30 Years Ago Today 

1 February 2007 tbs.pm/2135

Christmas Means ITV logo

James Barrington left Granadaland 30 years ago to make a new life in Australia. He came back to his homeland last December and sat down to have a look at British television and how it had changed in the intervening three decades. This is what he found.

James Barrington finds British television in a sorry state. (Image courtesy of Greg Stone)

Well almost, and no, not the Beatles, but myself, James Barrington. 1977 saw my last Christmas presentation on Granada, ‘Christmas means ITV’ was my last Christmas/Boxing Day network presentation across all ITV regions: a few days later, I looked from the back of a taxi, as I left Cavan Road, Liverpool 11. Those fond memories of ITV have stayed fixed in my mind for 30 years.

So, with much anticipation, November 2006, I made the long 20-hour flight back to the UK, Cheshire, to stay with family and visit friends and to look forward to my beloved Granada – and their special Christmas presentation. Thirty years is along time to be away, and after a 12-hour sleep, I picked up that remote control on December 1st, 2006 at 7.30am, to take my first look at Granada, 21st-century style.

I instantly got confused. All the channels looked the same, and there were so many of them. “What’s this Bid TV and Price Drop TV, and QVC”? I said frustratedly. “Freeview, what is Freeview?” I asked. The shopping channels had plenty of advertising, no wonder ITV revenue was down, I thought. Next I changed channels to BBC-1 Breakfast – credible, but light on stories. BBC2 was children’s time, so I asked my family, “Where do I find Granada ?” “You mean ITV-1”, I was told. GMTV was in presentation, and if BBC Breakfast was light on news, GMTV was utter tripe, followed by more Tripe with the Jeremy Kyle show, and on it went. ITV 2 was repeats of everything that was on ITV-1 the day before, ITV-3 ? Well it’s OK if you like Ironside shows that look as if they should have been on Sky ten years ago.

Ahhhhhhhhh quality I thought, as I noticed “ITV PLAY” in the programme guide. It must be quality plays and dramas, and repeats of Armchair Theatre, I presumed, from ITV’s golden past. Upstairs Downstairs perhaps? “What the hell is this?” I exclaimed – what an utter waste of a channel.

I explained to my family that I always enjoyed ITV variety, and asked what was on? Well the X Factor is on ITV and X Factor extra on ITV2, and a repeat of yesterday’s X Factor on ITV-2 also… and that was it, I was abruptly told: unless you like Corrie, Emmerdale or The Bill, ITV had little to offer.

No comedy, no variety, no dramas, just soaps? I was becoming frustrated and upset – well, the presentation on ITV has always been good, I thought, let me analyse that. The logo ITV-1 looked like it came from the Beano, and the presentation? More like an extended break bumper. The voices were not polished announcers but had accents, Scottish and northern dialects.

By Christmas I was looking forward to the ITV logo, the snow falling, the tinsel. Nothing. Well, the commercials are always special, you know Babycham etc… Nothing again, just one Argos ad that looked if it belonged out of a childrens novel. It was no wonder ITV had lost audience share behind the BBC.

I was asked to rate ITV and their presentation. Erm… “2 out of ten”. I’m sorry: it’s how I felt. Saddened and disappointed. The change was enormous, and sadly ITV was weak, bland, boring and, to say the least, dull. Granada Reports was like a part chat show, centred around the presenters. But perhaps the biggest change I noticed, probably due to self-regulation, was more commercials per hour on ITV, more than the once-permitted six minutes per hour 30 years ago.

BBC-1’s Christmas logo was special, rolling a snow ball down a street similar to Downing Street, but again programming seemed as though it had slumped. The highlight of a Saturday night, Strictly Come Dancing? The BBC still had quality news, of course, but that was it: it had become more serious rather than entertaining. Still, BBC -1 presentation was possibly the best, 8 out of ten. What had changed about BBC-1 presentation, I noticed, was the same as ITV, the announcers had regional dialects on the network, and were seemingly more laid back and less formal.

So, a look at Channel 4, expecting it to be the alternative station and radical. Besides the quality ITN News, channel 4 was very Americanised, and had become just another commercial TV station, a little boring, the only radical or alternative programming was the Queen’s Alternative Message by a female Muslim in a veil at 3pm Christmas Day. 4 executives were excited and ecstatic that Noel Edmonds’ Deal or No Deal had lifted its audience share from 9.1 to 9.2%. That seemed sensational to the station, point one of a per cent? The presentation was better than ITV-1 and I would rate it seven out of ten. Channel 5 programming was even more Americanised, and the only positive comments I heard about five were from pensioners who said there were good daily movies on in the afternoons! A more laid back presentation, 6 out of ten.

Turning to BBC2 to watch Porridge and Dad’s Army (well, that’s all that was on ) I said to my family, “Didn’t we see these shows yesterday?” Yes, they were on UK.TV Gold !

Freeview had ruined television, ITV-2, 3 and play, T4, more 4, Film 4, ABC-1, five live, all saturated with commercials galore, it was simply too much to witness and testimony as to why ITV quality had plummeted in both presentation and programming. Possibly even not ITV’s fault. The very thought that BBC1 could have an audience share of 22% and ITV a mere 18% was all the proof I needed that multi-channel TV, including Freeview, had saturated the market beyond recognition and had lost ITV its identity and quality. And just as Australia is experimenting with digital broadcasts for free to air television, the future looks bleak based on my visit to my beloved homeland.

Perhaps if ITV saw reason and re-introduced 14 competitive regions within a federal network structure all competing for precious air time, it might just save them from ruin, lift their quality and ratings, and perhaps give other channels a real run for their advertising money…

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