Remembered: Granada Studios Tour

On Water Street in Manchester is Granada Studios. The studio complex operated as a theme park between 1988 and 1999. Granada were also operating Camelot Theme Park & American Adventure at this time. Attractions at the Manchester site included a Robocop simulator, House of Commons mock up and a backstage tour.

The biggest draw was the Coronation Street set where visitors could see the famed landmarks of ‘The Street’ including the Rovers Return & The Cabin.

Although the Manchester attraction didn’t feature the multi-million pound productions that are now common place in studio parks, the basic idea was the same. Guests were given the chance to see what happened behind the camera. Visitors could produce their own news and weather reports in a mocked up studio and then watch the footage back on the ‘video wall’.

Another memorable attraction was the Checkpoint Charlie tram ride. The trams would travel from West German to East German sets. Actors donning a German uniform and a questionable German accent would often clamber up onto the tram and interrogate its passengers.

Live entertainment was showcased in the studio complex. Performers would sing a set of songs of old London including Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner and Let’s all go down the Strand (Have a banana!).

A visit to the studios is quite difficult to describe. The best phrase that I can come up with as I write this is that it was ‘a very British day out’. Elements of the attraction almost felt like a hands-on museum. My most vivid memory of my visit is that of an employee. He was a Mancunian in his 30s, obviously hungover. As we entered the Corrie set he informed us that “This is where we film that programme”.

Each male member of our party then proceeded to pretend to stagger out of The Rovers with one remarking that Bet Lynch “would get it”.

Although the tour provided a great day out, it was not an attraction that you could revisit time and time again. This is something which I continue to find in the newer studio parks around the world. Attractions in these parks just don’t hold the same ‘re-ride rating’ that your average roller coaster or dark ride may do.

Out of nowhere, the park announced it would launch its first (and last) roller coaster. It was christened Skytrak after the Gladiators event of the same name. It was to the world’s first ‘flying’ roller coaster opening three years before Vekoma’s first Flying Dutchman model.

Skytrak

If you asked members of the roller coaster community “What was the first flying coaster in the world?”, I would wager  that Air, Superman: Ultimate Flight, Stealth & Birdmen would be among the answers given. All those answers would of course be wrong.

Skytrak was designed and built by ‘Skytrak International’ a subsidiary of Fairpoint Engineering, based in the small village of Adlington. Maurice Kelly, managing director of the park hailed the ride prior to its debut stating that “Nobody has ever seen or experienced anything like it before. Not only are passengers out there on their own, they’re actually flying head first, with the incredible sensations of solo flight.”

An opening date of June 25th 1997 was set. The park was right to be excited – this was a truly unique ride. It had the potential to be something very special that would be copied in theme parks across the world and it was all happening in the middle of Manchester.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t quite pan out like that. The ride was plagued with technical problems and would often open for just an hour before closing for the rest of the day. Sometimes it wouldn’t open at all. It wasn’t uncommon for the ‘Flight-Pods’ to come to a halt before completing the short course, this led to several rescues by the local fire brigade.

Had the ride been a hit, the studios may have had other problems on their hands. Each ‘Flight-Pod’ held one person. The pods themselves were problematic and when all five were serviceable, Skytrak could only deliver a throughput of 200 people per hour.

Closure

Granada were having problems elsewhere in the business at the time. The launch of the OnDigital service had been a massive failure and Granada began a massive restructure.

The world’s first ‘solocoaster’, costing £1 million operated intermittently before closing with the park on September 30th, 1999.

The ride wasn’t fun, it wasn’t comfortable, nor was it particularly successful in its quest to make you feel as if you were flying. That said, I feel quite privileged to have ridden Skytrak during its brief tenure.

Building a roller coaster is an art form. There are many examples across the world where individuals and engineering companies alike have tried to master the art of building a roller coaster. The result is often very much the same as what stood beneath the ‘Bonded Warehouse’ on Water Street.

Although the ride itself could only be considered a huge failure, the concept was revolutionary. The Manchester ride paved the way (directly, or indirectly) for more accomplished ride manufacturers to refine the design of the flying coaster.

The UK’s first successful flying coaster Air, opened at Alton Towers in 2002.

Did you ride Skytrak? Do you wish you had? Let us know in the comments box below!

Photos: UKRides, Wikimedia Commons, Mayumi Watanabe

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Comments

  1. Mark Moon says:

    I had a terrible day the one time i went to GST. It was rubbish. Half the attractions were closed, Skytrak was testing in the morning, but it never opened anyway. Good riddance.

  2. James Worden says:

    I worked at studios when i was at uni, it was a fun time but pretty hard work, i worked on checkpoint charlie most of the time.

    wasn’t too surprised when i had heard it closed, it never really set the world on fire.

    skytrak nearly broke my back.

  3. Paul sherwood says:

    Nearly broke my back on dat thing

  4. Ben Marshall says:

    I never got to rode this – wish I had =(

  5. Paul Coker says:

    Never got to visit! Ah well, doesn’t sound like the coaster was anything special!

  6. Bill Jones says:

    I rode the solo skytrack at Granada Studios. They asked for volunteers to try when the where setting it up. So I thought Why not. It was unusual lying flat & facing down, it was very jerky ride but definetly worth trying. I did not reakise it was so short lived.

  7. chris says:

    to be honest i went there when i was little and i didnt get a cance to go on dkytrak but i think that really granada studios was something to pull crowds in but then it didnt really look busy…..but i met william roach there and just a point on this article you know they say they dont use the street for filming on corrie well when the studios closed that was the only bit that is still used….they film all the outside shots still on the cobbles

  8. Tara Turner (nee Quilliam) says:

    I worked at GST as a Performer for about 4/5 years in the early 90′s. It was one of the best places i have ever had the pleasure to work – great atmosphere, great team of people who I still class as friends all these years on. Like any job there were days when it could be challenging and hard work but mostly it was a great laugh with the team and with the public. It was sad to revisit briefly at the Millenium and see it’s decline. But like all good things, it’s short life cemented it as a legend in the hall of fame for fun places to work. And the wealth of hilarious, touching and unique memories will always live on for those of us who had a blast there!!

  9. paul nightingale says:

    i worked at tours from 95 till its end first as security then on the maitainance team was and still is one of my best memories sky trak was plagued from start to finnish with problems and even after one of the cars fell off and slid to a grinding halt along the newyork st set i couldnt wait to ride it was bumpy noisy uncomfatable cold and the scaryest experence i have had on a rollercoster i would ride it again tommorro sad to see the tours now i miss the times but miss the people more

  10. lucy harrison says:

    i went there before my 1st birthday and then they closed it down for the public.
    i just wish i could vist once more and remember it.

  11. John says:

    I was one of the first visitors to the park, on the first organised trip, just three weeks into its opening month. I was 16. It was a great ‘British’ day out and I wish it had been expanded and improved upon. I wish, too, I’d been able to visit Belle Vue. Granada Studios Tour could have been as good as that and bettered it, if only the powers that be had known what a gold mine they were refusing to invest in. At least Liverpool has seen the light and is re-opening the Festival Gardens after being left neglected for the past 26 years. They open at the end of March 2011, with the Chinese and Japanese gardens fully restored around the oriental lake: http://www.itv.com/granada/festival-park-on-course99629/

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