John Wyver
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Granada Television’s experiment with The Stables Theatre Company, 1969–70
in Screen plays
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In late 1968, Granada Television hired a group of actors—including the young Maureen Lipman, Richard Wilson and John Shrapnel—and converted a former railway building in Manchester into a fringe theatre. The intention was that The Stables Theatre Company would mount a programme of plays, a selection of which would be recorded in the television studio for broadcast, and for the next two years the ITV contractor supported The Stables as it mounted for local audiences an extensive and well-reviewed programme of plays and revues and recorded a number of these productions in the television studio. Apart from a version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, all of these were new plays, the majority of which were commissioned by The Stables. After two years, however, Granada recognised that the venture could not be profitable and cut off its financial support. The Stables mounted a public appeal to continue without the broadcaster’s backing, but by the end of March 1971, the unique experiment was over.

On no other occasion in British television history has a broadcaster owned and operated a theatre company. Drawing on an interview with the artistic director of The Stables, Gordon McDougall, press coverage of the relationship between The Stables and Granada, other documentation including company reports and private memos and viewings of three of the television productions preserved in the ITV archive, this chapter explores the aesthetic aspirations of The Stables project and the reasons for its failure. The chapter considers the fit between McDougall’s original idea and the interests of Granada Television and the company’s founder, Sidney Bernstein, who had expressed a wish to set up a theatre as a testing ground for new playwrights and plays.

The legacy of The Stables includes support at an early stage in their careers for a number of prominent playwrights, including Arthur Hopcraft, Trevor Griffiths and Peter Ransley. But the problems posed by endeavouring to align the interests and concerns of a small theatre company shaped by a strong artistic vision with the industrial processes of commercial television production, combined with the financial loss incurred by Granada, meant that no comparable experiment was tried elsewhere.

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