BBC to air Oxford Road Studios Celebration


As BBC North bids farewell to its Manchester studios to move into its new home in Salford, Tess Daly is to host a special programme for BBC One North West which takes a nostalgic look back at some of the classic television programmes that have come out of Oxford Road over the last 35 years.

Tess is joined for Auntie’s Northern Soul by a host of stars as they recall their favourite TV moments and celebrate the distinctly Northern flavour of shows ranging from very first Top Of The Pops and It’s A Knockout to Dragons’ Den and A Question Of Sport.

In 1973 the BBC decided to build new studios on Oxford Road in Manchester. The Prime Minister James Callaghan opened New Broadcasting House on 18 June 1976. The BBC believe that some of the most innovative TV shows of the last three decades have been produced here.

Even before the opening of the studios at Oxford Road, Top Of The Pops began life in Manchester. Sir Jimmy Savile remembers the beginnings of the iconic show which for the first three years was filmed at the Dickenson Road Studios, a converted church in Rusholme. It was here that The Supremes made their world television debut.

It’s A Knockout was also broadcast from Manchester before the BBC moved into Oxford Road. Presenter Stuart Hall, who describes It’s A Knockout as “the Olympic Games with custard pies”, reminisces about the early days. He recalls the quick work of the set and costume designers. Other stars, including Stuart Maconie, Debbie McGee and Juliet Morris give their take on the show’s huge impact as they remember the giant costumes, the famous Penguin Game and Stuart Hall’s infectious laugh.

Some of the nation’s best-loved comedians started out in the North West, from Peter Kay to Johnny Vegas, John Bishop to Steve Coogan. Caroline Aherne used to be a secretary at BBC Manchester, but her hidden talents came to the fore with the role of spoof chat show hostess Mrs Merton.

The Mrs Merton Show ran on BBC Two from 1995 and the first guest was Debbie McGee, wife of magician Paul Daniels. McGee recalls the moment when she was disarmed by Mrs Merton’s opening question: “What ever first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

Some of the programmes made in Manchester have revolutionized the way television is made. In 1987, Janet Street Porter moved from Channel 4 to the BBC in Manchester. She was tasked with revamping BBC Two to appeal to 16-24 year olds. She talks about how she wanted everything to look radically different to the way programmes had been made before when she created the programming strand DEF II, including Reportage and Rough Guide.

BBC Manchester is home to some of the most popular long-running entertainment programmes on TV. Last year A Question Of Sport celebrated its 40th anniversary. Mastermind was brought back to our screens in 2003 when it was revived by the entertainment team in Manchester and John Humphrys became the host.

Humphrys recalls how when he was approached to host the show, he thought the producers were asking him to be a contender, an offer he was sure he didn’t want to take up! Of the Mastermind contenders, he says: “However experienced at quizzes they are and however clever they are, you know they’re scared!”

Stuart Maconie is one broadcaster who has experienced that terrifying walk to the black chair first hand, when he appeared on Celebrity Mastermind. “When he says our next contender please, you feel a band of steel around your stomach,” he says.

BBC Manchester has also been home to the production team behind Songs Of Praise which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. Aled Jones talks about his own childhood memories of the series which has had such long-lasting appeal.

Tess Daly takes a look behind the scenes of The Body Farm, a new crime series currently being filmed at the Oxford Road studios. She looks back at other North West dramas including Life On Mars, Accused and The Street. Salford-born actor Christopher Eccleston gives his take on why the North West has produced so many great dramas.

“We all think we’re comedians don’t we?” he says. “There’s a great love of language in and around Manchester and Liverpool… pubs… a great joy in language and a great joy in storytelling, in conversation actually, in the sense of a community and I think writers have tapped into that and brought it to a national audience.”

As Auntie’s Northern Soul celebrates the classic television shows made in the North West, it is clear that the BBC has come a long way since its days of studios in converted churches. This year BBC North is moving to a new home at MediaCityUK in Salford for what they describe as an exciting new chapter in broadcasting, a chapter which will see the iconic BBC Television Centre in London also sold off.

Auntie’s Northern Soul, Sunday 19 June, 5.30pm, BBC One North West