The Granada Theatres

A look at where the station came from

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

THE habit of identifying persons, organizations, products, ranks and honours by groups of initial letters has become so common today that a question on the subject is a stock feature of the general paper in most examinations.

There are so many initials in the world of films, radio and television that it is very pleasant to come upon a proper name, particularly such a gracious name as Granada. The attention is at once arrested. There is an immediate sense of personality and colour. Granada, one feels, is an individual, whereas ITA remains a dim authority. What is this Granada? people want to know. What does it stand for? What is the history behind its enterprising television programmes? Has it been interested in theatre, films and music before?

I have known Granada for more than a quarter of a century, and should like to answer some of these questions. I want to tell you something about the Company’s tradition, and suggest one or two reasons why the Independent Television Authority, when allotting geographical regions to the various programme contractors, had no hesitation in giving Granada the coveted Northern area for which it had applied.

The application in itself is interesting, and shows the way the minds behind the company work. There is no Granada cinema north of a line between Shrewsbury and Oswestry. But when the moment for television came, ringing with it new, wider possibilities for good music, theatre, ballet, children’s programmes, it was decided to strike north into fresh territory, where the population is dense and homogeneous, and enthusiasm for culture high.

Here, in the South, we have long known the Granada group as a body whose force is out of all proportion to its comparatively small stature. The first Granada theatre opened in Dover at the beginning of 1930. The latest opened in Brixton at the beginning of 1957. There are now sixty theatres in the circuit, and each is a personality in its own neighbourhood. Its programmes are not quite like other programmes.

They run popular films against all the regular pattern of release. The King and I, for instance, was not shipped off the screen after six days, but was allowed to take its full course, like a stage production, in all theatres. It ran five weeks, for instance, at the Granada, Hounslow, breaking all records for a suburban release house.

There is no film of quality, long or short, that Granada won’t play, no matter how cold the shoulder turned on it by bigger circuits. So we had, through Granada, the first real introduction to Eartha Kitt in the film New Faces. We had Ed Murrow’s African Conflict, made for American television. We had a chance to look again at Thursday’s Children, our own touching documentary about the training of deaf-and-dumb children, which seemed to have disappeared without trace after its first west-end showing. We had a circuit release of Time Out of War, a wonderful little film about a human interlude on a hot summer’s afternoon during the Scarlett O’Hara war, which was awarded one of the most coveted prestige prizes at the Edinburgh Festival. We saw all these things because the people behind the Granada group have a fixed notion that audiences are a lot more grown-up than they are generally supposed to be.

The choice of the name ‘Granada’ has no particular significance. It was the result of a haphazard whim, sprung from a natural dislike of cold initials and affectionate memories of holidays spent in that pleasant old Spanish town. Once upon a time, I remember, the opening of a new Granada theatre was accompanied by an injunction to patrons to pronounce the name ‘Grar-nar-dar’ and not to rhyme with Canada.

From the beginning the Granada group has set out to be selective. It brought into theatre design such artists as Komisarjevsky, Frank Dobson, Roger Furse, Vladimir Polunin. It brought over Rene Clair’s Le Million from Paris to London. It showed the abstract films of Len Lye a full quarter of a century before the highbrows began to rave about Norman McLaren’s witty little firecrackers.

It was the first group, starting in 1925, to put on stage plays, ballets, opera, ice-shows and pantomime, and to present concerts both classical and popular. It was also the first group to give special matinees for children. As I write I have in front of me a glossy little throwaway, dated 1927, headed ‘At Last!’ and continuing: ‘To Parents and Teachers. We know that you do not really like the idea of your children going to see all the “grown-up” pictures, so we have decided to give Special Programmes for Children starting on Saturday morning. You can rest assured that we shall show your children pictures that will really teach them something as well as entertain them—clean and healthy pictures that will do them nothing but good.’

Later on, of course, other theatre circuits took up the idea of Saturday morning shows, until now they are a normal feature of cinema life. But Granada has always watched over its children’s programmes with a special care, inviting comments from school teachers and commissioning reports by psychiatrists. Children, it is argued, do not live in an ivory tower. If the pattern of their home and school life is normal, Saturday morning at the pictures is only a part, a continuation of their week. A grave responsibility falls on the provider of entertainment, whether on the cinema screen or on the television screen, to fit wholesomely and constructively into that pattern.

Granada TheatresAnother feature of Granada Theatres is the information given to the public. It is a ‘must’ to display in every foyer a full cast-list of the pictures showing, with credits to director, writer and leading technicians. Regularly, every week, the Manager of a Granada writes an informal letter to the Managing Director, describing every incident, no matter how trivial; the comments he has overheard, the remarks made to him by patrons, the ‘feeling’ of the house, the proportion of carriage trade to casual trade, the number of laughs and coughs, the hundred little oddities that go to make up a manager’s week.

Regularly too, each week, a letter is sent from Head Office to the managers, telling them exactly what the group is doing, not only in films but in television. Every week prizes are awarded to managers for good ideas in exploitation. The number of these prizes is unlimited. There are as many prizes as there are good ideas. Since there is no competition, there is no jealousy, only a stimulus to originality and enterprise. There is also a fair amount of friendly chaff, of good-natured give-and-take, the sort of congenial exchange that is only to be found in relatively small and happy companies.

Professionally speaking, film critics don’t have favourite theatres. They go, in honour bound, wherever the new films take them. It may be to a west-end palais-de-luxe, or to some small, specialized hall with a bad rake, cramped seats and inadequate smoke extraction.

But even film critics have a private life, and when they are not on duty choose their pleasures as they please. I live in an outer London suburb, where there are at least half-a-dozen cinemas within reach.

Of these half-dozen our Granada is the furthest off. But through the years, as the result of experience, I and my family have become Granada fans. What’s on at the Granada this week? is the first thing we ask when anyone opens the local paper at the entertainments page. We’d rather go to the Granada.

Miss C. A. Lejeune is Film Critic of The Observer

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