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CAPITOL CINEMA (ABC Television studios)

Didsbury, Manchester

Capitol Building, Didsbury, Manchester. Around 1983. Formerly ABC Television Studios

The Capitol Cinema was situated on the corner of Parrs Wood Road and School Lane in Didsbury (a suburb of Manchester). A 'super cinema' designed by Peter Cummings, it opened on 21 May 1931. However just eleven months later (on 25 April 1932) it was gutted by fire, leaving only the walls and entrance standing. Cummings rebuilt the cinema in a more ornate style and it re-opened on 16 August 1933.

ABC took control of the cinema in 1937 and the final film show was on 14 January 1956. In May of that year the building reopened as ABC's television studios for the northern region (they broadcast on Saturday and Sunday only, while Granada did weekdays). This photo seems to show conversion work in progress.

Capitol Building, Didsbury, Manchester. Around 1983. Formerly ABC Television Studios

There were three studios: the largest in the stalls, a news studio in the former restaurant on the first floor and a small continuity area. Film editing and telecine was done in the roof-top former projection area. An extension was added to the side of the building. This housed offices above a scenic workshop.

The British Pathe newsreel filmed the opening night of the TV studios but the footage wasn't released. More than half a century later it gives a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes.

Clip 1

 

Look out for Betty Driver (later to become Betty Turpin in Coronation Street) with her poodle and Jerry Desmond. Thora Hird also appears.

Clip 2

 

On Sunday November 30 1958, an episode in the 'Armchair Theatre' series brought more drama than ABC had bargained for. One character was supposed to suffer a heart attack. But tragically Gareth Jones, the 35-year-old actor who was playing the role, died in his dressing room during the live broadcast.

TV listings for November 30, 1958
 

As the play continued, the director rewrote the script, distributing lines to the other actors — Donald Houston, Patricia Jessel and Andrew Cruickshank. While Production Assistant Verity Lambert took over directing the cameras in the gallery.

The following year, Armchair Theatre moved south to Teddington and, as videotape came into use, ABC began recording the plays instead of broadcasting them live. There were stories that Capitol Building was haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate actor.

It's difficult to find out which programmes were made in Manchester and which at the studios at Teddington. Often rehearsals would be in London, with the cast travelling north for the transmission or recording. This was the case for a 13-part drama series called Inside Story which was recorded at Capitol Building in 1960. Police Surgeon — a forerunner to The Avengers — may have been taped there. The Beatles appeared on TV at Didsbury. The final ABC programme from the studios was Opportunity Knocks in July 1968.

The weekend contract for the region was abolished and ABC and Rediffusion formed a new company: Thames Television.

Yorkshire Television operated from Capitol building for a few months and then it passed to Manchester Polytechnic (now the Metropolitan University), which used it as the base for its theatre studies and Design For Communications Media film and television production course. Julie Walters was one of the drama students.

During this time the stalls area was used as a theatre, the first floor studio for TV production and the circle was boxed in as a separate cinema. In his book 'Armchair Theatre', Leonard White talks about being in the main studio, looking up and seeing someone standing in the cinema balcony. This was in October 1956, so the circle must have been enclosed some time after that.

The production control room for the first-floor studio. Seen here during the Manchester Polytechnic days in the early 1980's

The production control room for the first-floor studio. Seen here during the Manchester Polytechnic days, 1983 or 1984.

The production control room for the first-floor studio. Seen here during the Manchester Polytechnic days in the early 1980's

The first-floor television studio.

The production control room for the first-floor studio. Seen here during the Manchester Polytechnic days in the early 1980's

A student production, 1983 or 1984.

Hughie Green's 'clap-o-meter' from Opportunity Knocks was still in the basement of the building during this period supposedly (though, a bit like the ghost, I never saw it). A brief scene for Granada Television's Brideshead Revisited was filmed on one of the staircases.

Strand Electric light from Capitol Building, Didsbury, former studios of ABC Television

It seemed that the building was in a safe pair hands. But it wasn't so… The Polytechnic moved away in 1998.

According to one source, English Heritage was due to visit the building to consider it for listing. But, just before their assessment, someone put up scaffolding and chiselled away much of the tiling, so there was nothing left to preserve.

The building was demolished in 1999. Just one of the many historic buildings that Manchester has lost in recent years. This characterless apartment block stands in its place.