The Big Night

Our series looking at the first year of Granada sees opening night upon us

Year One cover
From ‘Year One’, published by Granada in 1957

ON May 3, 1956, at 7.30 p.m., Granada TV Network went on the air with this opening announcement: ‘From the North, this is Granada — on Channel 9. A year ago Granada was a blue-print, a promise. Tonight the North has a new television service created by the devotion and hard work of thousands of Northerners and friends from all over the world. Come with us now — to meet the people.’

This expressed the mood of Granada’s approach. The new service was for the people — and so Granada’s first programme featured the people. Quentin Reynolds, the American writer, known to millions in Britain for his wartime broadcasts, introduced some of the people who had worked behind the scenes to put Granada on the air — the building foreman, the architect, a telephone operator and an engineer, for example. Then he introduced the Lord Mayor of Manchester (Alderman Tom Regan) and the Chairman of the Independent Television Authority (Sir Kenneth Clark). Jack Hylton and Gracie Fields brought the friendly greetings of people in show business. But there was no long, pretentious inaugural ceremony.

Granada then presented a typical evening’s viewing — the aim being to show viewers what they could normally expect to see rather than to raise false hopes by the presentation of the extravagant and the spectacular. The evening’s viewing included a variety programme, ‘London salutes Lancashire’, featuring Arthur Askey, Bob Monkhouse and Dennis Goodwin, Pat Kirkwood and Lena Horne.

A map of the Granada region
‘Granadaland’ after the opening of Emley Moor (serving western Yorkshire) in November 1956 and Scarborough (serving that town and its environs) in 1965

At the end of the evening, Granada presented ‘Tribute to the BBC’. This was an acknowledgment of the debt which television in Britain and the world owes to the pioneers who at Alexandra Palace initiated and evolved public-service television. This programme was produced by the BBC and compered by Aidan Crawley. Among those taking part were Sir George Barnes, then head of BBC Television, Gilbert Harding, and Sir Mortimer Wheeler.

TV and radio listings for Granada's launch night

‘For most of you tonight’, said an announcer, ‘Independent Television has been a new experience.That evening, too, Granada faced its most controversial task — the presentation of advertising to people who had never before seen it on television: on their approval or disapproval hung the future of the new service.

‘We have brought advertisements to your television screens at home. We think you will like them, not only because they are entertaining but because they are informative. Products and services, whose names you will be seeing, are a guide to sensible buying and will help you to get value for your money. Television advertisers have faith and pride in what they offer. Granada stands behind them and their statements. We hope their names will become as familiar to you as the names of your friends and neighbours. You can use Granada advertisements as a trustworthy guide to wise spending.

‘Wise spending eventually saves money. And savings can help deal with one aspect of our country’s economic problems. So before we shop let us say to ourselves “is it essential?” If it is let us buy the best we can afford, if it is not essential can we save? Save not only for a rainy day but also to make sure that tomorrow and the day after will be sunny.’

Finally there was a word on behalf of those for whom this evening had been the first big test:

‘This has been opening night. We have all been working around the clock for months to make it possible, and we have all been nervous and tense. If we slipped here and there during this evening’s transmission, we hope you will forgive us… and now, goodnight all, goodnight.’ After the big night came the reaction from the North. Here is the comment of the Manchester Evening News:

‘It was altogether a more imaginative opening night than the first night in London or Birmingham. The idea of informally introducing a variety of men who had contributed to the delivery of Granada was good. So was the notion of a tribute to the BBC…. Serious in mood, entertaining to the eye, this was television interviewing at its best. Nothing extravagant, nothing boastful. There are other improvements to report. The breaks before and after a group of advertisements are well defined. They are presented more smoothly. And Granada’s programmes were better controlled than those on the first nights in London and the Midlands.’

And here are some immediate comments by viewers reported next day in the newspapers: ‘It’s so slick’, ‘superb entertainment’, ‘better than the BBC’, ‘wonderful reception’.

That, then, was the start—direct and down-to-earth, as is appropriate in a service for the people of the North. This was Granada — from the North.

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