It was shaping up to be a very exciting summer in Liverpool City Region, especially as far as the TV and film industry is concerned. Not only were we shortlisted – so we thought – In May, to become Channel 4's new UK HQ, but Twickenham Studios also announced, in June, that it would invest £50m to create the Hollywood of the north in Littlewoods Studios in the iconic art deco Littlewoods building, near Liverpool city centre, almost next door to Edge Hill railway station.
Twickenham Studios, which opened in 1913, provided facilities for such blockbuster movies as Blade Runner, The Italian Job, Gandhi and, more recently, The Martian and Baby Driver, as well as TV series such as Black Mirror and McMafia.
It's true. We're about to make Liverpool (slightly) more Hollywood. Two new 20,000 sq.ft sound stages and a whole lot of film history to make. Here's to Us! @CapitalCentric @FilmLiverpool pic.twitter.com/4hcmFO64Ol
— Twickenham Studios (@TwickStudios) June 7, 2018
Announcing the move, the studio’s chief operating officer Maria Walker said:
“This is a major milestone in our history. When we saw the vision for Littlewoods we knew we had to be a part of what will be an incredibly special place.
“Liverpool’s architecture, accessibility and can-do attitude sees film-makers return to the city time and time again. With the added benefit of our studios, they’ll have access to gold-standard interior facilities right on the doorstep of unique exterior locations. It will be great to see Liverpool become an international focal point for TV and film.”
As you might expect, many Liverpolitans were very excited about this double dose of good news – not least because Liverpool, as one of the UK's largest cities, is notable for the absence of any significant or national broadcast TV HQ. Look at this fairly random and inexhaustive list:
- Birmingham has the BBC English Regions HQ, BBC West Midlands, BBC Birmingham Network Production Centre, ITV Central;
- Bristol has BBC West, BBC Natural History Unit, BBC Bristol Network Production Unit, ITV West;
- Cardiff has BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Cymru Wales National Production Unit, S4C, ITV Wales;
- Glasgow has BBC Scotland, BBC Alba, BBC Scotland Network Production Centre, STV;
- Greater Manchester has BBC Salford, BBC North West, ITV Granada;
- Leeds has BBC Yorkshire, ITV Yorkshire;
Liverpool currently has… nothing.
Disappointingly, however, Joe Anderson, mayor of the city of Liverpool, tweeted on 23 July that Liverpool had been rejected by Channel 4. He suggested that the decision that the new HS2 railway would bypass of the city may be a significant factor – noting that only the three cities which will be directly connected onto HS2 (that is Birmingham, Greater Manchester and Leeds) would compete to be the home of the new Channel 4 headquarters:
I think it’s really hypocritical that C4 said their values are about adding worth, creating jobs,opportunities and growth not just choosing agglomeration.Then they choose two City TV hotspots and 3 connected to HS2. #4gottenvalues
— Joe Anderson (@mayor_anderson) July 23, 2018
I have previously written at length about the damage that the HS2 bypass of Liverpool is expected to do to the city and, sadly, this may be an example. It is also worth remembering that a video was published by the Department for Transport, on 29 October 2013, in which Anderson offered strong support for HS2, with this accompanying blurb: "Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, explains why HS2 is good for Liverpool". Hopefully he has now changed his mind.
Anyway, back to the good news. I have read that Liverpool is the most filmed UK city outside of London already, with film and TV productions recently shot in Liverpool City Region including Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them, Peaky Blinders and Victoria, amongst many others. The recent news suggests this will only increase.
And this report by the Office for National Statistics highlights the enormous growth in the film industry in the UK in recent years, showing, for example, that it contributed £7.7bn to our nation's economy in 2016, about four times what it contributed in 2008. Toronto in Canada would be an excellent example for Liverpool City Region to aspire to: the movie/TV industry there is worth about £1.5bn per year to their local economy and here is their film studio district.
This is quite serendipitous for me, personally. Last year I wrote a screenplay titled GOD II (no, it isn't about metro mayor Steve Rotheram), which would be ideally suited to the planned new facilities. I like to do my bit, so I sent it to Twickenham Studios, and they replied positively, stating that they look forward to taking the project forward using Littlewoods Studios – so all we need now is to get a producer on board. I am also currently adapting the screenplay into a novel, if any publisher is interested.
Here’s another piece of local entertainment news, hot off the press: Paul McCartney performed at Liverpool Football Club's world famous Anfield stadium in 2008, as part of Liverpool's very successful year as European Capital of Culture. On 7 June of this year, a decade on, the club reported that it had submitted two planning applications to Liverpool City Council requesting permission to stage 60,000 capacity music concerts in the future, allowing us to welcome the world's biggest music stars. This is pretty appropriate for Liverpool, given the city's global reputation in the music industry – thanks, in large part, to the great man himself. The club also sought permission to host sports such as American Football.
One last thing. In May Liverpool City Council, in partnership with Liverpool City Region and Professional Liverpool, backed plans to build more bloody offices in Liverpool city centre. That’s most welcome, too.
@davemail2017 is CityMetic's Liverpool City Region columnist.