CONFIDENTIAL has learned that the city centre set of Coronation Street may be listed. If successful it may mean the set could avoid the worst of all possible outcomes, demolition.
English Heritage has told us: 'We have received an application to consider the Coronation Street set for listing, and we are in the process of providing an assessment. An English Heritage advisor has visited the set.
'Following a consultation period where relevant parties can provide feedback and comment, we will then provide a full report and recommendation as to whether it should be listed. This recommendation will then go to the DCMS (Department for Culture Media and Sport) and they will make a decision based on the advice we provide.'
The fact remains that the future of the most famous TV set in the UK and one of the best known world-wide, remains in doubt.
Coronation Street has been filmed at the city centre Granada site since December 1960. Originally it was staged internally. The present and very famous external set dates from 1982. The listing referred to, if successful, will concern the special historic interest of the site.
Remember even if Corrie is not your cup of tea, or your pint of mild, it has been in the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the UK and across the world for more than five decades. For Brits it’s part of growing up and growing old, either something to watch yourself or as part of the cultural background noise.
Listed building status has been sought because ITV are moving and rebuilding the set opposite MediaCityUK in Trafford three miles away. Publicity manager for the show, Stuart King, has told Confidential 'there are no plans to open the new set to the public'.
Meanwhile the city centre ITV/Granada site, including the Corrie set, is judged as a 'surplus property asset' to be disposed of as a 'mixed use development'.
As such ITV have said 'no decision has been made on the future of the current set. All options are open'.
ITV made no comment when Confidential pushed them on whether it would consider retention of the set as a tourist attraction in the centre of the city. They repeated ad infinitum that 'no decision has been reached'. Given the prime location of the property there's clearly potential for the world famous Coronation Street set to be demolished should it not fit in with the plans of a future developer.
So who asked for the set to be listed by English heritage?
English Heritage aren't letting on who made the application. It wasn't ITV and it wasn't the city council or the tourist agencies for the region - Marketing Manchester and Visit Manchester.
Given the massive fame of the site you might have thought that our tourist champions would be straining every nerve to retain this prime tourism real estate.
That's not the case.
Andrew Stokes, chief executive of Marketing Manchester, said: “We recognise the importance of Coronation Street in terms of attracting visitors to the city. The show has a large fanbase in the UK and further afield, with large audiences in Canada and New Zealand. With this in mind, Visit Manchester is in talks with ITV about how to maximise the Coronation Street brand.”
These generalised statements about the Corrie brand didn't say anything about preserving the set.
So we asked again. This time Paul Simpson, managing director of Visit Manchester simply re-iterated the ITV position, "It's all unclear until we know more about the uses the present site might be put to."
There was talk of whether the Coronation Street brand fitted the Manchester brand. Encouraged by Confidential to take the lead in a campaign to save the set for Manchester tourism the "no decision" line was repeated.
The same non-committal stance was adopted by Cllr Mike Amesbury, the Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, in Manchester City Council.
That the tourism agency and council aren't prepared to make a firm commitment to saving the Corrie city centre set - a scene of so much drama for so many millions for so many years - is, as stated, surprising.
Tens of thousands of visitors
From 1989 to 1999 Granada Studios Tour attracted around half a million visitors a year to Manchester. The main reason people came was for the Coronation set. On the tours I conducted as a professional guide round the city at that time, the ones that included Granada Studios Tour visitors, four out of five visitors had come for the Corrie set. When the demands of filming increased as more shows were put on, the Corrie set was put off limits to visitors and the Studios Tour closed.
This emotional pull often led to extreme examples of how deeply ingrained in people's lives the soap opera was.
On one visit an older lady walked down 'The Street' and then walked back to the Rovers. She took her shoes off and replaced them with a spare pair from her bag.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“The ones I’ve taken off are going on the mantelpiece, a souvenir from Coronation Street,” she said.
I shook my head in amazement and looked up to see another guest posting a note through the letter-box of a house on the set.
“Why have you posted that?” I asked.
“I'm telling the woman who lives here that she shouldn’t have an affair with Mike Baldwin, he’s a shifty character and it’ll come to no good,” she said.
35 miles west there is an example of the money a city can miss out on if it ignores its popular culture icons.
Dave Jones is the boss of Cavern City Tours in Liverpool and runs The Cavern, the world-famous club, where the Beatles cemented their fame in the early sixties.
"I have evidence," he says, "that even by 1964 we had tourists coming to Liverpool to visit the sites associated with the group."
"British Rail had already bought the site of the Cavern, for a ventilation shaft for the underground railway. The original Cavern was destroyed in 1974 as part of this although it appears a payment of £500 could have saved it and British Rail would have moved the shaft elsewhere."
"So we lost for ten years a magnet for tourism in Liverpool until it was re-created on its original site in 1984," continues Jones.
"You can't blame the city council for the loss. People weren't thinking in terms of bringing tourism to Northern ex-industrial cities, when the Cavern was demolished. You would have been laughed at for suggesting it. But that has changed now, tourism is a key part of the forward strategy of cities such as Manchester and Liverpool."
So does Dave Jones think the Corrie set should be preserved as a tourist attraction in Manchester?
"There'd be no excuse not to keep it," he says. "It's there already. Nothing has to be re-built as it had to with the Cavern. This isn't the sixties or the seventies, there is a huge tourist infrastructure in Manchester today. The Corrie set could bring in thousands of visitors, be a main part of the tourism picture. It would be a sin to get rid of it, inexplicable. You couldn't make an excuse for losing that revenue now and getting rid of it."
The Cavern before demolition in the seventies
Back in Manchester there is none of the official reticence of the agencies and authorities about retention of the set. We asked people in Castlefield adjacent to the Corrie set for their thoughts.
“It’s a no-brainer,” says Jon Grieves of Choice Restaurant, Castlefield, “We have to keep the set. Coronation Street has pulling power from around the world and across the country. If the set were to be opened as a tourist attraction then it would bring in thousands of people. When I once went there the set was closed for filming and everybody on my tour was disappointed. The set was the real reason for going to Granada Studios Tour. As the owner of a business in the area I can see nothing but good coming from it being used as a tourist attraction.”
Carol Middleton, chair of the Castlefield Forum (http://www.ourcastlefield.co.uk/), an association of residents and businesses, says, "As a group we are really keen to bring the right kind of events and tourists into Castlefield. Having the Coronation Street set open to the public again would, I think, bring in families and tourists with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Lots of people have already said it would be fantastic to have it on the doorstep. I would be flabbergasted if anybody thought otherwise."
Confidential has even found an operator for part of the set. We asked whether William Lees-Jones, the boss of Manchester brewers JW Lees, would be interested in taking over the Rovers Return as a pub in Manchester? (JW Lees boardroom has featured in Corrie as the boardroom of fictional brewers Newton and Ridley.)
"Of course we would. In a shot. It'd fit perfectly with our other pubs and be good for city tourism as well. If Manchester is serious about tourism we need a few more things to do for families and for the general visitor aside from the markets and the museums. Liverpool is now a regular visit for my family, they seem to have taken to heart more than we have the benefits of tourism."
He paused for a second before concluding, "The Corrie set coming free is a brilliant opportunity that’s come the city’s way. It must be grabbed with both hands."
Original modern city
Manchester has been trying to apply the Peter Saville dreamt up phrase 'original modern' to its ideas in marketing, tourism and branding.
This phrase - a peculiar Manchester albatross in many instances - has been quoted privately about the Corrie set amongst city movers and shakers. In otherwords does it fit with the 'original modern' idea.
Confidential thinks you can't get more 'orginal and modern' than the world's longest running TV soap. 'Original' in that it translated the 'kitchen sink drama' into a soap. 'Modern' because it was a first in terms of this level of appeal in popular culture - and it's still operational today.
And as for ideas that Corrie as a tourist attraction doesn't fit the Manchester brand we think that sheer nonsense. Manchester has been and is a great city of science and culture but a massive part of the latter inheritance involves popular culture.
If we don't think Corrie is an important part of our heritage then neither are United, City, The Smiths and so on.
The perfect solution might be if the adjacent Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) take the set under its wing and have a Broadcasting and Media Industry section.
MOSI, by its own admission, has struggled at times in recent years with visitor figures. Despite picking up slightly last year, visitor numbers have been in steady decline.
The chance, then, to anchor a new broadcast and media exhibition around one of Manchester’s television success stories is one MOSI should be doing all it can to seize - surely?
A spokesperson for the museum said: “Talks over the Coronation Street set are on hold at the moment because of the merger with the National Museum of Science and Industry group. Once that’s sorted we’ll reconsider the issue but there’s no movement on that at all for now.”
With a new director about to come into post we can just about excuse the hesitation. But when Jean M Franczyk does arrive this month Confidential recommends she examine this potentially massive money spinner for her organisation urgently and with close attention.
The fact remains that the future of the most famous TV set in the UK and one of the best known world-wide remains in doubt.
"It's there already. Nothing has to be re-built," Dave Jones said to Confidential. The argument for a quick and clear decision about the set's retention seems, to us, as Jon Grieves noted, "a no-brainer."
Yet the official agencies and the council dither and ITV talks of 'surplus property assets'.
Could the unthinkable happen and an act of popular culture vandalism take place in the near future? Does Manchester really want to miss out on this opportunity?
Let's hope the Corrie set gets listed as soon as possible. Let's hope a decision is made as soon as possible.
Thanks to Paul Berentzen for his help in researching this article. You can follow Jonathan Schofield on @JonathSchofield
Coronation Street Set - more catastrophe on the way?