The fall and rise of TV-am 

29 September 2023


TVTimes cover

From the TVTimes for week commencing 1 February 1986

AS DAVID FROST says, there was a time in the none-too-distant past when television’s best soap opera was the real-life drama at TV-am.

Whatever else Good Morning Britain may have been in earlier days, it was never dull. Not, at least, off screen.

But after fighting back from the very brink of financial disaster and public humiliation, TV-am is cheerfully, and successfully, celebrating its third birthday.

Here follows a short version of a long, torrid, but ultimately heartwarming story:

  • 28 December 1980 The Independent Broadcasting Authority gives the breakfast television franchise to TV-am, starring David Frost, Anna Ford, Angela Rippon, Michael Parkinson, Robert Kee and Esther Rantzen. Chairman and Chief Executive is Peter Jay.
  • 5 September 1981 Esther Rantzen leaves TV-am to have a baby, and leaves the Famous Five behind.
  • 1 February 1983 ‘Hello, good morning and welcome,’ says Frost. Robert Kee launches the new venture with the live news show Daybreak and at 7am it’s back to Frostie for Good Morning Britain, Day One, much praised by critics.
  • 8 March 1983 This is Day 36, and the newspapers report: ‘TV-am was plunged deeper into crisis by the news that its latest viewing figures have slumped to just 300,000… BBC Breakfast Time has increased its daily audience to 1.6 million.’
  • 18 March 1983 Peter Jay resigns. Jonathan Aitken MP is temporary Chief Executive.
  • 19 March 1983 Frost marries Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard. Peter Jay is a wedding guest and, says Frost, makes a most moving speech. Anna Ford has already made her own speech on other matters. ‘There’s been a great deal of treachery…’ she had said. Meanwhile, Roland Rat goes on screen, and Nick Owen is elevated from sport to full presenter.
  • April 1983 Angela Rippon and Anna Ford are sacked. Greg Dyke, 37-year-old whiz kid becomes Editor-in-Chief.
  • May 1983 New faces at Camden Lock. Wincey Willis and Lizzie Webb have taken on weather and fitness. Jimmy Greaves is television critic.
  • June 1983 Henry Kelly joins, and Anne Diamond leaves BBC to become a main presenter for TV-am. Michael Parkinson takes a summer break to work in Australian television. The Famous Five are now Two (and Robert Kee leaves in October).
  • January 1984 Angela Rippon receives substantial, undisclosed damages from TV-am after High Court action. Anna Ford has already made a settlement. Gordon Honeycombe becomes newsreader, and Jonathan Dimbleby joins.
  • 1 February 1984 TV-am’s first birthday. There are celebrations, but no champagne.
  • May 1984 Greg Dyke resigns. Timothy Aitken (cousin of Jonathan) is now chairman. Australian Bruce Gyngell is managing director.
  • April 1985 Nick Owen conducts exclusive interview with Princess Michael of Kent after controversy about her father’s Nazi connections. BBC ‘pirates’ the interview.
  • June 1985 David Frost interviews Margaret Thatcher who concludes one answer ‘… you must be bonkers’. It’s all good for the ratings.
  • October 1985 Roland Rat goes to the BBC.
  • December 1985 Good Morning Britain is now consistently higher in the ratings than the BBC. Daily peak rating, mid-December — TV-am, 2.3 million, BBC, 1.4 million.

      Six people crowded on a sofa

      The Famous Five: Parkinson, Ford, Frost, Kee and Rippon, with the first TV-am chairman, Peter Jay.


      Anne Diamond and Nick Owen

      Anne’s brave step

      ANNE DIAMOND was approached during TV-am’s darkest days. ‘The programme was a laughing stock and when Editor-in-Chief Greg Dyke asked me to leave my nice BBC job I said no. He called me a coward and said it was the last great television challenge. If he was facing it, so could I. He was right, but it was only the force of his personality that really persuaded me.’

      Nick’s royal highlight

      NICK OWEN, who presented sport on the first day of Good Morning Britain, was thrust into the limelight when he became a main presenter during the first chaotic summer months.

      The peak of Owen’s TV-am career remains his interview with Princess Michael of Kent. ‘It was shown all round the world and seen by millions of people, but, best of all, the BBC lifted it.’


      Roland Rat

      Roland Rat, whose popularity on TV-am was an early indicator that things would improve


      Frost weathers the storm

      DAVID FROST enjoyed the first day of TV-am. ‘It was very successful — the next day’s papers gave us a rousing welcome. But this proved to be false optimism. Within a week the soap opera had begun.’

      He remembers a period when there were six board meetings in eight days as TV-am struggled.

      There were better days ahead… a second anniversary party. ‘The ratings had improved, and there was a sense of achievement that we were still there.’


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