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Manchester on TV: Ghosts of Winter Hill

TV aerials on Manchester rooftop
Digital switchover marks a new era in television

Is Manchester the strutting, confident, creative city it is today because of television? We talk to the man behind a new exhibition which explores our past, present and future on TV.

For over half a century, television audiences have sat passively on their sofas watching what TV programme makers decide they should watch.

However, on Wednesday 4 November, the North West takes its first step into the digital age when work begins to switch off the analogue signal from the Winter Hill transmitter.

So with technology already changing our viewing habits, what does the future hold? And what part has Manchester already played in how we as a city, and arguably as a nation, see ourselves?

Granadaland

Manchester's contribution to television's cultural history is considerable: from Coronation Street to Shameless, no city outside London has seen itself on screen as much as Manchester.

In recognition of this contribution, a new exhibition called 'Manchester, Television & the City: Ghosts of Winter Hill' opens at Urbis on digital switchover day (4 Nov 2009).

Granada TV studios in Manchester

It's based on an idea by writer and broadcaster Phil Griffin. He argues that Manchester has helped to define - and has itself been defined by - the television landscape of the past 50 years.

"The television era effectively began in June 1953 on Coronation Day," he said.

"What everyone saw on that day was a young and pretty princess with her dashing husband and their two very sweet children. And, because it was television, those pictures went around the world.

"However, that collective experience has reduced and reduced and reduced over time so the sort of experience that was brought to the nation by Morecambe and Wise on Christmas Day is now so reduced that even the most popular television gets very minor audiences comparatively.

"So the collectivisation of the nation through the conduit of television is no longer anything like so concentrated. In fact it's infinitely diluted," said Phil Griffin.

Adding: "So, in some sense, I believe that one could argue that the television era is over and there's another kind of era is coming in."

Northern

The exhibition aims to tell this story through a variety of clips from programmes, rare archive images and contributions from significant figures in the television industry.

Tony Warren on Coronation Street
Coronation Street was created by Tony Warren

Central to that story is the contribution of Granada TV, one of the original commercial TV broadcasters which began to challenge London - and the BBC's - hold on television by developing a strong Northern identity.

From its purpose-built studios on Quay Street, it produced a string of landmark programmes such as World in Action, Coronation Street, A Family At War, Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, Cracker and University Challenge.

The exhibition also seeks to tell some of the lesser known, yet nonetheless important chapters in Manchester's TV history, from Granada's ground-breaking coverage of the Rochdale by-election of 1958, to the BBC's Top of the Pops which came live from a converted church on Dickenson Road in Rusholme.

Creative

But it was the very beginnings of Granada TV in 1956 that really helped to shape the independent and creative Manchester that we enjoy today, argued Phil Griffin.

MANCHESTER ON TV
1956: Granada TV broadcasts across the North West
1958: Rochdale by-election is first British election to be televised
1960: first episode of Coronation Street shown
1963: World In Action launched
1964: BBC's Top of the Pops broadcast live from Manchester
2000: channel M begins broadcasting
2011: BBC to move five key departments to MediaCityUK in Salford Quays

"In the 1990s, what we came to recognise as 'Manchester attitude' was something, I would argue, began on that day in May 1956 when, for the first time, in voiceover a voice said: 'From the North, this is Granada.'

"What happened on that day was that the broadcast media, literally for the first time, was no longer a London-based, metro-centric thing.

"And that fact that, Granada went on to demonstrate a very counter-London attitude through its current affairs coverage like World in Action and also through its dramas and rather high cultural attitude."

Adding finally: "So Manchester began to place itself in a very strong position in the world of broadcasting and I think that Manchester became an important place for the world to be looking at."

With the building of MediaCity:UK, a £500m creative centre in Salford Quays, Manchester could well find itself at the dawn of another era of television.

'Manchester, Television & the City: Ghosts of Winter Hill' is at Urbis from 4 November 2009 - April 2010




SEE ALSO
In pictures: Manchester on TV
30 Oct 09 |  Arts & Culture
In pictures: inside BBC North
13 Oct 09 |  People & Places


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