The HBO Of Manchester
I know this site is London-centric, so today let’s broaden the subject matter.
Granada Television has often been described as the best television company in the world, with good reason. Founded in 1930 by Sidney Bernstein and his brother Cecil and began serving Manchester and the North West of England in 1954, when it quickly became famous for having a strong Northern identity, and for having the best production values in its dramas.
The North had always been a closely knit, indigenous, industrial society; a homogeneous cultural group with a good record for music, theatre, literature and newspapers, not found elsewhere in this island except in parts of Scotland. The Bernsteins recognised that its viewers wanted quality drama rather than the kind of flashy, trashy shows ITV was producing in the South.
However, it did have a soap opera – Coronation Street, most likely taken from Bill Naughton’s hit play ‘June Evening’ nine months before it started airing. Naughton had good reason to be convinced that Granada stole his idea of setting a story around a single fictitious Lancashire Street with a corner shop. They also had a few game shows, like ‘Criss Cross Quiz’ and the more upmarket ‘University Challenge’, which to my knowledge is still running.
‘Seven Up’, ‘World In Action’ and ‘The Disappearing World’ were among its biggest factual hits. But it was the drama that really stood out. In its golden heyday, before the failure of ITV Digital smashed its value to almost nothing ten years ago, Granada produced ‘Brideshead Revisited’, the definitive ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘The Jewel In The Crown’, the surreal ‘The Corridor People’, and two brilliant but almost forgotten serials that adapted JB Priestley novels, ‘Lost Empires’, which starred a 25 year-old Colin Firth, and the marvellous ‘The Good Companions’. These were programmes which prided themselves on good writing, expensive production design and top-class actors like Sir Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Claire Bloom.
Now the company has been forced to scale down, and its glory years are largely behind it, but many of its greatest successes can be found online or as box sets.