From Aston to Paradise 

29 March 2016

In 1955-6, all of ATV’s money had gone into establishing their London weekends station. There was no profit there at first: in fact, there was nothing but a hæmorrhage of money for several years. Starting another studio centre from scratch in the Midlands cost money ATV didn’t have.

For ABC, the problem was time rather than money. They signed their contract in September 1955 and were expected to be on air from Birmingham by the spring of 1956. Finding and equipping a site in that time wasn’t going to work.

The two companies were to be rivals twice over. They were meant to fight for advertising spend in the Midlands, the competition between the two driving down prices and increasing quality, so the theory went. Additionally, they were to compete to get their programmes on air, within a system that (until the minor companies started broadcasting) meant that ATV paid one third of the cost of weekend programmes, while ABC picked up the other two thirds – no matter who was making them. Both accused the other of overcharging.

This rivalry was still to come. In the face of the Lichfield transmitter opening early in 1956, the two had to work together to create a studio centre they could both use. ABC found the real estate – an unprofitable cinema near Aston Villa’s home ground – while ATV found the equipment. Together they owned 50% each of Alpha Studios, named, according to Howard Thomas of ABC with a very light touch of sardonicism, after the one thing the two companies had in common: the letter “A”.

Flash forward 13 years and the contracts change. ABC is promoted, given the bones of Rediffusion to pick over in order to create the new Thames. ATV is demoted, losing its foothold in London and left with seven days in the Midlands. Worse, ATV is told that it must produce more programming in the region – the big studios in Elstree won’t cut it any more. While ATV would, in the end, not drop production from Elstree (which would lead to their downfall in 1982) they still needed a bigger studio, equipped for colour, and preferably not a bumpy bus ride away from the centre of the city.

A site was found, a colour studio centre, management office block and array of useful ancillary buildings were built and, just before the deadline for switching from 405-line black and white production to 625-line colour production, the new studios were ready.

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