Studio Zero 

16 March 2015 tbs.pm/6217

The past few years have seen an unprecedented and dramatic fall in the amount of studio space available in the United Kingdom. BBC Television Centre has been sold and will be converted to mostly other uses. ABC/Thames’s Teddington Studios are to be torn down and replaced by flats. Last week, the bulldozers razed ATV/Central’s old studios on Broad Street in Birmingham.

The City Road studios of Tyne Tees in Newcastle are now gone, as are the BBC’s Oxford Road studios in Manchester. Southern/TVS/Meridian’s home in Southampton and HTV’s Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff are gone. Birmingham’s Pebble Mill has gone. Broadcasting House in Cardiff will soon be gone. And Granada TV, Manchester 3, denuded of its signage, sits forlornly awaiting its fate – conversion or demolition – with Granada long gone to MediaCityUK.

MediaCityUK in Salford, Roath Lock in Cardiff Bay and an expanded Broadcasting House in London have opened in the meantime, but the square footage of studio space for television in the UK is now the lowest it has been since the ITV network was completed in the 1960s.

Of course, some of this space was naturally redundant. With the flight from the regions by a consolidated ITV, studio complexes in the provinces were unlikely to survive, although a few have managed to cling on – Anglia House in Norwich, mostly offices, survives, whilst Yorkshire Television’s studios in Leeds were marked for closure and mothballed but survived and have been reequipped for HD.

The big drama productions that were once made in television studios are now much more likely to be made on location with fill-in recording done on sound stages of the (ironically flourishing) UK film studio industry. Local production has declined to little more than news, and news studios are now intimate affairs, with the once-required large newsroom, editing facilities and film development laboratories reduced to a few sound-cameramen and reporter-editors.

But it’s easy to argue that the retrenchment in studio space has now gone too far. Martin Kempton, a busy freelance lighting director, notes on his TV studio history website that:

Setting aside those studios permanently making soaps, news, sport or daytime magazine shows – London’s main medium-to-large (6,000 sq ft and over) fully equipped production TV studios in January 2015 are at BBC Elstree (1), Elstree Studios (2), Fountain (1 very large or 2), The London Studios (2) and Pinewood (2).  Elstree ‘George Lucas’ Stages 1 and 2 have no lighting grids or TV floors but they do now have a suite of control rooms and cameras that can be used for either stage.  Pinewood’s F stage now has connections to the galleries for TV-three (the Lotto studio) but it does not yet have a TV floor or TV grid so cannot really be described as a TV studio.  There are plans to convert either stage L or M or possibly both into TV studios (they are very similar to TV-one and two) but this is unlikely to happen until the new film stages are open on the other side of the road – so maybe late 2015 or 2016.

He adds: “This is all causing real problems to programme makers and will continue to do so until 2017”. Industry magazine Variety has also noted the shortage, with the production company behind the BBC’s forthcoming flagship drama serial Dickensian unable to find studio space large enough and considering filming abroad or, as a compromise , across multiple locations but at a smaller scale.

Certain types of programming – big variety specials, plays and one-off events like the Eurovision Song Contest all spring to mind – are currently virtually impossible to mount in the UK. Instead they must be scaled radically back – and cheaper television always looks cheaper, no matter what the accountants may think – or put together in non-ideal circumstances like film studios or outdoors. This drives up the cost of these types of programming, which is one of the reasons we see less of them these days.

BBC Television Centre in 2007, by R/DV/RS on Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

BBC Television Centre in 2007, by R/DV/RS on Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

There’s also the cultural vandalism to take into account. BBC Television Centre was the heart of the British television art form. Virtually all the programmes we, collectively as a nation, have loved have been made at least in part at Television Centre. While some of the building will survive, and some media will continue to be made there, the soul of British television has been damaged.

Add to that the wanton destruction of Teddington. The studios had a history dating back to the beginnings of film making and had dominated ITV from the 1950s up until Thames Television’s demise in 1993. Even after that, they were much sort-after by production companies and loved by performers. But they sat on valuable land, and more money could be made selling the land, demolishing the studios and erasing the history than could be made from making television programmes, so off they went.

Teddington studios by R/DV/RS on Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

Teddington studios by R/DV/RS on Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

Accountants and television bosses seem to know, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “the price of everything and the value of nothing“. It is, forgive the indelicacy, purely an accountant’s wank fantasy to decide that the price of the land something stands on should be included in any calculation as to the worth of the business engaged upon it. This was not a measure that was ever even considered until the last 30 years, and it’s a measure that’s a recipe for ripping the heart out of a nation, let alone any one industry.

In the booklet reproduced above we can see the love that Granada of the 1960s had for its studios. They were a bit too small when built. They were located inconveniently for everyone, on a former bombsite on the Salford side of the border, the only building land Granada could find in 1955. They were often crowded and sometimes noisy. But they were the heart of Granada TV and they imprinted upon everything Granada produced. Granada were proud of their Quay Street studios and offices and they had every right to be, just as we have every right to mourn their passing.

You Say

1 response to this article

RB 25 March 2015 at 1:04 am

The former Granada studios on Quay Street are most definitely in Manchester not Salford.

I don’t know why you say they were inconvenient. They were a short walk from Central, Oxford Road and Salford rail stations, the Opera House and Theatre Royal and town hall.

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