Shotgun wedding 

18 June 2018

From The Guardian for Tuesday 14 October 1980


Lady Plowden: marriage-broker?

A SHOTGUN marriage took place behind closed doors in Knightsbridge last week. Under the stern matriarchal eye of Lady Plowden, a union was solemnised between Lord Harris, blushing virgin chairman of Westward Television, and Mr Peter Cadbury, who promised — well, not to love, honour, and obey exactly, but at least to refrain from wearing the trousers and grumbling about the housekeeping allowances for as long as decently possible, even if he can claim to have built the family home in the first place.

Whether this alliance — an improbable affair ever since the pair first went a-courting — will even be consummated remains to be seen, but at least vows have been exchanged and the tongues of the scandalmongers in Media Village stopped from wagging for a while.

But the affair, and its outcome, have sparked a lot more speculation. Could it be that if there is not to be a bloodletting in ITV, as the contracts come up for renewal, we shall see more marriage-broking at 190 Brompton Road before the year is out? Not so much Sweeney Todd, more Bridget Get Your Gun.

Lady Plowden chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and her colleagues on the authority, do after all have considerable powers when it comes to awarding the franchises for running the ITV regions.

Not the least effect of the events of last Thursday and Friday — an intriguing combination of ACAS and the Star Chamber, as the Westward rivals were persuaded into bed under threat of a rapid death — was to show a wider audience that they are prepared to use them.

Bloodletting, of course, is the real spectator sport, and most of the new groups bidding for one of the 16 ITV contracts would just like to see the sitting tenants axed and themselves put in. Lord Hill, after all, chopped TWW in 1968

And bloodletting might still happen. Indeed, it might be on the cards that Westward Television itself is still a candidate for that sort of treatment. All the IBA did last week was try to put the company into sufficient order, first, to fulfil its contract through to the end of next year, but second, to make it possible a rational choice between Westward and its two rivals for the South-west franchise from 1982, a choice that, like the rest, has to be made between now and December 28.

Most observers reckon Westward’s track record is by no means bad, but both the other groups look to have merit, and if the IBA chooses one it would scarcely wish either Mr Cadbury or his boardroom rivals on the infant.

Elsewhere, there is plenty of scope for softer tactics, and they too have been used in the past. TWW might have fallen victim to the cruel axeman Hill, but the group that replaced it, now known to us all as HTV, is the merger of two rival bidders, who were told by Hill’s ITA they could have the Wales and West contract if they got together smartish. Smoke filled rooms and approval quickly followed.

Thames Television resulted from another merger, between two sitting tenants, Associated Rediffusion and ABC, forced in just the same way.

The authority, if faced with such an unsatisfactory field for one contract, can even pluck another applicant but of a different bid and make it an offer it is unlikely to refuse. This technique, however, is less likely in 1980: regionalism is the in-concept and most of the 44 applicants have made such protestations of undying loyalty to their chosen patch, to load their boards with local celebrities, and their shareholding with local money, they would look a bit daft packing their carpet bags and heading elsewhere.

But if Lady Plowden decides to turn marriage-broker there are some ripe possibilities on her list of the eligible and the supplicant.

The struggle for the South and South-east of England is the prime example. Southern Television finds no fewer than six rivals bidding against it for the new contract and although one seems likely to have given up already, the collective wisdom of the television grapevine sees a strong three-horse race lining up between Southern, Television South and South East, and TVS.

The two new applicants certainly have the money. The Charterhouse banking group are behind one, European Ferries (and their recently acquired bank) behind TVS. Both also have new ideas about organisation, and as far as any outsider can gather about the most important but most sensitive area of all, a fair range of programme-making talent is committed behind both.

Of course, all three — and the rest — would prefer to win the prize outright. But all are being notably careful not to be too rude about their rivals, even off the record.

The IBA itself would probably also prefer to make a clean decision in its region. If a group has been put together with enough care to warrant serious consideration, it should be capable of doing the job on its own, with all its people well matched and already used to each other’s ideas.

When Lady Plowden announces the winners, on Sunday, December 28, any newcomer will have just one year to get on the air, which leaves no time for honeymoons after a forced marriage.

But if Friday’s session at Brompton Towers is any indication, the Authority is fully prepared for a rather forceful style of marriage therapy, if it sees the need. The Pattern it is now deciding, after all, must last through the Eighties. The hopefuls who must really be eyeing each other more closely from this week are the bidders for the half-promised new breakfast television contract. The lineup of talent the IBA’s carrot has attracted is worthy of Goodwood — Frost, Jay, Pettifer, Sherrin, Dimbleby, Elstein, Townson, Robin Scott.

Given that lot and Whicker, and the ITN brigade, and more — and the ideas presented — the betting must be that the breakfast contract must indeed be awarded.

But as to who will be in bed with whom — contractually speaking — after Bridget has blessed them on December 28, that is a very open question, and some of them are nodding and winking at each other already.

You Say

7 responses to this article

Ed Burek 1 July 2018 at 8:05 pm

The more I read about how dysfunctional the Westward board was, the more amazed I am. For a local broadcaster with very little in the way of national exposure throughout their lifespan, they sure got through more back-stabbing sessions that would make Macchiavelli blush with embarrassment.
There was me thinking that Westward was a strictly provincial broadcaster which gave the world Gus Honeybun, ably assisted by the likes of Iain Stirling and Roger Shaw. I’m not sure if there has been anything published behind the scenes at Westward, but if there was, it would definitely make the Game Of Thrones saga seem like a Mills & Boon pot-boiler.

Peter Kelsey 27 February 2020 at 11:01 pm

Which company was contract K and Contract M?

Russ J Graham 2 July 2020 at 6:19 pm

K: Borders
M: North Scotland

Robert Woolley 28 October 2021 at 6:56 pm

Was London Independent bidding for both contracts A and B?

Russ J Graham 28 October 2021 at 9:21 pm

Robert: Yes.

John Evans 12 December 2022 at 10:24 pm

Which one did Charterhouse back ? Bearing in mind that Charterhouse also attempted a franchise in 1991. Yep they failed that too.

John Evans 12 December 2022 at 10:46 pm

I wonder if the IBA would have considered ever advertiseing a separate East Midlands franchise? Maybe including the Belmont transmitter with that too?. Who would have gone for it? Michael Green…Leslie Hill? Makes you wonder. Maybe ATV would have survived as a West Midlands franchise but with IBA conditions still but more generous to ATV? Also in 1980 Who did Charterhouse back? Remember their infamous disastrous 1991 franchise bids.

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