From May 1982 to December 2013, the outdoor scenes set on Coronation Street were filmed on a specially-built set to the south of the main buildings of Granada Television's Quay Street studios in Manchester. This was the programme's fourth set (counting the indoor use of flats for the majority of the 1960s) and the set itself saw several major changes in the thirty-one years it was in use.
When Coronation Street began in December 1960 the Street itself was represented by a set erected in the studios at Granada Television which was in reality just a frontage, less than normal scale and had the pavement and cobblestones painted on the studio floor with the viaduct at the Corner Shop end being no more than a scenic backdrop.
In the 1960s, this was a normal state of affairs for television in Britain and also meant that the programme could use the continuous recording method of videotaping as actors merely had to cross from one part of the studio to another to move from the set inside a house to the street set or vice versa. By 1968 tastes and production methods had changed and the production team felt that the next stage in the development of the programme was to have their own outdoor set, similar to that which had been built for the ATV serial Market in Honey Lane. Suitable premises were located in Grape Street, just behind Granada's studios - which had the added advantage of in-situ cobblestones and railway viaduct. The wooden studio set was erected there and first seen on screen in Episode 770 (1st May 1968). Eighteen months later, ITV moved into colour and this necessitated the set being built in brick, though it remained just a frontage for two years before the back yards and ginnel were added.
Although a vast improvement on the 1960s production techniques, new problems abounded such as the lack of drainage facilities for rainwater, the small scale of the houses being apparent when large vehicles were shown in the street and the ever-present cold caused by the set being hemmed in by the viaduct and a large bonded warehouse behind the houses. They remained only shells with no proper protection and the actors were vociferous in their hatred of the cold and damp they encountered when filming there. Added to that, the set also limited directors in choice of shots as there were no chimneys on the half roofs and the Rosamund Street end was non-existent as a pair of gates leading from Grape Street stood in the place of the thoroughfare.
A new set for the 1980s
In 1981 a decision was taken to build a large scale set with proper roofs and a segment of Rosamund Street. A former railway marshalling yard was purchased by Granada on the other side of the bonded warehouse on the then-site of Tickle Street, Camp Street and Garden Court. Construction began on 12th November 1981 after a ceremony to inaugurate the site conducted by first episode veteran Doris Speed. Original programme designer Denis Parkin was brought back in to oversee the construction and the new set was built by Building Design Partnership (BDP) using their own three-dimensional computer-aided design system, Acropolis and overseen by Ken Moth. Because the new set was full-size, the Street became longer and computer modelling assessed the effect of this upgrading on camera angles and the visual impact of nearby buildings. Producer Bill Podmore was quoted as saying the following May: "It took a lot of clever camera angles to disguise the fact when we would have, say, a fire engine on the set. But on the other hand, with the new set, we'll have to think carefully about dialogue length. It's going to take longer now for two characters to walk from the pub to the Corner Shop. It's little considerations like that that we'll have to take into account at script conferences."
The cost of the set was £170,000. 49,000 bricks were used in the construction on the facing of the houses. Behind these were 4000 concrete blocks. The bricks were specially sourced from demolition sites in Oldham, Withington, Longsight and Salford although the cobbles on the set were, like the Grape Street set, already in place in the yard. 6,500 reclaimed slates were used on the roofs of the terrace and the outhouses. The terrace itself was built in brick cavity construction on a raft slab with the slate roof on trussed rafters. A dark coloured mortar was used between the bricks for authenticity. For the first time, chimneys were seen on top of the houses but because full chimney stack supports were not built into the houses, they had to be lightweight ones made from fibreglass. The walls in the back yards were plastic to enable them to be moved aside to gain better camera angles in scenes set there.
This time the viaduct had to be purpose built however it was to all extents a flat frontage with a felted roof with 29,000 reclaimed bricks and 2000 concrete blocks. The Baldwin's Casuals factory was rebuilt but the grates, railings and stairs in the loading bay were taken from the old set. Inside the factory was a switchroom for set lighting and television crews.
One major change from the set was the rebuilding of No. 7. Within the programme's narrative, the original terrace had collapsed in Episode 492 (30th August 1965), courtesy of studio-shot special effects, and a gap had existed in the street ever since, complete with a bench. The writers decided to have the house rebuilt by Len Fairclough but in reality the new house was designed as part of an office competition at BDP and was won by employee Peter Shuttleworth who drew up the plans for a modern brick house in light mortar with Georgian-style windows. BDP gave Mr Shuttleworth a bottle of "Chateau Ogden" for his design.
Opening by the Queen
The new set was ready for filming in May 1982 and Granada took the opportunity of a visit to the Castlefield area of Manchester by the Queen in that month to ask Her Majesty to officially open the new set. She agreed and on Wednesday 5th May she and Prince Philip arrived at the studios to be welcomed and escorted by Granada executives David Plowright and Sir Denis Forman to the site which had been decorated with flower boxes and bunting.
Four members of the Coronation Street production staff were introduced to the Royal couple: Bill Podmore, long-term writer H.V. Kershaw, Denis Parkin and programme creator Tony Warren. They were then introduced to all the regular cast who were present in their best character costumes and stood outside the building where their characters either lived or worked (with the exception of Johnny Briggs, Elizabeth Dawn and Helene Palmer who were placed outside No. 7. Violet Carson had not officially left the programme but was too ill to attend). The Queen and Prince Philip walked down the street and talked to each in turn and at No. 3 the Prince couldn't resist looking inside the house to see what was contained within. As they reached the Viaduct Street end of the set, the cast followed as a group and, along with many other Granada employees who had gathered to watch the visit, saw the Queen give a look back and a nod of approval to what she had seen.
The entire proceedings were broadcast live on ITV in a special programme entitled The Queen in Coronation Street shown from 5.15pm to 5.45pm. Following the visit, filming began on the new set which was first seen on-screen in the programme proper in Episode 2210 (7th June 1982).
Changes for a new decade
For the remainder of the 1980s, the set remained superficially the same however the arrival of David Liddiment as executive producer in late 1988 augured major changes for the programme and the set. During that year, it had been opened to the public on a permanent basis as part of the Granada Studios Tour. As outdoor filming was usually conducted only on a Monday, the guests on the tour were able to walk down the street set and peer through the letterboxes and windows while on filming days they could watch proceedings from afar. The set itself wasn't seen in every episode and several weeks could pass without viewers having a glimpse of the famous terrace. However ITV had agreed that the programme would now be broadcast three times a week from Episode 2981 (20th October 1989) and to enable this to happen the cast would have to be expanded. This, in turn, meant more residences would be needed and the decision was taken to demolish the factory and Community Centre and build three new houses, a shop and flat, garage and newly-sited Kabin with two flats in their place. The demolition of the old buildings and the erection of the new were all incorporated into the storylines of the programme and were in place by 1990. In addition, towards the end of the 1980s scenes filmed on the exterior set became more numerous after the show's location work switched from film to videotape in 1988. More trials were conducted with a PSC (portable single camera) unit for the Rovers Return Inn fire episode in 1986.
In September 1990, the Stage One complex opened behind the viaduct and the programme gained its first purpose-built dedicated studios away from the main Granada complex. The production team also moved some of their offices out of the Quay Street building and use was made of the upstairs of the set for meeting rooms and costume stores. As an example, the interior of 2a Coronation Street (the salon flat) was used as a green room for supporting artists and a costume change area.
Further expansion and High Definition
When the Granada Studios Tour was closed in 1999 the exterior set was again extended and updated. The derelict Graffiti Club on Rosamund Street was revamped and reopened as a Medical Centre. A new street, Victoria Street, was built to house several shops (including Roy's Rolls) and two houses. A Builder's Yard was built on the other side of this street. To obscure one of the Granada Television buildings a new viaduct was built on Rosamund Street. This sat behind the Rovers and was parallel to Coronation Street; this introduced an error as no railway actually was shown to run behind the street but it was the best solution given the circumstances. In 2002, the programme's title sequence was revamped and showed Manchester Metrolink trams running along the main viaduct courtesy of CGI while a backdrop of a terraced street was erected in 2005 behind the Rovers viaduct allowing shots to be filmed looking up Rosamund Street and creating the illusion of other dwellings further along that thoroughfare.
Further changes occurred in 2010 when the programme went into High Definition for the first time with Episode 7351 (31st May 2010). The old fibreglass chimneys and plastic yard backwalls would be too obvious under the more detailed cameras and newer, more carefully crafted replacements, also in fibreglass were erected in their place, together with real bricks on the Rovers viaduct and the Builder's Yard, both of which had previously used plastic.
At the same time, consideration was being given to move away from Quay Street altogether. The BBC had put into place a move to MediaCity in Salford Quays from London as a cost-cutting measure and the studios in the main Granada building were falling more and more into disuse. Before long, Coronation Street was virtually the only main permanent production on the site and on 16th December 2010 the announcement was made that the programme would be moving to a new site on the opposite bank of the Manchester Ship Canal from MediaCity sometime in 2012. In the event, the programme wrapped on the old set on 20th December 2013 and began filming at their new premises on 9th January 2014. The 1982 set was seen for the final time in Episode 8338 (7th March 2014) in a scene with Chris Gascoyne as Peter Barlow.
There was inevitable speculation regarding what would happen to the 1982 with some demand for it to be preserved as a permanent visitor attraction. On 23rd January 2014, it was announced that the set would be opened for a limited six month period in a joint exercise by ITV and Continuum Leading Attractions with the dates being confirmed on 12th March as being from 5th April to 4th October. The opening was hailed a success with over 200,000 visitors and was therefore on 20th October the announcement was made that it would be extended to the end of 2015.