Feature: The Granada Studios Tour
If you don’t hail from the United Kingdom, you may have never heard of Granada Studios. The reality is, the Studios, based on Quay Street in the city of Manchester, are the oldest working production studios in the United Kingdom. Home to shows such as The Jeremy Kyle Show, Countdown, Take Me Out and perhaps most famously, Coronation Street, the studio has been operating since the 1960’s.
If you aren’t familiar with Coronation Street either, it is the longest running Soap Opera in the World, and a British institution. In the 1980’s, Granada TV decided that opening their backlot and soundstages, particularly the Coronation Street set, would add an extra revenue stream to the somewhat underdeveloped studios.
And thus, the Granada Studio Tour was born in 1988, and exceeded visitor forecasts in its first few years of operation. Following the same formula as bigger and better financed studio parks, such as Universal Studios Hollywood, the Park featured rides and attractions that were unparalleled in their setup and execution. It could be argued that the UK has a decidedly average and linear theme park market, and the Studio Tour offered an attraction unlike any seen before.
It quickly became a tourist mecca for the North West of England, and the City of Manchester in particular, and continued to exceed visitor projections. The entrance to the Park contained a New York, Times Square style series of facades, with actors playing New York City Police Officers, and was accented with authentic New York taxi cabs and other vehicles.
The Motion Master attraction, a motion simulator ride, set to the movies Aliens and Robocop on an alternating basis, and a 3-D cinema rounded out the entrance area. Live shows were performed throughout the day, and an extremely popular and critically successful House of Commons attraction, where guests would watch a spoof debate in a replica of the British House of Commons, was one of the many unique draws for potential visitors to the Park.
A backlot tram ride, taking visitors down a recreation of Baker Street from the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series, culminated in the tram being stopped at a recreation of Checkpoint Charlie, where the tram was boarded by actors portraying German military officers, who would interrogate guests aboard the tram.
This attraction was later dropped to put greater emphasis on the Park’s star attraction, the Studio Tour itself. This was a walking tour of the Studio’s Bonded Warehouse, a building housing a recreation of Downing Street, the Granada Reports newsroom, special effects stages and a host of other sets. The tour ended with the street set from Coronation Street, which could be explored at the guests leisure (except for Mondays, when the set was closed for filming). The street set was Granada Studios’ major draw, as many people wanted to explore the street they had come to know so well since Coronation Street began in the 1960’s.
In 1997, Granada Studios announced a first for the Park, a roller coaster. Skytrak, costing £1 million, opened in 1997, and was, contrary to popular answers such as Air at Alton Towers, the World’s first flying coaster. However, the ride was plagued with mechanical issues, often operating intermittently, or not at all, and had a very low capacity of 200 people per hour when all five single-person cars were operating, which was rarely.
With the failure of Skytrak as a serious roller coaster contender, and with dwindling investment and disrepair at the Park, visitor numbers began to plummet. Granada was also involved in OnDigital, a service similar to TiVo (for you Americans in the room), which completely failed to break into the market, and required a radical restructure of the company in the wake of this failure. By 1999, Granada execs decided that the Tour was a loss making enterprise, and closed the Park, much to the dismay of the City of Manchester and fans of the Park alike.
So what became of the Park? The Studio portion of the site is still very much in use (however is due to be moved to a site on the other side of the City some time this year), but the Park portion of the site is in a state of disrepair, with the former entrance plaza of the Park being used as a Car Park for the last few years.
For people who visited the Park, like myself, and for residents of Manchester, its an upsetting sight to behold. Many rumours of the Tour returning have swirled around for years, but none have come to fruition. Whilst certainly a loss to the theme park world, it is a loss to the UK theme park market, which is traditionally presented in a Six Flags type of format. Whilst that may be all well and good, and UK theme parks are by no means terrible, Granada Studios was a refreshing change from the traditional, and for that reason, will always have a place in my heart.