Midland round-up 

22 December 2014 tbs.pm/5676

The ATV that most television enthusiasts remember is the 7-day colour ATV in the Midlands, with its powerful ident and a run of popular (and sometimes populist) entertainment programmes – Celebrity Squares, The Golden Shot, The Muppet Show, TISWAS, New Faces, Family Fortunes and so much more.

The ATV that most television historians remember is the ATV that received repeated criticism for its failure to base itself in the Midlands – preferring a studio block in Elstree and a head office near Hyde Park in London – and thus a failure to be a “Midlands” contractor, until eventually the Independent Broadcasting Authority was forced to act and reorganise them into Central Independent Television.

While it is true that the popular entertainment production, the studios and the head office were in all in and around London, ATV did make some real efforts to get to know and be known by its Midlands audience, even before it lost the London weekends contract in 1967/8.

The ATV Show Book, an annual compendium of pictures and programme gossip, helpfully points this out in 1963. Programmes made in the Midlands for the Midlands at the ATV/ABC joint Alpha Television Studios in Aston, Birmingham, are highlighted. Senior continuity announcer Jean Morton, a face familiar to millions of Midlands children in the 1960s and 1970s, beams out at us from the first page of this 4-page feature. Her children’s show, The Tingha and Tucker Club, acted as a real club, with members, a club badge and a newsletter. This is not the work of a company that didn’t value the Midlands.

ATV is, on the second page, rightfully proud that its Midlands News programme was the template for regional news programmes throughout Independent Television and the BBC. Presented by Patricia Cox, Midlands News was very popular with Midlanders and proved that local news could work on television as well as it had on the pre-war BBC Regional Programme and post-war Home Service on the radio.

ATV is also proud of Lunch Box, a daytime light entertainment show presented by Noele Gordon, aimed at Midland factory workers on their dinner break and housewives at home. Most of ITV didn’t bother with this section of the population, their fingers burnt by Associated-Rediffusion’s daytime schedule in 1955 which crashed and burnt financially. Most ITV regions preferred to use their seven and a half hours a day in the profitable evening, coming on around 4pm and going off at 11.30pm. Granada felt its audience to be stop-ups, coming on at 5pm and going off past midnight. ATV Midlands, however, felt that Midlanders went to bed early and got up for work early. It could catch more of them by grabbing a lunchtime audience than it could by staying up late – so ATV was frequently off air by not much past 11pm.

We tend to think of the Midlands as being a highly industrialised area, but it is also green and leafy, an important agricultural base both then and now. ATV Midlands produced programming for farmers and gardeners in the area – something now forgotten in the midst of the light entertainment the company was famous for.

And, ATV reminds us on the fourth page, they were a powerhouse in schools programming, specialising early on in foreign language study.

This is not the ATV we now remember. We remember the colour ident, the entertainment and relaunch as Central but tend to forget that ATV Midlands served its region well – even if it did indeed base itself in London.

You Say

1 response to this article

n hewit 16 February 2016 at 1:54 pm

I would concur with the comments, of all the Network Companies ATV always seemed to take its responsibilities as a provider of regional services more seriously and from what I know seemed better at balancing the dual role than some other companies that shall remain nameless. ATV as the pathfinder of Regional TV, in Early February 1956 wrote the Blue Print that the 10 regionals as they came ‘on stream’, followed. In 1976 comparisons between the four ITV franchises that I could receive at home or via frequent visits to close relations, in terms of presentation and content ATV Today was streets ahead of the others, closely followed by YTV’s Calendar, both had comprehensive news bulletins accompanied by film footage and in depth analysis, they also provided lunch time bulletins, the ,’local company’, omitted a lunch time bulletin filling the slot with a Welfare/Consumer affairs advice session, which they then repeated at tea time! But then in sixties the Pan Northern Regional news disappeared from peak evening in favour of the Beverley Hill Billies, or Gilligans Island it was continuing to take an extended Summer Vacation until after the 1981 franchise bid by Mersey Television, it then finally fell into line and er opened a Studio Centre in Liverpool initially in the business district at Exchange Steps from which the companies first (English Language), afternoon Regional Magazine programme, ‘Exchange Steps’ was broadcast from ,only about 36 years after Noel Gordons, ‘Tea Time’. Exchange Flags was presented by Shelley Rhode, more mainstream, like wise her accent than the usual Regional news team of Patie Caldwell et al!

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