On and off 

1 July 2001 tbs.pm/1849

Notable ITV starts and closes

1. ASSOCIATED-REDIFFUSION, Thursday 22nd September 1955

'Mitch', the Associated-Rediffusion evening clock

What pomp and circumstance. The mental picture that instantly springs to mind is one of Captain Brownrigg, stood solidly and unquestioningly to attention, to the strains of the “British Grenadiers March”, Elgar’s “Cockaigne”, and the National Anthem, as if making the finest and most concerted effort possible to prove that commercial broadcasting did not have to be vulgar pseudo-Americanism. With extracts from “The Importance of Being Earnest”, “Baker’s Dozen” and “Private Lives” also broadcast that night, you can sense the aspiration towards old establishment values, a necessity for the acceptance of commercial television in 1950s Britain.

2. TELEVISION WALES AND WEST, Sunday 4th March 1968

Lord Derby, chairman of TWW

The first, but not the last, company, to break the ultimate protocol of those tightly-regulated days; to close down for the last time without going through the formal procedure of announcement and national anthem. Having felt desperately hard-done-by by the ITA, and in the fits of a corporate tantrum, Lord Derby’s company put their final two fingers up by closing down with John Betjeman, who had made several films for them in 1962, paying tribute under the title “Come To An End” (a clip shown in the “Betjeman Revisited” series shown regionally by HTV West in 1995, and then nationally on Channel 4 in 1997). As Betjeman walked out of the studio, as the credits rolled, the camera panned up to the “EXIT” sign on the wall. And that was it. Fade to black. Apart from their two months’ involvement with the interim service before the inception of Harlech, TWW were never heard of again.

3. ABC NORTH, Sunday 28th July 1968

ABC caption

After 12 years of brilliance, with a few early hiccups, ABC were determined to go out in the style their viewers had become accustomed to. Clips of continuity from their final two weekends on air reveal a real sense of fun – “sampling” Len Barry’s “1, 2, 3” during their weather announcement, and making jokes about the editor of the TV Times. The good-humoured billing in that organ for their farewell programme “Goodbye From ABC” – “put out the studio cat for the very last time” – reflects their good grace, but then, after all, they had a new London contract to look forward to in two days’ time.

4. SOUTHERN TELEVISION, Thursday 31st December 1981

Exit Southern, stage left

The most obvious entry into such a list as this for its sheer defiance verging very seriously on arrogance; after 23 years on the air, Southern were now developing an image in certain circles for being old-fashioned, staid and dull, and had lost out to TVS, who promised a fresh approach for a still-new and still-exciting decade. It would have been only polite for Southern’s massively overproduced, expensive final show to wish them all the best. But oh no. Instead, we got chairman David Wilson making an obnoxiously paranoid, thunderous speech at the company’s final AGM accusing the IBA of treachery, introduced by strangely 1930s-sounding piano music, in front of a tired, drunken audience. We also had Richard Stilgoe singing sarcastically about TVS as “Portakabin TV” (a reference to their initial occupation of the grounds of Southern’s studios in Southampton, which they took over on 1st January 1982 and which are still used by Meridian) to the same cynical, sneering audience. And then the Southern star rising into the heavens in lieu of a final closedown proper. A shame, because Southern contributed enough to their region and the network over the years to deserve to be remembered with affection and respect, not this way.

5. TELEVISION SOUTH WEST, Friday 1st January 1982

TSW. Er...

Owned – though, ultimately, not for that long – by ambitious, thrusting young Kevin Goldstein-Jackson, the south-west’s second contractor introduced itself with an extremely high-camp and, these days, rather embarrassing opening extravaganza entitled “Television Simply Wonderful”. The consensus is, rightly, that it had overreached itself at the start. But it soon settled into a, thankfully, less attention-seeking local position.

6. TELEVISION SOUTH WEST, Thursday 31st December 1992

This final closedown – or rather, by this time, final message before the franchise changeover at midnight, for we were now into the era of 24-hour transmissions on ITV – is most notable for TSW’s asserting themselves in a continuum, as though there had been no franchise change 11 years earlier, as announcers Ian Stirling and Ruth Langsford spoke of “the last 31 years” (since 1961 when Westward began). This, in many ways, was quite true – after a brief assertion of its comparative youthfulness and modernity, TSW had become effectively “son of Westward”; when Westcountry took over at midnight on 1st January 1993, in-vision continuity disappeared, the Derry’s Cross building was abandoned in favour of the nondescript Language Science Park, and Gus Honeybun was confined to theme park Britain.

7. THAMES TELEVISION, Thursday 31st December 1992

Richard Dunn bows out...

...as does Thames itself

There could have been no politer or more eloquent way out. The final announcement by ABC veteran Philip Elsmore, a retrospective programme on Thames’s achievements, a sequence of clips from their programmes to the strains of The Tourists’ version of “I Only Want To Be With You” (perhaps a coded message for “Thames wanting to still be with us”, but not unpleasantly overt), and a message of thanks from Thames chairman Richard Dunn. Considering what was to follow immediately, it is even more to Thames’s credit that they did not sink to the sulking of some of their predecessors.

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