The ITV Top 10: 1 – Granada
3 Sep 2005 0 comments. tbs.pm/3466
On reflection, this is probably the most obvious choice for number one in our top ten of ITV companies of all time.
After all, Granada won. Once the dust had cleared following the attempt to collapse the system in 1993, there was only one possible company that would end up running almost all of ITV.
Central was better in presentation but ironically too far from the centre; Carlton had more money but simply didn’t understand television at all in any way; Yorkshire and Meridian were never serious competitors. Only LWT could have challenged for the leadership of ITV, despite their lonely weekend contract. But Granada solved that by buying LWT first.
So Granada comes first for having come first. But this is only half the story. For the rest of the story we have to examine the Granada of old – the Granada before the dreams of ITV plc spoilt the party.
For the Granada of old was always atypical. An atypical company run by atypical businessmen producing atypical programmes with an atypical eye on its atypical region.
This was a company that started in cinemas, like ABC and (sort of) Southern; but it chose the region furthest from their cinema base rather than in the heart of it.
The men in charge of the company were hard-bitten, driven business tycoons who were proudly members of… the Labour Party, and later vocal Labour peers.
The ITV contract required them to make network programmes to inform, entertain and educate; Granada did this, but added an extra step: its programmes would also provoke. Everything it produced would have an edge to it. Comedies with a social point to make. Documentaries designed to inflame. Entertainment that left a message behind. Current affairs that turned a sideways eye on their subjects.
So its programmes were never what you would expect from a bald description in the TVTimes. In describing its output, critics and historians alike would resort to describing everything as being in some way “gritty”. It was a word meant for Granada – conjuring up unexpected and unpleasant grains in the middle of something light and frothy, or the insertion of extreme discomfort into something that was suggested to be merely mildly diverting.
Above all else, Granada was the first regional-network company. It set-up shop in Manchester and immediately became part of it. Later we, and the IBA, would expect this. But in 1955/6, it was clear that the “network” companies weren’t expected to have a regional presence – after all, they could be moved to another region at any time (they thought they would never be removed completely, but exile to Norwich or Newcastle was a potent unspoken threat).
But Granada became the north. For a decade, the term “Granadaland” moved up to vie with “the Northcountry” as the term used in the south to describe any godforsaken sooty towns over 2 hours away by train. For the people of the north, at 13 million the biggest of all the regions, they became citizens of Granadaland. ABC on weekends had trouble differentiating itself from ATV Midlands because the two were both light; with no effort at all, ABC was different from Granada simply by not being Granada.
When Granada were given the 7-day contract it craved, in return for giving up the territory east of the Pennines, it became even more northern. Freed of serving the distant and depressed Ridings, it could become the Manchester-is-capital-of-the-world station. One day it woke up to Liverpool and moved some operations there for a while; but Granada’s heart belonged to Manchester and Greater Manchester’s heart belonged to Granada’s Quay Street HQ.
The atypicality extended to their on-air identity. It was colourless and, well, gritty, compared to ABC. In fact, compared to everyone else. Its continuity was designed to be a bridge between the programmes, nothing more, nothing less. Those that broke that mould, like Colin Weston, were loved only by the viewers, not by the management. Granada’s identity was its programmes, not its idents and announcers.
This worked well when the programmes were second to none.
Now Granada owns almost all of ITV; its presentation standards apply to the network in the whole of England and Wales. So the presentation has not changed: it is functional and lets the programmes speak for themselves. The difference is that the programmes are now terrible rubbish.
The exceptions are probably those programmes still made by Granada in Manchester. They still speak of the quality of Granada and provide a link to that which is now past.
ITV plc has announced it wants to close and demolish the Quay Street studios.
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