The Grape Street set was the location of Coronation Street 's first permanent outdoor sets, used from 1968 to 1982. Grape Street in Manchester was a quiet thoroughfare that at the time was a public street but is now part of the former Granada Television's Quay Street studios site.
When Coronation Street began production in 1960, the vast majority of its narrative was either videotaped or performed live from the Granada studios in Manchester. In line with most television programmes of the time, sequences filmed outdoors on location were less frequent than today for reasons of cost, technical issues (the BBC for one used large unwieldy 35mm film cameras and videotaping on location was difficult because editing of the tape was a technique in its infancy), and the fact that the constant recording techniques of television series at that time necessitated the actors spending most of their time in time-consuming rehearsals for the weekly studio sessions.
The look of the Street itself had been inspired by houses in the Salford district of Ordsall which lay just across the River Irwell from the Granada studios and series creator Tony Warren and designer Denis Parkin chose Archie Street as a rough template for the look of the fictional Coronation Street. There were differences between the two though - Archie Street had no pub and there was no railway viaduct running across the bottom of the street. Archie Street did appear on screen as a panning-down shot in the programme’s first title sequence and its back alley featured in the second sequence used from 1964 to 1968
Aside from these few filmed occasions the Street as seen on screen was a wooden set with houses 7’6” wide erected inside the 60’-long Studio 2 at Granada for those scenes set “outdoors” with the cobbles painted on the studio floor and painted backdrops providing the viaduct at one end of the Street and the view of St. Mary's Church seen at the other. The set occupied a large amount of the available space that meant that its full length was rarely seen and in addition there were problems with vehicles being used on the set. An exception to this routine was in Episodes 322, 323 and 324 in January 1964 when the full length set, albeit with only the lower storey present, was erected in the studio car park for shots of singer Walter Potts being beseiged by his adoring fans. In May 1967 the scenes of the train crash over the collapsed viaduct stretched the indoor studio resources to their absolute limit and it was obvious to all that a change was needed.
The first set
As the 1960s progressed and production techniques changed, television programmes began to set more of their scenes on location. American television had long used “back lot” sets for outdoor scenes; and when production of the filmed ABC soap Peyton Place began in 1965 a purpose-built town square set was built. Two years later ATV in the UK began production of The Market in Honey Lane (later abbreviated to Honey Lane), a soap that was successful for a time and which had a purpose-built set erected in the grounds of the television company's studios in Elstree in Hertfordshire (the present day site of the EastEnders set). This set cost £20,000 to build and took a month to construct, something beyond the somewhat more parsimonious budgets allowed by Granada management at the time. However, it was the issue of the well-established railway viaduct at the bottom of the street - perfect for a painted studio backcloth - that created the main problem. As H.V. Kershaw wrote in his 1981 memoir The Street Where I Live:
- ”It was only when electronic editing was fully adopted and it became a comparatively simple process to produce our shows in pieces to be joined together by the miracle men in the editing suite, that we turned our minds to the possibility of building our Street, Hollywood-style in God’s open air. There were, however, what we thought were insuperable difficulties in finding a suitable site. Not realising that this day would ever come we had made a substantial rod for our own backs…the problem was that Viaduct Street’s far boundary was a fictional but massive railway viaduct which lay at right angles to the bottom of our street. Obviously building our own viaduct on an outside lot was out of the question but where were we to find a location with such a ready-made feature? Fate positively beamed on us.”
Kershaw went on to relate how one day (undoubtedly in late 1967) he received a telephone call from Granada’s General Manager who was aware of the location issue and asked Kershaw to join him on a walk on the road behind the back of the studio building. This was Grape Street, a quiet thoroughfare that ran between the far-busier Water Street and the equally quiet Lower Byrom Street on the south side of the Granada buildings. The General Manager took him to a locked set of gates set within a wall on Grape Street and ushered him inside.
- ”There in front of me was a large cobblestoned area bounded on two sides by a high brick wall, on a third by a bonded warehouse and on the fourth by – and I could scarcely believe my eyes – a railway viaduct.”
The General Manager had already made enquiries and ascertained that British Rail, the owners of the site, were willing to rent the space to Granada and that planning permission to erect a set could be obtained. It was decided, for cost reasons, just to erect the wooden studio street set in the yard, once it had been suitably weatherproofed. The set, purposely built on a smaller scale to fit into a studio, would be just small enough to fit into the length between the viaduct in the yard and the entrance gates. Erected against scaffolding, the set would have no roof and camera angles would have to disguise this fact, although in the event this were not always a total success as some shots in Episode 786 (26th June 1968) show as the scaffolding can be seen on occasion.
The other side of the Street in the storylines at this point in time housed the Mission of Glad Tidings and Elliston's Raincoat Factory. Whether or not the erection of the Grape Street set led directly to the storyliners deciding to rid themselves of these two structures within the narrative of the programme is not known, but the first few months of 1968 featured the demolition of the Mission Hall and soon afterwards the Raincoat Factory. As the year continued, the planning and construction of the new Maisonettes on the site provided many an episode's-worth of material for the writers. The Maisonettes themselves were a façade but nevertheless a proper brick and concrete structure, unlike their terraced counterparts across the road.
The use of the yard on Grape Street for filming outdoors was staggered and introduced over the first few months of 1968. Filming first took place there for Episode 742 (24th January 1968) when the demolition of the Vestry was shown. Careful camera angles disguised the fact that the terraced side of the street was not yet erected in the yard and for several months all shots of the Rovers, the six houses and the Corner Shop continued to be recorded in the studio. Further filming in the yard took place to show the building site of the Maisonettes as the structure was put up in real-life. The next time that the street was seen again in its outdoor setting was in Episode 768 (24th April 1968) when Ray Langton pulled up in his car with girlfriend Shirley Walton but the buildings on the terraced side were still only seen in studio. The Corner Shop façade was the first item erected in the yard for filming outdoors and seen for the first time in Episode 770 (1st May 1968) and shown regularly thereafter in this setting. The first house façade to make its outdoor debut was No.13 in Episode 772 (8th May 1968), followed by No.9 in Episode 773 (13th May 1968). In Episode 774 (15th May 1968) No. 5 and the bench in the spot formerly vacated by No. 7 was seen and one episode later the Rovers Return Inn made its outdoors debut, albeit at a sideways angle as well as No.s 1 and 3 in a scene featuring Lucille Hewitt, Gordon Clegg and Mr and Mrs Stothert. Finally, in Episode 776 (22nd May 1968) a proper view of the Rovers was seen as Annie Walker emerged from the front door. With the entire set now erected outdoors, two special photocalls were held: the first was with the cast looking on as Violet Carson showed a special award she had received on a trip to Australia and the second (from which the main photograph above is taken) was commensurate with the filming of scenes for Episode 782 (12th June 1968).
The second set
It has been stated that the ravages of the Manchester weather put paid to the plan to continue using the wooden studio frontage as it became obvious that, even weatherproofed, it was not wearing well. Some sources state they made it through just one winter before being replaced by brick however observation of the episodes themselves shows that the wooden set with its false brickwork texture was in use until Episode 925 (5th November 1969), its final appearance in black and white. HV Kershaw stated in The Street Where I Live (1981) that he was eventually given the money to rebuild the set in brick, and this was would seem to have been erected in November and December 1969 making its debut - in colour - in Coronation Street 's contribution to ITV's 1969 Christmas Day spectacular, All Star Comedy Carnival and in the programme proper in Episode 944 (12th January 1970). Indeed, it appears that it was the move to colour television that prompted the rebuild as a short article in TV Times for the week of 22nd to 28th November 1969 reported on the brick construction saying “the set looked fine in black and white but wasn’t good enough for the searching colour cameras”. Kershaw relates that this change also supplied rear walls and back yards on the houses but the incomplete roofs meant that the indoors of the structures were open to the elements however he is concatinating two events as the frontage was just that for almost two years - a frontage with no backing. Original Street designer Denis Parkin, whose memory on the subject was better than Kershaw's, was quoted in Daran Little's 1995 book, The Coronation Street Story:
- "I think it was probably about eighteen months later [after completing the original facade] that HV Kershaw found some more money and I built the backs in the back yard."
In fact, it was almost two years as the ginnels and back yards were seen for the first time in Episode 1245 (20th December 1972). Overall, the set was a vast improvement screen-wise to what had been presented in the programme before, and it also meant that publicity photographs could now show the totality of the Street whereas previously it had been supplied to viewers through drawings in TV Times from Denis Parkin and his successor Peter Caldwell or, more often than not, left to the imagination of the viewer. The absence of chimneys was, however, noted and commented on - as was the fact that the cobbles ran in a different direction to the frontage of the terrace!
Viewers clamoured to be allowed on the set, requests which were constantly denied with just two exceptions: the first was on the Bank Holiday weekend of 29th to 31st August 1970 when the set was opened in aid of charity and also to mark 1000 episodes of the programme. Well-publicised in advance: 50,000 people came over the three days and toured the small site. The second was on the afternoon and evening of 17th May 1973 to mark the start of the Manchester Festival (which also featured in the storylines of the programme).
- ”there was so much concern that someone would be injured, or even killed, falling from a wall, or the viaduct, that a viewing-hatch was cut into the gates.”
The set did present several problems. One was that its small scale meant vehicles, large trucks especially, dwarfed the houses, as noticed by many viewers when a fire engine was parked in the Street in October 1975 for the warehouse fire storyline. However, the main issue was the hatred felt for the site by the actors involved in the programme. Bounded on the east by the bonded warehouse and on the south by the imposing viaduct, the majority of the set never received direct sunlight. Its cobbled surface didn’t drain excess rainwater away and the area was permanently chilled. Jean Alexander for one was vociferous in her dislike of filming there, stating that nowhere on earth could be as cold. Podmore concurred, saying that he never met anyone who disagreed with her condemnation. He observed that on many of the more extreme occasions portable heaters were set up, just out of camera range, to try and keep the actors warm. Nevertheless Doris Speed stated that her mouth was often so frozen that she had difficulty in saying her lines.
Things improved only slightly in 1971 when it wad decided to remove the Maisonettes from the programme, feeling that they had not been successful to the storylines. They were replaced by the Mark Brittain Warehouse and the Community Centre, and the latter building supposedly had the advantage of a proper roof that provided some sort of shelter, but leakages and the constant mess made by vandals made it almost “intolerable”. Production Manager Gordon McKellar arranged for a caravan to be brought on site on filming days (usually the Monday of the week) but there was only room enough for the principal actors while extras and walk-ons had to brave the elements. Podmore made further changes when he became producer in 1976 by having a small hallway built behind each front door, complete with staircases for illusion, and within each area heaters could be provided for actors waiting patiently for their cues.
- Main article: 1982 Outdoor Set
Aside from a new frontage to the Community Centre in March 1980 the set remained the same; however, problems abounded: its scale, dampness, and issues regarding directors having to be very careful with camera angles to avoid showing the lack of chimneys and the gated Grape Street end next to the Rovers.
As a result, in 1981 the decision was taken to purchase land on the other side of the bonded warehouse and rebuild the entire set, complete with roofs and chimneys (albeit fibreglass ones) and to allow viewers to see the Rosamund Street end of Coronation Street for the first time on an outdoor location. The new set was built by Building Design Partnership (BDP) using their own three-dimensional computer-aided design system, Acropolis. 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. Construction began on 12th November 1981 while the Grape Street site continued to be used in the programme. The frontage in this latter set was used for the last time for scenes in Episode 2203 (12th May 1982) while the ginnels were seen in Episode 2207 (26th May 1982). HV Kershaw commented about the new set in the updated edition of his autobiography, The Street Where I Live (1985): "At last we had a real street!"
Demolition work on the old set started on Tuesday 1st June, the yard (and Grape Street itself) being purchased by Granada as part of a general redevelopment of the Castlefield area of Manchester. The site of Coronation Street’s original outdoor set became the entrance area of the Granada Studios tour when it opened from 1988 to 1999 and is now used as a general outdoors parking area by the company. Grape Street itself was subsumed into the general Granada site and now no longer exists.