Never Go Home Again 

1 January 2002

The nature of the Independent Television system is such that companies come and companies go. Some will have a lasting effect on the network or their respective areas. Others fade fast from memory, forgotten in days and erased from history in months.

The nature of television enthusiasts is to mourn these lost companies, even whilst being excited by the new graphics and programming brought by the replacement broadcaster. Does this mourning mean we – and your presence here, reading this article, includes you in that ‘we’ – are longing for a return to the old days, the old ways of working, a former life now replaced?

The answer is surprising. Many of us are longing for a return to how things once were, and for many reasons. The number one reason is probably a need to recapture something lost, something from a previous lifetime, like a beloved programme much enjoyed in its day or the warm safety of childhood that rushes back into memory at the opening notes of a part-forgotten theme tune.

Part of this nostalgia – there is nothing to be ashamed of in the word, it is a natural emotion felt by all human beings – manifests itself in a different way. In longing for that which has passed, we start to pine for the former companies themselves.

We watch GMTV struggle to keep an audience and say privately “ah, perhaps TVam could one day…”. We watch the largely forgettable, often regrettable programming of Carlton London and think “oh, but for Thames coming back…”. We examine 30 years passed in a dream in Wales and say “if only…”. If only that company could come back. If only the programme I liked could return. If only they still used that theme. If only.

However much you may hope for it, however much you long for it, it’s not going to be. You can pretend that a company has returned, but it is just pretence, a game for children to indulge in. The reality is much starker – when something is gone, it’s gone. Despite what may be said in today’s branding-aware world, a company is more than the sum of its name and programming. If it were so easy to return to a company we have left behind, if it were nothing more like turning back for a forgotten set of keys, perhaps the world would be better. Perhaps many more things we have left behind could be retrieved and we would never need mourn a loss again. But time, and its companion, experience, has proved this to be a fallacy.

A future successor to Carlton might choose to use the name Thames. Its local news would be Thames News. It would show ‘The Bill’. It could feature a skyline ident and all the lavender you could care to buy. But it would not be our Thames re-found.

All companies are the sum of more than their names. They are the sum of the people who work there, the people who manage the station, the workings of the studios, the internal politics and so much more. Take Thames for an example. There is nothing to stop Pearson from winning a franchise. But in order to re-create Thames you would need to re-purchase Teddington, re-hire hundreds of people, re-create the ABC ethos that ran through the company until the end. You would have to educate new starters in the history of the organisation – something they once would have learned secondhand from those who came before. You would need to do nothing more than erase the past 10 years and start over again as if nothing had happened.

It can’t be done. The people, once dispersed, are loyal to others, retired or gone. The buildings may still stand, but they now echo to the sound of other people’s voices and are worked in new ways. When something has passed, it cannot be retrieved. But that’s all the more reason to mourn it.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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