Network North 

29 March 2006

Still from the Network North titles

By 1992, nearby ITV company Yorkshire Television had taken over it’s neighbour Tyne Tees, and began making a number of changes at the station.

For news purposes, it was decided that the region was split in two. Tyne Tees Today would broadcast to the north, coming from the Newcastle studios, while Network North would broadcast to the south, coming from a new Tyne Tees news studio complex at Bellasis Park, Billingham, near Middlesbrough.

What actually happened in the Tyne Tees news department at the time is unclear, with conflicting information coming from a variety of sources. What is certain is that the changes at the time would become the most controversial, and would make the most interesting part of the Tyne Tees news story.

For the north of the region, Tyne Tees Today was to be pretty un-controversial – the only changes were to end up being a change in presenters, and a smaller area to cover. Network North was another matter.

Before the takeover, Yorkshire had been steadily trying to claim more and more of the North East region for it’s Calendar news programme, despite the fact that the signals were weak in those areas. At one point, the Calendar weather map even featured South Durham and North Cleveland. This had been caused by an intense battle between the two companies in the 1980s.

After the takeover, rumour has it that Yorkshire wanted to merge the two franchise areas into one super-franchise. Network North appeared to be part of this plan.

The idea was that a single news programme would be broadcast from the new Teesside studios to cover the south of the Tyne Tees region and the north of the Yorkshire region. This rumour was helped by the fact that in its early days, Network North never mentioned the Tyne Tees name, and appeared to want to hide its links with its parent station – all in spite of the fact that there had been a prominent relaunch of the station just months before. A number of Yorkshire staff were also seconded to Middlesbrough to work on the programme – including the new editor of the programme, who was the former editor of Yorkshire’s Hull opt-out.

Whether the plan was genuine or not, is not really known, but even without that controversy there was the matter of selecting new presenters for the programme.

Plans included moving Paul Frost and Pam Royle to the new programme – both had local roots as Paul was born in Middlesbrough and Pam lived in Teesside.

However at the last minute, it was decided to pair Calendar’s Hull reporter, Jake Lynch with long time bulletin presenter Dawn Thewlis, who had been originally pencilled in for the Tyne Tees Today job.

Dawn Thwelis and Jake Lynch on the Network North set

Dawn and Jake in the Network North studio

Jake Lynch’s initial slightly-wooden style improved, building up some on-screen chemistry with Dawn Thewlis. However he too was to leave Tyne Tees, joining Sky News as Political Correspondent. In 2001 he joined the BBC.

His replacement was Andy Kluz who had presented the Northern Life southern opt outs from the old Middlesborough studios.

The final change in the puzzle would happen six months later when Network North’s weather man Dennis Wheeler was axed, in favour for Bob Johnson who had worked on the original Tyne Tees Today, and who remains at Tyne Tees to this day.

Soon it became clear that Yorkshire’s plans were not likely to happen. Network North’s style was changed to a cosier format, and the initial references to the ‘Billsdale’ region removed. With Andy and Dawn in the hot seat, the programme went from strength to strength, until it ended in 1995.

A little piece of Network North still remained until 2000 – apart from the addition of some North East Tonight logos, the news studio in Teesside hardly changed until a new era of re-branding occurred in the Autumn of 2000.

One more thing is also worth mentioning about Network North. Once a year the show would join up with Yorkshire’s Calendar to do a joint broadcast from the Great Yorkshire Show. Network North’s team would co-host with Calendar’s Christa Ackroyd and Richard ‘Countdown’ Whitely.

The competition between the teams was clear with Yorkshire’s team trying to take over and a battle of the weather forecasters in their joint broadcast, with Bob Johnson in his Tyne Tees jumper battling it out with Bob Rust’s big YTV Calendar umbrella – the sunshine never put Mr Rust off!

Bob Johnson was the eventual winner – Bob Rust was axed by Yorkshire being replaced by ‘busty blonde’ who (ironically) had just breast reduction and who wasn’t a meteorologist. Bob Rust was sent back to the Met Office to work until his retirement, filling in on Tyne Tees when Bob Johnson was off. Yorkshire have even deprived him of that in recent times. Which is a great shame as he was great at his job.

Network North in pictures

First a look at the very first edition of Network North.

Dawn and Jake trail the first Network North

Just before the national news at 5:45, Jake and Dawn present this roundup of what’s on TV’s newest television service. That’s Network North in case you’re not sure.

The outside of the Tyne Tees studios in Billingham Jake and Dawn outside the Billingham studios

Jake Lynch and Dawn Thwelis welcome us to the show stood outside the new studio complex – the show was launched with the release of blue and yellow bio-degradable balloons by local school childen. By coincidence or (more likely) design, Jake and Dawn are also wearing blue and yellow…

Still from the Network North titles Still from the Network North titles Still from the Network North titles Still from the Network North titles Still from the Network North titles Still from the Network North titles

Network North titles and headlines

The Network North title sequence and headlines. The titles featured a computer generated picture of the Bilsdale transmitter. Obviously struggling to work out what to call the region the new programme covered, the programme initially described it as the ‘Bilsdale’ region, even to the extent of tacking on the ‘Live from Bilsdale’ tagline.

Quite what ‘Live from Bilsdale’ was supposed to mean, is anyones guess – after all, the programme actually came live from Billingham!

The graphics themselves have a definite nod to the Tyne Tees Today graphics, and the theme tune was a different arrangement of the Tyne Tees Today music.

Dawn and Jake inside the newsroom

After a quick blast of the titles, Jake and Dawn are inside to show viewers round the new million pound studio complex.

Jake and Dawn outside the Billingham studios

The bright blue walls must have been a delight to work near…

Dawn in the main news studio

After a quick tour with Jake, it’s over to the news studio and Dawn, for the first ever look at the gallery backdrop that would feature in Teesside sets until the bulletins moved to the Gateshead studios in 2005.

A Network North caption

The astons used in the programme were very similar to those used on Tyne Tees Today at the time.

Jake Lynch with a newsroom backdrop

For reasons best known to someone else, it was decided to have Dawn with a gallery backdrop, and make Jake look like he was in the newsroom. Indeed, in the first show, the only shot of the two together is at the end of the programme.

Newslines logo Newslines - map and picture

From the newsroom, Jake introduces Newslines – a bundling up of smaller stories from the region.

Dawn Thwelis in interview mode

Back with Dawn, and there’s a studio guest, in a shot which shows just how small the studio is.

Jake Lynch in the studio

Towards the end of the show, and Jake has apparently ‘hot-footed’ it from the newsroom. The rather plain backdrop seen behind Jake, suggests the earlier newsroom shot was done from the studio all along, but the backdrop superimposed.

Jake and Dawn in the studio

Another shot of the studio with Dawn and Jake.

Jake Lynch standing in the newsroom

But our Jake has seriously itchy feat! Off he goes again for yet another look at the new HQ for your Billsdale region, starting with – yes you guessed it! – the newsroom!

Jake Lynch standing in the gallery

Then its off to the gallery to see those nice people who work behind Dawn.

Jake Lynch again standing in the gallery

And just to tempt us, a glimpse into that studio – complete with what looks like the blue screen used for the weather.

Dennis Wheeler with the Network North weather graphics

Time now to meet your new Billsdale weatherman, Dennis Wheeler.

A final shot of outside the studio

And with that, it’s back outside with the kids who have been stood outside in the cold for the entire show and barely moved. Honest.

Network North production/copyright slide

And the end of the programme – time to bung up the copyright statement.

Just before the early evening news from ITN, viewers would get a brief roundup of what was to come in Network North, ending on this slide.

Andy Kluz in the Network North bulletin studio, 1993

Andy Kluz presents a bulletin with the newsroom backdrop.

Andy and Dawn in the Network North set

From 1994, Andy Kluz and Dawn Thwelis are in the news studio in 1994. There have also been some minor tweaks, with the presenters seating positions moving slightly so that both presenters can have a bit of pillar and a bit of gallery as their backdrop, rather than one having a plain wall and the other having just gallery.

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