Thames studios 

3 September 2005

As a boy, I always regarded Thames as my favourite ITV contractor and on a par with the BBC.

Stuck 340 miles from London, the sight of the London landmarks ident at the start of a Thames programme seemed far more glamorous than the dull DY ident and the parochialism of Border Television, it was like seeing a different world.

(Thames also had the cash to produce the sort of programming Border could never make, certainly a show like The Sweeney was light years ahead of the parochial offerings from Border which rarely got networked.)

As Thames, the son of Rediffusion- London and ABC- the most cosmopolitan and glamorous ITV franchise in the sixties, saw itself as a rival to the BBC, and served some of the best educated and demanding viewers in the country, like the BBC, had two major London studio centres, Euston Road and Teddington, to fulfil its ambitions.

Rather like Lime Grove and the Television Centre for the BBC, Euston Road and Teddington had defined and largely separate roles.

Thames Television House

A short walk from Euston station, and part of the redevelopment of the Euston Station area in the late sixties, which saw Rail House, Euston Tower (home of Capital Radio) and the new Euston station constructed, Euston Road was purpose built for Thames Television in 1969 to replace Rediffusion’s Television House, although Euston Road did not become fully operational until March 1971.

Thames Television House under construction in September 1969

Thames Television House under construction in September 1969

Euston Road served as the headquarters of Thames Television and the transmission centre for both Euston Road and Teddington.

In programming terms, Euston Road produced most of Thames local and news programming – it was from here that the Sex Pistols held their infamous interview with Bill Grundy in December 1976 on Thames Today – and concentrated, for the network, on current affairs, schools programmes and smaller scale entertainment programmes, Kenny Everett’s Video Show was produced at Euston Road.

Compared with Teddington, which made all the more glamorous programmes, space constraints- Euston Road had no room to expand- meant that Euston Road, like Lime Grove for the BBC, always played second fiddle to Teddington. However, Euston Road did have one claim to fame in that it was the only ITV studios to have featured in a film.

(The BBC Television Centre was used for a Barry Humphries film in 1973 and the frontage appeared in Cliff Richard’s The Young Ones in 1961.)

While the film version of Man About the House was, like most film spin offs of television sitcoms, overlong and not very funny, the only reason I ever found for watching it was part of it was filmed in Euston Road, something to do with an unscrupulous property developer trying to evict Richard O’ Sullivan and his flatmates from their flat.

Apart from a cameo from Spike Milligan in a dressing room and Rudolph Walker and Jack Smethurst from Love Thy Neighbour, not one of Thames finest programmes, the film features a mock up of Thames Today with Bill Grundy interviewing the property developer, complete with realistic scenes from a mixing desk and a director giving instructions.

In what was otherwise a boring film, the use of Bill Grundy and exterior and interior shots of Thames Television House always gave me a reason to watch it. On another occasion, motorists and bus passengers on the Euston Road must have had a pleasant surprise in 1979.

In his autobiography, “The Custard Stops at Hatfield”, Kenny Everett revealed that Hot Gossip, his notorious, and very popular with male viewers, dance troupe, were thrown out of the studios by an irate producer who caught them smoking a joint. No doubt the sight of leather clad women milling about on Euston Road must have caused a few car crashes.

Thames Television House remained in use until Thames closed down on December 31st 1992 to be replaced by the vastly inferior Carlton and the slow death of regional ITV.

(Thames went on to survive as an independent producer, however, but things were never the same when Carlton took over.) Pearson TV, the owner of the Euston Road Studios and Thames, decided that the studio complex was too big for the much smaller Thames, which decamped to Teddington, of which more later, and stripped out the studios in 1994.

Demolition followed two years later and this familiar landmark for people stuck in the hellish Euston Road traffic vanished.

Teddington Studios

Teddington Studios, still in use as an independent studio centre and the headquarters of Thames, had a long and varied history before it was acquired by Thames in July 1968.

Originally a mansion beside the Thames, built in 1880, Teddington Studios were used to make short silent films before being acquired by Warner Brothers in August 1931 and being expanded into a fully fledged film making centre.

The studios churned out a range of love stories and comedies, Errol Flynn being discovered at Teddington, and remained in use throughout the war until a V1 rocket devastated the site in July 1944.

Teddington Studios, however, were rebuilt after the war and reopened by Danny Kaye in January 1948, but film making declined in the fifties and the site was sold to ABC in November 1958, and the building remodelled for television in 1959-60 with four television studios.

It was from here that The Avengers, World of Sport and Armchair Theatre were produced. ABC became Thames in July 1968, in a partnership with former London weekday contractor Rediffusion. Unlike Euston Road, which could not expand and whose studios were smaller, the suburban Teddington studios became Thames main production centre for networked programmes.

It is likely that the location of Teddington, in leafy suburbia, probably explained why Thames produced so many suburban sitcoms in the seventies. Certainly the location of the studios proved very convenient for Benny Hill, the station’s most successful product, as he lived in Teddington.

The spaciousness of the studios meant that Thames could specialise in big budget light entertainment- generally speaking, Teddington did the entertainment and Euston Road did the education and information. As a child, the address Thames Television, Teddington Lock, Middlesex, became a familiar one as the bulk of ITV’s Junior Television, as then was, came from Teddington. Teddington was also useful as the base for Thames Television’s OB units.

As ITV Sport had the rights to Sandown Park and Kempton(after 1979), and both racecourses were in the Thames region, not to say only a short drive from the studios, Thames OB vans were a familiar sight at weekday meetings. Despite being ten miles from central London, Thames had a novel way of transporting guests to Teddington, should they choose this method over the company’s Ford Granadas.

Being built beside the Thames, with a functioning wharf, Thames owned a boat, the MV Sir Thomas More, kitted out with bar, for delivering guests to the studios from central London, who were welcomed on a specially designed landing stage.

You can see why I always thought Thames had a certain glamour- far more than its tacky weekend counterpart LWT, which seemed to be far more downmarket than Thames- when it used a luxuriously appointed boat to deliver its celebrities. Even the BBC didn’t have this level of luxury for transporting and receiving top celebrities. Teddington survived the end of Thames as an independent production centre, the 1990 Broadcasting Act compelling BBC and ITV to buy in 25 per cent of their domestic output from independents.

Thames, while defunct as a contractor, was reinvented by Pearson TV after 1992 as an independent programme producer, best known in the nineties for selling The Bill to the ITV network. According to the Teddington Studios website, the four studios are currently used by a variety of independent producers and by the BBC, as well as being the headquarters of Channel 4 Racing and Thames.

Programmes such as The Office, Pop Idol, Harry Hill and Today With Des and Mel are all made at Teddington, which continues the studios tradition for making entertainment.

Despite being built in the forties, Teddington is fully digital and appears to have a long life ahead of it. Now if only Thames could be brought back with the London landmark ident to replace London Granada- surely a contradiction in terms, as Granada always meant Manchester and it’s grim up North rather than the glamour of ABC and Thames – and I’d be very happy.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Neil Hunt 4 November 2014 at 10:42 pm

Hello Glenn -was reminded by his LATimes obit today of being at the new studios in ’59 with Acker Bilk. Fondly recalled beinging part of a group of scruffy hippie duffle-coated RADA students who toured the new studios then & got ourselves hired over the summer break as jive-dancers/extras for 12 episodes of a show called Riverboat Shuffle starring Britains top Dixie bands – shot there over 2 weeks on a moored Thames barge converted to a Mississippi steamboat set! -featuring Acker & his band & all the other top ‘trad’ bands popular with us students then in that ‘trad era’ craze that cut right across R&Roll then for many of us. My class-pal & dance partner Annette Robertson (later in Tom Jones & I were invited to lunch at the nearby pub by Acker & he later took us back to the West End in his band bus! Told us he was in army ‘jankers’ in Aden or somewhere like that-when he got hold of his first clarinet! Got his great vibrato from a broken finger & two missing teeth after fights! The show began with Netties & my feet dancing & panned up to rest of our dancing gang then onto Acker or whatever band leader was featured-either Terry Lightfoot, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber etc Fun times! Cheers Neil

PETER FINN 26 October 2015 at 7:22 pm

I did the last series of the Morcambe and Wise shows at Thames including the last Christmas show the boys ever made, I have tried to buy a DVD of these shows but with NO luck can you help me, I also have the last bit of memobilier of these show, it is the head of Eric signed by both the boys

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