If anyone reading this doesn’t regularly watch Coronation St. then you probably won’t have a clue who or what I’m writing about, but on Saturday I went on the official tour of the soap’s new outdoor set. The tours started at the end of May this year and are only on selected Saturdays – booking opened at 8am on May 3rd, and having previously asked my ex’s sister-in-law Louise if she fancied going (she’s an avid watcher of the show) and decided on a mutually convenient date, I got online just after 8am that morning and booked Saturday’s 2pm slot for both of us. Our day started at 11am after I’d driven over to Louise’s house between here and Bury; I left my van there and after a quick coffee she drove us to the nearest tram station for the tram into Manchester city centre where we transferred to another tram which would take us to MediaCity and the ITV studios.
With half an hour to kill when we got there we had a wander through the nearby gardens and along the waterfront then went to Dock 10 of the ITV buildings to check in. Looking upwards the whole of the length of the foyer ceiling was awash with open umbrellas – the Umbrella Project launched just over a week ago on June 28th as part of an initiative to raise awareness of ADHD and autism and it certainly made a bright splash of colour on the foyer ceiling.
At the check-in desk we were each given a tour pass and a map of the Coronation Street set then we congregated in a small group near a mock-up of the Rovers Return frontage. Our tour guide was called Tiffany, and given her quite young age she was very knowledgeable about the programme and its characters right from when it first started back in 1960 to the present day. Following a 10-minute introduction she led us out of the building, across the bridge over the river and round to the outdoor set – we had to go through two closed-in turnstiles manned by a couple of burly security guards then we entered the set on ‘Viaduct Street’ and close to Dev’s corner shop. After giving us some more information we were free to wander round and take photos before meeting up again round the corner outside ‘Underworld’.
Tiffany explained that it took two years to build the new set and although all the houses are almost full-scale they aren’t set up to be lived in, but for continuity the areas immediately behind the front doors are exactly the same as the studio lots where the indoor scenes are filmed, and we were free to look through any letterboxes and take shots if we could get them. The jars of sweets in The Kabin are apparently real, although they’ve been there so long you wouldn’t want to eat them, and the Underworld factory is actually set up with some sewing machines.
Unfortunately when we got to the end of Coronation Street itself I found it impossible to take a decent shot of the Rovers Return as that’s where the official photos were being taken so there was always someone in my view, but saying that Louise and I joined the queue and had our photo taken together in the pub doorway. At first we thought that having an official photo would be the money-making catch of the tour so we were surprised when Tiffany said that there was no obligation to buy and also we could hand her our own cameras and she would be quite happy to take snaps using those – it was a great idea but not knowing if she would be familiar with my own camera settings I decided to give that one a miss.
After having some time to wander along ‘Rosamund Street’ and the alley behind the houses (where Louise and I got an unexpected surprise) we gathered at the junction of ‘Rosamund Street’ and ‘Victoria Street’ to hear some more interesting facts and figures from Tiffany, then after a lot more photo taking we moved on to the far end of the street and the newest parts of the set, some of which haven’t yet featured in the programmes. Going into the alley behind the pub we were surprised to find the back yard beer garden exactly as it appears in the programmes – it was a ‘dressed set’ and there was, understandably, a gate across saying ‘no access’ though it wasn’t very high and we could easily take photos from outside it.
A little way down the alley, and painted on a back yard wall, was the mural done by Craig Tinker and his then girlfriend Caitlin Ryan in early 2016 as a memorial to Maddie Heath who died after being caught up in an explosion at the builder’s yard – I’ve no idea who painted it in real life but it’s very pretty. The alley turned a corner there and a few yards along was another ‘no access – dressed set’ gate and we were looking down the alley behind the rest of the Coronation Street houses. With rough brick walls, back gates and wheelie bins it looked and felt more like a real-life back alley than part of an outdoor set for a tv programme.
Along ‘Rosamund Street’ there was the chippy and medical centre set back up a slope, then Tracy’s flower shop on the corner – when I looked through the window I could see it was actually set up as a proper florist’s shop but unfortunately the interior was too dark to get a decent photo. Across the street and round the corner at the ‘dead end’ part of ‘Victoria Street’ was the taxi office and on the opposite corner was Prima Doner takeaway, and looking through the letterbox I could see it was set up as a proper takeaway. Unfortunately I completely forgot to have a look through the letterbox at Roy’s Rolls but I did have a look through the community centre one and it certainly looked like a place where a playgroup and other activities could be held.
Diagonally across from the community centre was the scruffy and untidy-looking builder’s yard now run by Gary Windass then back across the street was the ultra-modern Victoria Court apartment building, looking rather incongruous set among the older properties and what were once old warehouses. After a large space set aside for ‘residents-only parking’ for the apartments we came to Speed Daal, the restaurant set up by Zeedan Nazir and now managed by Sophie Webster after both the character and the actor playing him left the show; peering in through the fancy glass in the door I managed to get a shot of the sign on the inside foyer wall.
From there we came to the new extension of the set, officially unveiled in March this year and which includes a tram station, Costa Coffee shop, a Co-op food store and a community garden on the corner. Although the tram station exterior has briefly been seen in the background of a couple of episodes and the community garden has featured several times in recent story lines none of the other businesses have yet been referred to or featured, though some characters have occasionally been seen carrying takeaway Costa Coffee cups. The community garden was quite pretty in a scruffy-looking way and though it looked like it needed a good tidy-up it does feature a memorial bench which was specially commissioned to pay tribute to the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017.
The tour ended there and with a final few snippets of information from Tiffany we were free to make our way round the outside of the set and the studios and back across the bridge to the main building, where we could collect our official photos and any Coronation Street merchandise we wanted to buy. And this is where Louise and I got an unexpected bargain – the photos were priced at £7.50 each or two for £10 so we said we would have two and split the cost, however the girl on the desk said we were entitled to one free anyway so we decided we would just have one extra instead of two. So we paid the £7.50 for one but when the girl handed them over in a bag we found she’d given us three, meaning we had one each plus an extra one – and neither Louise nor I could figure how she’d worked that one out but we weren’t complaining. And we even got to keep our tour passes, which I fully expected that we would have had to hand in at the end of the tour.
From there we had another wander along by the waterfront and the gardens where I was able to take quite a few photos – with several places to eat and drink and the pleasant gardens to sit and relax in it was a lovely area and I was impressed enough to want to go back on my own just to spend time exploring. After our wander we got the tram back into Manchester centre, found somewhere to have a snack and a drink and had a wander through part of the huge Arndale shopping centre before getting the tram back to Radcliffe where Louise had left her car.
Back at Louise’s we had a coffee and talked over our trip, when we both agreed that we’d had a great time, then I finally arrived back home at 7pm. The tour had cost £35 each which wasn’t exactly cheap, but we’d both said that it was definitely value for money and much better than we’d expected – Michael had actually paid for mine as a birthday present. Tiffany had been a great tour guide, not only imparting various facts and information but also interacting well with us as individuals and as a group in spite of her relatively young age. It had surprised us too that apart from the obvious ‘no-go’ areas there was no restriction on us taking photos anywhere, in fact we’d been positively encouraged to take as many as we wanted, and there was no pressure on us to buy an official one either. All in all it had been a great tour and I’d certainly go again if only to take photos of the things I missed this time – looking at the website it seems to be fully booked for the rest of this season so all I can say is roll on next year!