Friday, 10 June 2011

I'm Visiting Manchester ....

One of the most frequent email enquiries I get is 'I'm visiting Manchester and I'm a Corrie fan - what is there to see?'  Sadly, the answer - at least on your own - is 'not much' ... but here are a few suggestions:

Manchester Town Hall -
used as a filming locations in
countless TV shows and films.  Find
out more on a walking tour - see below.
 Manchester City Centre:
Granada Studios: Many people think the studios are still open to the public - they are not.  They used to be open as part of the Granada Studios Tour attraction but it all closed down in 1999.  You can walk around the outside of the studios and if you know where to look you can just about see the original viaduct at the end of what was the first outdoor Corrie set and you can just about see the viaduct and side of Dev's shop on the current set.  There are also some blue plaques commemorating some of the original cast members, but that's about that.  There is also no gift shop or anything like that.
Science and Industry Museum: This museum - which is very interesting and free to enter - is next to the studios.  You used to be able to see through a window onto the Corrie set but not anymore.  There is a small - and I mean small - exhibit (a script and a few bits of memorabilia) plus the chance to watch some old episodes on a small TV.  There will be a larger exhibit in due course (I understand they've got the replica tram used for the 50th episodes to show off eventually).
Castlefield: The area to the east of the studios has been used for location filming a lot down the years - a walk around there (it's lovely) will evoke memories I'm sure.  Again, if you know where to look you'll find the place where Tony Gordon tried to drown Roy Cropper, where Les Battersby almost committed suicide, where Zoe ran off with Fiona's baby, where Jamie bid farewell to his dad Danny and so on.
The Old Grapes: The pub which used to be owned by Liz Dawn (Vera Duckworth) still has some of her pictures and memorabilia on the walls. 

Further afield:
Bury: The East Lancashire Railway was where they filmed the train scenes for Roy and Hayley's wedding.  The station is opposite the Drill Hall which doubled as the prison housing John Stape.
Arley Hall: This lovely stately home is where Liam and Maria, Mike Baldwin and Linda, and Steve and Karen married - it's also where Joy Fishwick's funeral was held.
Tatton Hall: Has appeared many times - Annie Walker's car went into the lake here, Deidre's solicitor was based here during the John the Pilot story and more recently, Roy and Hayley's wedding reception (well, some of it) was shot here.
Worsley: Martha's barge was moored here when she had her dalliance with Ken.
Bradford: Both Tracy and Gail's court cases where filmed here and in the National Media Museum you can watch old episodes.
Ashton-under-Lyne: The town is the home of Portland Basin, where Richard Hillman drove the Platts into the canal, Ryecroft Hall which doubles as the registry office and Ashton Town Hall which is where Alf Roberts used to be Mayor.

Guided Tours:
I offer a guided tour (it's just for your group so does not operate on set days or at set times) which takes you around the city centre for about 1.5 hours (you'll hear some of Manchester's history, visit Castlefield, the Roman ruins, go round the outside of the studios, hear how Corrie is made, hear about Granada and Tony Warren etc) then we call at the Old Grapes (see above) for 20 minutes or so before boarding a Manchester tram to Salford Quays where we walk for another 30 minutes (you'll see where Steve proposed to Karen, where Don tried to kill Alma, where Mike, Dev, Danny and Carla have all lived, and where the new Corrie studios are being built).  We then finish at a shopping mall where there's a food court and a discounted Cadbury's chocolate store.  I, of course, point out where the tram stop is to get you back into town after you've eaten and shopped.  We normally start in the city centre at 10.30am and finish about 2.15pm. 
Everyone gets a free book as a memento and of course, you can ask all the Corrie questions you like - and I'll bring along lots of pictures, a Corrie script and other items to illustrate the talk!
If you would like more details, my availability for a particular date or a quote please email with the number in your party (it's ideal for ones, twos and upwards).

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Corrie! play - last few weeks

The Corrie! stage play (which I heartily recommend) comes to the end of its tour in a few weeks.  If you haven't already seen it (or even if you have) you might want to catch it at the following venues:
This week: The Regent, Stoke
Next week: Theatre Royal, Brighton
Following week: New Theatre, Hull
End of June: Festival Theatre, Malvern
Rumour has it that that will be the end of the play - though personally I hope they make a DVD of it.
There are offers out there for discounted tickets on selected nights - for example at Brighton there's a great 2 for 1 offer for the first couple of nights at
Gaynor Faye is narrator at all venues except Malvern where it's Roy Barraclough.
Check each theatre's websites for performance times and prices.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The criminal side of Manchester


Some years ago I co-wrote a book called The World of Crime (you can still find it on ebay).  Today I was giving a Corrie walking tour (if you require more information on those please look at previous postings) around Manchester and Salford and in the pouring rain, sheltering under a viaduct we got talking about Manchester's Victorian crimes - and I remembered this article I did years back for a crime magazine promoting the book.  Hope you enjoy it.

Dukinfield Police.  Picture copyright
Tameside Council.
‘The World of Crime’ brings together a unique collection of true criminal tales from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. These stories come from across the globe – from America, Canada, France and of course, from the British Isles. But of most interest to Lancashire readers will be two chapters based in the north – one telling the tale of a policeman’s lot and the other, the fiendish story of master criminal Charles Peace.

Peace was born in Sheffield, the son of a very resourceful man indeed. His father, originally from Staffordshire, worked as a collier until he lost a leg in a freak accident and was thrown onto the occupational scrap heap. He re-trained – as a lion tamer would you believe – and joined the famous ‘Wombwell’s Wild Beast Show’. The family eventually ended up in Sheffield and little Charlie Peace was educated in the city until he was fourteen when he was sent to work in a rolling mill.

Here he too was victim to a tragic accident when a piece of red-hot steel entered his leg and he was left a cripple. In 1851, aged just nineteen, he took the first steps on his path of crime. He broke into a house but was caught and sentenced to one month’s detention. After his release he took up the violin and toured the area playing at fairs and in public houses. One contemporary account describes him as “the modern Paganini.”

Violin playing was just a cover however, and he was arrested again in 1854 when he served a further four years. Upon his release he took up both violin playing and burglary once more and on August 11th 1859 a house in Manchester was broken into and a large quantity of goods stolen. The following day the police discovered the stolen goods hidden in a hole in a field, they left the items there and kept watch. Soon after, Peace arrived to retrieve his bounty and he was arrested following a violent struggle. This time he got six years.

Charles Peace’s story continues in the same vein – further crimes, further arrests, further sentences. By 1876 he had a wife, a daughter and a mistress. At about midnight on August 1st of that year he entered the grounds of a house belonging to a Samuel Greatorex on the boundary of Whalley Range and Chorlton, about four miles south of Manchester city centre. Unfortunately he had been seen by two constables and one of them, twenty-three-year-old PC Nicholas Cock went to challenge him. Peace drew a revolver, the young PC held his truncheon out shouting, “Put the gun down and don’t be foolish!” Peace fatally shot him in the chest and made off.

Near the scene of the killing lived two brothers, William and John Habron, who were well known to the police. It was they who were arrested for the crime having been overheard some days before threatening the young constable. John Habron was found guilty and sentenced to hang – Peace sat in the public gallery and watched the case, no doubt with some glee. Habron was not actually hung but, following some petitioning of the Home Secretary by influential local businesspeople uneasy with the evidence offered against him, the innocent man was sentenced to a period of penal servitude.

Peace continued to commit his crimes and prospered so much that he ended up living in a large villa in London with two mistresses. It all came to an end when he was arrested during a robbery and, having threatened to shoot the arresting constable, he was sentenced to life for attempted murder. One of the mistresses collected a £100 reward for revealing his true identity and the police realised that they had caught one of Britain’s most wanted. He was hung on February 25th 1879 and shortly after, William Habron was freed with £800 compensation.

Another section of the book recounts the career of Jerome Caminada who rose from constable to superintendent in Victorian Manchester. He’s gone down in the history books because of the colourful, detailed diaries he kept and this book uses many of these recollections to great effect. Caminada’s beat included Spinning Field just off the busy thoroughfare of Deansgate which is described as being, “One of the worst dens for prostitution and theft – it was a very brave police officer who entered these premises without fearing for his safety.”

In Caminada’s time public houses were allowed to stay open from 4am until 1am and were popular haunts for the under-classes. Many of the beer-houses laid on ‘entertainment’ such as dog fights, rat-baiting and badger draws and it was here that gangs met to discuss and plan their next crimes. The police officer draws the distinction between the different types of criminal and their punishments, chronicling that a poor man who stole goods worth twelve shillings was sentenced to ten years whereas a middle-class criminal got just twelve months for stealing £4000.

“I have often stood by when men have been sentenced to terms of penal servitude which have filled me with sorrow, because I have been convinced that in many cases the sentence meant either a criminal death of insanity; for astonishing as the statement may appear, I have never yet known a man or a woman return from a long sentence of penal servitude in their rational mind; and yet in all probability the criminal had never in the course of his or her life a single chance of getting out of the circumstances in which he or she was born, breathing through poverty an air of temptation.” he records expressing an incredibly liberal attitude for the times.

Caminada served with the Manchester Police from 1868 until his retirement in 1899 by which time he had become the most honoured man in a force that totalled 1,037 officers. It is only right that this new book pays tribute to such a man and gives a unique insight into life in Manchester during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Criminal and police are well represented in this collection of twenty-eight stories – some murders, some cons such as the man who ‘sold’ Buckingham Palace and some famous names such as the disappearance of Agatha Christie or the real crimes investigated by Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A great read full of intriguing yarns and illustrated with over ninety pictures.

If you live in Greater Manchester and you like true crime, you'll find more stories like these in Crime Files Oldham, which will be out via the Oldham Chronicle newspaper in September. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Say It With ... Flowers

Daisy Nook Garden Centre, on the outskirts of Manchester,  is launching a new event's programme - and I am delighted to be working with them on a number of promotions.

This coming weekend (June 11/12) there are lots of offers and entertainment by Barry McQueen, the delightfully eccentric Town Crier of Blackpool to mark the Queen's official 85th birthday.