Ricky Tomlinson starred as Jim Royle in the Christmas Day special of The Royle Family (photo: Dave Evans)

So what did you watch on the box this Christmas Day past? Television was pretty garbage overall I have to say.

The BBC viewing figures for its festive schedule were reportedly 20% down on last year, so it’s going to be a long time until we see people tune into one single programme topping the much liked Only Fools and Horses or national treasure The Morecambe & Wise Show, which attracted 28 million viewers in Christmas 1977.

One programme I did watch, however, was one made right here in the North West. An hour-long Christmas Day special of The Royle Family.

The drama was aired on BBC 1 at 9pm during Christmas Day in 2009 and, according to Wikepedia, attracted viewing figures of 10.2 million.

The Royle Family is made by Jellylegs Productions for the BBC on behalf Granada Television and is written by Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne.

Both writers have connections to the region with Cash being from Stockport and Aherne having been raised in Wythenshawe, Manchester.

For the one off Christmas Day special, titled ‘The Golden Egg Cup’, the cast, which includes Cash and Aherne with other North West born actors Ricky Tomlinson, Sue Johnston and Ralf Little, together with the production crew for the drama, spent two weeks filming in one of the three sound stages located within The Pie Factory based at Media City UK in Salford Quays.

The Pie Factory is owned and managed by Peel Media and was opened in January 2007. The facilities were used for the making of the last Christmas Day special of The Royle Family in 2008, titled ‘The New Sofa’.

The former cavernous warehouses now accommodate three sound stages taking up over 15,000 sq ft and also incorporate a full costume department, make up rooms, dressing rooms, green rooms and office space.

Sinead Greenaway, CEO of the Peel Media group, said: “It is the second year running that The Royle Family Christmas special has been shot at The Pie Factory and we were overjoyed to welcome the cast and crew back. The facilities provided a great space for the production to build the renowned set for a show that has become a highlight in the Christmas viewing calendar.”

The Royle Family might not be to liking of everyone but it’s fantastic to see a drama, made in the North West and using local talent, occupying arguably the best prime time viewing slot.

But even more impressive is the availability of facilities currently within the region to make programmes of this calibre, ones that collect BAFTA awards as The Royle Family has done in the past.

Five days prior to The Royle Family being aired, another comedy drama was being broadcast on rival channel ITV1.

Using the same Media City UK facility, The Fattest Man in Britain, written again by Caroline Aherne but with Jeff Pope on this occasion, was made early last year.

Greenaway added: “The Pie Factory sound stage used for The Fattest Man in Britain is a fantastic space for production companies and advertising agencies, because it has its own private entrance, green room, dressing room and make-up room. We are delighted that the crew decided to film here.”

The one-off 90 minute drama, inspired by a true story, attracted plenty of media coverage with actor Timothy Spall being seen twice his normal size on the Salford set in the lead role of Georgie Godwin, dubbed “eighth wonder of the world.”

The Fattest Man in Britain also starred Oldham-born Bobby Ball of Cannon and Ball fame, as Godwin’s agent and sidekick, Morris Morrissey.

Music by Manchester-based artist Badly Drawn Boy was also used in the drama, which certainly was a high profile production for The Pie Factory so lets hope for more of the same this year.

The Pie Factory forms part of the £500m Media City UK complex, which will be home to around 5,000 workers, students, residents and visitors when the first phase opens.

The BBC will move nearly 2,500 staff to Media City UK from 2011 onwards, including five departments currently based in London. The keys to the first of three buildings for the BBC were handed over in mid-October last year.

For more details on Media City visit the Place North West website

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