Phil Griffin on commercial TV in the 1950’s

The buildings, the sort of mission hut-type buildings that went up as Ralph Tubbs was developing the studios and the studio building, was that little complex that always had… Sidney saying. “Well, if this doesn’t work we can get out of here pretty quickly,” and one forgets how uncertain all of that was, which is why Granada me so many very clever steps, because they were… they had to, you know, the outside broadcast unit, “We really should be showing some football, shouldn’t we? Don’t they enthuse about that in this part of the world?” So yes, Manchester United vs. Real Madrid was the first football match that Granada transmitted. But then also the kind of things like, “Oh, well, we’ve got outside broadcast units here and scanners here, we’d better do something with them outside of the football season. So, doesn’t that Norman Swallow have some documentary ambitions? Get him to do something. Send him off to Rochdale and we’ll call it Wedding on Saturday.” And at that point you get the first… what did Norman call it? He used to call it ‘Cinema de Bon Chance’, as opposed to Cinema Verité, in which he sort of hated being labelled with the notion of the father of Cinema Verité. But you know, filming that documentary on a scanner with massive cameras on PEDs in tiny churches in Rochdale was a thing that, you know, there was a certain sort of impermanence to that sort of operation, there was a certain sort of, “Oh, if this doesn’t work we’ll try that.” And therefore Granada really only consolidated as a collection of buildings when there was slightly more confidence that this thing, commercial television, is a goer and we might even make some money out of it if we sustain [it]. Because bear in mind it was… the important thing probably to stress is it was an aspect of business that previously hadn’t happened. There was the American, North American, model which was looking pretty confident, which is why people were prepared to put money in on this side of the Atlantic, but if you take it that the studio complex below Granada House – the Quay Street studio complex was the first custom built studio complex anywhere in Europe – then one recognises that this was very, very early days, and that… ‘we’re uncertain but let’s go for it’, because by that time obviously the advertising revenues are beginning to feel like they’ll maintain. So it wasn’t really… from 56 through to 60 was a period of uncertainty, a brief period of uncertainty, followed by just ecstatic, “We’re on to a winner here. Let’s go for it!” And so therefore things became more permanent thereafter. So in a way, even though Granada and commercial television was invented in 1956, the impact was really up to 1960, and after that it was colossal. I mean, part of what sparked the 1960s in terms of the cultural period, an era that we now think of, was the fact that there was commercial enterprise and commercial enterprise embraced television like never before; it was something else.

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