Top Ten UK TV Studios
They’re not something the majority of television viewers care about but one or two TV production centre’s become famous in their own right from time to time. With BBC Elstree recently celebrating 50 years of TV production and tonight the BBC airing a farewell to their Manchester facilities, Oxford Road, here’s ten of the most famous…
10 Riverside Studios
This makes the list solely thanks, it seems, to featuring every week in the opening titles to TFI Friday with Chris Evans.
These facilities also started out as movie studios in the 1930s, but moved into television when the BBC bought the complex in the 1950s. Early episodes of Doctor Who were recorded at the Riverside, along with other shows such as Play School and some of Hancock’s Half Hour. In 1975 the studios became an independent production centre, and in recent years were back in the limelight with music show CD:UK and as we say, TFI Friday which ran from 1996 to 2000. The studios appearing every week for the entire run in the opening sequence.
9 BBC Television Theatre
Certainly an odd choice, but seemingly remembered by the British public thanks to frequent name checks of the location by Terry Wogan, who hosted his thrice-weekly chat show from the television theatre for most of its run. Built in 1903 the variety theatre, named The Shepherds Bush Empire, became home to the BBC in 1953.
The beeb re-branded the empire as the BBC Television Theatre and it became home to a host of well known, and indeed well loved, productions. The legendary music show The Old Grey Whistle Test, The Generation Game, Jim’ll Fix It, The Frost Report and That’s Life! were all produced here. It also rivalled ATV Elstree with variety and entertainment series starring the likes of Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey, Harry Secombe, Ken Dodd, Les Dawson and Lulu to name only a few.
A famous BBC strike in the late 1980s saw That’s Life! air from the Wogan set, with Esther Rantzen covering up the Wogan logo. The theatre also featured externally for special occasions, such as the last Wogan from the theatre, and celebrating the first anniversary of the chat show along with EastEnders, balloons were released from the roof. The BBC left in 1991 and its currently an O2 music venue.
8 Teddington Studios
Most famous it seems for their association with Thames Television, however they’d been around since the early days of movie making in Britain. Under Thames the centre became home to series such as The Benny Hill Show, This Is Your Life, Opportunity Knocks, Bless This House and Tommy Cooper.
The studios continue to operate today as part of the Pinewood Studios Group. Recent series made here include Harry Hill’s TV Burp, My Family, Birds of a Feather and Not Going Out.
Several names given for this complex, ranging from their current name of The London Studios to Kent House (the original name) LWT Tower, London Weekend Studios and Southbank Studios.
Built by London Weekend Television they became home to some of the biggest showbiz names upon opening in 1972. The studios today are currently the HQ of ITV. Programmes to feature the ‘famous LWT tower’ include The Dame Edna Experience and The Stanley Baxter Picture Show. Programmes produced here range from Upstairs Downstairs to Blind Date.
6 Tyne Tees City Road
Opened in 1959 these studios were based in a converted warehouse initially. It was the later extension to the complex that would however become its famous focal point.
In 1982, with the launch of Channel 4, came a new music and comedy show – The Tube. The series named after the tubular-entrance to Tyne Tees Television. It featured in the opening titles and regularly within the broadcasts itself. Other programmes made at Tyne Tees include game show Crosswits, children’s series’ Supergran and Gimmie 5 as well as numerous dramas including the Catherine Cookson seires of stories. It’s also noted that Coronation Street was made here for a time while Granada’s studios were out of service. The building was demolished in 2010.
5 Granada Television Quay Street
The first purpose built studios in the UK were constructed by Granada Television in Manchester. Opened in 1956 they would become home to the most well known continuous drama series in the world – Coronation Street. It’s this show that has made the studios well known around the world, so much so that for a decade the Quay Street complex operated a spin-off venture the Granada Studios Tours, allowing fans to visit the street and many other television-themed attractions.
Other programmes to come from Quay Street include World In Action, The Jeremy Kyle Show, A Family at War and Crown Court. The studios future is currently in doubt with Granada relocating to Salford Quays in the near future.
4 Elstree Studios
Some people seem to think Big Brother is produced at BBC Elstree which made for some confusion when putting this top ten together. Big Brother actually was produced at the nearby Elstree Film Studios. However BBC Elstree celebrated 50 years of TV production in April this year, and its been home to equally as popular programming.
Opened as a TV Studio in 1961 it had previously been a film production centre since the early days of movies. ATV transformed it into a television centre, and their production HQ after years of operating make-shift studios in converted cinemas. Elstree was ATV’s pride and joy, it was their key facilities. In fact ATV had little interest in the Midlands and London was the operation they had their heart in.
However the IBA had other ideas, and eventually ATV was soley a broadcaster to the Midlands. Not how they’d planned it, attempts to buy LWT failed, but one thing that remained was Elstree being their core production centre – ATV’s downfall in the end as they lost their ITV licence entirely. The BBC stepped in and in 1983 took over the studios. They’re now possibly famous thanks to the top rating soap, EastEnders. Other shows made here over the years include Top of The Pops, Emergency Ward 10, Celebrity Squares and ITV’s Morecambe and Wise shows. The studios are seen every week in medical saga, Holby City which uses the office block as its hospital double.
3 Alexandra Palace
Not surprising really that this location would feature somewhere in the top ten. Alexandra Palace leased a small section of the building to the BBC in 1935 and a year later the first regular television service in the world began.
In the early years it was home to all kinds of programming, including live dramas and variety shows. By the 1960s however, with the introduction of TV Centre, the Palace studios were reserved for News, current affairs and educational productions. In 1969 news and current affairs departed, leaving only the educational output, which also relocated in 1983. Since then the studios have remained ‘untouched’ and now form part of a television tour. The mast, designed by Charles Samuel Franklin and which featured for years in the opening titles to BBC News, still stands and still broadcasts TV and radio signals.
2 Pebble Mill
Another from the beeb, which has left a lasting memory with viewers. The TV studios became the most famous in the Midlands over their three decades in service. Opened in 1971 the studios became home to networked drama, entertainment and factual productions. They also became the home to some BBC radio programming, including The Archers.
The show that put these studios name on the map would possibly be the daily chat show Pebble Mill at One, which launched in 1972, was renamed Daytime Live in 1987, spent a while called Scene Today (All due to not airing at 1pm anymore) before wisdom finally saw the show restored to being called just, Pebble Mill. For all of its original run the studios featured in the opening sequence and as part of the show itself – which came from the foyer of ‘the Mill’.
Other programmes made here include Doctors, Telly Addicts, some Doctor Who, Good Morning with Anne and Nick, Howard’s Way and All Creatures Great and Small. The studios closed in 2004, and have since been entirely demolished.
1 BBC Television Centre
This survey was conducted before the recent confirmation that TV Centre is to be definitely sold off. It shows that the HQ of the BBC is as well known as the corporation itself. Digital Spy recently called TV Centre a ‘figurehead’ – which shows some even think of it as a real person.
TV Centre, opened in 1960, has featured in many productions over the years, ranging from opening shots for Children In Need and Comic Relief, outdoor music performances in Top of the Pops and challenges in Record Breakers with Roy Castle.
Des Lynam with computer trickery fell through the roof of the studios in How Do They Do That? while Phillip Schofield dangled down the studio wall for Going Live! Its follow on series, Live and Kicking featured a computer generated version of TV Centre as its opening titles… no wonder its famous…
The building’s most iconic section is its ‘circular’ office block that links to the studios, often called ‘the doughnut’
Oxford Road TV Documentary Footnote
Interesting that despite being home to some of the most famous BBC productions over the years, including It’s A Knockout, A Question of Sport and Mastermind, BBC Manchester’s Piccadily Studios were not featured at all. With Oxford Road they just missed our top ten. The BBC Piccadily facilities, used from 1957 to 1975, were right in the heart of Manchester city centre, and famously seen around the world when the Woolworths next door burned down. (The BBC had left a few years earlier, but the logo at that point remained on the building).
Auntie’s Northern Soul, the story of Manchester’s Oxford Road Studios, airs today at 5.30pm, BBC One North West