Manchester History: ABC Television

On the western corner of the junction between School Lane and Parrs Wood Road in Didsbury, there is a block of flats called Capitol Court. Before these were built in 1999, there stood a building which started life in 1931 as the Capitol Cinema. Within a year the building was completely gutted in a fire, but after extensive rebuilding work it opened again in 1933.

In 1956 the cinema closed and reopened as the new studios of ABC Television. Associated British Cinemas, to give them their full name, would use the Manchester studio to serve the north of England region.

On Sunday 30th November 1958, an episode of the TV drama series Armchair Theatre entitled “Underground” was broadcast live. In it the character played by 35-year-old actor Gareth Jones was scripted to have a heart attack. Unfortunately, Jones suffered a heart attack for real in between scenes, and died. The director and cast carried on, and were forced to rewrite the script as they went along to remove any further appearances of Jones’s character.

While the director was rewriting the script with the actors, the actual directing of the camera shots from the gallery was hastily taken over by a young production assistant named Verity Lambert. The very same Verity Lambert, in fact, who would go on to produce the first two series’ of the science-fiction show “Doctor Who”.

In late 1958 the Quarrymen auditioned for a talent show at this studio, but sadly failed to get through. On Sunday 1st September 1963 they returned, as The Beatles, and performed four songs on the show “Big Night Out” hosted by Mike and Bernie Winters, clips from which appear in their “Anthology”.

ABC left the studios in 1968, and they were later used by the drama students of Manchester Polytechnic, including a pre-fame Julie Walters. ABC went on to merge with Rediffusion and become Thames Television.

I wonder if any of the inhabitants of Capitol Court are aware of the odd history of the building which once stood in the space they now occupy.

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