Granada TV Chelsea 

3 August 2015 tbs.pm/6667

That most northern of companies, Granada, eventually felt the need for a southern outpost. In February 1958, Practical Television sent its anonymous correspondent (probably longtime editor F J Camm) to have a look at the building they chose to convert into a new studio in London – the former Chelsea Palace music hall. – Russ J Graham, Editor in chief

C20150623

SOME INTERESTING DETAILS OF THE CONVERSION OF THE OLD CHELSEA PALACE MUSIC HALL, NOW USED BY THE GRANADA ORGANISATION

When it was announced a couple of years ago that Sydney Bernstein’s Granada group of entertainment enterprises were venturing into television, it was expected that something original, bold and adventurous would develop – in premises as well as in programmes. It did. The Granada Television Centre in Manchester quickly arose and has turned out to be one of the best-planned television headquarters in Britain. Its design allowed for extensions and additions to stage space to be made as required, without destroying the balance of the original compact layout. Long-term planning was preferred to improvisation and expedients. The extensions are, in fact, already in hand.

Policy Change?

Surprise was, therefore, my first reaction to the news that Granada was going to turn the old Chelsea Palace music hall into a television theatre. First, it seemed to be a deviation from Granada’s original policy of centralisation, and, secondly, it seemed to be following the paths of the BBC and the other I.T.A. programme contractors, which have occupied and converted quite a number of London and provincial theatres. True, Granada had used the Chelsea Palace and other theatres for occasional outside broadcasts – but now they were converting it for television use exclusively.

The Old Music Hall

Chelsea Palace was one of the London Syndicate music halls, built about fifty years ago and “booked” in conjunction with Brixton Empress (now a Granada cinema), Walthamstow Palace (closed, but in very good condition), Metropolitan Theatre, Edgware Road (still going strongly), Tottenham Palace (now a cinema) and Watford Palace (now running rep.). All of these halls, excepting Watford, now belong to the Granada organisation, which runs an important cinema circuit, a few West End and other theatres, promotes films and live plays and is interested in almost every branch of the entertainment business. The “Stage” year book for 1912 informs us that the Chelsea Palace “bars” Battersea Palace; Grand, Clapham; Granville, Walham Green and Empire. Shepherd’s Bush. That means that artistes booked at Chelsea Palace were not permitted to accept “dates” at the other named theatres within a certain period of time before or after appearing at Chelsea. So far as the Granville, Walham Green – now owned by Rediffusion and closed at the moment – and Shepherd’s Bush Empire (now belonging to the BBC) are concerned, we should not be surprised if the tradition of the barring clause for star acts was not reintroduced.

Modifications being made to the front of the gallery, to fit Monitor screens.

Modifications being made to the front of the gallery, to fit Monitor screens.

Stars

Big star names have been a feature of the shows so far put out from the Granada Theatre, Chelsea – particularly in “Chelsea at Nine” – and there is no doubt that this London outpost of the Manchester television organisation has been set up mainly to enable London and international stars to be used without having to take them up to Manchester.

Auditorium

Many years ago I had visited the Chelsea Palace and remembered its auditorium and stage facilities. It was a well-appointed music hall with a good frontage on Kings Road, Chelsea, and a seating capacity of 1,624 persons. I expected to see many changes when I took my seat for one of the television shows. The audience is now restricted to circle and gallery, which accommodate 669. From the circle there is an excellent view of the enlarged stage, which has been made level and extended over the old orchestra pit and the first few rows of stalls. The old stage area of 2,373 sq. ft. has thus been increased by an apron stage in front of the proscenium of 870 sq. ft. for camera tracking, the total stage area now being 3,193 sq. ft. Several large television monitor sets and a number of small loudspeakers are strategically placed in various parts of the auditorium, so that everyone can see and hear what is being transmitted, including the commercials during the breaks in the programme.

Stage Lighting

Major changes have taken place behind the footlights (which no longer exist) and on the ground floor. The old pit bar is now a maintenance workshop, the carpenters and paint shops are below the stage and the old band room has been turned into a dressing room. The old gallery bar is now a wardrobe. The lighting arrangements have been extenively changed. As a music hall, the total lighting load was 50 kVA. This has now been increased to 150 kVA, with 20 kW available in direct current for arcs. That famous old museum piece the liquid dimmer pot switchboard has been superseded by a Strand Grandmaster switchboard and a modern saturable reactor dimmer board. This gives a total of 60 dimmable circuits so arranged that lighting plots may be pre-set and brought up as required. The lights used are almost wholly Mole Richardson incandescent units, both spots and floods.

Television Equipment

Pye 3in. Image Orthicon cameras are used, three being operational and one spare, with a fifth retained for maintenance rota. Houston pedestal camera dollies and a camera crane are used. Sound channels are by Pye, with an assortment of different types of moving coil and ribbon microphones of various makes. There is no telecine or slide equipment. A high quality cable route is utilised (not coaxial) to the Museum Telephone Exchange for connecting vision, sound and control circuits with Granada’s Manchester headquarters and also the ].T.A. network.

View from the gallery of a TV show in progress.

View from the gallery of a TV show in progress.

The Television Staff at Chelsea

There is now a permanent staff of over 70 at the Granada, Chelsea, and the production departments have spilled over into eight additional offices at No. 5 Chelsea Manor Street, close by. The engineering staff includes Mr. T. A. H. Marshall (engineer-in-charge). Mr. R. Cumner (supervisory engineer). Mr. M. Roberts (senior sound engineer) and Mr. J. Racket (senior vision engineer). The house manager is Mr. D. Williams and a frequent visitor is Mr Simon Kershaw, the general manager of the Manchester headquarters of Granada, and Mr. R. Hammans, chief engineer of Granada Television Network. As is usual with every Granada establishment, it has the very personal attention of Mr. Sydney Bernstein, whose interest in the smallest details of organisation, presentation and facilities is famous. I suspect that the smart grey-shirted “uniforms” of the camera and floor crews are his inspiration, just as impressive in their way as the immaculate appearance of the front-of-the-house staff and the spick-and-span brightness of paint, plaster and brass of the traditional variety theatre decor.

The Conversion

Chelsea Palace was converted from a music hall into a permanent television theatre in little more than three weeks. Work still goes on with modifications and improvements, but so do daily rehearsals and frequent transmissions. The nine dressing rooms have never been occupied by so many top-line star names before. Life is hectic for the production staff and technicians. Granada producers prefer to have a variety of small sets in their programmes rather than one large permanent set-piece for each show. Consequently, the audience in the circle can watch set-pieces, large and small, silently wheeled on and off during action, with cameras pointing in various directions, property men moving furniture or operating smoke effects, heavenly choirs chanting in one corner while a skiffle group gets ready in another. It all looks quite crazy, but it winds its way to the television screen with extraordinary smoothness. The audience leave the theatre with their heads in a whirl and sticks of peppermint rock in their hands, presented to them by genial Granada commissionaires. This was just another bright idea of Master Showman Bernstein – the name printed inside the rock was GRANADA.

Fitting the stage spot and floodlights.

Fitting the stage spot and floodlights.

Costs

The cost of running an isolated single-stage television theatre must be quite high. My guess is that the local overheads of staff salaries, heat, light, insurance, etc., of theatres like the Chelsea Palace must be around £1,000. Add to this the costs of individual shows, scripts, actors, scenery, wardrobe and music and you can very quickly run up a bill of several thousands for a one-hour programme. If the output is one big show per week, then the financial returns from the commercials or from networking the show to other I.T.A. contractors must be correspondingly enormous. Of course, other programmes of less ambitious character might be worked into each week’s schedule, but it is important that these do not encroach on the rehearsal times of the big show. This, therefore, is a measure of Sydney Bernstein’s confidence in the future of commercial television. He entered the fray with his Granada Television Network at a time when the future seemed to be highly speculative. Now the tide has turned, and backed with the high rating audience figures for the Lancashire and Yorkshire areas, he can plan even bigger and better shows from the Granada Television Centre, Manchester, and also from the London branch studio at Chelsea. Programme policy is to draw on as wide a range of entertainment as possible for the enjoyment of viewers.

A typical early programme from Chelsea included Menuhin, Charles Laughton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, a skiffle group, Edgar Bergen, and Charles Macarthy, choristers, chorus and ballet. This is certainly a wide range of artistes of top-line star quality. What home viewer could grumble at such prodigality? There will be grumblers, of course -probably those viewers who think that they, too, should have some Granada Peppermint Rock sent to them by post!

A Transdiffusion Presentation

Report an error

Author

Practical Television Contact More by me

Tags

# # #

You Say

2 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 3 August 2015 at 11:52 am

How times change. Back in the days of federal television, a northern ITV station converts a London theatre so that stars don’t have to travel up to the Manchester area. Half a century later, in times of uniformity (and conformity?), BBC moves a vast chunk of its operations from London to Manchester.

Andrew Bowden 3 August 2015 at 4:40 pm

It was a relatively short lived operation though – the building was demolished in 1966.

Your comment

Enter it below