That’s except for viewers in the midlands 

28 July 2014

STimesRegional variations in British television have decayed to almost nothing, outside of the “national regions” of BBC-1 and BBC-2 (Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) and the two independent ITV companies UTV and STV. Even then, the drift from the network in primetime is small unless there’s a sporting event on.

It wasn’t always so. ITV regions often had radically different schedules even in primetime, well into the 1980s. Even more forgotten is that in the 1960s and early 1970s, BBC-1 did the same, with the off-peak schedule often quite different between English regions and the primetime schedule sometimes radically different between the nations. For that matter, BBC-1 didn’t even exist in Wales, where it was replaced by a channel called “BBC Wales” which showed most network programmes but often timeshifted around Welsh-language (and English-language for Welsh people) programming, in a similar way to how analogue S4C operated with Channel 4’s schedule.

Here’s one of the effects of the regionalisation of BBC-1: the comedy Monty Python’s Flying Circus, shown just outside of the then-peak viewing time, was displaced on BBC-1 in the Midlands – and not even rescheduled. They simply dropped it in favour of their own output.

Mr Brooks has a solution that worked very well in the days of 405-line VHF television: most places were in some sort of overlap area, especially for Band-I (BBC) reception. Between them, the London, Midland and Northern transmitters covered almost all of the population centres of England. The transmitters on the outer edges (for the North East, East Anglia and so forth) therefore overlapped with the poorer distant signal from the main sites. VHF travels far and remains watchable and audible a long way from its intended service area (the audio part going even further, allowing viewers in Liverpool to listen to, but not see, Ulster and Border for instance). VHF aerials were also more forgiving of not pointing directly at a source – something UHF pretty well demands – so a tune around the dial could indeed lead to a choice of viewing.

People often did this with ITV – having a second ITV channel available had something of a cache, and the “ITV-2” button on many 1970s sets was taken to mean “the out-of-region second ITV we can get” rather than a placeholder for what would become Channel 4. Tuning around for a second BBC-1 was less common, as there was less variation within England and because most of it was for programming that was pretty local (you’re unlikely to skip a dull programme about brickmaking near where you live in order to watch a duller programme about grain harvesting in a neighbouring region where you don’t). Nevertheless, Mr Brooks is right. It was well worth doing to get your dose of the Python crew.

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9 responses to this article

Ronnie MacLennan Baird 5 August 2014 at 3:01 am

At the other extreme, of course, Naked Video suggested once upon a time that the Four Minute Warning would be “except for viewers in Scotland”!

Alan Keeling 12 August 2014 at 8:30 pm

At the end of the 1950s, we received an extra ITV region on our old 14 inch TV, in the shape of Granada, from its Winter Hill station, as stated on their local Test Card C. Into the 60s, we rented a 19 inch set & still received Granada, until we rented our first colour TV in 1970. I always found Granadas weekday schedules a whole lot better compared with ATVs rather dull schedules, that seemed to be cluttered with endless ITC repeats & early close downs.

Simon Greenwood 12 September 2014 at 5:30 pm

Our fallback in Doncaster, by something of a geographical quirk, was Tyne Tees, which was useful in the summer when Yorkshire chose to show Roses Cricket instead of Tiswas on a Saturday morning, and later on when Yorkshire opted for their own dull-as-dishwater Calendar powered late show against Night Network and Tony Wilson’s OSM on Sunday nights. Reception was generally fuzzy but watchable. Oddly enough a friend who lived a mile and a half away got a better Tyne Tees signal than Yorkshire

Joanne Gray 1 May 2016 at 2:16 am

Simon Greenwood, I lived in the Tyne Tees region. We were one of the regions who didn’t screen Tiswas until the very last series (Autumn 1981 to Spring 1982). Instead, viewers were “treated” to a locally made Saturday morning show calked Saturday Shake Up, hosted by some bespectacled Geordie guy called Malcolm with a footballer’s bubble perm. Swap Shop was a very popular alternative choice of viewing in the North East in the late 70s/early 80s.

Arthur Vasey 6 July 2016 at 5:14 pm

Joanne – that guy was called Malcolm Gerrie – with the G pronounced as in “go” rather than as if it was a J. For many years – right up until September of 1981, when they finally showed Tiswas, for many years, they just stuck the duty announcer in the continuity booth and just had them reading birthdays and introducing a fairly inconsistent output, comprising mainly Gerry (pronounced like a J) Anderson puppet shows and American imports – by around 1977 or so, it was known as “Saturday Morning Television” and the full-time presenter was Lyn Spencer.

They decided to relaunch it under a new name – it became known as Lyn’s Look-In – it came from a studio similar to the ones used by the likes of Tiswas and Saturday Banana (the last of which I have seen an episode of on YouTube) – it was her and Malcolm Gerrie that hosted it – by 1979, the ITV network had commissioned a thing called The Mersey Pirate – but Tyne-Tees stuck obdurately to their own programming, which, by then, had evolved into Saturday Shake-Up – somebody called Christine had replaced Lyn Spencer – Malcolm Gerrie remained in the show and they were joined by Alistair Pirrie – a lot of things proved that this show was not live – the main one being that Alistair Pirrie was presenting a live show, with phone-in elements and time checks – on Radio Tees at the same time.

Following the ITV strike of 1979, the network converged on ATV in Birmingham for Tiswas – Tyne-Tees put out trailers for Tiswas “by mistake” – only to be told we were getting Saturday Shake-Up instead – during summer, ITV went back to Granadaland for Fun Factory – an early vehicle for Jeremy Beadle – but Geordie Community Television stuck with Saturday Shake-Up – by the autumn of 1981, we Geordies, Mackems and Smoggies (I am a Smoggy) finally got let in, as it were, to the wacky world of Tiswas!

Ant and Dec claimed to be Tiswas fans – must have had friends in ATV-land to send them tapes – Tyne-Tees would usually stick on an Ealing comedy or a war film – for kids?

Sarah Morris 6 December 2016 at 9:25 pm

We lived in Northumberland, right on the border between Tyne Tees and Border, but also on a hill above the local town. The main TV was tuned to Tyne Tees, but with a flick of a switch next to the TV you could pick up Border, while the other TV’s, such as the B&W portable in my room could pick up Border only. We were originally from Newcastle, so Tyne Tees was out ITV station of choice, but as a child I remember coming home from school and watching Border’s childrens TV in my bedroom which seemed to be Harold Llloyd and Happy Days. Local news was so different as well, Northern Life always seemed to be about a factory in Newton Aycliffe and dull, while Border news, (look around I think) was about worried sheep in the Lakes and even more deathly dull. Tyne Tees presentation was miles ahead of Border with moving idents and a bit more pizazz. BBC, however was always BBC North East and Mike Neville. Channel 4 at the start could only be picked up via the Tyne Tees pointing ariel. Meanwhile Channel 4 broadcast via Border , when they started, was for the first few years almost Advert free, just lots of ‘resumes shortly’

Westy 5 October 2019 at 3:12 pm

Did BBC Midlands eventually transmit Python?

Joanne Gray 13 October 2019 at 1:00 am

Arthur, I was.brought up a Monkey Hanger (though I was born down South) and I remember Lyn’s Look In. There was a competition to give the show its name, I seem to remember. I didn’t know that Alistair “Razzmatazz” Pirrie did local radio. We were in the Radio Tees transmission area with “Me” Mark Page doing the breakfast show from the mid 70s to early 80s, before the ill-advised job with Radio 1.

Neil 27 November 2019 at 8:52 pm

Living in South Yorkshire I could tune in to Tyne Tees. It was fascinating to watch another ITV station. (ahh memories)

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