How the new look will change ITV 

22 September 2022 tbs.pm/76487

The IBA franchise redistribution has given birth to two stations and breakfast-time television. But, as Thomson Prentice reports, even the companies who retained their licences must revise programmes

 

 

NOW! magazine cover

From NOW! for 1 January 1981

Television’s biggest shake-up for 13 years this week signalled the birth of breakfast-time programmes, the death of two commercial stations — Southern and Westward — and the disappearance of the familiar ATV symbol from our screens.

The prizes and the punishments were handed out by Lady Plowden, chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. At a gathering large enough to be a school assembly, she was perfectly cast in the role of a stern headmistress on prize-giving day. It was an end-of-term ceremony, too, as she also retired this week.

For most of the 15 ITV companies, their report cards bore nothing more critical than “shows promise but could do better”. One or two had blotted their copy-books, however, and were reprimanded. But the penalty for the dunces was drastic — expulsion from the independent television network. Twenty keen new groups of businessmen and broadcasters had competed with the incumbents for those 15 places, and another eight sets of rivals vied for the glamorous breakfast franchise. Of all the outsiders, only three were deemed to have done their homework successfully enough to be rewarded with contracts which will run for eight years from January, 1982. The new names on ITV’s roll-call will be TV-AM, Television South West, and TVS, which replaces Southern TV.

The introduction of early-morning television is the most exciting change for viewers — though if the format is to be different, the faces will be familiar enough. Anna Ford and Angela Rippon, reluctant rivals in the cross-channel ratings war, will be on the same side when the new station opens in 1983, along with David Frost, Esther Rantzen, Michael Parkinson and former Washington ambassador Peter Jay, chairman of the group.

Along with all the other hopefuls, Mr Jay had gone to the IBA’s headquarters in Knightsbridge, London, for an all-will-be-revealed 15-minute interview with Lady Plowden and members of her board. When he re-emerged from the revolving doors on to a pavement crowded with waiting journalists, he needed all his experience as a diplomat to resist broadcasting his triumph before the official announcement. But if his lips were sealed, his grin gave the game away.

 

Four people link arms. Inset is two women.

Good morning: The TV-AM group of David Frost, Michael Parkinson, Anna Ford and chairman Peter Jay celebrate the winning of their franchise. Inset: Fellow members of the group, Esther Rantzen and Angela Rippon

 

There had been all sorts of denials that Anna and Angela, Esther and Parky had been lured on to the breakfast television bandwagon. Once the glittering prize had been secured, however, it was a different story. “We have signed up to appear for 26 weeks a year exclusively for TV-AM,” said Anna, “and that means we will all be giving up the jobs we do at present. The only place you’ll see any of us will be over the breakfast table.”

“It’s quite likely that we will both appear in the same programme,” said Angela. “Why not? If there had been any animosity we would hardly have teamed up for the same franchise.” TV-AM will be on screen from 6.15 am for three hours Monday to Fridays, starting half an hour or an hour later at weekends.

The morning will begin with The Early Show, described by Peter Jay as “good-humoured, easy-going and useful” with news, weather, and a morning newspapers’ digest. Then at seven am comes The Breakfast Show, described by the company as “having the tone of popular journalism in all its facets — from the front pages to the feature and sports pages”. It will be a magazine programme built around news, topical events and general interest.

Three news bulletins and two brief news summaries will be spaced throughout the three hours of air-time so that however briefly the programmes are watched, viewers should still get the latest news before they leave home. Contributors will also provide regular features on consumer issues, finance, cooking, health and other subjects. Mobile TV-AM units will inject live on-location stories.

The TV-AM triumph was greeted with less than enthusiasm by staff at ITN, who had wanted the franchise. In their application to the IBA, TV-AM expressed the hope that ITN would provide them with a news service. Such co-operation, however, has still to be worked out, and there were clear signs this week of hard bargaining to come.

Some ITN reporters and executives were said to be unhappy about providing some of their best stories to a rival programme, particularly because TV-AM staffers like Ford and Rippon would be probably earning more than £40,000 [£185,000 now, allowing for inflation – Ed] a year — twice the average ITN rate.

A recent opinion poll indicated that about 50 per cent of TV viewers would watch the breakfast programme — a high enough proportion to warrant its launch with the expectation that the audience would continue to grow over the next few years.

The BBC is now considering its own breakfast-time TV plans and could have a rival programme on the air by the time the commercial station opens in 1983. It would be closely linked with Radio Four, and a working party under Radio Four controller Monica Sims has been set up to examine the possibilities.

The managing director of BBC Radio, Mr Aubrey Singer, said: “The idea would be to make a new hybrid which would combine the communication of radio with the informal additions that pictures can give.”

1 he BBC’s answer to TV-AM would bring together the Radio Four Today programme anchor team of John Timpson, Libby Purves and Brian Redhead with established television hands such as Terry Wogan and Jimmy Young. The hope would be that the audience would wake up to the radio segment, continue with the TV version over breakfast and tune in again to radio while driving to work.

Although TV-AM’s Peter Jay dismissed the BBC plans as “merely sticking a camera in a radio studio”, a rival morning TV show would certainly dent the commercial station’s audience — particularly if the Corporation gets on the air first, as seems likely. For viewers, though, it would be a bonus.

 

A map of the UK showing the ITV regions

 

While the TV-AM personalities celebrated with champagne, the managements of Southern and Westward were trying to get used to the sudden taste of defeat.

It could hardly have been a surprise at the Westward studios in Plymouth, where the boardroom feuds involving founder-chairman Peter Cadbury and Lord Harris of Greenwich had attracted a mass of bad publicity earlier in the year before forcing Cadbury’s resignation. Lady Plowden insisted that the debacle had not cost Westward the franchise, asserting that the contract had been awarded on merit to the new Television South West, but few observers saw it as simply as that. Westward will make way in 1982 for the TSW group which is headed by 57-year-old Mr Brian Bailey, a Somerset county councillor and magistrate. Local businessmen, farmers and landowners provided the finance to launch the new company.

The ousting of Southern Television at Southampton, though, was Lady Plowden’s real shocker. The company, which raked in profits of £5 million two years ago, is owned by the Rank Organisation, Associated Newspapers (publishers of the Daily Mail) and the D.C. Thomson publishing group. It serves the area with ITV’s richest audience and had seemed secure — despite competition from five other groups of bidders.

But the contract has gone instead to the relatively obscure South and South-East Communications Ltd, whose call-sign will be TVS and whose managing director is television producer James Gatward.

The company was first formulated in the unlikely setting of the buffet car of the 6.45 pm train from Charing Cross to Hastings on an autumn evening in 1978. The travelling bar was a regular meeting place of commuting journalists and broadcasters on what became jokingly known as the “oblivion express” because of the quantities of liquor frequently gulped down. One of the consortium investors said this week: “The idea of setting up our own television company just came out in the middle of a few scotches and gins. The more we thought about it, the more it made sense.” The group was able to gather both broadcasting expertise and high finance. The station’s controller of news and current affairs is Robert Southgate, defecting from Thames TV, and the biggest shareholder is Tory MP Keith Wickenden, chairman of the profitable European Ferries. Southern Television lost the franchise apparently because of its lack of local involvement and identity — a flaw which the IBA was also to see in other existing ITV companies. Most were told to improve their local coverage — and there were especially tough instructions for ATV in Birmingham and Yorkshire TV in Leeds.

Critics of ATV had claimed that the company’s affairs were conducted too much in its London offices rather than in the Midlands and that Lord Lew Grade, its leading light, was more interested in making big-budget movies like the recent Raise The Titanic than local programmes.

The outcome is a loss of much control of ATV by Lord Grade’s Associated Communications Corporation, with 49 per cent of the shares to be offered to local people and companies — and, in the words of Lady Plowden, “the company should seek a new name to indicate more clearly the creation of a substantially new form of company”.

She had a warning for ATV, too: “The IBA will expect proposals for meeting these conditions to be put forward by the end of January; failing that, the Authority will then consider afresh the offer of the contract.” It was an offer that Lord Grade could not refuse, though he described himself as “contented” by the new rules.

Lady Plowden was equally tough on Trident, the holding company based in London which controls both Yorkshire TV and Tyne Tees TV. “Trident is no longer to be in control of the two television companies,” she announced. “They will be owned and managed separately in their own areas and each will be properly capitalised with adequate reserves, resources and facilities.”

She called also for the appointment of a new joint managing director with “a particular responsibility for industrial relations” — a barbed reference to the notoriously bad working atmosphere at Yorkshire TV which reached its nadir during the ITV strike in 1978. Both the new joint managing director and the new chairman who will take over next year “will be required to live in the franchise area”.

 

Two images, one of a balding man getting into a car, one of a man in a leather jacket getting on a bike

Winner and loser: MP Austin Mitchell failed to depose Yorkshire TV but Lord Harlech, left, kept his franchise and earned a pat on the back

 

It was a narrow escape, and a bitter disappointment for the consortium which had challenged Yorkshire TV. Two of its leading figures, MPs Jonathan Aitken and Austin Mitchell, could not conceal their chagrin. They had the backing of many of Yorkshire TV’s staff. “I only hope they will be protected by the IBA,” said Mr Mitchell. Indeed, it seems that they will. Shares in the new Yorkshire structure will be open to those who supported the rival group.

For viewers in all the other ITV regions, some less drastic changes are in the offing:

London: Both Thames TV and London Weekend retain their franchises as expected. Former TV quizmaster Hughie Green had been involved in groups bidding for both contracts, but they were never considered serious contenders. Thames TV was described by Lady Plowden as a company with “considerable all-round strength and the ability to sustain good programming in the future”, while LWT’s accolade was “diverse good qualities developed over recent years”. Both companies are expected to co-operate to provide an improved news service seven days a week. LWT boardroom changes are expected and some Thames shares are to be offered to the public.

East England: Anglia TV, best-known for wildlife documentaries, keeps the franchise and escapes criticism. But the IBA expects it to “reflect the changing nature of the region it serves” in the 1980s.

Wales and West England: Harlech TV, chaired by Lord Harlech, was patted on the back for a “realistic and forward-looking approach”, but more studios may be required and more attention has to be paid to the problems of a Welsh language service.

North-West England: Granada TV was complimented for its “distinguished” record but instructed to improve coverage of the region as a whole with a bigger share of material from Merseyside to balance the bulk from Greater Manchester. Some shares are to be offered to the public.

Northern Ireland: Ulster TV’s record “in a difficult area” sees them through against a rival bid, but there has to be a wider range of interests catered for, and more output of drama, children’s programmes, and religious items.

Central Scotland: STV held two competitors at bay but will have to pay more attention to national and regional culture and develop programmes for children and minority interests. More attention to be given to public viewpoints.

North Scotland: Grampian held the franchise unopposed, but must consult more with local communities about programmes, especially in the more remote parts of their very large region.

The Borders: Border TV were also unopposed and “commended” by the IBA. The only significant change will be a greater reflection of interests in the region, including the Isle of Man.

Channel Islands: Channel’s past performance is “creditable”, says the IBA. No rival bids, so the company continues but is being asked to extend programme hours to give viewers more of the output from network companies on the mainland.

 

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