local news operation.  This was apparently a temporary conversion of part of the vehicle garage.  The studios were also renumbered so the original large studio became Studio 5 and the new studio was called Studio 7. 

Studio 5 was decommissioned in April 1996 to make way for a £3m digital news and transmission centre.  Regional production studios were out of fashion in those days so like many others it had to go.  The whole building was extensively reconstructed and the result was a large open-plan office area with top-lit atrium and a 2,000sq ft news studio, located where the back-projection tunnel used to be.  The first news broadcast from this new facility was on 23rd April 1997.

 

 

 

 

The Bottle Yard Studios - Bristol  (2010 - present)

In 2010 yet another film/TV studio complex that was previously an industrial plant was opened.  It was originally the main bottling plant of Harvey's - famous for their Bristol Cream sherry since 1882, although the business itself was established in 1796.  Unfortunately for those working for them, they decided to move their operation away from here around 2008.

The city council took over the site after it was empty for a couple of years with the hope that it could become used as studios for shooting TV drama - although there was no intention to invest heavily in any conversion of the spaces into conventional sound stages.  What they do have is thousands of square feet of warehouse space - unusually with relatively high ceiling height - and four large buildings with very high ceilings called 'Tank Houses.'

Below is Tank House 2.  Its size is hard to judge from this photo but it is very large - around 17,000 sq ft in fact.  The columns have so far not proved to be too much of a issue - sets are simply built round them.  I can confirm however that the acoustic is very lively!  A single clap of the hands from me took quite a while to die away.

I visited the studios in May 2015 and was very impressed with what had been achieved with relatively little investment.  The whole site was busy with various productions.  Two of the Tank House stages had large standing sets from US musical comedy series Galavant and one had just finished shooting Poldark and was expecting a new booking shortly.  A new stage had been created within the warehouse space for a children's drama and at one end of the building a complete very realistic supermarket set was being restocked for the next series of Trollied.  Meanwhile, in another part of the huge warehouse was the TV studio and all its surrounding facilities created by BBC S&PP for Deal or No Deal.  Sets for various productions were neatly lined up in storage in other areas.

A number of highly regarded drama and comedy single camera TV productions have made use of these facilities.  These include Trollied, The Fear, Frankie, Inside Men, Dirk Gently, Five Daughters, Excluded, Public Enemies, Hit the Road Jack, New Worlds, Poldark, Sherlock, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, Wolf Hall, Broadchurch, Ill Behaviour, Three Girls, The White Princess, Crazyhead, The Living and the Dead, Golden Years, The Mimic, The Spanish Princess, Sanditon, The Pale Horse, The Trial of Christine Keeler, Hellboy, Fortitude, The Festival, Eric Ernie & Me, The Salisbury Poisonings, The Offenders, The Last Bus, Becoming Elizabeth and The Pursuit of Love.

A number of support companies are also located here including 180 Rental, Filmscape, TR Scaffolding, Grip Services, Location One and several more.

A well as huge areas of warehouse space, the facilities on offer include:

Tank House 1 - 112 x 100ft approx (12,400 sq ft)

Tank House 2 - 157 x 100ft approx (17,000 sq ft - includes a 90m long green screen/cyc)

Tank House 3 - two areas, one 69ft wide, the other 56ft at a length of 102ft.  The first area has a roof height of an impressive 65ft!

Tank House 4 - an irregular shape of about 21,700 sq ft.

Studio 2 - 18,350 sq ft

Studio 3 - 9,400 sq ft including 5,000 sq ft Green Screen area

Studio 6 - 9,400 TV studio with unequipped galleries

Export Warehouse - 15,900 sq ft

 

In 2013 one of the warehouse areas was converted by BBC S&PP into a fully equipped TV studio for C4's Deal or No Deal.  This show moved here from The Paintworks - also in Bristol.  The new studio opened in October 2013.  The studio was larger than the one they left in the Paintworks - 93 x 87 metric feet (about 9,400 sq ft. gross).  It is surprisingly high - around 9m - which is unusual in converted industrial units.  It does have 4 pillars within the working area but these were incorporated into the set design.  S&PP built a well-equipped control room suite with support facilities and a 9 suite post production area was run by The Farm.

Deal Or No Deal was axed in 2016 and BBC S&PP removed all its kit from the studio.  It no longer has any connection with The Bottle Yard.  However, the galleries were brought back into operation using hired in equipment for two weeks in January 2017 for C4's Cheap Cheap Cheap and then later in the year for The Crystal Maze.  The main sets were built in warehouse space and the final room with the 'dome' was in the old Deal or No Deal studio.

Due to the lack of available studio space in and around London, in March 2018 ITV's daytime gameshow Tipping Point moved into this studio.  It was here for several  months so when Crystal Maze returned, they had to use another space within the building.  Tipping Point was also made here during 2019 and 2020.

Above is the warehouse space that was converted into studio 6 - the Deal or No Deal studio - and supporting facilities.  There are thousands of square feet of space like this in the building - some being used as a garage, some to store scenery and some has been turned into stages.  The permanent set for Trollied occupied a similar space to this at the other end of the building.  The very useful roof height is clear to see.  Just a few years ago this area was full of thousands of bottles of Harveys Bristol Cream.

Below, the 9,400 sq ft studio 6 with its trussing being installed.  The 4 pillars were cleverly incorporated into the show's set design.

photos thanks to Tim Deane

The lighting grid consisted of a widely spaced trussing mother grid from which other trusses were suspended and there was a basic chipboard floor.  Other associated facilities were very good indeed - and still exist for users of this space.  There is a large production office, wardrobe, make-up, meeting rooms, audience handling area, contestant green room, canteen and rest area.

In October 2016 the studios were given £692,000 investment by Bristol City Council to pay for new roofs, production offices and IT infrastructure.

 

In January 2021 The Bottle Yard announced that they had secured funding of over £11.7 million from the West of England Combined Authority.  This has enabled them to purchase an industrial property at Hawkfield Business Park, half a mile from the existing site.  Three sound stages will be created within the building measuring 20,000, 15,000 and 6,800 square feet.  This will bring the number of stages on offer to 11.  Improvement works will also be carried out to the existing facilities.

 

 

 

Feeder Studios - Bristol  (from Spring 2021)

Following the UNESCO City of Film award given to Bristol in 2017 and indeed building on the success of the Bottleyard, another studio site converted from industrial premises was announced in 2020.  This one is called Feeder Studios and is due to open in Spring 2021.  It has three shooting stages, which according to their website have been 'treated for sound and light.'  Their sizes have not yet been disclosed.  The site also has areas earmarked for production offices and a large secure backlot.  The studios are a short walk from Bristol Temple Meads station.

 

 

 

 

 

Southern and Eastern England/Midlands:

 

Black Hangar Studios - Hampshire  (2012 - present)

Located on Lasham airfield, a few miles from Basingstoke, this facility opened in May 2012.  It basically consists of a large hangar - 32,000 sq ft in fact - containing the UK's largest permanent green screen.  There are also associated buildings containing production offices, wardrobe, make-up, screening room and 12,000 sq ft of workshop space.  Its USP is that it also has an outdoor elevated water tank of 5,000 sq ft with an optical shooting panel in the side.  This usefully has a 180 degree natural skyline. 

The business also owns nearby land that can be used as a backlot with natural countryside all round and a complete Boeing 737 airliner for filming interiors.

Productions using these facilities include The Garden for ITV, Breaking The Bank starring Kelsey Grammer, Born To Be Blue, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, Darktide, Kill Your Friends, Star Wars: Rogue One, 24: Live Another Day, Ra One and Peter & Wendy.  Several music videos and commercials have also been made here.

 

Lasham airfield was constructed in 1942.  Initially used by the Army Cooperation Command, it became an RAF Fighter Command base from mid 1943.  Hurricanes, Spitfires and Typhoons were located here.  Later in 1943 it was taken over by the RAF's 2nd Tactical Air Force and Mosquitos and B-25 Mitchells were based here.  The RAF left Lasham in 1948.

Since 1950 Lasham has been a centre for gliding.  It is now the home of the largest British gliding club, with over 200 airframes based here.  On some days over 100 gliders can be seen in the sky surrounding the airfield.

Despite gliding being the main activity at Lasham, the main runway is capable of handling large passenger jets and an aircraft maintenance company is also based here.  One assumes that arrivals and departures of these aeroplanes through skies teeming with unpowered gliders must give all those involved an extra frisson of excitement.

 

 

 

 

Cardington Studios - Bedfordshire  (filming use from around 2004 - present.)

 

About 30 miles north of Watford, situated in the flat landscape of Bedfordshire, can be found two of the most striking buildings in the UK.  They can be seen for miles around - and no wonder.  They are truly colossal.  Originally constructed to house giant airships, they have had a long history of decline and renovation.  No. 1 Shed (on the left if you are facing the main doors) was the first - constructed in 1915.  Around 1928 it was enlarged to over 800 feet long and the other 'shed' was moved here from its previous location at Royal Naval Air Station Pulham in Norfolk.  The Cardington sheds were the home of the massive airships R-100 and R-101.

The R-100 moored at Cardington with the visiting Graf Zeppelin beyond.

Tragically, R-101 crashed in October 1930 and all work here ceased.  R-100 was left in its hangar for a year after which it was scrapped.  From 1936 the sheds were used to construct and store barrage balloons.  In 1943 they were taken over by the RAF's meteorological research department.  From 1971 they became a fire research establishment and then in 1990 a building research establishment.  The sheer size of these structures enabled buildings to be constructed within them and subjected to damage from fire, explosion and whatever else they could think of.

 

 

Around 2004 Hangar 2 was rented by a film company and then followed a succession of movies that took advantage of this enormous enclosed space to build massive sets.  Features included The White Diamond (2004), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  A huge set of Gotham City was built for the first of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy that consisted of several roads and many buildings, enabling street scenes to be filmed at day or night with full control of the lighting (and weather).  This set remained in situ until all three films were complete.

More recent features have included Pan, Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts, The Mercy, Dumbo and The Return of Skywalker.  TV productions have also made use of these exceptional facilities including It's Not Rocket Science, Airmageddon, Speed With Guy Martin, Man v Robot and Revolution.

Hangar 2 is now owned by Ronan Willson's company ELP, who also run Millennium Studios - about 12 miles away on the other side of Bedford.  It is marketed as Cardington Studios.  The exterior has been renovated and the interior has had considerable work done to provide smart workshop and office areas.  The main shooting space is nominally divided into 4 'stages' for rental purposes but stages 1-3 are also available as one open area.  There is an impressive motorised truss rig extending over most of the space.  'Normal' working height is 76 feet but it can be raised to an extraordinary 120 feet!  There are also back lot areas and plenty of parking.  As well as film and TV work, Cardington is used for rock stadium tour rehearsals and photo shoots.

The interior of Hangar 2.  The truss rig is seen here at its 'low' setting of 'only' 76 feet.  Bear in mind that many film stages have grids of only 20 - 30 feet!

 

 

 

October Studios - Norfolk  (2018 - present)

In March 2015, October Films applied for permission to turn the old Jaguar Simulator Building at the former RAF Coltishall into a facility to support TV drama.  They took out a 5 year lease to assist them in their filming of a new factual crime drama: Serial Killer - Angel of Decay.  The facilities clearly proved to be useful and in May 2018 they marketed the building more widely as October Studios, hoping to attract work from other production companies - in particular UK companies working for US networks.

The buildings include several shooting spaces - some of which have standing sets, including a full scale replica of the Oval Office.  There are a wide supply of American props, costumes and vehicles available.  The enterprise is being run separately from October Films itself.  The old airbase is now known as Scottow Enterprise Park and is to be found about 10 miles north of Norwich.

 

RAF Coltishall entered service as a fighter base in May 1940 equipped with Hurricanes.  Douglas Bader was based here.  It later became home to night fighters and the Royal Navy operated Fleet Air Arm aircraft, patrolling over the North Sea.

After the war a variety of aircraft were located here including Mosquitos, Javelins and Lightnings.  From 1974 Coltishall became the home of the RAF's Jaguar fleet - an Anglo-French tactical ground attack aircraft.  Aircraft from here flew in the 1991 Gulf War, then in operations over the Balcans in 1995 and finally the 2003 war in Iraq.  No Jaguars were lost in action.  Until the closure of the base, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was also based here.

In November 2006 the base closed, following the decision to retire the Jaguar squadrons.  Coltishall was sold to Norfolk County Council for £4m.  It is now a very busy enterprise park, utilising the old RAF hangars and other buildings.  A prison has also been built on one corner of the site. 

Most of the grass area either side of the main runway is occupied by a solar farm.  Its panels can generate an impressive 50 MW of electricity.  This is expected to raise more than £10m income over 25 years for Norfolk County Council.  NB - on 30th June 2018, solar power produced 27.8% of the UK's electricity, making it the largest source of power above gas, nuclear and wind.  Fancy that.

 

 

 

 

Raynam Hangar Studios - Norfolk  (from 2019)

 

 

RAF West Raynham was an airbase not far from Fakenham in Norfolk.  Built just before WWII it was initially equipped with the Bristol Blenheim light bomber but later in the war, Mosquitos were based here - one of the most successful fighter-bombers of the period.  Following the war it was a fighter base, with Meteors, then Venoms and Javelins.  In 1964 a multinational squadron flew the predecessor to the Harrier here.  This was the Hawker P1127 Kestrel.  The success of these trials led to the purchase of Harriers for the RAF.

Between 1972 and 1976 Canberra high altitude bombers were based here in target towing and electronic warfare roles.  These were the last operational aircraft.

From 1975 - 1991 West Raynham was the home of 85 Squadron, operating Bloodhound medium range surface to air missiles and a unit operating Rapier short range anti-aircraft missiles was also based here between 1983 and 1991.  The base was closed in 1994.  The site was allowed to fall into disrepair until 2005, when it was at last sold by the MoD.

The runway and taxiways have been turned into a 50 MW solar energy farm, similar to RAF Coltishall.  There are many buildings on the site - these include the 4 main hangars, operations blocks, the control tower and 170 houses.  Initially a developer purchased the site in 2006 but resold it in 2007.  The new owners have upgraded the original houses and constructed many more.  Many of the original buildings now form a business park.

 

In 2017, one of the hangars at West Raynham was used as a base for Joanna Hogg's film The SouvenirThe Souvenir Part 2 was also filmed here in the summer of 2019.  In December of that year the site was acquired by a new private owner who plans to create a properly equipped studio attracting features and high end TV drama.

They paid £5m which will enable the existing facilities to be upgraded and a number of other supporting buildings to be constructed - including workshops, production offices, wardrobe facilities etc.  The work is expected to take 3 years, beginning in 2020 and a number of support companies have already agreed to be based here. 

In the meantime they are offering the main hangar, which at 45,000 sq ft is a very useful size indeed, plus the old 5,000 sq ft gym.  The hangar also has a number of rooms off it that can be used as sets or workshops/stores.

A pilot for a BBC Entertainment show was filmed here in 2019.  Previous uses of the site have included BBC drama Over Here in 1996, a Channel 4 documentary on the contribution of Polish fighter pilots in WWII in 2009 - and in 2010, Most Haunted carried out an investigation in various locations on the base.

A schematic view of Raynham Hangar Studios following the planned improvements.  The hangar in the foreground is the one at the top of the photo above.

 

 

 

Bentwaters Parks - Suffolk  (from 2019)

 

RAF Bentwaters was an airbase near the village of Rendlesham, east of Ipswich.  It was built towards the end of the war and became operational in April 1944, with Mustang fighters being based here.  After the war the RAF flew Meteor jet fighters.  In 1951 the airfield was transferred to the USAF in the form of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, who had several squadrons based here.  From 1978-1993 the aircraft were A-10 Thunderbolt II tank busters.  RAF Bentwaters is very close to RAF Woodbridge - the two were known as the 'twin bases.'  Following the fall of the Soviet Union these were two of the many airbases that were deemed to be no longer necessary for the defence of Europe.

 

RAF Bentwaters was incidentally where a notorious UFO incident took place in nearby Rendlesham Forest in December 1980, when several officers and airmen claimed to have seen craft of unknown origin over two nights.  On the first night a glowing object was observed in the woods and is said to have left marks on the ground.  This incident is sometimes referred to as 'The British Roswell' - the main differences here being that no wreckage was left but it was seen by credible witnesses.  Those wishing to explain away this sighting suggest that the airmen saw bright stars and a meteor shower or the light from Orford Ness lighthouse which is several miles away, and mistook them for what was described as a triangular shaped craft, glowing brightly, which rose from the ground as they approached and rapidly sped off into the night.  It's easy to see how the two could be confused by trained military personnel. 

Later, most of the men involved said they had been mistaken and saw nothing unusual but had been confused by the lighthouse.  However, Lieutenant Colonel Halt and Sgt Jim Penniston stuck by their stories.

None of which is is of any relevance to this website, except that it does all form part of the history of this airfield, which is having a brand new film stage constructed here.

The site is now known as Bentwaters Parks and is family owned.  They are offering the airfield and its historic buildings as film and TV locations as well as a working farm.  There are many buildings large and small that can be used for filming.  Productions that have used the site include Space Cadets, Top Gear, Fast & Furious 6, The Numbers Station and The Grand Tour.

In November 2017 planning permission was granted to construct a 32,000 sq ft sound stage with a grid height of an impressive 60ft.  This was due to open in 2019.  The plan was to turn a section of the airfield into a dedicated studio area, with associated workshops, offices, wardrobe/make-up and a back lot.  In February 2021, the Bentwaters Parks website still unfortunately said 'Coming Soon' so your guess is as good as mine as to when this will be available.

 

 

 

Rebellion Studios - Didcot, Oxfordshire  (from 2019)

In December 2018, video game and comic book publisher Rebellion announced that they had purchased a large former print works near Didcot, 20 minutes' drive from Oxford.  The building offers a total of 220,000 sq ft, including 6 areas suitable for use as shooting stages.  Fortuitously, these were soundproofed by the previous owner to reduce the noise of the printing presses.  The largest is a decent 25,000 sq ft.  The stages have been given interesting names - Atrium, Boulevard, Capital, Delta, Exhibitor and Falcon.

There is also plenty of space for a mix of workshops, wardrobe/make-up facilities and production offices.  A VFX department is based here too, as are technicians working in motion capture.  A rigging company is also located here.

The studios became available for hire in 2019.  The first production was Rebellion's own School's Out Forever.

One of the stages at Rebellion

 

 

 

 

Mercian Studios - Birmingham  (from 2021?)

In October 2018 Stephen Knight, creator of Peaky Blinders, announced that he had been working on a plan to build a studio centre in Birmingham for the previous three years.  The location was originally to be near Birmingham Airport but it later shifted to a city-centre site in Digbeth, just a 2 minute walk from the Curzon Street HS2 station.  Stephen has pointed out that when HS2 begins operating around 2030, Birmingham will only be 45 minutes from London.

Mercian studios will consist of six sound stages, intended primarily for film and TV drama but one will be aimed at 'shiny floor' TV shows and will include audience handling facilities.  The sizes are to be confirmed but five will be 'large' and the sixth 'more compact.'  The site will include workshops, prop stores, production offices and all the usual wardrobe and make-up facilities.  The aim is to attract a permanent local team of technical and craft workers and to have training facilities, including apprenticeships.

The scheme will include facilities for the general public including bars, restaurants, a cinema and a theatre.  There are also plans to include a recreation of a Victorian cobbled street.  This will have real working businesses in it that the general public can use - but it will be available as a film location when required.

No public money is involved - the studios are being funded by private investment.

According to press reports in January 2020, work was due to begin on this project in March - but I assume this has now been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

 

 

Quartermaster Studios - Birmingham City University  (from late 2022)

In December 2020, Quartermaster announced four new film and TV studio projects.  The company has been associated with the Purfleet redevelopment scheme since it was first mooted in 2014 but they also revealed a plan to convert an industrial building in Purfleet into film stages in the short term, and the creation of some new TV studios at Here East on the Olympic Park in London.  The fourth project was this one - some new film and TV studios at Birmingham City University.

The scheme is part of a £360m 10-year redevelopment plan by the university and consists of a nine-storey media centre.  It will contain 4 studios - two at 5,600 sq ft and the others at 8,200 sq ft and 10,333 sq ft respectively.  The studios are aimed at television entertainment and drama so they will be a mix of TV studios and sound stages.

This university's media course is highly regarded.  They currently have 4 fully equipped TV studios with the latest kit including green screen with motion control and a news studio.  Other facilities include edit suites and a grading suite.  Quartermaster believe that with the number of new studios and film stages opening in the UK over the next few years, there will be a high demand for well-trained crew members.  These studios will help fulfill that training need whilst also creating much-needed facilities for commercial clients in the UK's second largest city.

Birmingham is only about one hour twenty minutes by train from Euston and Quartermaster believe that production companies and Heads of Department who are based in and around the capital will not find this too challenging a journey to take.  Also, once HS2 is running, the journey time will only be 45 minutes.  The new studios will be adjacent to the HS2 station and only a few minutes' walk from the existing Moor St station.

 

 

 

Heyford Park - near Bicester, Oxfordshire  (from 2021?)

 

 

RAF Upper Heyford was used for training bomber crews in the Second World War.  Following the war, the airfield became a forward operating base for US Strategic Air Command bombers.  In 1966 it was taken over by the United States Airforce in Europe and its importance was confirmed when F-111 strike bombers were based here from 1970.  These sophisticated aircraft were intended to fly missions over long distances carrying tactical nuclear weapons which were stored on site. 

During 1991's Operation Desert Storm, the squadrons based here moved to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, from where they attacked targets in Iraq with conventional weapons.  No aircraft were lost in action, despite flying missions at very low altitude in intense anti-aircraft fire.

Following the end of the cold war in 1991, the airbase was gradually run down and the last of the F-111s flew back to the US in December 1993.  In September 1994 Upper Heyford was handed back to the Ministry of Defence but it was never used as a military airfield again.

 

Upper Heyford is now known as Heyford Park, having been sold to developer, Dorchester Living.  Several companies are currently using the facilities, including British Car Auctions - thousands of cars are parked on the taxiways and hard standing areas.  1,600 houses are being built here but many of the old military buildings are being preserved.  These include large numbers of hardened aircraft shelters, previously used to store individual bombers, which one assumes would be rather costly to demolish.

In December 2018, Dorchester Living announced plans to include a 'creative city' here.  The site earmarked is around 39 acres.  It will include a film studio campus offering 459,000 sq ft of space.  This will have stages, workshops and offices.  Curiously, the area planned to become studios does not appear to include the 6 large hangars.  It does however, incorporate a number of bomb-proof storage facilities which one assumes will at least have very good sound proofing!

The proposals were due to go to the local council for planning permission early in 2019.  I can find no reports on whether this happened - or if so, whether they were passed.  The Heyford Park website had no mention of film facilities in January 2021 and Internet searches have drawn a blank so it looks as though this scheme has been put on hold.  Please drop me an email if you know what is happening with this project.

 

Over the years, the airfield has been used as a filming location by a number of film and TV productions.  These have  included Octopussy, The Fourth Protocol, Children of Men, Lewis, World War Z, The Woman in Black: Angels of Death, Fortitude, Good Omens and Wonder Woman.

 

 

 

Ashford International Studios - Kent  (from 2022)

Ashford in Kent is only about half an hour from London, via the HS1 channel tunnel rail link.  Quinn Estates submitted a planning application for an impressive new development here in October 2019.  The former Newtown Railway Works - some Victorian engine sheds that have been derelict for many years - are to be turned into apartments with a large hotel alongside.  More interestingly, they also plan to construct 4 film stages totalling 80,000 sq ft.

The developers have formed a partnership with The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI Co), along with their sister company The Time + Space Company.  These are the people who acquired Twickenham Studios and Littlewoods Studios early in 2020.  This company, led by Piers Read and Jeremy Rainbird - familiar figures to many in the industry - have stated on their website that they plan to invest £500m in a network of film/TV drama studios across the UK. 

In March 2020, TCDI Co announced that they would be investing £250m in this scheme.  As well as the four stages, it will include 80,000 sq ft of ancillary production space, 50,000 sq ft of storage and 30,000 sq ft of media village.  This will contain a new film school called the Future Media Centre, in partnership with University of Kent and three other nearby universities. 

Planning permission for the scheme was granted on 22nd April 2020 by Ashford Council, in their first ever 'virtual' meeting during the Coronavirus lockdown.  The studios are set to open in 2022.

 

 

 

Brooklands Studios - Surrey  (from 2020)

 

I could write a 10,000-word history of Brooklands and still only touch on all its many stories.  It began as Europe's first motor racing track in 1906.  Parts of the original banked circuit still remain.  It was also where some of the first aircraft in the world flew.  A V Roe's experimental trials took place here in 1907. Aircraft manufacturers Sopwith, Hawker, Vickers and BAC had their factories here and their aircraft flew from the runway that was located in the middle of the racetrack.  Famous WWII aircraft assembled here included the Hurricane fighter and the Wellington bomber.

After the war, the factories produced the Viscount, the Vanguard and the BAC-111.  The beautiful long-range airliner the VC-10 was also manufactured here.  Perhaps the most iconic aircraft associated with Brooklands is Concorde.  The factories here built a significant part of each aircraft and one of them is here on display.  I can thoroughly recommend a day out at Brooklands - especially the Concorde Experience, which includes a 'flight' in the aircraft and a visit to the actual simulator used to train the pilots.

 

The Brooklands Studios site plan as shown on their website

Brooklands Studios opened in May 2020 offering a TV studio with supporting facilities.  Studio 1 is 46 x 36ft.  (1,656 sq ft).  It has a gallery with video, media server, sound and lighting equipment available and has a 3-sided green screen.  It is marketed as a VR studio as well as being suitable for conventional sets.  There is a box-section truss rig over the whole shooting area.  Studio 2 is 32 x 20ft and is due to open in March 2021.

The studios are described as being suitable for live TV streaming, filming, photography, webinars, music videos and product launches.  This looks to be a very well equipped and useful facility.

 

 

 

Dunsfold Park - Cranleigh, Surrey  (from 2002)

 

Dunsfold Aerodrome was built in 1942 for the Royal Canadian Airforce who initially flew Tomahawks and Mustangs from here.  From 1944 the RAF took over the base and they flew Spitfires, Typhoons and Tempests.  After the war the airfield was purchased by Skyways Ltd.  In 1950 the Hawker Aircraft Company moved in and developed the Hunter jet fighter here.  In 1960 the prototype for the Harrier - the P1127 - was flight tested at Dunsfold.  The RAF's Harriers and Royal Navy's Sea Harriers were later built here, as were the RAF's Hawk trainers.  When the order book for aircraft was closed around 2000, British Aerospace (which had taken over Hawker Siddeley) left the base.

 

In 2002 the airfield was sold to The Rutland Group, who renamed it Dunsfold Park.  Later that year the BBC's Top Gear began a long residency when they took over one of the hangars to use as a studio and turned some of the taxiways into their well-known test track.

An area of the airfield is now marketed as a filming facility and offers 4 buildings to be used as shooting spaces.  These stages are 11,000 sq ft, 8,300 sq ft, 4,300 sq ft and 3,300 sq ft.  There are also workshops, prop storage, office space, green rooms etc available as well as plenty of open area for building exterior sets.

A valuable resource at Dunsfold is the availability of no less than 3 Boeing 747s for filming use.

Productions that have filmed here include Casino Royale, Red 2, Rush, World War Z, The Theory of Everything, Primeval and the comedy Come Fly With Me.

 

 

 

 

 

Wales:

 

Dragon Studios - South Wales (2009 - present)

For nearly the whole of the first decade of the 21st century, various evolving plans were announced for an ambitious development in south Wales.  This was Dragon International Studios, sited mid-way between Cardiff and Swansea - nicknamed 'Valleywood.'  The complex was to be based at Llanilid which is just off junction 35 of the M4 near Bridgend.  The scheme was originally a £330m film studio and 'media city' with the late Richard Attenborough as its chairman.

When first announced in 2001, the plans included twelve sound stages, five silent stages and two fully equipped TV studios of 8,000sq ft and 12,000sq ft respectively.  If it had been completed as planned, the complex would have been bigger than any other UK film studio.

The site of Dragon Studios.  It occupies an impressive 1,000 acres and was previously an open-cast coal mine.  The M4 is in the foreground - the site is near junction 35 but it was hoped that a new junction connecting directly to the site would eventually be built.  The drawing below shows how it might have looked upon completion.  The existing 4 stages are located top left of this illustration.  In fact, the whole scheme is not completely dead - some of this may yet happen!

 

The scheme was granted outline planning consent in 2004. When completed, the site was to include hotels, housing 'for sale or rent to media-related occupiers', business park, 'drama village', training facilities, hospital, golf course and even a theme park.  It was hoped that other supporting industries would be attracted to the area, providing local employment. 

Sadly, the project encountered many problems and its target date for opening was for ever being postponed.  In fact, that passed in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. 

Early problems were caused by a lack of support from the Welsh Assembly which was later secured.  Then came delays in obtaining funding, which threatened a move to another site.  In January 2004 Lord Attenborough announced that work was about to begin but as luck would have it some rare dormice were found living on the site in September which delayed work until 2005.  (I'm not making this up.)  The next delay was caused by issues surrounding permits for sewerage works.  Nothing happened until October 2005.  Bad weather then stopped the work (during a Welsh winter? - surely not) and construction was due to start in March 2006.  As far as I can discover, it did not happen after all.

In October 2006 it was announced that the first phase of five silent stages (described rather tactlessly by a local councillor as 'posh warehouses') would at last begin construction soon.  These were planned to open in 2007 but once again, it seems that construction did not happen.  At the time these stages were said to be aimed at 'TV drama and low budget feature film' production. 

However, at last there was some progress.  Judy Wasdell, the studio coordinator, wrote to me in January 2008 with some exciting news...

 

'We started construction in August 2007 on phase one of the development which consists of four sound stages (1 x 20,000sq ft and 3 x 10,000sq ft), each with adjoining production offices.  We anticipate the first of these will be completed by the spring with the final stage ready by the summer.

We hope to be submitting a detailed planning application shortly for phase two of the studios which will consist of a number of workshops and a studio village with further production/post-production space, a preview theatre and commissary.'

We originally planned phase one of our project to consist of a number of silent stages but have since upgraded the spec on these so they are now soundproofed.  We may have TV studios within a later phase but we won't have any stages specifically designed to TV immediately.'

 

 

Unfortunately, even this relatively modest development became a victim of the banking crisis.  Yet another setback occurred in March 2008 when the development was put on hold and the administrators were called in.  According to Broadcast magazine on 14th October 2008...

'The scheme, financed through a mix of private and public money and chaired by Richard Attenborough, apparently ran out of funding at a time when investors were starting to tighten up on property development money.  However, administrator Rob Lewis, a partner at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, didn't rule out the possibility of finding alternative means of finance.  "The preferred option would be to see the studios completed and films being made there, or to mothball the site until something else comes along," he says.'  They appointed property consultants Edward Symmons to try to sell the studios and to market them as a going concern in the meantime.  In fact the four stages with their attached production offices were then completed and became available for use around 2009.

In February 2014 David Ferris was the man in charge and he kindly wrote to me with the latest information:

The site currently in use occupies 24 acres and has the 4 stages plus planning consent for one more.  There is also a back lot of around 5 acres with power and water.  The three 10,000 sq ft stages have air conditioned offices of around 3,800 sq ft and the largest (stage 2) has offices of 6,900 sq ft plus a pit within the stage (see below.)  David informed me that the stages are very much open for business.

The images above show the site as it stands now.  The bottom photo was taken inside stage 2 which includes a pit, as can be seen.

photos thanks to David Ferris

For a while it looked as though these studios might have been bought by the BBC no less.  In November 2008 the Corporation announced that they were looking at various sites to set up a new production centre.  Wales was planned to become a 'creative hub' for drama - with Casualty crossing the Severn estuary from Bristol in 2011.  The four stages here were briefly considered as a possible base but in the end the attractions of Cardiff Bay won out and the BBC announced in 2009 that they would set up their new drama HQ at Roath Lock.  There seems to be a fascination for building studios next to water - have you noticed?

In fact the BBC did use one of the stages in 2010 for the first series of Upstairs Downstairs.  Curiously, one end of the staircase was located here at Dragon Studios but the other end was on a stage at Upper Boat studios (The Dr Who base) - several miles away.  Nope - makes no sense to me either.  For the second series both ends were united at the new Roath Lock studios.  Dr Who briefly used the studios in Sep 2010 for the 'Doctor's Wife' episode.  Whites (comedy series with Alan Davies) and Merlin have also been shot here.  I gather a live audience show for S4C was also made on one of the stages.

The studios have actually been used to make a movie.  In 2009/2010 the film Ironclad, starring Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox and Derek Jacobi was shot here.  The stages were used for interiors and a replica of Rochester Castle was built on the lot.  The castle set was sadly dismantled a year or two later.  It seems that so far, no other features have been made here.  This seems surprising - having four decent sized stages and a large back lot on a self-contained site would, I'd have thought, be ideal as a base for a film or TV drama series.  Maybe the right people don't realise that it is here.

In fact it has now been used to film two drama series - in 2015 The Bastard Executioner was shot here.  It was a 10 episode drama made by Fox for the FX channel.  The show had a provisional booking for 5 years but unfortunately only 1 series was commissioned and the show left the studios at the end of January 2016.

Later in 2016 the stages were occupied for 9 months by US production Will - a drama for TNT based on the early life of Shakespeare.  It was said to be the most expensive TV production ever made in Wales and was backed by finance from the Welsh government.  Unfortunately, in September 2017 the show was axed after just 1 season.  In 2019 and 2020 US TV drama series Brave New World was filmed here.  It was made for NBC Universal and was also shown on Sky One.  It is possible that the new Disney+ drama series based on the original Willow movie starring Warwick Davis could be made here in 2021.  It is being filmed in Wales and these studios seem the obvious choice.

 

 

 

 

Enfys Studios - Cardiff (1990 - present)

Enfys was formed in 1984 by Alwyn Roberts.  Having left TV-am he invested in a 750sq ft studio and a small OB truck, specialising in making programmes for transmission in Wales.  The business did well and in 1990 they moved to their present site, building two studios - one at 4,800 sq ft and the other at 1,000 sq ft.  Studio 1 is 79 x 57 metric feet wall to wall.  Studio 2 is 34 x 30 metric feet wall to wall.  The studios share a well equipped gallery suite.  The studios are fully HD and studio 1 had a new floor laid a few years ago.

As well as programmes for S4C and BBC Wales, the studio has also made every series of BBC2 quiz Only Connect from 2014 onwards.  Other credits include Grandpa in my Pocket, Pyramid and Big Cook Little Cook.  Dramas such as Dr Who, Casualty and Sherlock have also used the facilities as sound stages.  With the closure of Studio 1 at Culverhouse Cross, this is the only independent TV studio remaining in Wales.

 

 

 

Barcud Derwen - North Wales (1992 - 2010)

Based in Caernarfon, for a number of years Barcud established themselves as the leading provider of OB facilities in Wales.  Merging with Derwen in 1992 to form Barcud Derwen they set about building a couple of studios.

Studio 1 was 88ft x 72 ft (6,300 sq ft) and had pull-out audience seating on one wall for up to 250 people.  It had a saturated lighting rig with motorised bars and 450 dimmers.  The gallery was equipped to support up to 12 cameras.  Studio 2 had a simple scaffold grid and was 52ft x 31 ft.  The two studios shared one gallery suite.

The studios mostly made programmes for the Welsh market but did make one series I know of that was not purely for Wales - Captain Mack for CITV.

Sadly, in June 2010 it was announced that Barcud Derwen had got into financial difficulties due to cash-flow and entered administration.  The administrators immediately closed the Caernarfon facility with the loss of 30 jobs.  Sadly no buyer was found for these facilities and during the summer of 2010 much of the technical equipment was sold on eBay, the studio's Galaxy lighting console being bought by Riverside TV in Hammersmith.

 

 

 

 

Bay Studios, near Swansea (2012 - present)

In 2012 a former Ford factory in Jersey Marine - a village in Neath Port Talbot, Swansea - was converted into film stages for the filming of Da Vinci's Demons.  It was originally transmitted on the Starz channel in the US and on Fox in the UK.  The car components factory itself had opened in 1965 and closed in 2010.  There were three seasons of the drama, which ended in 2015.  Other productions that have used the facilities since then have included Apostle for Netflix and The Collection for Amazon/BBC.

There are three very large stages with a relatively low height of 20ft.  Stage 1 is 135,000 sq ft, stage 2 is 54,000 sq ft and stage 3 is 38,000 sq ft.  There is additionally a very large building called Stage Elba which has a greater height of 27 - 37 ft.  This area has so far not been used for filming.  The studios also have 30,000 sq ft of production offices and plenty of workshop space and prop storage.

In April 2020 construction company Kier built an 850 bed  'Nightingale Hospital' inside Stage Elba to provide facilities for the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

 

 

 

Pinewood Studio Wales / Seren Stiwdios (2015 - present)

On 17th February 2014 it was announced that the Pinewood Group would be creating a new studio complex in south Wales.  The site was previously owned by G24 Innovations - a company that designed and manufactured small flexible solar cells.  Unfortunately, they went into administration in December 2012.  The business was purchased in March 2013 and a new company was formed - G24i Power Ltd.  This company moved to a new base just along the coast in Newport and recommenced manufacturing in November 2013.

The plant they vacated was known as The Energy Centre - it even includes its own wind turbine - and is located in Wentloog, between Cardiff and Newport.  It was constructed in 1998 and is said to be in very good condition.  The 180,000 sq ft building is near to the coast and would certainly be a very attractive place to make films or TV dramas.  At the time, Pinewood were also running other studios in various locations around the world including Canada, Germany, Malaysia and the USA.

The building is actually owned by the Welsh government - they bought it for a reported £6m.  Pinewood, it seems, took out a 15 year lease of about half a million pounds a year.  The government put up £1m towards fitting out the studios - the total cost was estimated to be £1.8m so for the price of a modest 3-bedroom house in London it looks as though Pinewood have got a pretty good deal there.  Within the building there are 2 acoustically treated stages, each of 20,000 sq ft plus an additional 38,000 sq ft of shooting floor.   The height to roof beams is reported to be only 7m (23ft), which is very low for purpose-built film stages (Pinewood's own stages range from about 35ft - 50ft in height) but typical for converted industrial units such as these.  Unless the roofs are raised, this will somewhat limit the range of sets that can be built within them.

The Welsh government also agreed to invest up to £30m into projects brought forward by Pinewood.  They would then share in any profits made from sales of productions filmed here that they had invested in.  Of course, the current tax breaks for large scale TV drama make the UK a very attractive place to film major international series. 

The studios were completed early in 2015.  In January it was announced that the first booking would be a pilot for a major historical drama series called The Bastard Executioner.  In fact, much of the series itself was shot at Dragon Studios.  Since then these studios have been used by Journey's End, Showdogs, series 4 of Sherlock and Roald & Beatrix, the Tail of the Curious Mouse.

In June 2018, it was reported that Pinewood had decided not to renew their lease.  The studios had turned out not to be as busy as was hoped.  It was suggested that the low grid height in the stages was a factor.  (*Ahem*  Possibly if they had read this website, that might have been realised sooner.)  The Welsh government was apparently paying Pinewood more than £390,000 a year just to keep the studios open.  They were also reportedly paying Pinewood an undisclosed amount as a management fee.  Looks to me that Pinewood came out of this rather well.

In April 2019 it was announced that Bad Wolf (makers of the His Dark Materials trilogy) had made an agreement to use vacant space at these studios for at least 12 months with an option on another 2 years.  They planned to shoot season two of A Discovery of Witches here.  They were also intending to use the studios for an HBO drama set in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash called Industry.  Their own Wolf Studios are about 4½ miles away in Cardiff docks.

 

Seren Stiwdios

In October 2019 Pinewood announced that they would no longer run these studios from April 2020.  They were also withdrawing from their sites in Malaysia and Atlanta - they said they were concentrating on their plans for expanding both Pinewood (Iver Heath) and Shepperton.

In October 2020 there were reports that media investment firm Great Point had entered into an agreement with the Welsh Government to manage the studios for 10 years.  Over the previous summer after Pinewood left, the studios appeared to be marketed by Oh So Small Agency, who had been based here since the studios opened.  They are now called Seren Stiwdios.  Seren means star in Welsh - but I'm sure you knew that.  And Stiwdios means...  I'm sure you can work that one out.

Great Point have an option to acquire and expand the studios - they are expected to take this up in 2021.  They say they have plans to add 150,000 sq ft of stages, offices and backlots.  The company already owns Lionsgate Studios in Yonkers, New York and another studio centre in Buffalo, NY.

 

 

 

 

Wolf Studios Wales (2017 - present)

One of the stages at Wolf Studios nearing completion

In 2015 the BBC announced that they would be commissioning a drama series based on Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy.  If you don't know what this is, shame on you.  Go straight to the nearest bookshop and buy a copy of  Northern Lights - the first book.  (If you happen to be American it's called The Golden Compass, for some reason.)  Anyway, these books are quite extraordinary fantasy novels set in a parallel universe in which every human has an accompanying daemon, in the shape of an animal.   The books are arguably as ground-breaking as The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia novels.

A feature film was made in 2007 called The Golden Compass, which wasn't bad but nowhere near caught the depth or subtlety of the novel.  In particular, it avoided any critical mention of God or organised religion, which is a strong thread running through all the books.  This is obviously a big problem in the US but in the UK far less so.  Frankly, it would have been impossible for the other two books to be made into Hollywood films, due to their subject matter.

So - the series has Philip Pullman as executive producer and has been written by Jack Thorne.  Bad Wolf is the production company making the series.  You may recognise the Dr Who connection of this name - the two founders of the company, Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, both worked on that show.  Their company was set up to create His Dark Materials, as well as other projects.

They were said to be looking at suitable studios in south Wales to make the series.  Having investigated existing facilities they decided to create their own.  In May 2017, Wolf Studios Wales opened at Cardiff's Trident Park on Ocean Way, not far from the city centre and with easy access to the M4.  The facility was formerly the Nippon Glass factory.  The building was acquired by the Welsh Government and has been leased to Bad Wolf on a 10 year term.  There are two linked units containing 5 stages totalling 125,000 sq ft.  That should be enough.

Stage 1 is 21,661 sq ft, stage 2 is 14,531 sq ft, Stage 3 is 14,531sq ft, Stage 4/5 is an impressive 51,135 sq ft.and Stage 6 is 24,497 sq ft.  Grid heights are around 35-41 ft in four of them but stage 6 has a height of an impressive 57ft. 

The first production made in these studios was A Discovery of Witches for Sky.  His Dark Materials began shooting in June 2018.  The first 8 episodes were directed by Tom Hooper and starred James McAvoy as Lord Asriel and and Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter.  Having watched seasons  1 and 2, I can confirm that this production has exceeded my expectations and is absolutely outstanding.  Shooting on season 2 was completed early in 2020, just before the Coronavirus lockdown, but one standalone episode that would have focused on Lord Asriel sadly had to be abandoned.  Press reports showed the wardrobe department making scrubs for local hospitals early in the pandemic - good for them!  Season 3 is due to begin filming in 2021.  It will have 8 episodes.

 

 

 

 

Northern Ireland:

 

UTV - Belfast

UTV - the independent TV company serving Northern Ireland - has a studio centre in Belfast but no large production studios.  It does have a 1,600 sq ft (149 sq m) studio that in 2010 was given an infinity cyc that can be used for green screen recordings (or blue or white if required.)  UTV's main studio (studio 1) is used for their daily UTV Live programme.

 

 

 

Titanic Studios - Belfast (2007 - present)

Titanic Studios - the original Paint Hall to the right and the new stages on the left.

thanks for the above photo to Jeff McCrory

Below - architects' drawing of the proposed 2014 development which appears not to have happened.  'TQ' stands for Titanic Quarter, the area in which the studios are located.

Northern Ireland Screen have been renting Titanic Studios (formerly the Paint Hall studio) from Harland and Wolff shipyard since 2007 for use as sound stages.  The building consists of four 16,000 sq ft 'cells' within a huge structure, each with enormous doors to the outside world and connected by internal 'streets'.  The roof height is an impressive 90 ft and each stage contains a lighting truss grid that can be raised or lowered.  All 8 seasons of Game of Thrones were made here for HBO and Sky Atlantic from 2010 - 2018.  Feature films have included City of Ember in 2007 and Your Highness in 2009.

In 2012 two new 20,000 sq ft purpose-built stages were completed here alongside the Paint Hall.  They are within one long building and were used from the third season of Game of Thrones along with the original Paint Hall stages.  They are named the Macquitty and Hurst Stages.  They can be opened up to form one large space of 42,000 sq ft.

Early in 2014 a planning application was lodged to expand the studios even further.  £14m was reportedly set aside to build two more stages plus associated workshops and other facilities totalling 100,000 sq ft.  The new facility was to have solar panels on its roof, reducing electricity costs.  Planning permission was granted in August 2014 but for some reason these stages appear not to have been built.  Can you help with any more info?

These studios appear to have been pretty quiet following Game of Thrones but late in 2020 it was announced that they would be the base for a feature adaptation of role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.  Paramount is producing the film, which will star Chris Pine.

 

 

 

Belfast Harbour Studios, Giant's Park  (2017 - present)

These are the newest purpose-built studios in Northern Ireland - constructed on a former landfill site.  There are two very well equipped sound stages, each of 32,000 sq ft, linked by a 20 tonne acoustically sealed sliding door.  There are also two workshops of 11,000 sq ft each and 36,000 sq ft of production offices.

In June 2017 it was reported that the first booking would be Krypton - a TV series for the Syfy channel set on Superman's home planet.  A second series began shooting in October 2018.  In February 2020 it was announced that Viking revenge saga The Northman was to be filmed here.  It has a stellar cast including Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe.  The following project was announced in December 2020 - it is The School For Good and Evil, a film for Netflix.

Also in February 2020 came the announcement that the studios would be undergoing major expansion.  Four new stages of 21,000 sq ft each plus two of 16,000 sq ft are being constructed, quadrupling the number of stages here.  There will also be 100,000 sq ft of production offices and 130,000 sq ft of workshops.  This is a seriously impressive investment costing £45m.  The new facilities are being built on an adjoining 20 acre site and are expected to be available in 2021.

 

 

 

 

Scotland:

 

Film City - Glasgow  (2004 - present)

The creation of  Film City was driven by Gillian Berrie, co-founder of Sigma Films.  She was inspired by a visit to another 'Film City' in Denmark in 2000 whilst being fully aware of the demand for a similar base for independent Scottish film and TV companies.  Govan Town Hall had been used for location filming several times before but when she worked there she realised that it was the perfect spot to take over as a permanent base for the local industry.  £3.5m was raised from various sources to refurbish the building and provide it with the necessary facilities.  It opened in phases from 2004.

The building contains an impressive Dolby post production theatre plus a Foley stage, ADR suite, dubbing theatres and 9 edit suites.  There are also picture grading suites.

Currently, the old Victorian building provides office, meeting room and the post production facilities mentioned above but it also has the original 5,000 sq ft performance hall complete with audience seating on a balcony.  This is described by Film City as a 'build space'.  There is sufficient flat floored area in front of the seating to construct reasonably large sets with ground-support truss for lighting but it could not be described as a typical sound stage.  There is no acoustic treatment on the walls for example.  These facilities have been used for School of Silence (CBBC), Iron Chef UK (C4) and T4's Transmission amongst others.

Above is the build space being used for a simple shoot.  Below shows the attractive decor and the size of the room and its useful, though seldom used, audience seating.

photo below thanks to www.iamdofilmmaker.co.uk

 

In May 2013 it was announced that Creative Scotland had ring-fenced £1m for further development.  The intention was to redevelop some existing buildings close to the Film City HQ in Govan Town Hall and create 15,000 sq ft of production space.  There was also the prospect of two purpose-built stages, at least one of them around 20,000 sq ft, being built on open land between Film City and the BBC's studios.   £10m funding was sought from various partnership sources.  Unfortunately, no development has so far been forthcoming.

The land that for a while was possibly to become the the site of new film stages.  Govan Town Hall - 'Film City' - is in the background.

 

 

 

Wardpark Studios, Cumbernauld  (2013 - present)

The former Isola factory that is now Wardpark Studios

For the past decade there has been much discussion about the provision of large studio space in Scotland.  They have seen TV series like Game of Thrones being made in Northern Ireland and several dramas being filmed in Wales and would like some of that kind of work too.  Some ex-industrial properies have been used on occasion for filming - most notably the international TV drama Outlander that has been filmed in Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld since 2013.  This former Isola factory offers 65,000 sq ft of facilities.

In March 2016 the studios announced that they were working with the Film Studio Delivery Group (comprising Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish government) to secure funding to enable the studios to expand.  Planning permision for 2 new stages totalling 30,000 sq ft was submitted.  However, no stages were subsequently built.

As of October 2017 the studios offered the following:

4 sound stages of 13,000 sq ft, 12,000 sq ft, 11,500 sq ft and 11,500 sq ft.  There are also workshops, cutting rooms, wardrobe/make-up facilities and production offices.

In November 2017 it was announced that the studios would after all be expanding in 2018.  They acquired two industrial blocks adjacent to the 'planned new stage.'  So, in fact only one new stage of a modest 5,000 sq ft was built.  The industrial units were converted for use as support facilities such as workshops, production offices, prop storage etc.

A fourth season of Outlander began filming in the autumn of 2017 and a fifth season was made in 2019.  Season 6 commenced filming on 7th January 2021, despite the limitations of working under Covid conditions.  There are 12 episodes of what is thought to be the final series.

 

 

 

Since around 2010, the Scottish government and its agencies have produced many reports on the necessity for more TV drama/film-making facilities in Scotland to build on the success of the UK film industry.  Sadly, nothing has happened.  Meanwhile in Wales, Northern Ireland, Bristol and Manchester they just got on with it.  Not to mention the brand new stages at Leavesden and Pinewood and 'new' studios at Arborfield.  Even Bray Studios have reopened.  Surely, since 2010 someone could at least by 2020 have constructed one or two new stages on that empty patch of land at Film City in Glasgow... but no.

Meanwhile, in 2014 a developer came up with a plan just outside Edinburgh that seemed ideal...

 

 

Pentland Studios - Straiton, near Edinburgh  (abandoned project)

Whilst the great and good were having important meetings and writing reports about the future of film making in Scotland, in August 2014 a developer (PSLL) announced an actual plan.  This was very ambitious and would provide the facilities that Scotland desperately needs.  It consisted of a group of stages, workshops and support facilities to be built in phases as part of a much larger development containing housing, retail, a hotel, business park and power station.  These studios were intended for features and high-end TV dramas which could also of course make use of Scotland's spectacular scenery for location shooting, only a short drive from here.

The plans included two 15,000 sq ft 'studios' (did they really mean fully equipped TV studios?  I doubt it.), two 20,000 sq ft stages and two 30,000 sq ft stages.  There was also a 45,000 sq ft 'water stage', two back lots totalling about 30 acres and 55,000 sq ft of workshop space.  The plans included a film academy and student accommodation.

Following public consultation in October 2014, a planning application was submitted in May 2015.  The local council were due to determine the application by September.  Unfortunately, yet again the Scots seemed unable to take a decision regarding the building of film studios.  In December, the developer asked the Scottish Government to call in its planning application, claiming that the local Midlothian council had taken too long to consider its proposals.  They had hoped to open the studios early in 2017 but that timetable had obviously slipped.

Things took a turn for the worse in February 2016 - it was reported in The Scotsman that planners had insisted that the scheme should be thrown out as it would cause disruption to local residents, was unsuitable for green belt land and would hamper the growth of the Edinburgh Science Triangle development. 

I was contacted by someone who strongly opposed the plans and he pointed out the environmental concerns of building on this particular site.  He claimed that the plans were misleading as they failed to show the visual impact of the proposed power plant, amongst other things.  Well, I can't really comment on these concerns as I don't know the site and how it would impact locally.  His worries seemed genuine and were shared by many local people.  However, I do know that Scotland desperately needs a studio centre like this.

The studios were finally given the go-ahead in April 2017.  As for when the studios would open - the developers had previously mentioned 2018 but they now refused to give a date.  They had to go through the legal process of evicting a farmer, a road had to be re-routed and they had yet to submit a detailed planning application.  Some were saying that all this could take 4-5 years.

 

In October 2018 it was announced that unfortunately, this development was basically dead.  The farmer whose land makes up half of the site had always made it clear that he didn't want to sell.  (How such an ambitious scheme could have been planned and progressed knowing that this was the situation is a mystery.)  Anyway, he won his court case against eviction so the studios could not go ahead. 

Scottish film makers must be spitting feathers at the continuing lack of facilities, when new stages are springing up all over the rest of the UK with no apparent problems over planning or funding.

Above - the scale of the development is clear to see.  The mauve section centre bottom is the film studio site with the green areas being the back lots.  The proposed power station is not included on this drawing.

Below is how the stages might have been laid out.

 

 

 

Studio City Scotland - Dundee  (abandoned project)

Another proposal for a studio site was revealed in January 2015 - this time in Dundee.  It had the name of Studio City Scotland and was planned to be built on land next to Claverhouse Industrial Park.  The scheme had the backing of actor Brian Cox and producer Barrie Osborne.  Interestingly, according to press reports, Creative Scotland said they knew nothing of the project when it was announced.

It seems that the planning for this project was carried out in great secrecy but according to the press, in May 2015 the funding and backing for the project was in place.  Figures of £80m or £120m were quoted and the studios were going to be the 'greenest' in the world.  No details of the stages or other facilities were revealed but the American architects were said to have a long track record in designing studios.  The project was also intended to support the local games design industry.

However, according to Companies House, the company was dissolved in July 2018 so sadly, like so many plans for studios in Scotland, this scheme came to nothing.

 

 

 

First Stage Studios, Port of Leith - Edinburgh  (from 2021)

On 7th December 2018 yet another Scottish proposal was announced.  This one at least looked like it had a chance of success as it's an adaptation of an existing facility, rather than designing new studios from scratch.  It has the backing of Screen Scotland - in fact, they acquired the site and invited private companies to take over and develop the facilities.  They were expecting detailed proposals by February 1st 2019!  So that's about 7 weeks, including Christmas and New Year.

This request did unfortunately have the whiff of a rushed job, following the collapse of the proposed Pentland Studios development.  Indeed, the Association of Film and Television Practitioners Scotland raised these very concerns.  They stated that the tender document 'lacks significant detail regarding the physical requirements of the studio facility, yet demands that a massively detailed financial and logistical proposal be prepared in an almost impossible timescale by potential bidders.'  I can't help thinking that they did seem to have a point.

Adapting an existing building does have the advantage of avoiding long, complex design and planning processes and is a relatively cheap solution but the end result will never be as good as a purpose built studio facility, where the stages are the size and shape you actually need and are equipped with proper grids.  However, Scotland desperately needs studio space for filming features and TV drama so this is probably a good choice in the circumstances.

The disused factory is located in Leith docks, not far from the city centre and airport.  It was built in 2000 for engineering firm VA Tech but closed four years later.  It then became the HQ of wave-power energy company Pelamis.  Sadly, despite the much needed possibilities of this interesting form of renewable energy, the sums didn't add up and that company folded in November 2014.

 

The facilities occupy an 8.6 acre site with the potential for 5 sound stages totalling 160,000 sq ft, with an additional 27,000 sq ft available for workshops, offices etc.

The empty building was used in 2017 as a base for Marvel's superhero movie Avengers: Infinity War

 

Glory be!  15 months after the invitation to run these studios was announced, it was revealed on 10th March 2020 that someone had been found.  In fact, two people - producer Bob Last and actor/director Jason Connery.  Screen Scotland stated that their company, First Stage Studios, won an open tender process to operate the studio business.  Screen Scotland invested £1m in the project - private investment was being sought to further develop the site.  The initial amount of cash paid for the fitting up of sound stages and production offices as well as the marketing of the studios.  In November it was announced that the first production to use the studios in 2021 would be supernatural thriller, The Rig.  It is being made for Amazon Prime.

 

 

Saltersgate - near Dalkeith (from 2022?)

In January 2019, PSL Land - the company that attempted to build Pentland Studios, submitted a planning application for a new project at Saltersgate, near Dalkeith in Midlothian.  The new studio site will occupy 48 acres and will include 9 sound stages.  There will also be the usual workshops and offices.  They are also planning a 'media hub.'

Unfortunately, as of March 2021 I can find no further news about this interesting project.  Can you help with any further information?

 

 

 

 

Northern England:

 

Studio 81, Leeds (2006 - present)

Not far from the old Yorkshire TV studios in Kirkstall Road is Studio 81. This business opened in 2006 and has hosted a number of TV drama productions.  These include Wuthering Heights, Lost in Austen, White Girl, The Chase, Strictly Confidential, Red Riding, 5 Days, South Riding, Sirens, The Damned United, The Syndicate, DCI Banks, Just Henry, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, The Great Train Robbery and the extraordinary Peaky Blinders,

There is one large stage of 230 x 70ft plus workshop facilities and all the usual offices, dressing rooms and wardrobe/makeup rooms.

 

 

 

Versa Leeds Studios (from 2021)

Converted from a former printworks, this impressively large studio centre was originally due to open in 2020, but this has been postponed to 2021.  It has 4 sound stages at 16,000 sq ft, 12,000 sq ft, 11,000 sq ft and 30,000 sq ft (this one can be divided.)  All have a useful height of around 28-30 ft.  There is also plenty of space for production offices, workshops, prop stores, wardrobe facilities etc.

£7.5m is being invested in the studios, primarily to upgrade the power supply and to soundproof the stages.

The studios are not far from the new Channel 4 HQ and ITV's studios on Kirkstall Road, confusingly named The Leeds Studios.  These studios are a joint venture between Leeds-based Prime Studios and All Studios.  In the autumn of 2020 a new website run by Versa Studios was offering these studios, along with Manchester Studios (due to reopen in 2021) and a new fully equipped TV studio in London.  (This latter one is located in Kendal Avenue, Acton.)  Versa Studios is part of All Studios and their website proudly states that they will be opening 20 studios and stages in 2021.  Excellent news for the industry!

 

 

 

Peregrine Studios - aka Northern TV and Film Studios (South Yorkshire)

The impressively large stage at Peregrine Studios

Situated between Barnsley and Doncaster in Goldthorpe, with easy access to the M1 and A1, these converted industrial premises offer a very large stage of 354 x 136ft (48,000 sq ft) plus a workshop area of 7,600 sq ft and prop storage of 23,000 sq ft.  There is also a covered area of 140,000 sq ft that can be used to construct scenery or as a shooting space.  There are plenty of offices and other areas suitable for dressing rooms, make-up areas etc.  The following productions have filmed scenes at these studios - Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Hope Gap, Official Secrets.

 

 

 

Yorkshire Studios, Church Fenton (between York and Leeds) (2015 - present)

 

RAF Church Fenton was created in 1937 when the air force was carrying out a massive expansion, due to the increasing threat from Hitler's Germany.  It was designed as a fighter base, defending the industrial areas of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield.  As well as housing normal RAF squadrons it was also the home of the first RAF Eagle squadron of American volunteers.

After the war it remained a fighter base with the new generation of jets such as the Meteor and the Hunter.  In 1959 the base scaled back its operation, becoming used for training on a wide variety of aircraft types over the following decades.  Following the 2010 defence review, training was sadly (some might say unwisely) drastically scaled back in the RAF and the base was no longer required.  It closed in December 2013 and was handed over to property investor Makin Enterprises.

 

In June 2015, Screen Yorkshire announced that it had secured the rights to create a new film studio based here at Church Fenton.  They have 3 stages - stage 1 at 37,500 sq ft, stage 2 at 27,000 sq ft and stage 3 at 34,500 sq ft.  The complex includes office space, workshops and plenty of parking.  There is also a great deal of concreted space near the buildings previously used for aircraft handling as well as grassed over areas with clear vistas where exterior sets can be built.  In April 2019 they secured planning permission to improve and further develop the facilities here.

On top of the UK-wide tax breaks, Screen Yorkshire has available the 'Yorkshire Content Fund' which can be used to attract TV dramas and features to the area.  They say that in excess of £1m can be invested in suitable projects.

Productions made here have included ITV's Victoria.

One of the RAF hangars now being used as film stages.

 

 

 

The Northern Studios, Hartlepool (new facilities from summer 2021)

above - the former bus garage.  Image thanks to Cleveland College of Art and Design

below - the proposed new studios

In January 2017 Hartlepool Borough Council announced that it was planning to turn an old bus depot into film studios.  At the time, two 11,000 sq ft stages were proposed.  Pat Chapman from Cleveland College of Art and Design is quoted as saying 'This is the perfect venue to create a film and TV studio in the heart of the town.'  The college was working with the borough council to develop the project, which opened for business in March 2017.

From what I have read, it seems that only blacking out of windows and some basic sound deadening were initially done to the shooting spaces.  In a press report, Mr Chapman explained that a more sophisticated refurbishment of the building would come later, once productions had used the stages and discovered what else needed to be done.

In April 2019 Hartlepool Borough Council gave planning permission to adapt the bus garage into a 30,000ft stage.  However, there was a long gap before some progress was announced.  This came in December 2020 when a press release revealed that work was underway.  The £3.76m converted facility will sit alongside a new teaching building which will support specialist technical training for students.  In addition to the main stage there will also be a green screen studio.  These studios are primarily intended to be used by film and high-end TV.  The area around has plenty of exciting and varied locations suitable for shooting many kinds of drama and the idea is that these facilities would form an attractive base where interior sets could be constructed.

 

 

 

 

Littlewoods Studios Liverpool (from 2023 - temporary stages from 2021)

Above - the enormous amount of space that this beautiful building offers is clear to see - as is the lovely setting.  Below - inside one of the halls.

Designed by Scottish architect Gerald de Courcey Fraser, this building was constructed in the art deco style in 1938 and was used to process the betting slips from Littlewoods Football Pools.  Its printing presses were used by the government during the War and parts of Halifax bombers were constructed here.  Bomb shelters within the building still have wartime graffiti on the walls.  The building has been empty since 2003 and photographs indicate that it does need a fair bit of refurbishment inside and out.

 

In September 2015 a plan to turn the building into a TV drama and film studio was announced by developer Capital and Centric.  Liverpool has been used often in recent years as a filming location as some of its architecture can double for cities in the USA.   The idea is that TV dramas and features will use these studios as a production base and film interiors here whilst using the nearby city for exteriors.  The building will also be the new home of Liverpool Theatre School - with its own theatre and studio - and digital and creative companies will be encouraged to take up space here.  It is hoped that 1,500 jobs will be created during the redevelopment phase and once completed it will provide 900 jobs although other figures have been quoted.

The developers referred to '20-30,000 sq ft sound stages' in their publicity.  It is pretty clear that a great deal of work would be required to create these within the existing building as it has many windows and skylights in the roof and the irregular roof structure would appear to make a conventional lighting grid tricky to install.  However, it turned out that this was not the intention and new stages will be built on the area alongside.

In April 2017 the studios became closer to reality when the building was sold to Capital and Centric who declared they would turn the site into the 'Pinewood of the North.'  A 250 year lease was agreed with Liverpool City Council.  They have already redeveloped the bunker next to the building, which is fully let to media and technology companies.  The new owners said that they were hoping to attract companies that would work in collaboration to be part of a hub that can fully capitalise on Liverpool's world-class offering as a filming location.

 

In June 2018 the announcement came that the company that runs Twickenham Studios in west London will be the partners on this project.  I doubt if many people saw that coming but it does make a great deal of sense.  Twickenham only has 3 relatively small stages but they have many years of experience of dealing with clients from the worlds of film and TV.  Having 2 large stages here will fit nicely into what they can offer.

As mentioned above, the stages will be constructed alongside the Littlewoods building, with workshops, offices and other supporting facilities taking up part of the old facilities.  However, the Littlewoods building is huge and one can't help wondering what the rest of it will be used for.  Still, good luck to them - it's great to see this iconic building being restored and put to such good use. 

There was an announcement in the press in March 2020 that revealed that The Creative District Improvement Company and their subsidiary, Time + Space Studios had acquired Twickenham and these studios.  They plan to invest heavily in both studio centres, which is great news.  In fact TCDIC are anchor tenant - Liverpool City Council own the freehold with Capital & Centric owning the long lease.

 

In July 2020 Liverpool City Region announced the release of £11m to enable this project to go ahead.  This money comes via the Government's 'Getting Building' fund.  This money is part of an overall package of £17m.  The money will also pay for the construction of two 'pop-up' 20,000 sq ft film stages on vacant city-owned land next to the Littlewoods site, to be known as The Depot.  Planning permission for the two stages was passed in December 2020 and work began later that month.  They will be available in the Spring of 2021 and will last for 3 years until the main studios are fully up and running.  These stages are being built by Morgan Sindall Construction who announced in March that the stages had been 'topped out' and were on course to be available later in the year.  These stages are being managed by Liverpool City Council's film office and do not appear to be connected with the Twickenham Studios management.

 

On 2nd September 2018, fire broke out in the western wing of the building, causing extensive damage (the one on the right in the image below.)  The story was covered on national TV and radio news bulletins.  The roof and upper floor of the wing were lost but following the fire there were no concerns over the building's structural integrity.  Most importantly, fortunately there were no injuries.  I'm informed that the fire may in fact have helped a little with the redevelopment as the roof was going to be replaced anyway.  In any case, it will not affect the studio development.

Above - an artist's impression of the completed Littlewoods scheme.  The two new stages are the dark blocks on the left of the old building.  I'm interested to note that on the far left is the corner of another building with 'stage 3' proudly displayed on it!  Clearly they are hoping to expand over future years.

Below - the two temporary stages, opening in 2021, known as The Depot.  Interesting to see that they appear to be occupying the land where the third stage is indicated on the image above.

 

 

 

 

Manchester:

The Pie Factory, Manchester Island, The Sharp Project, The Space Project

 

Manchester has long been recognised as a centre of creative talent in music, drama and comedy.  Quite rightly, a number of dramas and entertainment programmes are being made there now with a desire to reflect this on network television.  A TV studio centre was constructed in the fashionable and trendy area of Salford Quays.  Those MediaCity studios opened in 2011.  However, a few enterprising organisations have also opened film/TV drama studios in other parts of Manchester.  The most recent is Space Studios.  Before that was The Sharp Project and before that was The Pie Factory.

 

The Pie Factory

Early in 2007 a new facility opened next door to the MediaCity site in Salford Quays called The Pie Factory.  This was a studio complex that was originally a pie factory.  No really.  It had three 'studios' (I would prefer to call them stages) curiously named after northern towns.  'Salford Studio' was 3,000 sq ft, 'Leeds Studio' was 5,500 sq ft and the largest 'Manchester Studio' was 6,800 sq ft.  They made a number of single camera TV productions including The Visit, Cold Blood, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Boy A, Hebburn, Car Share, Give Out Girls and Ragged.

The Pie Factory was part owned by the Peel Group, the company that built the huge MediaCity complex.  It was thought that by opening these studios a clientele of production companies would build up over the years leading to the opening of the four main multicamera studios in the new building in 2011.  The Pie Factory remained in business even after the MediaCity studios opened, providing complementary single camera facilities.

These studios closed and were demolished in 2018 to make way for another phase of MediaCity.

 

 

 

In 2008 Manchester Island was added to the cluster of studios owned by the Island group along with a couple of studios in South Africa and Duke's Island & Black Island in West London.  They are all owned by Panalux so not surprisingly, Manchester Island is situated at Panalux Manchester's base in Kearsley, Bolton.  They have a single 5,500 sq ft. stage which is 114 x 48ft.  It has a semi-permanent 30 ft high cyclorama.  There is an attached production office suite and dining area.

 

 

 

Stage 2 in the Sharp Project

with thanks to the Sharp Project website

In 2010 The Sharp Project, located in Newton Heath, north-east Manchester, was handed £6.3 million pounds by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund helping them to turn the former Sharp electronics factory into a 'digital production complex' that provides a range of sound stages, scenery storage areas, office and production space.  There are four stages: stage 1 (64 x 52ft), stage 2 (130 x 80ft), stage 3 (78 x 80ft) stage 4 (282 x 105ft). Typically for converted industrial buildings, they all have relatively low ceilings around 20 - 25ft.  The first TV programme shot here was actually Casualty 1909 for BBC1 in 2009 (before the redevelopment) whilst a CBBC series - My Genius Idea, was filmed here by production company Shine in the summer of 2010.  Comedy drama series Mount Pleasant was made here by Tiger Aspect for Sky 1 in 2011 and 2012.  Other productions include Fresh Meat (C4), The Making of a Lady (ITV) Old Jack's Boat (CBeebies) and The Gadget Show (North One TV for C5).

A number of media companies are now based here.  The Sharp Project has several converted shipping containers inside the building that it lets out as office space for small and startup creative businesses.  In May 2013 it was announced that four sound-proofed green screen studios had been built here.  These are in addition to the existing stages and range in size from 450 sq ft to 1,270 sq ft.

 

 

 

In October 2013 work commenced on turning a former Fujutsu factory into yet another 4-waller studio complex - this one is called Space Studios.  It is in Gorton, about three miles from the Sharp project on the east side of Manchester.  The site is being run by the same people as the Sharp Project and was created because they were having to turn bookings away from their original facilities.  It opened in May 2014 and initially contained 5 stages.  These ranged in size from 8,891 sq ft - 11,194 sq ft.  Very specific dimensions there!  It was described as 'high quality but affordable.' 

This facility is aimed at TV drama and single camera comedy, rather than commercials or multi-camera productions.  The first booking was from CBBC drama World's End, which took over stages 4 and 5.  Other productions have included Sky's Mount Pleasant, Danny Baker's autobiography Cradle to Grave for BBC2, Boy Meets Girl for the BBC, The A Word for the BBC and No Offence for C4.  Big Talk's 10 part drama Houdini and Doyle occupied two stages for much of 2015 and Sky 1's sitcom Rovers was also shot here. ITV's Cold Feet was made here in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  Other productions have included The Feed for Amazon Prime, Curfew for Sky 1, World on Fire for BBC1 and Intergalactic for Sky 1.  In 2020 Space Studios were home to the 6th series of Peaky Blinders for the BBC, series 2 of Cobra for Sky and Viewpoint - a new thriller for ITV.

Having said that multicamera productions are not made here, in fact the 13th, 14th and 15th series of Dragon's Den were recorded at Space Studios in 2015, 2016 and 2017 - although this show is shot using several cameras simultaneously recorded and edited later, rather than vision mixed.  The output of the cameras was sent across Manchester via high speed fibre to dock10 at MediaCity for post production.  In 2018 the show moved again - this time to the Old Granada Studios.

 

The stages (or 'spaces') are as follows:

1 - 140 x 80ft

2 - 132 x 80ft

3 - 104 x 97ft

4 - 105 x 97ft

5 - 97 x 92ft

6 - 212 x 140ft

Stages 1 and 2 are a useful 31 feet high but 3, 4 & 5 are only 21ft high, which could limit the kind of sets that can be built.  The new stage 6 has an impressive height of 40 feet. The site also contains a workshop, prop store and all the usual dressing room and production office facilities.  The stages have acoustic treatment to the walls and roof, I-beam lighting grids and air conditioning.  These facilities are certainly not all found in some of the more basic 4-waller studios elsewhere.

In October 2016 The Space Project, as it was still known, was granted planning permission for a £14m expansion totalling 90,000 sq ft.  This consists of the 30,000 sq ft 'Space 6' plus workshops, business units and other facilities.  The new stage opened in February 2018 with Cold Feet as its first booking.

In September 2020 Space Studios announced that they would be adding two new 20,000 sq ft stages.  Design work began in the autumn and the target date for planning approval is summer 2021.  The stages should be available by autumn 2022.

Above - Space Studios.  On the left is 'Space 6'.  On the upper right are the original stages and at the top are the proposed 'Space 7 and Space 8'

Below - the new Space 6 and below that - how it looks inside.

 

 

 

 

Now in case you hadn't noticed, around 2003 there appeared to be a dawning realisation that almost all the programmes shown on the UK's main broadcast channels were being made in London.  The reasons for this can be argued, but the fact is that both ITV and the BBC spent the 1990s closing down almost all of their regional production studios - so it was hardly surprising.  Simply put, they were not attracting sufficient work to enable them to pay their way.  Talented people from all over the country who wanted to work in TV moved to be within striking distance of London's studios, which were mostly on the western side of the capital.

However, the pendulum began to swing back and it became the aim of the BBC, ITV and C4 to make a greater proportion of programmes outside the M25.  This was mostly of course due to pressure from the government and Ofcom for the TV companies to represent the culture of the whole country rather better than they were.

The BBC seemed to embrace this need for change rather more enthusiastically than the other companies - possibly sensing that property was a lot cheaper 'up north' than in London and in 2008 they announced an intention to make half of all their programmes outside London by 2016.

In fact, the BBC had indicated back in 2004 that they intended to move various departments to Manchester and a proposed development by Peel Holdings (later called The Peel Group) in Salford Quays was selected as a new base in 2006.  Thus the BBC became 'anchor tenants', Peel obtained detailed planning permission in 2007 and the rest, as they say, is history.  Read on...

 

MediaCityUK - Salford (dock10)

With a name as grand as MediaCityUK you know that they must have been planning something big.  Well - they were.  Allow me to quote their website...

'MediaCity is all about connections:  connections with people, places, emotions, audiences and technologies.  It will ultimately represent - and redefine - a new era of global media communications'

You get the picture.  In fact, here is a picture...

This photo was on the BBC's website.  Quite interesting that this is where I found possibly the most unflattering image of this centre on the Internet.

Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.  The collection of buildings seen above that make up MediaCity is apparently not exactly admired in the world of architecture.  MediaCity won the 'Ugliest Building in the UK' award of 2011 in Building Design magazine's annual Carbuncle Cup contest.  Amongst many unflattering remarks, the editor commented 'Quite how the BBC has stooped this low is hard to fathom.'  Ah well.  No Grade II listing imminent here I suspect.  Considerably unfair too on the BBC who played no part in the design of all this.

Personally, I think that criticism is a bit harsh.  Having worked in the place myself, I think it looks OK - it's a little bleak and wind-swept but the mix of architectural styles in the various blocks and buildings does make it seem somewhat less 'planned' than some developments.  It does however look a bit as though a roomful of architects have all gone off into separate corners and designed their building without looking at what everyone else was doing - but I assume that's the effect they wanted.

 

Despite the size of the whole project, the number of medium/large TV studios is only four, (of which one is only 4,550 sq ft - the BBC's Television Centre in White City of course had eight, five of which were between 8,000 and 10,000 sq ft.)  Some people have compared this development with TV Centre but this is misleading.  Nevertheless, it has become the base for several thousand people working in television, radio and other media and has affected the industry in various ways.

Many people believe that this is a BBC development.  Not so.  (Please remember this - I'll be testing you later.)  Well, only partly so.  The BBC have of course moved several departments here from London including Radio Five Live, BBC Children's Department and BBC Sport. All of these were based at Television Centre in White City.  However, none of these departments made much use of the five largest production studios at the Centre so the move north did not significantly affect bookings in them.  In fact, only one small studio was used by the Sport department at TVC.  Children's department occasionally booked one other small studio for Blue Peter - and that's it.

The timetable was as follows:  Blue Peter moved in the summer of 2011 - with the offices of other shows such as A Question of Sport and Dragon's Den moving here from BBC Manchester in Oxford Road between May and July.  Many CBBC and CBeebies staff  also moved up from London in this first wave.  Between August and October 2011 was wave 2 which included Newsround and CBBC drama.  Wave 3 was from October 2011 into early 2012 and finished off most of the move although the date for BBC Breakfast to begin broadcasting from Salford was 10th April 2012.

 

The BBC Breakfast move was particularly controversial as when it was in London, the show frequently made use of many actors, film stars, musicians, celebs and politicians who just popped into the studio at TV Centre at the beginning of the day.  It has undoubtedly proved to be more difficult to persuade these people to make a special trip to Salford if they are performing in or visiting the capital city - or indeed for most Members of Parliament who will either be in their own constituency or in Westminster for most of their time.  Without doubt, the range and quality of studio guests has diminished although some people are interviewed in London down the line which never works quite as well.  Breakfast is of course news-based and BBC News moved to brand new studios in New Broadcasting House in the centre of London - which is where many people expected the Breakfast show to be based. 

It is hard to fathom the editorial logic in moving this of all shows to Salford.  Two of the regular presenters refused to go as did just over half the staff working on the show - only 46% officially deciding to relocate.  The programme now shares the Northwest Tonight regional news studio, which is in one of the BBC office blocks rather than the main studio building.  In my view the look of the show suffered - with its low ceiling and scaffold bar grid visible in every wideshot inevitably making it look rather cheap and second rate compared with the space and proportions of the set in Television Centre's TC7.  Let's be frank - it looks 'regional' - but then, I suppose that's what the BBC wanted.  Ironically, the show's competitor - ITV's Good Morning Britain, now comes from one of the remaining studios at Television Centre, with a large, expensive-looking set.

 

One does suspect that the fact that this show is made in Salford is because it represents 195 minutes of airtime Sundays to Fridays and 240 minutes on Saturdays on BBC One which helps to alter the overall balance of programmes made outside the capital in a simple but effective manner, whether or not it is the right programme to be made there.  Let's face it - it helps to tick a box.

The BBC declared that it intended to make 50% of all its programmes outside the capital by 2016.  This includes drama (much of which is now made in Wales) entertainment and comedy.  Although BBC Entertainment and BBC Comedy are remaining based in London (they are now part of BBC Studios) they do make some programmes here - mostly in studio HQ2 - which in previous years would have been made in London.  Well, I say that...  Since the studios opened in 2011, the only BBC Comedy series I can think of (apart from a few pilots) that have been made in these studios were Citizen Khan, House of Fools, The Wright Way and Porridge.  And how many of these are particularly related to Manchester in their content?  Hmm.

 

The development was built (not by the BBC - did I mention that?) by the Peel Group, who describe themselves as a leading property and transport organisation.  They began in textiles in the 1920s in Lancashire.  As the textile industry declined, they moved into retail warehousing and property development.  Later they acquired the Manchester Ship Canal and its port facilities.  The Trafford Centre was completed by them in 1998.  They own several airports in the north of England and in 2003 acquired Clydeport, Scotland's main sea port.  In 2005 they took over Mersey Docks, making them the largest owner of dockyards in the UK.  In 2007 they gained ownership of about a quarter of UK Coal plc.  So - an impressive portfolio of businesses in the world of ports, airports, property development, retailing and even coal mining.  However, no previous experience in the world of television - unless they have chosen not to state that on their website.  They have however created a new division - Peel Media - to administer this development.

 

MediaCity consists of several buildings - three of which are leased by the BBC.  However, the main studio block is separate and for a while it was assumed that the TV studios here would be operated by 3sixtymedia, the company that ran ITV's old Granada studios.  More on this later.

There are three small studios on the first floor of the studio building that were built for the use of CBBC and CBeebies.  Studio HQ7 is 49 x 33 ft wall to wall and studios HQ5 and HQ6 are both 41 x 24 ft wall to wall.  HQ5 and HQ6 are the homes of CBeebies presentation and CBBC presentation and Newsround

HQ7 is the Blue Peter studio and is roughly half the size of TC2 - the small studio they had been using at TV Centre for the previous few years.  No room for marching bands or elephants in here sadly.  No room for much at all in fact.  There was also at the planning stage an area designated 'Blue Peter Garden' - but this was on a roof, so not quite what we had been used to.  No more burying of time capsules, obviously.  I gather some rehearsals were done on the roof and it proved to be quite windy.  Who'd have imagined?  The BP garden is therefore now tucked away on the edge of a landscaped area right next to one of the MediaCity tram stop platforms. The 'Italian sunken garden' (pond) was moved stone by stone from Shepherds Bush to its new location along with Petra's statue.

The peaceful oasis of the new Blue Peter Garden - right next to the MediaCityUK tram stop.  That sound you can hear in the background is Percy Thrower rotating in his grave.

In 2019 HQ7 was taken out of service for several months to convert it into a 'virtual' studio.  Thus it now shares use between Blue Peter (using a real set) and BBC Sport programmes using a VR set.

Incidentally, dotted around the landscaped area and the open piazza are a number of stainless steel bollards containing fibre links and some power, enabling cameras to be set up pretty well anywhere around the site and controlled by one of the studio production galleries.  This has proved to be useful on several occasions.  For example, Gok Live: Stripping for Summer (C4) used this facility to great effect in 2013 combining studio with live OB from the piazza.

BBC Sport has its production offices with editing and communications facilities and its BBC Sports Centre studio in one of the BBC buildings.  Many of their studio links are done on location at OBs - but some programmes such as Match of the Day used HQ3, the smallest of the main four MediaCity (dock10) studios until 2019 and now use HQ7 as referred to above.

 

 

So, to summarise the facilities...

 

The studio block has four small studios on the first floor (HQ5, HQ6, HQ7 and HQ8) - and on the ground floor, four medium to large TV studios (HQ 1-4) and two audio studios, one of which is the home of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.  This is very large - effectively a concert hall - and includes audience seating.

Three of the TV studios are almost identical in size and shape to studios 6, 8 and 12 at Granada's Quay Street building.  (4,550 sq ft, 6,300 sq ft and 7,650 sq ft respectively.)  The reason for this may in some way relate to the non-competition agreement made by the BBC and ITV when they formed 3sixtymedia back in 2000.  However, I'm afraid what seems more likely is that they simply copied what already existed at the old Granada studios because nobody had a better idea and didn't have the nous to ask current programme-makers what they considered would be the most useful sizes.  (Can you confirm the actual reason?  If so, do let me know!)

 

Of particular interest is Studio HQ1 - a very large room officially stated to be 12,550 sq ft.  Its dimensions are 124 ft x 90 metric ft within firelanes.  That's about the same width as TC1 or Fountain but 24 feet longer than TC1 and 10 feet shorter than Fountain in Wembley.  (Fountain has now in effect been replaced with LH2 - which has a working area of 144 x 103ft).  Who this studio was intended for is anyone's guess.  Since even studio 12 at Granada sat empty for most of the time over its final ten or more years there didn't seem to be an obvious demand for large TV studios in Manchester.  Indeed, for the first 2 years of operation after MediaCity opened, HQ1 was dark for most of the time.

I have heard that the BBC asked for a large studio to be included when they thought that TV Centre would be closing.  Apparently, a producer in the Entertainment department requested a studio at least as big as TC1 for shows like Strictly Come Dancing if TV Centre was no longer to be available.  However, Strictly did not move into this studio as anticipated by some but moved to the George Lucas Stage at Elstree where it remains.

It is also possible that the BBC needed to be sure that they would have access to a large studio for the coverage of general elections/Children in Need/Comic Relief etc after the closure of TV Centre.  Of course, things have since moved on.  Television Centre closed in March 2013 - and TC1 is now open again - but the BBC have used BBC Elstree D for elections and Children in Need.  In any case, as previously mentioned, the BBC have no direct connection with these studios but are simply clients like any other production company.

Well - not quite.  In the early stages of planning this project, somebody at the BBC signed an agreement with Peel that committed them to renting a certain amount of studio time over 10 years up to 2020.  This was reported to be the not insignificant sum of £82.8m.  (So, a little under half what they sold TV Centre for.)

Unfortunately, despite using these studios for quite a few shows that would previously have been made in their own studios in London, a report by the National Audit Office found that by September 2012 the BBC had underspent their commitment by half a million pounds.  They therefore had to spend more in the coming years, not just to catch up but to pay off the underspend.  I have heard (although I can't prove this) that the underspend was simply paid to Peel each year, whether studios were used or not.  Remember, this was money going to the Peel Group, whereas in the past it was money going to their own subsidiary BBC Studios and Post Production (now Studioworks), which could be re-invested in constantly improving facilities for their own use.  I have not even mentioned the cost of travel and accommodation for the various performers, producers and freelance craft heads of department who are still mostly London based.  Oh, I just have.  Public money well spent?  Well, you decide.

 

In fact for the first 18 months or so of operation only two of the main studios were fully completed.  The flagship studio HQ1 was an empty shell with no cameras, no lighting hoists and with its gallery suite unequipped.  Sports Personality of the Year came from there in December 2011 and all the hired-in lights had to be mounted on temporary trussing.  A series of Tonight's The Night was made there in 2011 and a few editions of A Question of Sport in 2012.

An 8-part series of Lotto gameshow Who Dares Wins was recorded in this studio over 3 days in October 2012.  This show was originally recorded at TV Centre, a series was then made at TLS in London, then two more in BBC Glasgow, then a series in 2011 in studio 12 at 3sixtymedia (Granada) and finally here in HQ1.  All the other studios had fully equipped lighting grids enabling a quick and relatively inexpensive turnaround but in this studio a huge truss rig had to be hired in and installed - all for just 3 days' shooting. 

 

As you will by now understand, up to the middle of 2013 studio 1 had not received a large number of bookings because making any programme in here was relatively costly and time-consuming, since it involved hiring in a load of trussing and lights.  However, in 2013 money was at last found to more or less complete the fitting out of this studio.  In August it was equipped with motorised scene hoists and lighting bars.  However, rather unfortunately, these don't cover the full working area of the studio in order to save some money.  The area about 12 feet inside the firelanes all round the studio has no lighting bars above, making the lighting director's job something of a challenge.  Effectively, any set built there is unlightable unless (guess what) trussing is used.  So, the job has been partly done but not exactly finished.  Lighting round the edges of the studio it seems is not considered terribly important.

When it opened, HQ1 had no lights available to be used by productions, forcing them to hire in whatever they needed.  In 2014, 85 Kohoutek dual-source (twister) lamps were purchased from BBC S&PP: ex-TV Centre.  These luminaires are, let's just say, not the first choice of any lighting director I know.  They were originally bought for two of the small studios at TV Centre many years ago and immediately gained a bit of a reputation.  I don't know how much dock10 paid for them but let's just say I'll bet BBC S&PP couldn't believe their luck when they managed to find somebody who actually wanted to buy them.  Needless to say, it is still necessary to hire in most of the lights required to cover productions in this studio.

 

The first transmittable TV production to be made in the MediaCity studios was the rather curious Saturday teatime gameshow Don't Scare The Hare.  It was recorded in January 2011 in HQ1 - which was in an unfinished state.  It was, in effect, an outside broadcast made on a 4-waller stage.

Up until the autumn of 2012 programmes made in HQ1 had to use the gallery suite of one of the other studios along with that studio's cameras - meaning of course that it couldn't be used at the same time.  In October/November 2012 the galleries in HQ1 were at last fitted out, ready for the auditions part of The Voice in DecemberThat show returned in 2013 and in each subsequent year.

It is fair to say that as the years have gone on, fashions in TV entertainment shows have changed and there is now a greater demand for very large sets, which require equally large studios to build them in.  So in fact HQ1 has proved to be a very useful space after all.  Productions that have used this studio have included Swashbuckle, Pitch Battle, The British Soap Awards, Britain's Brightest, The Code, Guess The Star, All Together Now, Let It Shine, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Michael Bublé at the BBC, Harry Styles at the BBC, The Goes Wrong Show, Alan Carr's Gameshow Marathon and Alesha's Street Dance Stars, which shared the studio with Citizen Khan for several weeks in 2013, each show having its set at the ends of the studio, the audience seating being located in the middle and turned around to face the right way for each recording.  Very ingenious!  Interesting to note that the two 'At The BBC' shows mentioned above were not actually recorded at the BBC.

 

 

Studio HQ2 (97 x 68ft within firelanes) was the first to be fully fitted out and opened with A Question of Sport in February 2011.  Since then, HQ2 has been booked by a number of productions including The Sarah Millican Television Programme, John Bishop's Only Joking, John Bishop's Britain, Citizen Khan, The Wright Way, the 2012 series of In It To Win It, The Furchester Hotel, Crackerjack, Sam and Mark's Big Friday Wind Up, Naked Attraction, Gino's Win Your Wish List, Cats Does Countdown, The £100K Drop and series 2 of House of Fools.  HQ2 is a useful length but the working area is 4 feet narrower than Pinewood's TV studios, which could affect the design of sets that would fit comfortably in those studios.

 

 

HQ3 (68 x 52ft within firelanes) is the smallest of the main studios and opened with cameras, lights and a fully equipped grid.  It was at first used mostly for BBC Sport programmes but CBBC show Justin's House and Frank Skinner's Opinionated have also been made in here.  The first Match of the Day came from here on Nov 5th 2011.  Its gallery suite was also used to drive HQ7, the Blue Peter studio for many months as that studio's galleries remained unequipped until well into 2012.  In 2019, HQ3 was often used by Blue Peter whilst HQ7 was being converted for VR.  Match of the Day and other BBC Sport programmes have now moved to the much smaller HQ7 and use virtual sets, thus freeing up HQ3 for other shows.

 

 

HQ4 (76 x 68ft within firelanes) was unequipped for many months and still remains without motorised lighting hoists.  It was booked mostly by children's programmes in the first year or so.  Lights were hung from temporary trusses whilst hired-in flyaway kit and rented cameras were used.  CBeebies series Justin's House was one of the first bookings and Dragon's Den was recorded here in 2012.  The galleries were eventually fitted out in the summer of 2012 - some of the kit being brought over from Quay St.  In fact, many of the lights in HQ4 have 'GTV' painted on them - having been bought by Granada Television many years previously.

The studio has had a densely packed set of trusses installed.  The light rigs for Countdown, University Challenge and Judge Rinder are all semi-permanently rigged.  HQ3 has occasionally also been used for one of these shows when recording dates clashed.  The Jeremy Kyle Show was based in this studio but was axed in May 2019.

The truss rig in HQ4.

 

 

Thus to summarise - by the autumn of 2012, all 7 studios had had their gallery suites fitted out.  Those for the four main studios are very spacious.  The only problem with them is that they are an astonishing two floors up at gantry level, rather than on the ground floor which most directors/producers/LDs etc prefer.  Not only that but because of the position of the studio stairs relative to the doors, you have to walk through the door and then the full length of the studio before descending - this on a steel staircase that rings with every step making a quiet nip onto the studio floor impossible.  It's even worse for the director or producer - he or she has to go out of the production gallery, along the corridor and into the lighting or sound gallery before making the lengthy trip to the studio floor to have a quiet word with the actors/presenters.  Quite extraordinary.

When I have lit shows at Pinewood or Elstree I have frequently nipped from my gallery to the studio floor to make a quick tweak to the lighting.  Often the make-up supervisor and designer will come into the lighting gallery to check the pictures on a grade 1 monitor.  Even in TC1 with the galleries on the first floor it is relatively straightforward.  In these studios it's a complete pain and I know many others that feel the same.

It's not just inconvenient - it assumes that all directors, producers and lighting directors are fit and able-bodied as the lifts are so far away that to use them would be completely impractical.  Also, the time it takes to get to the studio floor and back cuts into the studio day significantly.  I worked on a comedy here where the director went to and from the studio floor at least 10 times each recording day.  It took him at least 30 seconds (often more) to make the journey each way.  That added up to 10 minutes of expensive studio time.

There appears to be a considerable amount of wasted space on the ground floor of the building - the foyer is huge - so one does wonder why the architect was not persuaded to rearrange things a little and build the galleries at floor level.  In any case, Peel do own the land all around - they could even have made the building slightly bigger and done the job properly.

 

Incidentally, dock10 now own sufficient mobile audience seating units to equip studios 1 and 2 with audiences of 300 or so.  The seats are quite old and a bit tatty (I gather they are ex-Granada and ex-TVS) but perfectly serviceable.

In 2019 dock10 took delivery of 15 Sony HDC-3500 4K cameras, to be shared between the studios.  This was certainly a welcome investment.

 

In 2020 dock10 marketed the facilities as having 12 studios.  These are as follows:

 

HQ8 - 33 x 22ft greenscreen studio (newly constructed on the first floor behind HQ4)

HQ9 - The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra's studio

HQ10 - The radio/audio studio

HQ11 - The outdoor piazza (controlled from one of the other studios' galleries.)

HQ12 - 2,960 sq ft Mezzanine area.  (also controlled from one of the other studios' galleries.)  This has been used for Watchdog, Blue Peter and as a spin-off area by The Voice UK.

They are also now marketing HQ7 as a greenscreen VR studio.

 

In case you are wondering - 'HQ' apparently stands for 'Harbour Quay.'

 

 

 

Back to the history...

Negotiations and discussions between Peel Group and ITV North (the main owners of 3sixtymedia) continued throughout 2008 and into 2009.  The BBC were also involved but I gather only at this planning stage regarding the design of the studio for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.  My understanding is that they played no part in the design of the TV studios.

The studio design was, it seems, carried out by consultants TSL Systems.  I copied this from their website'The early engagement allowed TSL to advise Peel on the technical and internal architectural aspects of the design, such that Peel ended up with a facility that met the requirements of their anchor tenants.  Indeed most of the typical problems such a build would have encountered in being prepared for broadcast were solved at the design stage, allowing for completion to occur on time and on budget.'  This statement later disappeared from their website.

Reading between the lines, I can't help but conclude that the priority may have been to finish on time and on budget rather than fully consulting with the people who would actually be using the studios, which might have caused awkward delays and cost overruns.  TSL were originally asked to provide guidance regarding the costs of building the studios prior to Peel winning the contract to provide facilities for the BBC.  On winning it, Peel approached TSL to carry out the detailed design.  Quite how many currently active producers, directors, designers, lighting directors, sound supervisors, scenic supervisors, make-up and wardrobe supervisors, floor managers and studio managers were shown the proposed plans and asked their opinion is not known but I think I can guess.  If you were involved in the early design and planning I would love to hear more - confidentially of course.

 

What I have heard is that the studios were intended to be fitted out with all the latest HD and 5.1 kit, making them genuinely state of the art - as one would expect after all the fanfares.  However, the banking crisis changed everything and early in 2009 the budget for technical fitting out was severely slashed.  Decisions were taken about what was essential and what was simply nice to have, which explains why the studios opened with some not having lighting grids and equipped gallery suites.  Remember, apart from the studio dedicated to their orchestra, the BBC were not involved in any of these decisions - ITV North were the people who were liaising with Peel and TSL about the TV studios at this stage.

Although these studios were designed and built after fifty years' industry-wide experience of other studio centres, good and bad, there are several aspects of their design that many people have found somewhat surprising.  For example, gallery suites 2 floors up; no toilets close to the galleries; each studio only having one scene dock door - leading onto an internal corridor; no studio having direct access to outdoors; most dressing rooms not located close to the studio floors; dimmers on the grid instead of in a dimmer room where they can be easily accessed; and the lack of storage and props/workshop space.  (A quick look at a plan of Television Centre would reveal how all these problems could have been solved.)

 

 

At the time ITV North were involved in planning the MediaCity studios, they were intended to open in 2011 and Granada would then close its studios in Quay Street.  A site for a new building opposite MediaCity had been earmarked for them to move into so that the Quay Street offices could also be sold off.  However, on 11th March 2009 there was a surprising development.  ITV issued the following press release:

 

'ITV’s long-mooted move of its Manchester production base to Salford is not going to happen – meaning that the former Granada site at Quay Street will continue to be home to Coronation Street and other shows.

Discussions have taken place over several years about ITV joining the BBC at the massive new MediaCity development in Salford.

But Chief Operating Officer John Cresswell announced to Manchester staff today, during a visit to Quay Street, that negotiations with MediaCity developer the Peel Group have broken down.

In a statement, ITV said: "ITV can confirm that negotiations with the Peel Group over the possible move of the broadcaster's Manchester operation to MediaCity in Salford broke down this week after the developer dramatically scaled back its financial commitment to the ITV element of the project."

"As a result, ITV will remain at its Quay Street base for the foreseeable future."

John told Manchester staff that the focus would now be on ensuring that the Quay St building is fit for purpose.'

 

This decision initially appeared to leave the opening of the studios in some doubt.  If ITV/3sixtymedia were no longer involved and with the Peel Group severely scaling back its investment then would all of the studios be completed?  Peel already had a commitment from the BBC that they would book a certain amount of studio time so on this basis (apparently £82.8m over 10 years) studios 2 and 3 were fitted out.  According to press reports, in April 2009 the Peel Group were said to be trying to persuade ITV to change their minds.  This was hardly surprising as to make running the studios financially viable Peel would need regular bookings from them too.  Throughout the following months rumours began to circulate that ITV might leave Quay St after all.

 

In March 2010 Peel announced that they had appointed Andy Waters as Head of Studios.  Andy is a decent chap who had a great deal of experience as a resource manager at BBC TV Centre.  Within a few months several other resource managers from TV Centre joined him - possibly the uncertain future of TVC helped in this decision.  Whatever their reasons, although some aspects of the studios' design might not be what they would have chosen had they been involved at the planning stage, I know that they are all determined to make this studio centre a popular and happy place to make programmes.  My experience working in the studios has been very good.  The support from the studio management team was excellent and my electricians crew were young, relatively inexperienced but extremely hard working and with a very positive attitude.  It was a genuine pleasure working with them.

Some good news is that the studio management team were successful over the first two or three years of operation in persuading the shareholders to invest in a range of equipment and facilities, enhancing the attractiveveness of the studios.  It is no secret that when they opened, the studios were disappointingly equipped and in many ways unfinished.  This reputation quickly spread round the industry and did a great deal of harm.  The investment that has since taken place has certainly improved things.  It will not necessarily pay for itself directly but by making the studios a more attractive place to work will pay off in the long run.

 

Meanwhile, rewinding back to November 2010, SIS (part of which used to be BBC OBs) was given a 10 year contract to supply the studios with camera, sound and engineering crews.  They used to operate the studio at the BBC Media Village in White City that produced The One Show.  Thus 'The Studios' at MediaCity became a joint venture between Peel Media and SIS.

A familiar object, inexplicably located in the foyer of the dock10 studio block.  Since these studios are not owned by the BBC and have no connection with Dr Who, one does wonder quite who is trying to fool whom.  And why?

Note all the wasted space that could have been used to build gallery suites by re-arranging things within the building.

 

On 16th December 2010 it was confirmed that ITV would indeed be moving to MediaCity, after many months of discussions and negotiations.  The office staff and local news are now occupying several floors of the Orange tower which is the block that also houses the University of Salford.  The first local news broadcast from the new studio was on 25th March 2013.  As it happens, I have visited the ITV news studio.  As in most converted office studios the ceiling is much too low so most of the lights, instead of hanging properly from the grid scaffold bars, are tilted to one side and pushed up against the ceiling.  That doesn't look great frankly.

On the other side of the water a 7.7 acre site next to the Imperial War Museum is now the base for Coronation Street.  A production block, two TV studios and a larger exterior set than previously used were built and opened at the beginning of 2014.  Two more studios were added later.

In 2017, to cope with the extra Wednesday edition of the show, a construction workshop was converted into two new studios - 5 & 6.  The external lot was also extended and a mobile production gallery built.  This is towed around the site close to where shooting is taking place.

The Coronation St site seen from MediaCity across the Manchester Ship Canal.  Foreground left is one of the two original studios, the production block can just be seen on the left of frame and the new exterior set is just visible behind the car park.

 

The studios in the main Peel block are now being used for ITV's other productions (i.e. Countdown, Judge Rinder, University Challenge), which of course was the intention when the centre was originally designed.  It was thought that the move to studio 4 would happen in the autumn of 2012 but in fact it was early in 2013 - Countdown being the first ITV show to use HQ4 in January.  The Coronation St site took far longer to build than anticipated due apparently to some construction issues with the main 4-storey production block.  I am told that bemused MediaCity workers watched it rise in 2012 only to be dismantled and begun all over again.

 

Incidentally, in September 2012 it was announced that 'The Studios' at MediaCity would be rebranded as 'dock10'.  Possibly this was in response to the widely held but erroneous belief in the industry that the studios here are owned and run by the BBC.  They are not.  But you know that now, don't you?

 

The financial commitment for the BBC to book space in these studios was due to end in 2020.  In July 2018 it was announced that the BBC had extended its booking until March 2023 for CBeebies, CBBC, Blue Peter and Match of the Day.  (Blue Peter and Match of the Day now share HQ7, so HQ3 is no longer required by them.)  It was not revealed whether the extension was on similar terms as before for occasional use of HQ1 and HQ2 for entertainment and comedy shows.  In January 2019 ITV renewed their contract for HQ4 until 2021.

 

 

 

 

Old BBC production studios outside London

In the early 1990s the BBC had a medium sized production studio in three regional centres in England.  Five if you include the somewhat smaller one in Newcastle and even smaller studio in Southampton.  The rest were in Bristol, Manchester and the one that everyone over 40 remembers - Pebble Mill in Birmingham.  Who could forget Pebble Mill at One?  Even if you never saw it you'd heard of it.  In point of fact, it came from the foyer of the building, not its main studio but who cares?  It ran from 1973-1986 - with Donny McCloud, Marion Foster, Bob Langley, Jan Leeming, Judi Spiers, Peter Seabrook and a dozen or so other presenters who came and went.  Well, they've all gone now, the building is a pile of dust and the BBC's Birmingham operation is from somewhere called the Mailbox - although there is no production studio there, just a small regional newsroom.  That's progress.

 

Pebble Mill

R.I.P.

Birmingham's studio A was the home of dozens of popular dramas - All Creatures Great and Small, Howards' Way, Juliet Bravo, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Bird of Prey, and A Very Peculiar Practice are some examples - but many light entertainment shows were made here too including Pot Black, Call My Bluff, Telly Addicts, Can't Cook Won't Cook, The Basil Brush Show, Relatively Speaking, 4 Square, Noel's Addicts, Bollywood or Bust, two series of sMart and (who could forget?) Emu's Broadcasting Corporation.  Of course, there was also Saturday Night at the Mill and the unimaginatively named Pebble Mill - the show that took over from Pebble Mill at One (I hope you're following all this.)  High/low point of that series was undoubtedly Paul Shane's rendering of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' in 1996A quick visit to YouTube is highly recommended.

The studio opened in 1971 and was 74ft x 64ft within firelanes, so quite a bit smaller than the medium/large studios at TV Centre.  It opened with four EMI 2001 cameras which were replaced in 1983 with five Link 125s.  In 1992 Pebble Mill bought four Sony BVP-370 studio cameras and two BVP-70 portable cameras.  In November 1997 work began on a major refurbishment of the studio. It included a new production control room complete with 36-channel vision mixer, new lighting/vision control room and re-equipped sound control room with new Calrec Q-series 60-channel desk.  This £2.2 million upgrade took nine weeks and Studio A re-opened by the end of February 1998 as a fully digital widescreen facility complete with new Sony BVP-500 and BVP-550 cameras.

Despite this huge investment it was announced only two years later at the end of 2000 by Greg Dyke, the then Director General of the BBC, that the main studio at Pebble Mill would close.  (Quite a different philosophy from the fashion today where programmes are being moved from London to the nations and regions.)  Staff at Pebble Mill are said to have protested most strongly and suggested 'mothballing' the studio for a year in anticipation of the CBBC department needing a studio. Despite their best efforts and the very recent £2.2 million refit and upgrade the BBC chose to close Studio A for good.  It's perhaps worth noting that a year later the Corporation spent £1.7 million upgrading studio D at Elstree for CBBC.  So 'rationalisation' got under way at Pebble Mill and the next year Studio A was de-commissioned.

 

The following little tale will possibly come as no surprise.  It seems that the week after Studio A had closed, Countryfile had a massive story which required studio space.  Despite the fact that Studio A was at that time still fully equipped, the studio was prohibited from being used as it was 'officially closed'.  The production team therefore had to hire in an OB unit and use the 'conservatory studio' once used by Anne and Nick for their daytime show.

Incidentally - one claim to fame for studio A is that it was the home of a new kind of floor paint.  For many years all studio floors had been painted with water-based paint, with disastrous consequences if any liquid was spilled on it!  Before a new colour or pattern could be applied, the floor had to be washed and dried with special machines.  This wasted valuable time during studio turn-arounds.  At Pebble Mill they developed 'Pebble Mill Peelable' paint, which did what it said on the can.  This enabled the next floor to be painted on top of the old one, layer after layer, until it grew so thick that the cameras were bumping over the irregularities, at which time it was simply peeled off.  Brilliant.  Job done.

 

As with all the regional 'Network Production Centres', Pebble Mill also had a studio B for local news and sport.  This one was 40 x 25ft.

The Pebble Mill studios were originally intended to have a third 'drama' studio - studio C - but this was never built.  The foyer became the third studio instead, releasing studio A to make popular dramas.  At first the foyer borrowed the galleries of studios A and B but in 1983 'gallery C' was commissioned. 

Pebble Mill at One ended in 1986 but in 1988, Daytime Live was launched.  Essentially the same as Pebble Mill at One, it started at a different time and therefore had a different name.  This show also came from the foyer - now officially called 'studio C' - and was joined in 1992 by Good Morning with Anne and Nick which used a small area of this same studio.  Needing a bit more elbow room, it wasn't long before the construction of a conservatory studio within the courtyard area was completed and Anne and Nick moved in.   Both programmes were controlled from Gallery C.

The daytime drama series Doctors was also made at Pebble Mill between 2000 and 2004.  Despite the fact that there was a perfectly good television studio sitting empty, they weren't allowed to use it, so the windows of the foyer (studio C) were blacked out and that became the studio - with all its limitations.  A decision such as this clearly makes perfect sense if you are a very senior BBC manager.  Doctors also used an additional space - radio Studio 1.  This was 62 x 44ft wall to wall.

Studio 1 began as the main audio/music studio at Pebble Mill with enough space to accommodate a full symphony orchestra.  Initially, it was used for sound recording sessions plus the twice weekly live broadcasts for Radio 3's lunchtime concerts.  However, as well as radio this studio was equipped with a basic lighting grid and was used in its early years for the occasional television programme.  The studio lighting became controlled from gallery 'C' from the summer of 1983.

However, John Birt's 'Producer Choice' agenda in the early 1990's forced Pebble Mill to charge unrealistic rental rates for the studio and thus ensured that Studio 1 became too expensive for radio use.  Therefore Radio 3 moved out to Adrian Boult Hall in the centre of the city, with the newly developed BBC Resources turning Studio 1 into a full-time TV studio.  A scene dock door was added together with the installation of a more comprehensive lighting grid.

Soon after, Studio 1 was in daily use for the live transmission of  The Really Useful Show.  This lasted for three series, but I'm told that the long acoustic reverberation characteristics of the studio were not idea for TV sound.  Programmes to originate from Studio 1 included Daily Live, Anything You Can Cook and Front Room.  As mentioned above, in its final years Studio 1 was used as a sound stage for Doctors, although the associated radio cubicle continued to be used to produce Radio 4's Farming Today until the closure of Pebble Mill as a whole (in May 2004).

With the main TV studio closed and the orchestra having moved out it wasn't long before somebody decided that they might as well close the whole place down.   Local news and radio went to a building in the city centre called the Mailbox (or 'shoebox' as apparently the staff call it) and Doctors is now filmed at the 'BBC Drama Village' on the University of Birmingham campus at Selly Oak.

Pebble Mill opened in 1971, made its last broadcast from studio B in May 2004 and was demolished in 2005.

thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above info.

 

Postscript: Just when you thought it was all over... in October 2011 the BBC announced that as part of their 'Delivering Quality First' cuts they were planning to move factual programming away from Birmingham to Bristol by the end of 2012.  At one time it looked as though Doctors would be moving too but that now seems relatively secure.  Thus, no peaktime network programming is currently made in England's second biggest city.

 

 

 

 

Bristol's studio A was the home of Tony Hart's various art-based series as well as Animal Magic, The Really Wild Show, Why Don't You... and several other popular shows made by the Children's and Schools departments.

Mike Emery has written to inform me that the advent of colour in the region at the start of the 1970s led to colour programmes being made in Studio A in conjunction with the West region’s CMCR3 OB scanner. Also designated SW4 the scanner provided the necessary colour control room facilities together with its Philips PC-60 (LDK-3) cameras, which could always be recognised by their rich, warm tones. Peter Christy recalls that this was happening in the summer of 1970 when he began working there.  He remembers Going For A Song being made in colour in studio A with the aid of the OB unit.

However, this was not an ideal operation.  The OB scanner would be on the road at the weekend often covering sporting events in the region, but on a Monday morning the kit was re-rigged in Studio A to provide the output from the studio - at least until the studio was eventually refurbished in 1979/80. This included the commissioning of a colour capable control room suite and four Link 110 cameras.  A second smaller OB unit equipped with three Link 120P cameras was brought into service around 1977/8.  This was often used for the Antiques Roadshow amongst other things, and allowed the use of the Link 120P cameras in Studio A on an ad hoc basis, albeit generally in place of a Link 110.  In the early 1980’s Ikegami HL-79D cameras replaced the Link 120Ps in the OB unit, and again were occasionally used in Studio A.

In 1985/6 Studio A was completely refurbished, although the Link cameras remained.  The work included a raised roof and new grid with new lighting hoists and new sound and communications, together with a new three machine VTR edit suite with four machine capability.  The studio re-opened in June '86.

Unfortunately, in a bid to save £25 million, in 1991 the BBC announced a studio closure programme and Bristol’s Studio A was one of six studios around the country that was to close, although much of the technical equipment was in fact left in situ.  Apparently for a while it was used to house some animals from Bristol Zoo.  No, I don't believe it either but that is what I am told.  Can you confirm this???

Thereafter Studio A pretty much remained dark until 1996 when  another redevelopment of the site led to part of the studio becoming  the home of the regional news programme Points West which had previously originated from the tiny 480 sq ft Studio B.

David Croxson has written to inform me that...

'...By 1996, the BBC mooted the idea of merging radio and TV news operations and Bristol was chosen as the place to try it as both TV and radio production facilities at the centre were in desperate need of refurbishment.  So what was the scenery workshop became the bi-media newsroom and Radio studios and what was Studio A became: a 'new' TV studio, a production gallery, multi-format tape dubbing and TX area, a presentation studio and graphics area.  The old Studio A was partitioned with a stud-wall to create the new gallery and production areas, but the grid remained intact. 

To this day, the studio is mainly lit with dual-source luminaires hanging from the 1986 refit barrels.  In fact it's still possible to see the full size of the old Studio A by climbing the catwalk.  Many of the barrels above what is now graphics and edit suites are still in situ, though obviously they're disabled.  The floor-level hoist and barrel control panels have the corresponding bits covered up.  It's still referred to as Studio A and the old scene dock doors and studio audience entrance are still in use.'

David continues...

'In 2005 when I last explored, the old galleries were still there, though the technical equipment had long been stripped out and they were used for storage (mainly of junk).  When Points West moved into Studio A, Studio B closed and has since been demolished.  The area where it used to be is now a part of the car park.'

 

I have never visited myself, but I gather that parts of the BBC Bristol complex could be described as rather quaint as it is essentially a couple of streets' worth of attractive Victorian mansions all knocked together.  These old houses are to the right of the 1980s building shown in the photo above.  I am told that it has a genteel but rather higgledy piggledy feel as you walk from one house to the next, with grand staircases rising every so often to offices above.  Studio A is in what was once the back gardens of the two houses at the junction of the Tyndalls Park and Whiteladies Roads.  It had a scene dock and scenery workshop next door and a couple of quite cramped gallery control rooms in the 1st floor of these houses.  Studio B was a much smaller space and was used for the local news programme Points West and sport.

 

Of course Casualty was based in Bristol from 1987 (the first series was recorded at TV Centre.)  However, it was not made in these studios but in a converted industrial unit elsewhere in the city.  The show moved to the new BBC Wales Drama Centre in Cardiff in the autumn of 2011 - a very unpopular move at the time with many people but to be fair, it has settled in nicely at Roath Lock.

 

 

 

Manchester's Oxford Road studio A opened in 1976 with four (plus two spare) EMI 2005 cameras - the only BBC studio to have the misfortune to be equipped with them.  Actually, not quite.  Stephen Neil has informed me that BBC Norwich had to suffer them too and Robin Vanags recalls them being at BBC Plymouth, where they were in use from about 1975 - 1988.

When an Ikegami HL-79D portable camera complemented studio A's EMI 2005s in 1980 I am told that the pictures from it were such good quality they had to be downgraded by the vision engineers so they would match the rather dubious images produced by the EMIs.  However, I have been contacted by Mike Renshall who worked with these cameras and doesn't remember it like this.  He reckons the 2005s were pretty good - just like 2001s but with 3 tubes rather than 4.  Certainly no worse than the Link 110 which was mechanically poorly manufactured.  Well - maybe.  The view I have heard mostly expressed is that the 2005 produced soft, muddy pictures and one would have expected it to be an improvement on the 2001, not a backwards step.

Robin Stonestreet also thinks the 2005s weren't that bad.  He points out that recordings of The Old Grey Whistle Test, shown on BBC4, look pretty good.  Although the show was usually made at TV Centre, it did occasionally use studio A at Oxford Road.  Bands recorded here include Joy Division, The Selecta, Duran Duran and Talking Heads.  The point being that if sufficient light was used, the cameras worked well - it was in low light conditions that they struggled.

The studio was initially only 66 x 53 feet within firelanes so quite a bit smaller than Pebble Mill's studio A.  The small size of the studio proved to a be a problem - limiting the range of shows that could be made here.  In 1989 an 18 month project was begun to lengthen the studio.  The area under construction extended into what had previously been part of the car park and increased the length of the studio by nearly 40ft.  As well as increasing the floor area the height of the studio in the new section was raised too, increasing its volume by some 80%.  A new 28ft high cyc rail was installed in the newly constructed end of the studio enabling wide camera angles to be used without shooting off the top of the cyclorama.  Once complete, Oxford Road Studio A became the largest BBC studio outside London, at 94 x 66ft within firelanes.

 

Whilst the refurbishment was going on, productions moved to a temporary studio at Brunswick Dock in Liverpool where they made two series of the kids show On The Waterfront, the BAFTA Craft Awards for 1988 and a few sequences for Red Dwarf, amongst other things.

 

The £6 million re-build and refurbishment was completed by April 1991.  The old EMIs were replaced by four new Ikegami HK-355 studio cameras and three HK-355P lightweights.  (These were replaced by Sony BVP-570WSP lightweight cameras in 2000.)

Although the first programme to use the 'new' studio A was Saturday morning kids show The 8.15 from Manchester, that show had in fact had a 22 week series the year before using the scene dock between studios A and B as a studio.  Alan Yardly, director, has written to me quite rightly pointing this out.  Props cages were draped with tinsel, and one area was turned into a very effective stage upon which all the top pop bands of the day performed.  This area became known as studio D.  The scenery in the scene dock was shifted into Studio B on a Friday night, then moved back out again later on the Sunday.

 

For many years studio A specialised in entertainment and comedy.  It was the home of Michael Rodd's Screen Test, some series of  Record Breakers,  yoof programme The Oxford Road Show, The Travel Show, Cheggers Plays Pop, Fax, Jossy's Giants, Why Don't You...?, A Question of Pop, Joker in the Pack, That's Showbusiness with Mike Smith ('91-'96) and The Sunday Show ('95-'97).  Bob Monkhouse's gameshow Wipeout came from studio A before moving to Granada's Quay St studios and the first series of Pass the Buck was also made here in 1998. 

Its most famous sitcom was probably Red Dwarf (after the first few series this moved to Shepperton) but one of its other shows - A Question of Sport - is still going strong, having subsequently been made at Granada (3sixtymedia) or sometimes at TV Centre then becoming one of the first shows to be recorded in the new MediaCity studios in Salford.

Robin Stonestreet has been kind enough to inform me that studio B consisted of three elements - the main studio floor, then an annex which could be separated by a sliding sound-proof door, then the Presentation studio.  The camera for this sat in the annex looking through a window.  The annex had its own gallery, which became 'gallery C' during the rebuild of studio A. Studio B was used for Open Air and then Daytime UK.  Those shows used the regional studio in the morning before it was handed over to local news.

 

Unfortunately studio A was another victim of the Director General's red pen and it closed in 2000.  The studio's new Sony cameras were moved into the OB trucks still based in Manchester.  The BBC and ITV formed a new company - 3sixtymedia - to run studio operations in Manchester, with ITV having an 80% stake and the BBC 20%.  The BBC's studio staff, or some of them at least, found themselves walking up the road to the great rival Granada to become part of the new business.

Studio B (2,500 sq ft), continued in use for regional news and sport programmes crewed by BBC staff.  Studio A was closed completely but curiously the scene dock area - studio D - continued in use for The Heaven and Earth Show through to 2004 which was broadcast live on Sunday mornings.   These programmes were crewed by 3sixtymedia staff who I'm told particularly appreciated the 6am call time.

 

Although studio A closed completely for a few years, in 2005 it became part of 3sixytmedia's portfolio, albeit as a 4-waller.  It was then  used for shooting several single-camera dramas including both series of Life On Mars and Channel 4's Longford

The last programme came from Oxford Road on Friday 25th November 2011.  It was an edition of North-West Tonight.  All staff left the building and moved to MediaCity during 2012.  The Oxford Road building was demolished in 2013 and the land became a car park.

 

thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above info.

 

 

BBC Newcastle

photo by Gary Richardson

 

Newcastle's studio centre was built in the mid 1980s, with the main TV studio A eventually opening in 1988.  The local BBC team moved to these very smart premises from less than perfect facilities in a very old building in the city centre.  The new base was nicknamed the 'Pink Palace' (see photo above) and contains a production studio of about 65 x 40ft (2,600 sq ft) that was intended to be used for some networked programmes as well as local shows.

Rather than use a TV flooring specialist company, a local contractor was used.  Strange as it may seem, none of the cameramen knew just how flat the floor should be in the new studio as they had only been used to the old studio that had ancient floorboards under the lino.  They could tell the new floor was flat...but was it flat enough???  They decided to call for a cameraman from Television Centre to come up and test the floor.  Unfortunately, every decent cameraman was busy so they looked around for someone who wasn't doing much and sent me.  No really.

The year was 1985 and the concrete and asphalt base had just been laid.  It had to be perfectly level so that when the lino was laid on top there would be no disturbance to the picture when the cameras tracked across it.  When I arrived at the building site I expected to meet just a couple of BBC suits but what seemed like the whole of BBC Newcastle plus a dozen or so managers and engineers from the construction companies were there to meet me.  Highly embarrassed, I felt like the man from Del Monte as I slowly tracked a camera ped back and forth across the whole surface, looking for bumps.  Not as easy as it sounds, I can assure you.  It only took a couple of hours but I was emotionally drained by the time we finished.  I did find a few little ridges and holes which I think justified my trip.  Funny old world.

 

The studio, with its perfectly flat floor, went on to specialise in Children's programmes including Jackanory and, of course, Byker Grove.  To think that Ant and Dec (or 'PJ and Duncan' as they were then) trod the floor I had checked.  It doesn't get much better than that. 

Local man Gary Richardson has informed me that other network shows made in the early days of studio A included the children's gameshow Knock Knock, the regional contributions to Children In Need, daytime request show Happy Memories with Cliff Mitchelmore, and the revival of Juke Box Jury with Jools Holland complete with studio audience.  Jools of course was no stranger to Newcastle having famously presented The Tube down the road at Tyne Tees Television on City Road in the 1980's.

During this period, the studio was also used for the regional magazine programme Look North when network shows weren't booked.  When A was unavailable, Look North decamped to studio B - a much smaller space that was designed for the daily regional news bulletins.  It is large enough for two presenters complete with a scaled down version of the news desk

Around the turn of the millennium, the studio ceased any pretensions of being able to make programmes for network TV and was handed over to Look North on a permanent basis.  This saved it from closure.  It had the curious advantage of not being too big - so it could be used for a programme like this.  If it had been larger like the studios 'A' in Manchester or Birmingham it would almost certainly have been closed down for good like they were.  On Sundays the studio is also used for the regional version of the Politics Show.

 

 

 

Southampton

David Croxson has pointed out to me that like Newcastle, BBC Southampton also contains what could be described as a production studio.  The centre was built slightly later than Newcastle - opening in 1991 - but by the same contractors and within the same BBC climate of wanting to be able to produce more networked programmes from around the UK.

Southampton studio A is slightly smaller than Newcastle's studio at about 1,900 sq ft.  The working area is 50 x 36 feet with some additional space near the scene dock door.  It is apparently audience capable, has a large scene dock and store, separate lamp store and three dressing rooms.  The lighting grid has 60 motorised hoist pantographs on tracks which are also motorised for moving along the grid (that's clever) with mainly dual-source lanterns.  Again like Newcastle, there is a studio B which was the original home of the Oxford sub-opt when it started in 2000 but its cameras went to Oxford when the sub-opt moved there in 2005.  These days studio B is apparently used once or twice a year when A has its grid safety inspections, but otherwise is used as a meeting room.

Unlike Newcastle, by the time the studio was commissioned, the idea of producing programmes from smaller centres was out of favour and only one networked programme ever came from Southampton - The Midnight Hour - (unless you know differently).  Since then though, thanks to yet another BBC management idea that after a few years was quietly forgotten, they've been blessed with an excellent and somewhat over-specified news studio.

A corner of Studio A, BBC Southampton.  Smart floor!

 

Around 1988, BBC East in Norwich was also planned to have a similar sized studio costing £4m which would have enabled the occasional network programme to be made.  It was due to open in 1990.  The plans were publicly announced and featured on the local news programme.  Sadly for them it never happened (another victim of Michael Checkland's red pen) and instead they moved to The Forum in Norwich, where only a small news studio was built.

 

Of course, the BBC still have regional newsrooms in many major towns in the country but as far as production studios go there are none outside London apart from those in Glasgow, with a 4-waller in Belfast.  Cardiff's studio C1 is now closed and the much smaller studio in the new city-centre building is only intended for local programmes.

 

 

 

Current and recent BBC production studios outside London

BBC Cardiff (1952-2020)

Broadcasting House, Llandaff

image thanks to BBC Wales website

The BBC site at Llandaff was purchased in 1952.  The initial development of 6 sound studios, concert hall, technical block and offices was completed in 1966.  TV studio C2 (1,500 sq ft) came into service in 1974.  This studio was used for local news and sport programmes.  The concert hall mentioned above was also known as studio A and was large enough to house the BBC Symphony Orchestra of Wales.  This orchestra moved its home to the BBC Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre in January 2009.

The main production TV studio, C1, opened in December 1979.  It was 80 x 62 metric feet within firelanes, making the studio about  6,500 sq ft overall.  The grid had 88 motorised lighting bars with the usual BBC dual-source lanterns on them (albeit the rather less popular Kohouteks).  The production galleries were spacious and well equipped and from my experience of working there on a couple of shows it was a very nice place to make programmes.

studio C1 in 2014.  A very nicely equipped studio, hardly used at all in its final years.  I wonder how many production companies even knew it existed.

with thanks to Louis Barfe via Twitter

From 1980 - 2011 the main programme recorded here was Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley).  This series actually began in 1974 - making it the BBC's longest-running soap.  It was initially recorded in the BBC's much smaller Cardiff studio in Broadway and occasionally even in Pebble Mill.  It used to be transmitted on BBC1 Wales but transferred to S4C when that opened in 1982.  Located at the back of the Llandaff building was an exterior set of a street with some house and shop fronts but all the interiors were shot in the studio.  For many years the programme used the studio on alternate weeks, allowing other shows to use it then.  Towards the end of its tenure here it was semi-permanently based in the studio.  The soap moved to Roath Lock in autumn 2011.

In January 2011 Crimewatch UK moved its base to Llandaff.  It had to use the music studio A at first but then transferred to C1 once Pobol y Cwm had moved to Roath Lock.  The set for Crimewatch then took up residence semi-permanently in the studio.  There were 10 live shows each year plus a few editions of the CW Roadshow which used the studio for links.  In October 2017 the BBC announced that they were axing the show after 33 years.

The Pobol y Cwm set.  It was built between two office blocks at the back of the main building.

Studio C1 was home to several popular series over the years.  Most of these were for transmission on BBC1 Wales or S4C but highly regarded drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George was made here in 1981, drama series District Nurse ('84-'87) with Nerys Hughes, Tiger Bay ('96-'97) and one series of Terry and June was famously recorded here when no studio was available at TV Centre.  Mastermind was occasionally recorded here for transmission on BBC1.  Other series made in English for BBC1 Wales included the popular sitcom High Hopes ('02-'08) and musical gameshow The Lyrics Game ('03) - both suffering from lighting by yours truly.

The studio finally closed in March 2020 but it had not been very busy for some time.

 

In August 2013 the BBC revealed that it would be putting its Llandaff centre up for sale in the autumn.  In January 2015 they announced that the building would be sold to Taylor Wimpey, who would demolish it and build housing.   The new BBC site is next to Cardiff Central railway station in the city centre and is about half the size of the current building.  It houses around 1,200 staff.  Some facilities in the new Welsh HQ are shared with S4C - which now gets its funding from the licence fee.  Construction began in December 2015.  Technical fit-out, planned to take 18 months, began in 2018.

The new HQ has three TV studios, the largest being 3,500sq ft (about two thirds the size of the old studio C1).  It has a VR graphics system, as does the second studio, which is earmarked for news.  There is also a much smaller greenscreen studio.  In addition, there is a large flexible space and atrium area, fitted with a lighting rig, which can be used for programme making, plus a rooftop garden.  Around the building are 20 inject points, enabling a great deal deal of flexibility in using various parts of the building.  There are 3 studio galleries, which can control any of the areas and IP technology has been used throughout - a BBC first - enabling relatively simple upgrade to UHD in the future.

By coincidence, in the summer of 2013 ITV announced that they too planned to move their local news operation from Culverhouse Cross to a new HQ in Cardiff Bay.

 

 

 

 

Roath Lock - Cardiff

No - not the entrance to a theme park or seaside amusement arcade, this arresting façade belongs to Roath Lock, the BBC's Welsh Drama Centre.  The 'Dr Who Experience' is/was the dark blue building at the end of the road.

Chris Patten, BBC Chairman, described it as looking like a cross between the Doge's Palace and Ikea.  I think he possibly meant that to be a compliment.

Actually, having seen it myself it is not quite as - well, 'Playschool' - as it appears in photos, although it does vaguely resemble a Middle Eastern or Asian food wholesalers that you might find on the North Circular.

 

In July 2010 work began on the construction of the new BBC Wales Drama Production Centre.  Occupying a large part of the remaining undeveloped land in the Porth Teigr area of Cardiff Bay this 170,000 sq ft site now houses a number of popular BBC drama series.  Originally called 'Roath Basin', it changed its name to 'Roath Lock' early in 2011 following consultation with staff.  You may draw your own conclusions.

All credit due, the first shots were recorded only 14 months after construction of the studios began - an extraordinarily speedy process.  The studios were officially declared completely open on March 12th 2012.

Casualty, a genuine casualty of the BBC's drive to move programme making around the UK, transferred from its base across the water in Bristol to these studios during the summer of 2011, the first filming beginning on 16th September.  Pobol y Cwm, the long-running soap, (longer in fact than EastEnders) moved here around the end of November from its previous base at the BBC Wales HQ on the other side of Cardiff in Llandaff.  It now has a larger exterior set and occupies two stages.

Dr Who was previously made in Upper Boat Studios - a former seat belt factory on an industrial site at Treforest, near Pontypridd.  The BBC had leased those buildings since the summer of 2006.  That operation moved to the Roath Lock site early in 2012.  The Dr Who base at Upper Boat provided space for workshops, video editing suites, six sound stages and a large props store.   It was said to be ten times the size of BBC Llandaff.  Spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures was also made at Upper Boat and was due to transfer to Roath Lock but following the sad death of Elizabeth Sladen in April 2011 the decision was taken not to make any more.  Early series of Torchwood were also made at Upper Boat but the fourth series, Miracle Day, was mostly filmed in the United States.

In fact, Paul Middleton has pointed out that the rebooted (Christopher Eccleston) Dr Who first started at Sovereign House, an industrial unit in Newport on the Imperial Park industrial estate.  That building was first rented by the BBC in 2001 to house the BBC Wales drama series The Bench.  The building contained permanent sets of two law courts.  The show was first shown on BBC Wales but was intended to alternate with daytime soap Doctors on BBC1.  However, the production was axed after two series and Dr Who occupied these 'studios' from 2003 before moving to Upper Boat.

 

With Dr Who, Casualty, Pobol y Cwm and other dramas such as Upstairs Downstairs being made here too, it is not surprising that the centre has no less than 9 sound stages of various shapes and sizes.  Upstairs Downstairs unfortunately was not recommissioned after its disappointing second series which was made in these studios.  However, Aliens vs Wizards started filming in spring 2012.

Three of the stages are occupied by Casualty, two by Pobol y Cwm and the remaining four are used by 'transient' productions including Dr Who.

The stages here are called studios but apart from having flat TV floors they have no technical facilities and are fitted with very basic I-beam and scaffold grids so I would prefer to describe them as stages.  All are different sizes but most are the same height except for studio 4 which is several feet higher.

The dimensions wall to wall are approximately as follows:  Studio 1: 175 x 75ft;  studio 2: 100 x 60ft;  studio 3 120 x 60ft;  studio 4 140 x 80ft.  These are the stages for Dr Who and other dramas - the Tardis is a semi-permanent set at one end of studio 4.

When first built, studio 4 was fitted with a huge greenscreen which was intended for Dr Who and any other drama that needed it.  It was said to be the largest in Europe.  However, it was soon realised that this big stage would be more productively employed being used for large conventional sets - in particular those needing a lot of height.  A greenscreen was then fitted in the corner of one of the other stages - large enough, but not the largest in Europe any longer.

 

Studios 5 and 6 are both about 125 x 60ft.  These are the Pobol y Cwm stages and they have a basic truss and scaffold grid suspended over the sets.  The sets are mostly permanent - as are the lighting rigs.  Each stage has a small room on the studio floor in which the LD sits along with a console op and racks engineer.  This show does not normally have a grade so it is essential that the pictures as recorded are transmittable.  The director sits at a table on the studio floor with the PA and a couple of monitors.  The two cameras are both recorded onto hard drive and edited later.  There is no vision mixer - unlike when the series was made in studio A in Llandaff.

 

Studios 7, 8 and 9 are dedicated to Casualty.  Studio 7 is about 80ft square and has a hospital ward set in one half and the other half is used for guest sets.  Studio 8 is the most impressive on the whole site.  It is about 125 x 100 ft and contains a fully ceilinged hospital set on two floors.  Everything looks completely believable - it is dressed and equipped as a real hospital would be.  There are soundproof barriers that can be used to block doorways or corridors - this enables two units to be filming at once within the stage.  Cameras are Arri Alexas.  Casualty is shot using single camera techniques but a second camera is often used.

Studio 9 is the only non-soundproof stage and is used as the Ambulance garage although guest sets are sometimes built within it.  It is about 75 x 50ft.  Outside this stage and studio 8 are small street scene exterior sets.  On the other side of the road from the hospital on the lot is a large pub set - this is used regularly by Casualty but also sometimes by Pobol Y Cwm - with a little bit of re-dressing it becomes a Welsh country pub.  Pobol also occasionally uses one of the Casualty sets if it has a scene set in a hospital ward.

The Roath Lock studios.  The individual buildings are not all whole stages - some also partly contain prop stores and workshops.

From right to left  - the top three buildings contain studios 1, 2 and 3.  Then comes studio 4 - the largest and highest on the site.  This stage does fill the whole building.  These four are used by Dr Who and other dramas when that show is not filming.

The centre of the site is the Pobol y Cwm base - studios 5 and 6 and the exterior street set in the middle.  The houses and shops are not just frontages - some contain sets in which scenes are regularly shot.

The left hand end of the site is for Casualty.  Studio 7 is within the next building and is used for guest sets.  The large building bottom left is studio 8 and contains the main hospital set.  This is on two floors within it.  The small extension to this building bottom left is studio 9 and is the Ambulance garage set.

Outside the 'hospital' and the 'ambulance garage' are exterior street sets.  These are 15 miles apart in the story.

image thanks to Googlemaps

 

Each show has its own extensive prop store but every prop is recorded on a database so is also available to the other shows that are made here - or indeed to any other programme - at a reasonable price!  There is some cross-fertilisation of crew members too since most are freelance but most tend to work on one series most of the time.

The Crimewatch production office was located here although they used the main studio at BBC Llandaff for their monthly transmission.  On the face of it an odd choice but Crimewatch did of course film dramatic reconstructions of the crimes it covered so they were able to draw upon local expertise for these.

 

The BBC is committed to a 20 year lease costing £1.35m per year.  The construction cost was shared between the Welsh government, Cardiff council and the development company, Igloo.  They also paid £10m up front to fit out the studios.  In July 2012 it was announced that the development had been awarded the highest possible environmental and sustainability rating - and is the first industrial building in the UK to obtain the prestigious BREEAM Outstanding certificate.  This has proved slightly problematic.  At first, the stages proved to be very hot to work in as they were so well insulated and there was no conventional air conditioning.  Extra air handling ducts had to be fitted to some of them - and to the permanent Casualty set.  These still fit within the limitations of the BREEAM rules but have helped to lower working temperatures.

 

In some ways, these studios have taken the place of the old  BBC Film dept at Ealing Studios - but on a much bigger and more sophisticated scale.  The people working here seem genuinely impressed with the facilities, including those on Casualty who needed a lot of persuasion to move from Bristol.  I have visited the site and was very impressed with what I saw.  Also, all the reports I have read have been extremely positive.  There is little doubt that establishing this centre has been a success with programmes not only benefiting from excellent facilities but able to cross-fertilise experience and talent from one production to another.  This has had simple practical benefits too - for example, a prosthetic baby made for Casualty was borrowed to be used on Upstairs Downstairs.  It's all beginning to sound like the good old days at TV Centre!

Interestingly, although the site was intended to be shared with independent programme makers there is seldom room for them as the studios are busy with BBC work most of the time.  Even BBC programmes can't fit in.  The 2013 series of Sherlock was due to be made here but because it clashed with the Dr Who schedule it was made in the old Upper Boat studios.  Good job they hadn't gone back to making seatbelts.

Despite the fact that these studios were intended for single camera drama - well, 2 cameras in the case of Pobol y Cwm - the first and probably only multicamera entertainment show was recorded here in November 2013.  It was Only Connect, the very popular (in my household at least) quiz show hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell.  An OB truck was used for facilities.  It was previously recorded in Studio 1 at Culverhouse Cross.  After this one series the show transferred to Enfys Studios, where it remains.

Good luck to all those who work here.  Nice to hear a genuine success story.

 

 

 

Blackstaff - Belfast

In 1989 the BBC announced plans to develop ‘Blackstaff’ near Broadcasting House in Belfast into a 6,500 sq ft studio with work starting in February 1990.  The facility also with accommodation for production departments and support staff was completed by the end of 1991 and replaced ageing facilities at Balmoral Hall.  Development costs were kept down by purchasing second hand lighting, mechanical equipment and audience seating.  Further cost savings were made as dedicated control rooms were not built (apart from a lighting gallery), with technical facilities provided by an OB truck when required.

the Blackstaff studio - on a very wide lens!

thanks to Peter Jones

When it originally opened the Type 6 OB in operation was equipped with Thomson 1531 and 1624 cameras, although the portable tube cameras were were replaced by 1647 CCD cameras around 1992.  These cameras were all replaced in the OB unit around 1997 by widescreen capable 1657 camera heads.

Later the same OB scanner was equipped entirely with widescreen digital technology including Thomson/Philips LDK200 cameras, a 32-input DD30 vision mixer and 36-channel sound mixer.  It was the principal unit used to provide technical and control room facilities for the studio.  In late 2011 this scanner was replaced with a refurbished one with HD facilities.  10 Sony 1500R cameras are now available.

Blackstaff has been the home of many locally transmitted shows such as Nolan Live and the Blackstaff Sessions.  It has also been used to make several UK network programmes including Patrick Kielty Almost Live, Frank Skinner's Opinionated, Ask Rhod Gilbert and Question Time.  It has retractable audience seating for 290.  A new floor was laid in 2011.

It was thought for a while that the studio might have had much more network use with the increase in programmes commissioned by the 'Nations and Regions' under the current BBC scheme of things but that did not really happen until 2019.  This was when Mastermind was no longer made by the BBC but became an independent production produced by Hat Trick.  Part of the deal was that it would now be made in this studio.  It has reverted to a much simpler and arguably more dramatic set and lighting design.

 

In Broadcasting House, Ormeau Avenue, the BBC also have studio B - a 2,000 sq ft studio used for local news, current affairs and sport, and studio C - a small unattended studio with a single camera.  Studio One is an old radio concert studio across the road from BH and has been used for a few programmes including Sunday Morning Live and Sesame Tree.  There is also a small studio in the parliament building at Stormont.

thanks to Mike Emery for much of the above technical info.

 

 

 

Pacific Quay - Glasgow

Pacific Quay, formerly known as Prince's Dock, formed an important part of Glasgow's once thriving industrial docklands, being the first dock in the city to install the full range of cranes capable of lifting the heavy engines and boilers so important in establishing Glasgow's industrial influence across the world.  The cargo docks existed for more than 100 years before closing in the 1970s.  The site was subsequently chosen for the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 but when that closed it remained largely redundant until its rebirth as Pacific Quay in the early 1990s.  It covers 28 hectares and comprises a 500,000 square feet mixed-use development incorporating offices, residential, hotel, leisure and other supporting businesses. 

The BBC's HQ is a glass-fronted rectangular block, six stories high.  (Confusingly, actually five floors plus a mezzanine.)  The building is clad with a triple-glazed system, which I have read provides a natural air-conditioning system.  The interior of the building is far more interesting than the somewhat bland exterior.  Within the structure is a huge staircase, known as the 'street', that rises throughout the entire length of the design, housing some of the studios underneath and providing break-out spaces and informal meeting areas on top.  This is clearly what the architect was mostly interested in when he sat down with his blank sheet of paper, so to speak.

Making one's way from the studio to the cafeteria which is on the top floor is therefore not quite as straightforward as it is in most studio centres.  To be fair, there are of course lifts to the top floor although the complicated security pass system does mean that you might get trapped the wrong side of the door if you're not careful.

The 'street'.  This photo was taken on the first floor (actually the second floor as the first floor is called the 'mezzanine') so it doesn't show the entire height.

The interior reminds me of the turbine hall in Tate Modern - it's on a similar scale.  However, instead of a huge spider or giant trumpet, there is a massive staircase rising from the entrance on the ground floor to the cafeteria on the sixth.  Or fifth, as it says in the lifts.

 

The materials were apparently chosen to represent the history of the area - I'm told that the sandstone is the same as was used for the old dockside tenement buildings, the chromed metal represents the local ship building yards and the grey concrete blocks represent something else I've forgotten.  Sorry.

The view from the top level.  Extraordinary.  The walk from the lifts to the canteen along this walkway is not recommended for those who suffer from vertigo.

The offices on each floor open out with no fire doors or other barriers to be seen.

I gather that initially there were rules about what could be left on desks so the place didn't look untidy but from what I have seen, that rule has quite sensibly been quietly forgotten.

 

It's not only BBC Scotland that has moved to this area - Scottish Television (formally SMG), the company that provides the ITV service to Scotland, is also based at Pacific Quay next door but two to the Corporation's building.  However, STV have no production studios in their complex, just small news studios.  They vacated their central Glasgow studio centre which included a 6,200 sq ft  studio but decided that it was not cost-effective to replace it.  That old Scottish Television studio had opened in 1974 and was demolished in 2007 shortly after STV moved here.  It does on reflection seem extraordinary that a nation with such a strong sense of identity as Scotland should have not even one large independent production TV studio to make programmes for its own market.

 

Just a quick note to record that from 1957 when they were created, Scottish Television occupied the Theatre Royal in Hope Street, which they used as a studio.  Some of the programmes made there were also shown south of the border.  In 1974 they moved next door to new purpose-built studios, which in turn were demolished in 2007, as mentioned above.  The theatre was then purchased by Scottish Opera.

I'm told by Leigh Mulpeter that...

'...The rear of the domed ceiling still opens up to reveal a second FOH lighting position put in place for the studio work. This, when I last toured there, still had the Strand Patt 793 2Kw profiles in place as they were far too big and heavy for the crew to manhandle out of the roof space.  The roof opening is operated by a still beautifully intact and operational wooden block and pulley system with some very old counterweights.'

Well fancy that.

 

 

Since STV no longer have any studios, they do book studio space in the BBC's building from time to time.  As example of this is Postcode Challenge, which was made in studio B.

I have been told a story that cannot possibly be true.  As you might have guessed, PQ was designed as a 'tapeless' studio centre.  Except of course, for the first few years it wasn't and programmes made here were recorded on videotape like in every other studio at the time.  Apparently, early in its existence, a runner was sent to deliver the day's recorded tapes to the STV building 'next door' where they were going to be edited.  He duly handed them into reception and went home.  Next day there was a flap on as STV hadn't received the tapes.  It seems that the runner had obeyed his instructions to the letter.  Unfortunately, the building literally next door was occupied by the Scottish judiciary.  STV was next door but one.  The gameshow tapes had been taken in and included as evidence in an on-going legal case and could not now be released without permission from the judge, which would take several weeks to obtain.  I have yet to establish whether the runner was employed again.  More likely he was promoted and is now a producer of a Saturday night talent show.

 

The BBC's building here contains three studios, of which one is is relatively large - at around 8,400 sq ft.  It is 90 x 70 metric feet within firelanes so pretty well identical in size to studios TC3, TC4, TC6 and TC8 at TV Centre.  One might think it was booked solid making shows for Scotland - to be shown on BBC1 Scotland and STV but sadly this isn't the case.

Studio A.  90 x 70ft but with loads of elbow room.  The firelanes are the widest I've ever seen at about 8 feet!  Note the storage area at the end of the studio for the mobile audience seating.  When this is in use that area is available for props storage.  The studio also has two scene dock doors and a large scenery/props store with easy access to outdoors and lots of space for vehicles to load/unload.  All this compares very favourably with the studios at MediaCity in Salford, which were built around the same time.  The only serious drawback of the studio's design is that the control rooms are at gantry level (from which this photo was taken), not on the ground floor.

 

The main studio - studio A - is in fact occupied most of the time with programmes being made for the UK versions of BBC1 or BBC2.  Since opening in the summer of 2007, several shows have been brought to the studio that might otherwise have been made in London.  These have included Get 100 and Copycats (CBBC gameshows), The National Lottery 1 vs 100, Win Your Wish List, Break the Safe, Who Dares Wins and In It To Win It, daytime gameshow A Question of Genius, sitcoms The Old Guys, Life of Riley and Mrs Brown's Boys and entertainment shows Tonight's the Night and All Round to Mrs Brown's.  Almost all of these had the production teams, director, actors/presenters and various heads of craft departments flown up from London.  In the case of Mrs Brown of course, the cast were flown in from Ireland.  Or Florida, where I gather they live for much of the year.

I am very pleased to report that the studio staff are very friendly and helpful to those who travel up to work with them - I'm not sure I would be in the circumstances.  The local staffers must find it a bit galling to have a bunch of Englishmen coming up to tell them how to do things that they probably consider they are quite capable of doing themselves but they certainly don't show it and could not be more accommodating.

 

Studio B is much smaller - smaller than TC2, say, at TV Centre.  In 2008/9 it was decided that daytime shows The Weakest Link and Eggheads would also move to Scotland and be made in this studio.  Weakest Link was being made in a large studio in Pinewood and was completely unsuitable to be transferred to such a small room.  However, despite the size of the Scottish studio being marked out on the floor of TV-One at Pinewood so all could appreciate the problem, certain BBC managers and producers apparently insisted that it would have to be made to fit.  After several months of discussions it was eventually decided to make the show in Studio A at PQ.  Eggheads, however, was made to fit in Studio B.  By chance, the set could just about squeeze into the tiny space with a little trimming but the 'question room' - previously an area just behind the set in the same studio - literally had to become another room in the building.  Another daytime quiz show - Perfection - also made the move to Glasgow and squeezed into studio B. 

The last block of Eggheads to be recorded was in July 2018.  At that time there were several months of untransmitted editions on the shelf but the BBC mixed these with repeats of old recordings so there was no need to make any more for over a year.  The transmission time was moved around and for some periods was stopped altogether, much to the distress of the many fans of the show.  Early in 2020 no new recordings were planned and regrettably, the coronavirus outbreak made it highly unlikely that any more would be made for quite a while.  Sadly, it looks to me that this show has probably run its course although no official announcement of its axing has been made.  Nearly 2,000 editions over 21 series have been recorded since 2003.

 

When Pacific Quay opened, the BBC was plainly keen to see these studios used as much as possible and to try to get more programmes made outside London.  However, I'm not sure that making a couple of sitcoms in Glasgow that from their scripts were plainly supposed to be set in the south-east of England was quite the way to achieve that.  Similarly, I wonder if making existing gameshows in Glasgow that worked well in London was really helping to promote Scottish culture and identity throughout the UK.  I wonder how many Scots even realised that these shows were now 'Scottish?'  Nevertheless, in October 2008 Jana Bennett (Director, BBC Vision) announced  that...

'...Network spend [in Scotland] is planned to at least meet the population level by 2016, increasing from 3.3% currently to around 9%.'

She added...

'...We will double the amount of comedy from The Nations by 2012....Scotland will focus on five genres, in all of which it already has great strengths – and those are Children's, Comedy, Entertainment, Drama and Factual.'

I wonder, is it possible to 'focus' on quite so many areas of TV - that's almost all of it isn't it?  Oh yes - I almost forgot the Arts.  But Newsnight Review (later called The Review Show) and Alan Yentob's Imagine moved here too.  Anyway, there was more...

'...Scotland's in-house Entertainment business will be reinforced by the move of key returning strands. We will be making at least one Saturday night Lottery show in Pacific Quay as well as one from the independent sector.  To bolster the in-house entertainment department we are planning to move Weakest Link to Scotland.'

Anne Robinson's reaction to the move was not recorded.  Jana Bennet continued...

'...Question Time, one of the BBC's leading political programmes, will be based in Scotland from 2010.  We are planning to commission a National Lottery show from an independent in Scotland in addition to one made in-house.'

Now, pretty obviously Question Time is a show that travels the country so is not made in these studios.  As for the Lotto shows - it turned out that almost all the shows were made here - until 2017 when the BBC ceased to broadcast the Lotto draws.

What does seem odd and downright wasteful to many is that so many shows are being made in these studios that were previously made in London - but without any obvious benefit to Scotland or indeed to the BBC.  It must be costing far more, since so many of the key people involved are travelling up here from their homes around London and being put up in hotels for the duration.  The hired lighting equipment too has to be trucked all the way up the country and back again.  Local BBC staff cameramen, sound crews, make-up and wardrobe assistants, electricians and scene crew are of course employed on the shows - which is nice for them but tough on the freelance crews from all over the rest of the UK who originally worked on them.

 

It's easy to be cynical about these things but in principal the BBC is trying to do the right thing.  It can't seem right to many people all over the UK that so much of the country's television seems to be focused on London.  However, the essential problem will not go away - as has been discovered time and again; most writers and performers working in the worlds of theatre, comedy, music, film and television tend to gravitate towards London, wherever they were born and brought up.  London is arguably the cultural capital of the world, not just the UK.  There will of course always be individuals who fight that urge and decide to work in their local town or city but for most creative people the magnetic force of London cannot be resisted any more than people in similar professions in the US gravitate to Hollywood or New York.

That applies too to producers, studio directors and the various craft departments - set design, lighting, sound, cameras, vision mixing, costume, make-up, graphics, visual effects and so on - it's simply because they work on so many shows of all types that they learn how to do their jobs and are able to work quickly and efficiently to world-class standards.  If all that is fragmented then arguably the industry as a whole will suffer.

My guess (and I promise that this rant will be over soon) is that the important thing to most viewers is who the people are that they are watching on their TVs - and where the programme appears to be set - not where the programme has actually been made.  Two Pints of Lager was firmly set in Runcorn with a northern cast but apart from a few location scenes it was recorded at TV Centre.  The locations for Last of the Summer Wine were all shot in Yorkshire but the interiors were filmed at Pinewood.  Still Open All Hours filmed exteriors in Doncaster but also used Pinewood for interiors.  Does that matter?  Surely what really matters is that the culture of people who are not from the south-east of England is properly represented.

Incidentally, I'm not including drama in this.  TV drama is often written with a very strong regional identity and produced and directed by people who are proud of their local culture and heritage.  There are now a number of film stages up and down the UK where such dramas can be made, which is as it should be.  I'm talking about studio entertainment and comedy shows that frankly could be made anywhere but are forced to be made in Salford or Glasgow, even though it adds to the cost, just to tick a box.

Rant over - for now.

 

To be fair, in the past few years (I'm now writing this in 2020) there have been more programmes made here at Pacific Quay that have been originated and mostly crewed locally, which is as it should be.  However, the new BBC Scotland TV channel which was launched in February 2019 has disappointingly not generated many more local shows that use these facilities.

 

 

Anyway - back to the studios.  As previously mentioned, there are three - A, B and C.  A is about 8,400 sq ft (90ft x 70ft within firelanes), B is 2,600 sq ft (53.3ft x 37ft within firelanes) and C is just under 2,000 sq ft.  (The 'within firelanes' measurements are metric feet - i.e. 30cm.)

Originally, only A and C had fully equipped galleries.  B opened as a four-waller and until 2017 used an OB truck as a production gallery although it now does have its own galleries.  C is used for local news and sport and A, as mentioned, mostly for entertainment and comedy shows.  A is equipped with eight Sony HDC-1500 high def cameras and C with five.  The studios were designed to be 'tapeless' - in other words, all material would be recorded straight onto hard drives where it could easily be edited.  However, for the first few years of use all shows recorded onto tape and disc-based recording only started in 2012.

 

The galleries in A are large and well laid-out, although perversely located at upper gantry level rather than at ground level which would have made much more sense.  The walk to and from the studio floor is thus longer than in any other studio I know of - apart from the ones at MediaCity in Salford which are even further away.  Who has been telling the architects of these new studios that we'd like to be as far away from the studio floor as possible please?  I'd like to meet him!!!

At first glance, studio A appears to be almost a carbon copy of studios TC3 or TC4 at TV Centre.  It is almost exactly the same size and has widely-spaced long lighting bars so looks very similar.  I suppose this is a compliment to the team who built TV Centre 50 years ago - although personally I'd have preferred shorter, more densely spaced bars like in the new Riverside studio 1.

 

Lighting here is controlled by a very sophisticated data network, which as originally planned enabled 64 universes to control the three studios, presentation, reception and local areas.  Thus it is possible for a show using any gallery to control the lighting in any other studio as well as its own.  If that sounds a bit scary to you you're quite right.  I have worked there on and off since 2008 and the local data system has on occasions been very scary indeed!

 

As mentioned, the lights are suspended from long motorised bars in A (to be honest, monopoles would have been the best choice from my point of view) and are controlled by ETC Congo desks.  The dimmers are on the lighting bars, rather than in a separate dimmer room so access for fault finding or resetting trips can be difficult.  Everything is linked to the very complex data network which can make even the simplest thing - like feeding a socket with mains - rather time-consuming and occasionally prone to network faults.  I detect the influence of 'consultants' most of whom, let's be honest, seem to have very little experience of actually making a television programme themselves.

 

The lighting and scenery hoists are controlled by a complex computerised panel which reassuringly has two buttons to actually control the motion.  These were clearly manufactured specifically for this studio.  See below...

 

Studio B has a basic scaffold grid with bars about 3ft 6ins apart.  Rigging is via step ladders and scissor lifts.  (No quick relights in here then!)  There is a mix of new lights and the Colortran dual sources from the old BBC Glasgow studios.

Access to studio A is via two scene dock doors with clear access to the outside world for loading/unloading and there is plenty of space for storage.  This aspect of the building's design is excellent.  (Interesting to compare these studios in this respect with the MediaCity ones in Salford.)

I should also mention that the foyer area is in effect another studio.  It has a truss rig well stocked with lights and a semi-permanent performance stage that is regularly used for music shows.  These are mostly for BBC Alba but are also occasionally transmitted on BBC1 Scotland.

 

There is no doubt that these are mostly well designed studios and have benefited from a great deal of input from the BBC staff who moved from the old studios in Queen Margaret Drive.  In the words of Joe Breslin - staff LD at the time - "I aimed high, asked for everything, and got about 70%"  Good for him, I say.  At least they bothered to ask him.

 

 

These excellent studios have proved to be very successful and are guaranteed a long future.  I have certainly enjoyed working here.  What I would truly like to see however are plenty of shows made here by the Scots for Scotland.  It would also be good if some of them were shown on UK network TV too - but in my view they should be 'Scottish' shows, not London shows brought up to occupy the studio in order to artificially satisfy a quota.

 

There was an interesting press report in March 2020 - it seems that Entertainment controller Kate Phillips had been in conversation with Screen Scotland about the possibility of building a large TV studio.  She is reported as saying 'We're asking a wider question of whether we can build a bigger studio because until then, we are limited in terms of what we can do in Scotland.'  No site has been mentioned but the obvious place would be the grassed-over area in front of Film City (Govan Town Hall), which is just a few hundred metres from the BBC.  This site has been earmarked for a possible film stage since 2010 but so far nothing has been done.  A large stage with TV galleries attached could certainly attract a mix of multicamera entertainment and single camera drama.

 

 

 

BBC Dumbarton Studios

Above and below - the BBC Dumbarton site.  Top left is the external set for River City.  The internal sets are in the centre block below.  The one to its left is studio 1 - which is available for general hire.  Studio 2 is the lower of the larger buildings top right, the other is a workshop.

The glorious architectural splendour of the BBC's Dumbarton studios.  Lifts the spirits doesn't it.

 

Although unknown to most people living south of the border, River City is a very popular soap in Scotland.  It has been made by the BBC since 2002 and is based in studios that are a converted whisky bottling plant in Dumbarton, on the north west outskirts of Glasgow.  The site has three main stages converted from industrial buildings.  One is permanently occupied with the sets for River City and the other two (studios 1 and 2) are available for hire.  There is also a back lot with a permanent street scene set.  The site has workshops and all the usual facilities - make-up, wardrobe, dressing rooms, production offices etc.

In 2008 two stages were made available for use by other productions.  Studio 1 is 170 x 104ft and studio 2 is 197 x 147ft.  Both have relatively low roofs of only 16-22ft as you might expect from converted industrial sheds.  Studio 1 is an unbroken space but studio 2 has two rows of pillars within it, supporting the roof.  Stage 1 has been acoustically treated and both stages have a 3-phase power supply.  Neither stage has a lighting grid.

Above - studio 1; below - studio 2

with thanks to the BBC Dumbarton website

There are no technical facilities - River City is shot using single camera technique (although 2 cameras are often in use.)  The two other stages are just basic 4-wallers.  They have been used for a number of dramas and films but Channel 4 daytime quiz show Face the Clock, hosted by Ropy Bremen was also recorded in studio 1 in the autumn of  2012.  Fly-away facilities and cameras were hired in.  I'm told that the greatest problem during recordings was preventing the contestants from looking freezing cold on camera.

Since 2008 Dumbarton has been used for a number of dramas including Garrow's Law, The Deep, Hope Springs, Personal Affairs, Eagle of the Ninth and How Not to Live Your Life.

 

 

 

 

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