Eh up, chuck. Coronation Street's new outdoor set opened to the public this year after being shut for some years. Anne Gibson visited and found the tour amusing and enlightening.

A 20-minute tram ride from Manchester's downtown area, at the glittering relatively new and high-rise upmarket MediaCity UK office park, sits one of television's most famous "old" sets.

None of that is real, though. It's just been made to look old, built in the midst of the very new.

The red brickwork building fronts are propped up by steel framing on the Manchester set.
The red brickwork building fronts are propped up by steel framing on the Manchester set.

Paint on the window ledges of the Barlows' house might be flaking but actually the cobbles of the exterior film set are in one of the more upmarket office block zones of England's north.

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In one of life's bizarre contradictions, homes and businesses in the fictitious Weatherfield suburb hunch down beneath glass office towers, modern apartment buildings, carefully landscaped urban squares and beside the extremely modernist, brutalist architecture of the Imperial War Museum North.

On the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford and Trafford, Greater Manchester is the famous weather-beaten ITV set - actually a relatively new group of buildings, having left the city's town centre only a few years ago.

Tours of the new set opened only this year.

And while the putty in the Dobbs' windowsill at No 9 Coronation St might be cracked and flaking, this set is far from worn-out.

It's simply made to look old, to keep the authenticity flowing as freely as Rovers' pints.

The tours run only at weekends because the set is too busy with filming during weekdays. Tickets are £35 each for an 80-minute walk, which takes in Viaduct St, Coronation St, Rosamund St and the newly extended Victoria St, ending with a free A3-sized photo for every ITV guest at the end.

This experience is as far from mean-spirited Norris' acerbic asides as it's possible to get.
Well-informed, experienced, amusing Manchurian guide Allan Richardson led my tour, cracking into it with typical northern humour: "I can see you've got a sense of humour from what you're wearing!"

MediaCityUK is to the left, with the ITV Coronation Street set on the right.
MediaCityUK is to the left, with the ITV Coronation Street set on the right.

Also a Manchester United guide at the nearby Old Trafford, Richardson gathers his group in the offices of MediaCity before the stroll across a canal bridge, to ITV's base with its modernist stone front, revealing none of what's behind.

A secure turnstile entry, a carpark walk, then the infamous red brick facade emerges, propped up by steel girders, as genuine as a kind word from Tracy Barlow.

No access is provided to indoor filming sets.

Richardson explains how construction of the new set could only start after the area was scanned for World War II bombs. Buildings on the former set were only around 75 per cent of the scale of real buildings, so actors had to walk slowly for filming to make sense.
New set construction began in 2011 and the first production was in 2014, Richardson said.

The uneven cobbles fan out under the hot autumn sun as guests enter at Viaduct St. The Viaduct Bistro is the first "famous" building we see, diagonally across the road from the corner shop of D&S Alahans.

Turn hard right at the Kabin and on to the series' eponymous street itself.

Richardson tests visitors about who lives where and it's outside the Rover's Return at the end at No 10 that we are invited to stand beside the famous green doors with their polished brass handles for portrait photos.

Past Audrey's Salon, hang a sharp left into Rosamund St and Preston's Petals is an outstanding flash of pink and black at the end, contrasting with the muted, earthy colours of other buildings. Webster's Garage is fully kitted-out and real taxis are parked outside Streetcars.

The dream and the reality: a steel-backed facade at the end of Victoria St.
The dream and the reality: a steel-backed facade at the end of Victoria St.

Go right and Victoria St emerges on this beautiful day, without a hint of Pat Phelan's dark, murderous intent, past the builder's yard and then into an entirely "new" zone - an extension of Victoria St that includes a Costa cafe, Tatoo'll Do Nicely, the flourishing but slightly unkempt Victoria St Community Garden and am impressively large police station.
All made to look old, natch.

In cold weather, actors get hot water bottles between takes, Richardson says. In the hot English summer, icecreams are provided to keep them cool.

More than 9500 episodes have been screened since the first episode aired in 1960 and around 4800 actors have appeared in it, Richardson says.

"There have been 51 births, 171 deaths of which 22 were murders and Steve McDonald has been married six times."

Standing near the steps to garment factory Underworld, he explains how close-up sewing shots actually film "hand" actors because the tasks could be dangerous for the real ones. The Platts' lawn is astro turf and mailboxes set in the front doors give a glimpse inside the homes show coat hooks, stairs, curtains, but little else.

Around four million pints have been "pulled" at the Rovers and the actors are served shandies to reduce alcohol intake, Richardson says.

And as the tour concludes near the amusingly named Speed Daal - "small plates £4" - Richardson invites us to re-cross the canal and head for the gift shop.

Tours are run by Continuum Attractions. To book, visit coronationstreettour.co.uk