Throughout their run, Granada carried several distinct arms. As well as providing the North-West's ITV, they rented out TV equipment, worked with several small hotel chains and they ran the UK's largest network of motorway services.
Like Trusthouse Forte, Granada became a hospitality giant, chewing at their competitors right from the start. Their earliest services were markedly different from the others at the time because they went for a more simple approach, while the other operators were aiming for fine-dining. Their venture with a grill service was very short-lived.
Although other operators soon followed Granada's lead, none took it as far as they did, with a habit of taking over services such as Mecca Village and removing all the frills.
Granada were the first operator to move away from fine dining and to provide cheap, quick catering for everyone, under the name Granada Chef. Conveyor belts and tea machines stood alongside a cheery red-and-white backdrop. This attitude, such as some of the magazines they sold and their provision of contraceptive vending machines, raised a lot of eyebrows. Garish advertising and noisy slot machines helped them pay the bills.
Sordid controversies aside, their free-flow catering was widely regarded to offer a much better service than any other operator, and their sub-let repair bays plus their launch of self-service petrol stations and coffee shops in the 1970s were successful in serving as many people as efficiently as possible - even if they did refuse to cook eggs after 11:30am.
When they were at their best, many of Granada's services were massive, being more like shopping centres and featuring far more high street brands than any other operator (see below). Amongst other initiatives, they created a special stream of radio called 'Granada FM'.
Highway Services division, 1966.
Initially their strategy was to build very large restaurants in the hope that this would prevent any competitors from being needed. This flew in the face of government policy at the time, and seeing as the Ministry were able to dictate who operated service areas, Granada's ideas didn't get them very far.
Granada were soon in trouble for selling gramophone records to motorists despite several warnings, and for trying to treat their services like a resort, calling them 'Granadaland'. They wanted to build a leather goods shop which at the time was regarded as revolutionary.
In fact, throughout the 1960s staff at the Ministry of Transport frequently complained that the only time Granada appeared to take notice of any contracts, policies, commitments or timescales was when they were asking for an exemption. They would also interfere and interrupt the Ministry's work. Relations got so bad Granada nearly had Heston taken away from them.
The Ministry's concerns were reflected in the performance of Granada's services. When Granada needed to rectify this, the whole reputation of the company improved, but their spirit of being pioneering even when policies were against them carried on.
As a result of these frustrations, the Ministry reserved a strict policy procedure when dealing with Granada, whereas with other operators they would make exceptions based on circumstances.
Directors from Granada made an application to build Scratchwood services under the name Grand Metropolitan Motorway Services. Despite it being a good bid, they lost because of errors Granada made when building Heston.
Granada's first major expansion came with the closure of Taverna in 1973. Although Granada were keen to take over most of Taverna's sites, their biggest competitor at the time were forbidden to take over any more anyway. This change made Granada the largest operator.
Documents about the takeover give us detail about Granada's services at the time. Apparently their architecture, some of which would have been nearly 10 years old, was "dull and workmanlike". They were offering good maintenance but a poor atmosphere. Their principles of providing basic but acceptable catering had worked.
In the late 1980s, a rivalry with fellow hospitality giants Trusthouse Forte developed. Granada set about opening as many sites as possible, to ensure their budget hotel and restaurant combination opened before their rival's.
Their new Country Kitchen was an attempt to take the customer's focus as far away from motorways as possible. A tree-shaped children's play area was provided where space allowed.
In 1986, Granada's parent company resisted a takeover from Rank's.
Good news for Granada continued into the 1990s. They bought eight sites from Pavilion, again making them the biggest operator. Welcome Break were said to be interested in Pavilion, but they backed off because they didn't want to be investigated by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Granada had to agree to sell two of their own sites to create First, which they said was "not a surprise". They also agreed to close Severn View but this never happened.
Wanting to focus on the UK market, they sold their French operator Côté France.
In 1995 Granada embarked upon a hostile and controversial takeover of The Forte Group, which meant they would also be purchasing their competitors Welcome Break, roadside restaurants Little Chef and Happy Eater and budget hotel chain Travelodge.
Upon buying Welcome Break, Granada described the company's original concepts as "still looking good", but that they "have not been kept up to date". Granada also said that they wanted to add fast food to all the services and in doing this, make a much-doubted £500m from the deal. Just months after buying them, Granada upped the prices at all of their services given that they now owned over 75% of the motorway market, for example the M4 is 189 miles long and yet the only services which weren't owned by Granada were at the very end. It's not surprising that they did make their £500m.
As brand owners, Granada intensely expanded Little Chef. They converted all their Happy Eaters to Little Chef and added Little Chefs and Burger Kings to almost all their services, including the Welcome Breaks.
In July 1996, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission ruled that Granada needed to sell Welcome Break's motorway sites. In March 1997 they sold the Welcome Break brand to Investcorp for £476million, having run both Welcome Break and its own services for nearly two years. The wording of the ruling meant Granada could keep Welcome Break's A-road services, which they did, but Granada's brands had to be removed from the sold sites.
A New Direction
Meanwhile, conscious that an increasing proportion of drivers were choosing to drive by, Granada brought in Pentagram to help improve their brand strength.
Pentagram pointed out that Granada had cut corners to the point where they were driving people away. After a customer survey and with lessons learned from recently opened services, Pentagram helped create something different at Stafford, effectively making everything more pleasant with minor changes such as replacing carpets with polished wood and larger toilets. Other big ideas of theirs included a new, upmarket coffee bar and most impressively, appointing staff to welcome customers and to hand them ashtrays.
While these suggestions weren't taken forward, Pentagram believed in consistency, and the "red G" and circular colour scheme were immediately adopted nationwide. Plenty of evidence of it can still be found today.
For the rest of their sites, changes came in two phases. Firstly, Granada wanted to ensure their services offered a large food court, where Fresh Express, Little Chef, Harry Ramsden's and Burger King could be found. Secondly, they began to introduce huge shopping areas to their sites, offering a long list of High Street names. They then worked with Littlewoods to introduce internet facilities, and considered Motorpoint car showrooms.
Granada also worked with the Department for Transport to look into combining service stations with transport interchanges, while some services gained cordoned-off workspaces with a dedicated reception area.
In 2000 Granada merged with the Compass Group. They diverged again in 2001, however Granada only took their media business with them: Compass retained the hospitality side.
Compass made their mark by changing their services to become Motos. During the 1990s motorway services had reached an all-time low in terms of consumer confidence, and Compass wanted to turn this image round by providing a "a better, continental-feeling service". This was done with the help of Fallon, the company which helped change the image of Skoda.
The irony that Granada shares its name with a Spanish city was lost on them, with Compass saying the Granada brand was too closely associated with the 1970s.
For most of their run, Granada's catering and media divisions used a red logo in block capitals. On publications about services, this was joined by a flack and a description of what they did. Blue text was used on many of their corporate signs.
Slogans have included "fast, friendly service" and "the better motorway services".
Granada's final logo, introduced in 1996, was dubbed the "red G" and marked an associated change in branding across the entire estate. The black text (on publications) or white text (on buildings) with a red G was used everywhere.
These names did not all appear side by side. However, some of the names Granada could be associated with can be seen below:
Main Amenities: Meeting Room, Contemplation Room, Trucker's Lounge, Business Rooms, Granada Amusements, Gscape
Restaurants: Cafe Nescafe, Granada Chef, Granada Country Kitchen Restaurant, Harry Ramsden's, Little Chef, Pizza Hut, Rock Island Diner, Burger King, Happy Eater, AJ's, La Brioche Doree, Burger Express, Perfect Pizza, Granada 2Go
Shops: Retail Store, Granada Shopping, Boots, The Body Shop, Halfords, Birthdays, Claire's, Knickerbox, The Sock Shop, Ladbrokes, Scoop, T2, Thorntons, Superdrug, Tandy Express, Clinton Cards, Motorpoint, Early Learning Centre, BHS Express, Sketchley, Tie Rack, holiday booking
Motel: Travelodge, Granada Lodge
Fuel: BP, Esso, Shell, Total, Mobil
The following services were owned by Granada:
- Birch (M62)
- Blyth (A1(M)/A1)
- Burton-in-Kendal (M6)
- Cardiff West (M4)
- Cherwell Valley (M40/A43)
- Chieveley (M4/A34)
- Doncaster (North) (M18/M180)
- Donington Park (M1/A42/A50)
- Exeter (M5)
- Ferrybridge (M62/A1)
- Frankley (M5)
- Heston (M4)
- Hilton Park (M6)
- Kinross (M90)
- Knutsford (M6)
- Lancaster (M6)
- Leigh Delamere (M4)
- Magor (M4)
- Medway (M2)
- Pease Pottage (M23/A23)
- Reading (M4)
- Severn View (M48)
- Southwaite (M6)
- Stafford (North) (M6)
- Stirling (M9/M80)
- Swansea (M4)
- Tamworth (M42/A5)
- Thurrock (M25/A13/A282)
- Toddington (M1)
- Trowell (M1)
- Washington (A1(M))
- Woolley Edge (M1)
- Colsterworth (A1)
- Dover Port
- Grantham North (A1)
- Lymm (M6/M56)
- Markfield/Leicester (M1)
- Monmouth (A40)
- Musselburgh (A1/A702)
- Peartree (A34/A40/A44)
- Saltash (A38)
- Scotch Corner (A1/A66)
- Sutton Scotney (A34)
- Tiverton (M5)
- Todhills (then-A74)
- Warminster (A36)
The following services were planned by Granada but they were never built:
- Basingstoke (M3)
- Bramham Crossroads (A1(M))
- Bridgwater - site adjacent to existing service area (M5)
- Forton (M6) - eventually bought by them
- Leicester Forest East (M1)
- Maidenhead (M4/A308(M)/A404(M))
- Okehampton - in 1990 Granada had planning permission for a site "on a hill" on the A30. It hasn't yet been found.
- Pucklechurch (M4)
- Stafford (South) - site adjacent to existing service area (M6)