Tonight’s Southern TV… in 1977 

6 September 2017

So, here we are, in the first full week of September 1977. Elvis has been dead for 3 weeks, Marc Bolan has one more week to live before having his own date with destiny, the Cold War was still raging, racial segregation was still very much state-sanctioned in South Africa and Rhodesia, and I was roughly just over halfway through my time as a foetus. So, if my mum had lived a hundred miles East of where she was, what delights would have awaited her on Southern?

The TV Times’ cover would have been nationwide, of course, so we can safely assume that The New Avengers was part of the new season for every ITV franchise. Of course, it never achieved the fame and respect of the original series, but if you fancy watching it 40 years later, keep an eye on ITV4’s schedules or have a punt on the box set. The cover also has two rather interesting historical pointers. Even though the Silver Jubilee was in June, free tat was clearly still being made available to the Great ITV Viewing Public, and there is a reference to the knighting of climbers Hillary and Hunt when their successful climb of Everest coincided with her coronation in 1953.

Along with The New Avengers, Autumn season 1977 starts with the new soap opera Emmerdale Farm and a new sitcom, You’re Only Young Twice, both from Yorkshire Television. Of course, Emmerdale (the Farm being dropped in 1989) continues to be made at YTV’s old base at Kirkstall Road (now ITV Yorkshire) 40 years later, whilst the sitcom has joined the reliable family of old YTV, LWT and Thames schedule fillers on ITV3. You’re bound to see Peggy Mount and the rest of the Paradise Lodge gang if you watch the channel for long enough.

Another new series for this season is London Belongs to Me, a sitcom made, unsurprisingly by Thames. It was an adaptation of a novel by Norman Collins about a colourful collection of characters in a South London house, and the very fact that I need to explain the plot should hint at how successful it was. It’s an interesting idea, which is why a reasonably successful film was made based on the novel in 1948, but as any keen scholar of the ‘sitcom films’ genre popularised during the 1970s can tell you, a successful idea in a sitcom may not be easily transferred to film, and vice versa. It’s probably a good indication as to the money sloshing around in TV at this point that Thames decided to try a more experimental subject for sitcom, and as ever, it’s interesting to browse through the cast list for actors such as Tony Aitken, soon to provide comedy nerds much joy in the excellent End of Part One, made by LWT in 1979 and 1980.

Naturally, there are stalwarts of prime time such as Survival, Anglia’s famed contribution to the network from 1961. This is a one-hour Special, which were used as the flagship documentaries to support the usual 30 minute programmes, so it’s unsurprising to find the Special launching the new season. Although Survival’s production unit was disbanded in 2001, the name was still used by ITV as a mark of confidence in Survival with Ray Mears in 2010 and Survival – Tales From the Wild in 2011.

Later in the evening, Granada gives us something more highbrow with The Christians at 10:30pm. This is a slot where few viewers who had to get up early for blue-collar jobs would be likely to see it on a Tuesday, but I expect some middle-class office workers gave it a shot. What’s really surprising from a modern perspective is This Sporting Land, a new series about cricket at 11.30pm. This is a slot where you’re unlikely to see anything new nowadays, and it feels rather like Thames and Yorkshire had money coming out of their ears at this point. Surprising also is the news bulletin at midnight, although today’s ITV have conceded news coverage after News at Ten to rolling news channels.

The last programme of the night is a little bit of a mystery, however. All the World’s a Stage suggests a theatre-related production, and although Southern provided epilogues in its history, no details are given here to suggest what this programme might be. The BBC produced a series of the same name in 1983, based on Ronald Harwood’s book, which can be found on YouTube if you fancy seeing some off-airs of Australia’s SBS from the same period, with the odd bit of in-vision continuity.

As for daytime, we have the usual Southern daytime magazine of Houseparty, and happily for us, parts of the series from the last year or so of Southern’s franchise have escaped onto YouTube. It’s all rather middle-class and pedestrian, which I imagine might have made me rather keen to get a job. Still, ITV’s long-running This Morning (starting in 1988), proves that once the daytime bottle was opened, viewers were never able to put it back down again. Talking of daytime fare, Summer School and In Focus with Harry Secombe actually feel like the sort of programmes that would now sit comfortably on BBC One’s daytime output. However, it’s interesting to note that dramas such as Rogue’s Rock are very much relegated to afternoons on the BBC, and have been ignored totally by ITV daytime’s output nowadays, which are dominated by discussion and game shows. However, it’s not hard to see the link between Crown Court and the very popular Judge Rinder. Of course, nowadays major networks aren’t troubled by programming for children, who have their own channels, but it’s interesting to see deafness addressed by the always brave Magpie.

Daytime wasn’t just for lighter output, of course. New series Out of Work, hosted by the ever-reliable Shaw Taylor and Shelia Kennedy reflected the changing times; the 1970s being the first time in the television age that mass unemployment became common. It’s interesting to note that it’s an ATV production, as the West Midlands suffered particularly from mass unemployment resulting from deindustrialisation. Of course, this series launching along with extended coverage of the TUC congress was probably no accident, and this devotion of air-time to matters of employment and unions is something that isn’t seen nowadays, partly due to the destructive effect of deindustrialisation on union membership and the deliberate reduction of union power by government policy. I don’t think it’s a big stretch to say that 1977 was probably something of a high water mark for the domination of the TUC on the nation’s airwaves.

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9 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 6 September 2017 at 2:05 pm

Anglia steadfastly refusing to put the “Weavers Green” cuckoo on at 7.00 like everyone else.

Looks like two helpings of Fred Dinenage in the Thames – er, London – region as they’re also showing “Gambit”.

As for Fred’s earlier programme, “How” asks ‘how can you talk without speaking?’. Erm, watch “Magpie” for a hint, perhaps?

Back over on that there London, “Cowboy in Africa” was a late 60’s series of 26 episodes starring Chuck “Branded” Connors as the world’s champion cowboy (!!) relocating to Kenya to improve ranching methods at a game park, and “Dan August” was a very early 70’s police drama of 26 episodes starring Burt Reynolds in the title role.

Steve Barnes 6 September 2017 at 4:25 pm

Note the mini network of the small ten all showing their own programmes 10.15-12.00, whereas the big four would show imported stuff and films.
Southern News at midnight is just the first slot after the network feed. Appeared much earlier some days.

TimASI 6 September 2017 at 5:59 pm

I don’t recall London Belongs to me as a sitcom. Rather it was a drama series with a mix of comic/serious plots and characters, very much in keeping with the book, which I read recently

Mike 6 September 2017 at 6:06 pm

Emmerdale Farm started in 1972 so it wasn’t really new at this point (unless Southern failed to pick up previous seasons?) Interesting that it wasn’t year-round tbough.

Paul Mason 7 September 2017 at 9:14 am

More famous now than then was Richard Wilson as a barrister on Crown Court. He turned up in other shows, The Sweeney (one episode where Wilson exits a scene and John Thaw says “I don’t believe it”, although there was no context there). He was a doctor in ” Only When I laugh”./I noticed Arnold Peters in London Belongs To Me, he played Jack Woolley in the Archers until his death.

Best wishes for your forthcoming 40th birthday Tanya!

Joanne Gray 7 September 2017 at 7:13 pm

Mike, I too believe that Emmerdale Farm started in 1972. I do remember that it wasn’t a rolling serial a la Coronation Street in those days. I remember up until the early 80s (memory might be playing tricks on me, so someone feel free to correct me here) that my region Tyne Tees would repeat Emmerdale Farm in an afternoon slot (between 230 and 3pm?) to refresh viewers’ memories before a new series of the soap would be screened. As I say, I might not be 100% with the dates, but I remember the repeats and am quite certain that Emmerdale Farm was a series but not an ongoing serial until at least the time of the famous 1979 strike and afterwards.

Alan Keeling 10 September 2017 at 10:39 am

One September the sixth 1977, the doesn’t appear to be any US imports in Southern TV’s schedules for that day. How unusual.

Glenn Aylett 28 April 2018 at 11:24 am

People tend to think of unemployment only being a serious issue when Maggie took over in 1979, but the seventies did see unemployment more than double, adding to other economic woes like high inflation, strikes and energy shortages. Out of Work is probably typical of the downbeat mood of the time, which also saw punk rock at its height.

garry robin simpson 26 January 2020 at 2:05 pm

Dear T.B.S. The unions at Southern Television were not as militant as say Yorkshire/tyne tees/Tridet but I seem to remember Southern Television being taken off the air from July 1977 to September 1977. We had a good catch-up0 service when Southern returned. I have seen nothing on the net. Could you confirm the dates for me please? Thank You.

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