Sinéad Rocks celebrates the beginning of a majestic new era in the Channel 4 story.
The Majestic in Leeds city centre has quite the history. Its story begins 100 years ago, when it was built as a cinema. The 1920s were a boom time for the movie business and the archives show that the Majestic truly lived up to its name.
The Yorkshire Evening News described “decorations and appointments… of a most sumptuous character”. Over the years, thousands bathed in the light of its silver screen.
But times change and, in 1969, the projector was turned off after one last showing of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. For the next 27 years, the Majestic was a bingo hall.
Since I moved to Yorkshire, it was its next incarnation that I’ve heard most about, however – as the nightclub said to be the inspiration for the Kaiser Chiefs’ earworm, I Predict a Riot. From the stories I’ve heard, that sounds like an accurate enough summation.
The sticky carpets and lingering smell of booze are long gone, though. A fire gutted the Grade II building in 2014 but it has been lovingly restored to splendour. In a few weeks’ time, it will officially open as Channel 4’s new national HQ.
It is the final piece of our “4 All the UK” jigsaw – an ambitious plan to break out of London. This involves establishing significant new bases in Glasgow and Bristol, as well as making this iconic Leeds building home to more than 200 staff from across the business.
The reason? To ensure that we are at the top of our game when it comes to representing diversity of thought and opinion from all parts of the UK.
All this was, of course, planned in what feels like another lifetime, an era when working from home was an occasional novelty and videoconferencing was – at best – a bit of an inconvenience (“Can’t we just get everyone in the same room at the same time…”).
Oh, how things have changed. We are all now adept at switching from Zoom to Teams to Skype. Late last year, many independent producers were telling me that, in some ways, the pandemic was helping their relationships with commissioners.
For indies based outside London, being able to pitch ideas from your kitchen table and avoid a long (and expensive) train or plane journey to London was undoubtedly a game changer.
But, as the pandemic dragged on, the feedback started to change. Yes, there was still a sense of video technology helping to level the playing field, but producers said they were missing the face-to-face chats that help a good idea evolve into a great one. This was something that our nations and regions commissioners had started to focus on pre-lockdown.
As we prepare to cut the ribbon on the Majestic, we are also thinking about how we can ensure that what worked well over the past 18 months can continue, and the things that made us tick before Covid don’t get forgotten.
It would be a massive understatement to say that it has been – and continues to be – anything other than incredibly tough for many in our sector. We owe it to ourselves to come out of this better, not just as we were before.
I’m looking forward to opening our new doors – to Channel 4 staff, to our partners, our suppliers and our friends, who all play such a vital role in keeping us on air.
Sinéad Rocks is Managing Director for the nations and regions at Channel 4.