A very singular region 

27 July 2017 tbs.pm/13088


Date: July 1978
Announcer: Joanne Woods
Music: The Antrim Road (Hill/Ward)


Ulster Television has always had a unique position in the ITV structure. It has broadcast to a part of the country famous for its social and cultural divisions. It has had to work hard over the years in an environment where neutrality was seen as taking sides; and where the majority of people were getting on with a more normal life day by day than the London media reports suggest. It was always important that UTV should not succumb to the situation and has always tried to rise above the immediate perspectives of The Troubles without ignoring them.

Back in the early seventies the IT A was keen that Ulster Television should at least be seen to be even-handed in the acknowledgement it gave to the two dominant cultural strains in Northern Irish life and the company was encouraged to find or commission a station theme that could be seen to reflect both cultures.

The Hill/Ward composition “The Antrim Road” fitted these requirements well with a marching section redolent of the Ulster Protestant culture but a quite different and twice repeated central refrain that owed more to the all-Irish, dance-led folk culture of the island as a whole. This attempt by UTV to meet the cultural markers of both communities was introduced with the arrival of colour in the early seventies and remained in use for more than a decade.

Although the term Ulster Television continued to be heard on authority announcements and more formal occasions, the abbreviation UTV came more fully into use as the decade wore on. It was thought to be a less provocative for the part of the community unhappy about the very concept of Ulster. The company did not go all the way with these acknowledgements of community opinion however, believing that it could not really hide its role as a station to appear even handed in its relationship to, and coverage of, the several differing communities in the province.

Several, rather than two, is the right term as a third silent majority existed, people for who the split in the community was less important than the daily grind of work-play-sleep. A fourth section to be served, at least obliquely, also existed: the rest of the island, a separate country with its own institutions, could, by hook or by crook, receive Ulster Television and happily tuned in.

Continuity announcers appearing in-vision survived longer in the Ulster region than any other part of Independent Television. What may now seem parochial to those outside the area continued to be the driving force of company popularity and into 2016 UTV was still trading on the popular station host formula so successfully pioneered by ABC in the fifties and sixties.

The long-lived oscilloscope symbol was successfully refreshed on a number of occasions over the years and was cleverly transformed from fifties art deco trademark to swish eighties 3D shimmering steel, but in subtle and gentle steps. It is a tribute to the presentation staff of the company that they were able to maintain and refresh the company symbol so successfully – leaving aside the brush with the logo on a stick – that later incarnations looked new and modern while retaining a clear line of continuity from its original roots which older viewers found reassuring.

This article is based on another article by the same author that originally appeared in a slightly different form before 2000 as well as all new material. It has been published with the addition of the animated Ulster Television start-up recreation by Dave Jeffery.

You Say

1 response to this article

Neil Crosswaite 19 November 2019 at 3:28 pm

Kudos to UTV for being able to function let alone have a fairly well balance startup tune.

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