Last Days 

1 February 2003

Elsewhere we’ve explained the involvement of two of Transdiffusion’s regular contributors in the last day of LWT. Now Gareth Randall gives us an insider’s view of how the LWT commemorative startup project came together.

London Weekend, in colour

It was during a routine ITV promo voicing session back in August that the seeds were sown.

I’ve known Trish Bertram for many years, and she is well aware of, as she puts it, my “anoraky tendencies”. Happily, Trish isn’t averse to wearing unfashionable rain gear of her own from time to time, which is why she was so adamant that if LWT’s 34-year-old identity was going to be swept away by the tide of ITV1 London, we ought to do something to mark the occasion, and did I want to be involved?

Did I want to be involved? Semi-legendary continuity announcers don’t half ask some daft questions at times.

The “organising committee”, if that’s not too grand a term, was Trish, her fellow veteran LWT announcer Glen Thompsett, LWT’s Broadcast Manager Lucy Booth and myself.

It was a very democratic arrangement; all I had to do was bludgeon the other three into going along with what I’d decided LWT ought to do!

It was generally agreed that getting some old idents onto the air on the final day was an essential requirement… and immediately we ran up against our first reality check.

We couldn’t justify using old idents out of the blue without any on-air explanation, but there simply wasn’t the time in the schedule for constant explanations.

Taking a “realistic” approach, we agreed that most viewers would not consider the change from LWT-branded presentation to ITV1-branded presentation to be an issue of any particular importance; after all, the actual programming would remain the same.

Hence, our efforts would be directed primarily at the passionate coterie of informed enthusiasts, not the mainstream audience.

As events transpired, we would have had to negotiate clearance fees to use the music from any LWT idents post-1986 and as our budget was precisely zero, our initial idea to introduce each programme in peaktime with a different classic ident would have gone by the board even if we hadn’t already abandoned it.

It was about this time that I got the idea to run a start-up, having seen what was possible with Flash animation from the superb historical recreation work by Transdiffusion’s Dave Jeffery and Rory Clark.

My initial plan was to ask permission to run a 1972 start-up they had accurately recreated for Transdiffusion, but then I thought, why not create a unique, once-only start-up for 2002?

It could be rooted in the classic LWT style, but with nods to a number of different eras of presentation and with a few completely original elements.

After briefing Dave and Rory, I turned my attention to the montage and immediately hit a snag. All the LWT idents were naturally available on broadcast-quality formats, but with the exception of Peter Lewis’s in-vision pieces celebrating the station’s 30th birthday, no other presentation or continuity items had ever been officially recorded, let alone archived.

The only source was off-air recordings on domestic formats, so that’s where almost everything that wasn’t an ident or Peter Lewis came from.

London Weekend, in 3D

I was surprised at how good the VHS material looked after being dumped to DigiBeta; a small amount of dropout removal, colour correction and other cleanup work was all that was necessary.

A search of the farthest recesses of Lucy’s office had also revealed several long-forgotten VHS tapes containing a number of rare continuity-related items, including announcer auditions (Trish made me swear not to feature any of hers in the montage!) and some TV-am-to-LWT handover sequences from 1983.

Additionally, ITV’s National Promotions Unit Creative Director (and my boss) Steve Allen had worked in LWT presentation and promotions from the early 80s up until 1998, and he was able to unearth Beta-SP copies of several LWT corporate promos he’d made, including one that had been commissioned and approved by the then-Head of Promotions in 1991 but pulled from air and buried forever after only one weekend because Greg Dyke saw it go out and hated it!

Two shots from this promo made it into the montage; the flag featuring the LWT logo (which had to be specially made) and the dog looking at the TV screen.

I was actually a bit nervous about the montage, and put off making it for as long as possible. Eventually I knew I had to bite the bullet, so one evening I locked myself in an Avid suite with a large pile of tapes and started cutting.

The opening was easy, it was what happened after Peter Lewis that was the problem. After a few abortive attempts I found a sequence for the 80s and 90s LWT idents that seemed to build and flow nicely with the music, and from there onwards everything else just seemed to fall serendipitously into place.

The only shame was that the duration had to be a strict 1 minute 40 seconds, as I had a lot of unused material left over, including a Peter Lewis closedown announcement that would have made for a particularly poignant finale.

Maybe one day I’ll do the Director’s Cut for a DVD special edition! The final icing on the cake for me was that the audio mix for the start-up and montage was performed by Graham Hix, an LWT veteran and the man who remixed the “LW” incarnation of the river ident music into the “LWT” version in 1978.

Two small hitches were averted at the last minute. The first was on the Friday, when Lucy and I went down to Transmission to check that the material had been loaded onto the servers correctly and discovered that the end of the start-up had been clipped, with the clock only reaching 05:29:58 before cutting out.

The second was on the Sunday afternoon, when we remembered something that had completely escaped us up until then – that in his piece to camera in the final montage, Glen mentioned “Fern and John” as the presenters of This Morning.

It was clear by then that John Leslie would not be presenting the show on Monday, so I dashed in to work and was relieved to discover that it was a simple matter to edit out the reference without needing to insert a cutaway, as thankfully Glen said it before his face was visible.

And that was that – the montage went out as planned, and LWT presentation was no more. My eternal thanks go to Dave Jeffrey and Rory Clark for doing all the real work, and to Lucy, Trish and Glen for being generally brilliant.

Thanks to all of them I had possibly the most fun I’ve had since I started working in television. I just hope that I helped give LWT something approaching the send-off it deserved.

Once upon a time, a ten-year-old sat and watched the LWT start-up, impatiently wishing that this boring thing would be over so that the programmes could begin.

Over two decades later, I smiled at the irony as I sat there listening to the same music and watching the same graphics and wishing that it would never end.

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