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
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.
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
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