Early in 1986, when I finally realised that It’s a Knockout was not going to miraculously return as a regular fixture on BBC Television, I decided to write a letter of thanks with a few questions added to the BBC in Manchester.

A reply duly arrived from Alan Wright, a long time member of the IAK production team, appreciating my comments, answering my queries and unbelievably inviting me to the BBC’s studios in Oxford Road, Manchester. I was amazed and rushed to show the letter to my parents. My Dad said, “Well, we’d better take Mr Wright up on his offer,” and off we jolly well went to the city that was the crucible of the industrial revolution.

I recall nothing of the journey and I wasn’t sure what to expect on our arrival. I have to admit that I was disappointed at the austere frontage of the large building, just down the road from the famous Palace Theatre, when we got there. However, that all changed upon entering what was to become for me a palace of the imagination.

Alan Wright turned out to be a lovely bloke. He took me on a guided tour of the BBC's Manchester HQ, taking in everything from the canteen, the radio studios, the vast concert hall to the studios of North West Tonight. Were that not in itself sufficient, we also visited a production team who were recording a situation comedy called Help! starring Stephen McGann, which has been long since forgotten.

The best, though, was still yet to come as Alan took me into the huge prop store, where I was able to view many of the sets and costumes familiar to IAK fans. You may have seen much of it in the Best of Knockout compilation programme shown on 30th December 1982 (a glimpse of what was there is shown in the picture to the right).

I was thrilled at everything I saw and heard in that odd, hushed mausoleum of It's A Knockout where so many of the the eccentric characters of the series now stood quiet. I still have some treasured souvenirs of that special day, but more importantly my visit - and Alan Wright's kindness - fired my imagination to get into broadcasting and fulfil my dream of becoming a sports commentator.

That’s my story about New Broadcasting House, Manchester, the base that became synonymous with It’s a Knockout and Jeux Sans Frontieres, but its not the whole story of the premises that the BBC vacated at the end of 2011 for a brand new, state of the art complex at Media City UK in Salford.

The BBC’s story in Manchester began in 1929, when they opened a control room in Piccadilly, while concerts, plays and comedies came from the Playhouse in Hulme. In 1954, the BBC purchased a converted church in Dickinson Road, Hulme, which had earlier been the home of Mancunian Films, whose productions had starred such luminaries as Will Hay, Gracie Fields, Sandy Powell, Frank Randle and George Formby. Such famed television shows such as Top of the Pops and A Question of Sport began their on screen lives there. Another converted church in Plymouth Grove, Longsight, duly became the home of BBC Outside Broadcasts.

The local television operation began in 1957 with programming from the Piccadilly facility. In 1969, the Manchester edition of Look North became part of the BBC Nationwide programme and, subsequently, the regional news magazine became known as Look North West from 1980 and Northwest Tonight from 1983, through which period Stuart Hall was the only long-running regular presenter.

In 1973, the BBC decided to move to new studios in Oxford Road, at the M60 1SJ postcode. The complex at Piccadilly remained operational until 1981, but New Broadcasting House as the building became known was to be the main base for the corporation's output in the north west. The site was completed and on air by 1975, but its official opening by the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon James Callaghan, was delayed until 18th June 1976.

Over the next three decades, the hours of production for television and radio increased year on year. Programmes such as File On Four, 6-0-6, Mark and Lard, Brass Tacks, The Street, On Air, Life On Mars, Fax!, Real Story, Women’s Hour, The Saturday Picture Show, Reportage, Cutting It, Mastermind, The Travel Show, Songs of Praise and the aptly named pop music magazine series The Oxford Road Show among many others came from the Manchester Oxford Road studios.
 

And it's goodnight from BBC New Broadcasting House...

 

Manchester became one of the BBC’s three main production hubs in England along with London and Bristol and, in 2011, the BBC’s story in Manchester took on a new significance with their relocation to Media City UK in Salford, a complex shared with Independent Television (ITV). This move saw many BBC facilities transfer from London to the new Manchester base including new media, religious, children's and current affairs broadcasting, sport and Radio 5 Live. Another consequence of the move was the closure and sale of the Oxford Road studios along with those of the BBC's iconic London base Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush.
 

Media City UK in Salford, Greater Manchester

 

The storyline continues apace, but what a splendid chapter BBC New Broadcasting House provided.

To end this piece, I shall include an addendum to my own special day nearly thirty years ago. Many years later, I did pursue a career in broadcasting and many times had the pleasure to again go through the portals at Oxford Road. On each of these occasions, inside I would immediately become that giddy, excited teenage boy again as I entered the palace of my imagination. How I miss not being able to experience those evocative feelings again following the closure of New Broadcasting House.

by Mike Peters