We admit this rather snuck up on us. Last night, BBC Manchester’s New Broadcasting House studios in Oxford Road closed its doors after 35 years. Over the decades, the studios have been host to any number of shows – A Question of Sport, The 8:15 from Manchester, Mastermind, Filthy Rich & Catflap, Life on Mars, North West Tonight… and, of course, the first three series of Red Dwarf.
The story of how Red Dwarf ended up at the studios is oft-told – rejected by the BBC in London countless times, Paul Jackson eventually snuck the series on air via a slot he had at BBC North West. It’s interesting, however, that with Red Dwarf – far more than with most programmes, fiction, at least – the studios became part of the show. From the very moment that Dave Lister wanders across a lighting gantry in The End, clarifying whether everyone really is dead, those studios became embedded in the history of the show on-screen, as well as off. As the picture shows, steps to the sound gallery even stood in for steps on the side of the ship itself. Those studios became part of some of the best visual moments in those early years of the show.
But hey, Red Dwarf is but one small part of the history of those studios. For more, check out the following:
- Only online until 7pm tonight, but if you can catch it, the final North West Tonight broadcast from Oxford Road is a beautifully-produced obituary for the studios, made by people who clearly care about the history of the building and are proud of broadcasting. If you miss that, one of the packages from the show is online – check out the glorious recreation of the graphics from each era, correct BBC logos and all – as well as the final montage.
- This lovely hi-res slideshow from BBC Manchester is excellently book-ended with old and new pictures of the building. And a rare publicity shot from The 8:15 from Manchester. (I wouldn’t be doing my job, however, if I didn’t point out that the Dwarf pic is from Series IV. Bah.)
- This rather eerie video captures the dying days of the studios…
- …or you can take a look at Studio A in 1979, from 3:40 into the video. Studio A was the main network production studio, and of course, home of Red Dwarf.
- And hey, because it’s not all sad news – listen to how BBC Radio Manchester switched output from Oxford Road to Salford on October the 8th this year. THAT’S HOW YOU DO IT.
In our nostalgia-fest, it’s worth perhaps remembering that the move to Shepperton for Red Dwarf IV at the tail end of 1990 – and for all subsequent series – was nothing but beneficial for the show. Being able to rehearse on the actual sets all week as opposed to just having them for two days would be great for any sitcom, but especially one as complex and effects-intensive as Dwarf. But it’s no exaggeration to say that some of my favourite television ever was created up in Manchester during those first three series – with Red Dwarf III especially pushing at the very limits of what audience sitcom can achieve, if it tries to do more than laze around in a sitting room. French windows or no.
North West Tonight, the last team to leave the studios, is coming from MediaCityUK from Monday, which Blue Peter did a good job of fetishising, much as they did to TV Centre for years. Meanwhile, there’s a special programme on tonight at 8:15pm on BBC TWO: TV Greats: Our Favourites from the North, which hopefully – even with Tess Daly hosting – will be a fitting tribute. I would also suggest that a rewatch of the two Series 1 and 2 documentaries on The Bodysnatcher Collection may be in order – if only for some wonderful shots of the studio at work.
And maybe we can hope that after the lights went down, the North West Tonight set was demolished… like this.