Thank U and Goodnight 

17 October 2016

Down the years, I’ve documented the sustenance of an almost-unique quirk of modern broadcasting on a Northern Irish television station. Never did I imagine I’d acknowledge its passing as soon as it has happened.

The chain of events leading to the end of in-vision continuity on UTV begins in November 2013, and the station’s surprise announcement of a new station for the Republic of Ireland market, following their acquisition of ITV plc’s broadcasting rights for the nation from TV3.

A risky venture which, unfortunately, did not pay off for UTV, and one considered as a contributing factor to the company’s sale of its television assets both sides of the border to ITV plc in October 2015.

The £100million investment by ITV as they incorporate UTV into its portfolio of interests inevitably brings change, on and off screen. A new studio base in Belfast to replace Havelock House, UTV’s home since 1959, is expected by 2018, and transmission facilities have already been transferred from Belfast to ITV’s London playout base.

There’s also the process of brand alignment with their new owners: in layman’s terms, that’s a new logo to match ITV’s identity, with an accompanying presentation package – which, for the first time in UTV’s history, does not include in-vision continuity, which had its last hurrah on Sunday 16th October 2016.

Only on the same day, did a UTV source, in a quote to a Belfast-based news website, clarify its intentions for in-vision continuity and the announcing staff, following media and viewer speculation: “Our local continuity presenters Julian [Simmons] and Gillian [Porter] remain an integral part of the channel, but, as part of UTV’s alignment with ITV, they will be introducing programmes out-of-vision from October 17, in line with all other UK broadcasters.”

From tv68 on YouTube

On the night itself, Julian, the person who predominantly kept on-screen announcements on life support on the station, proceeded with the task in hand in a dignified manner. Normality ensued in his introductions to the evening’s programmes, with the only indication of any significance to the occasion being his costume choice of a dinner jacket and white tie.

While most of the tributes made public to the passing of in-vision continuity have, understandably, focused on Julian, the efforts and achievements of everyone involved in Havelock House’s presentation department should equally be recognised.

From the original team of three announcers recruited for the launch of Ulster Television in 1959: Adrienne McGuill, Brian Durkin and James Greene; the men and women who sat in “Studio 3” every evening have been more than just announcers.

They were ambassadors for the station; familiar and relatable faces to the Northern Irish audience day in, day out. They were company for the viewers; guiding them through the programme schedule and informing them of upcoming attractions on the channel.

Their function could vary in the space of a duty shift: from reading out advertisement copy live, to presenting news bulletins and weather forecasts. During “The Troubles”, there were the additional responsibilities of having to relay urgent messages issued by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and to inform the audience of terrorist incidents.

Some announcers, Julian Simmons in particular, became local celebrities in their time of employment at UTV. Other announcers, as well as the transmission staff working behind the cameras, moved on to careers at the BBC, RTÉ, or other ITV companies.

Like previous instances when the aftermath of network consolidation has led to changes at ITV, there will be those who will see the end of in-vision continuity at UTV as a negative.

Change is nothing new for viewers of Independent Television in Northern Ireland, however; not just in terms of the faces, but also the imagery seen on screen, all without any critical impact to the regard the local audience hold for UTV.

At the time of writing, it remains to be seen whether alternative opportunities to keep Julian Simmons and Gillian Porter in an on-screen capacity will come to pass. However, as a new chapter of UTV’s history commences, a thread of the past will, for the time being, carry on in a new guise.

News with greenscreen backdrop, presumably while studio is decorated. Image: Colm O'Rourke

News with greenscreen backdrop, presumably while studio is decorated. Image: Colm O’Rourke

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3 responses to this article

Gordon Beattie 17 October 2016 at 6:16 pm

Once again ITV shows its total indifference to its audience by effectively axing the last “face-to-face” interaction with the viewer.

Proof, if it were needed, that ITV is only a money-making exercise for the shareholders and not a welcoming entertainment source for the viewer.

David Caldwell 30 October 2016 at 8:06 pm

I’ve been a reader of Transdiffusion for a few years or so. I love reading about ITV in particular. Like the author, I assumed and believed UTV’s style would remain protected against the ITV PLC juggernaut. Alas, not. I like in central Scotland but am truly sadden by UTV’s entrance into this phase.

Alan Keeling 3 April 2017 at 10:44 am

One of Ulster TV’s former announcers used to also work as a continuity announcer for ATV, at times, during the 1970s.

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