Three Lions


London, Midlands and the North

ABC was a company of three hearts. From Teddington – the home of parent company Associated British Picture Corporation and former UK headquarters of Warner Bros – filmed entertainment, drama, comedy and music could be produced to cinema quality.

In the midlands, the only economic option was to bunk up with rival weekday company ATV. Neither company had set its heart on the midlands and neither saw its ultimate future to lie there. With no real centre to the region (Birmingham was the official centre, but Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby all claimed to be more vibrant) both ‘Associateds’ felt that, with large London production facilities available nearby, the midlands was just too close to support two more studio buildings.

ABC Didsbury
ABC Didsbury – as seen on ABC on their last day

The result of this apparent lack of faith was the birth of Alpha Television. Based in the run down industrial area of Aston, a former village subsumed into the sprawl of Birmingham, the joint company provided facilities to both companies with an agreeable economy of scale from the beginning.

If the idea of joint facilities – nothing new in London or the midlands – was broached by ABC when starting operations in the north, no record remains of Granada’s response. Quay Street remained a Granada-exclusive centre, and ABC never operated from there.

Instead, the area west of the Pennines was scoured in order to find a premises that matched 3 criteria:

  1. That it was large enough to house 3 studios;
  2. It was already owned by ABPC or at least available cheaply;
  3. If it was owned by ABPC, they would not feel the loss through the change of use.

Didsbury was the answer. This well-to-do suburb of Manchester was well connected by road and rail, close enough to get to the important centres of the region, far enough from the city to be quiet. Above all it contained a building that matched all three criteria, more or less – the ABC Capital Cinema.

The Capital was large enough for one main stage with audience on the ground floor, one videoing stage on the first floor, with a presentation and news studio (no more than a room) tucked away to the side of the smaller stage.

Sign on rear of ABC Didsbury
Sign on rear of ABC Didsbury. Photo courtesy of Hector Hill
The building, obviously, was already in the family; the remaining criterion – that the parent corporation should not be put out by its loss – was fulfilled easily. The cinema operations of ABPC, while not loss making, were beginning to feel the pinch as tastes changed. The Capital wasn’t losing money – but it wasn’t making enough for ABPC to notice the loss.

To the sound of anguished disapproval from local residents, Associated British Cinemas announced the closure of the Capital, Didsbury; at the same time ABPC announced the location of their new northern studios. The two announcements concerned the same building.

Keith Martin

The comparatively small space provided by the Capital Studios compared to the likes of Granada’s Quay Street and Associated-Rediffusion’s grand plans in Wembley were soon apparent. Space in an office block in the centre of Manchester was purchased for the advertising department – a building that to this day retains the name “Television House” and a suite of offices that now houses – of all things – the Independent Television Commission’s northern office.

Sign on front of ABC Didsbury
Sign on front of ABC Didsbury. Photo courtesy of Hector Hill
ABC also went on to develop small news studios and advertising offices elsewhere in its region (the ABC cinema in Liverpool gave up an upstairs office to ABC Weekend’s news department, while ABC’s famously pushy advertising executives moved into Permanent House in Leeds, uncomfortably close to both Granada and Associated-Rediffusion’s own northern sales departments).
Colin Bower

But for all this, the towns of Didsbury, Aston and Teddington were to be forever linked in the minds of viewers to ABC Weekend TV.

About the author

Russ J Graham is editor-in-chief of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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