Bending the ear of the IBA on a bell-filled summer’s night 

15 December 2023 tbs.pm/79788

Map of transmitter coverage showing the Granada and ATV overlap around Stoke

 

Cover of the TVTimes

From the TVTimes for 18-24 August 1979

THE BELL-RINGERS at St. Peter ad Vinicula opposite the Town Hall are drifting in for evening practice; in the Glebe pub down the road, shirt-sleeved drinkers are playing table skittles: a steamy summer evening in Stoke-on-Trent.

In the Jubilee Hall inside the Town Hall, officials sporting Independent Broadcasting Authority lapel tabs look anxiously at the door. “Forty if we’re lucky,” says one. “But there might be a late rush.”

There was. It was as if a coach-load had turned up on the stroke of 7.30. And as the public meeting got under way, about 80 people – mostly middle-aged men, but with a fair collection of ladies in hats – prepared to have their say about ITV. This was just one of the 200 or so public meetings the IBA is holding all over the country, at which the viewing public is being asked to voice its opinions about the present ITV companies and the programmes they produce, before decisions are taken next year on the renewal of ITV franchises.

On stage, IBA Regional Officer for the Midlands Clare Mulholland, her assistant and two IBA technical experts, got ready for the onslaught. Some meetings held so far have been rather flat and poorly attended (“Perhaps the people who are really happy with the service are all at home watching television,” said Clare Mulholland). But others have turned into ding-dong battles.

The good people of Stoke also produced a steady stream of impassioned views. They ranged from the domestic: “Why can’t I get a picture on my TV when I live only half-a-mile from the transmitter?” asked one man – to the nationally relevant: politicians shouldn’t be allowed to host current affairs programmes, said one lady, who claimed they were inevitably biased.

Half way through the meeting, it was hard to tell who was saying what. Those bell-ringers at St. Peter ad Vinicula were getting into full swing: a delightful sound on a summer evening, but hard on the ears when you were trying to hear the lady at the back.

 

 

Stoke-on-Trent is in one of those borderline areas on the ITV map, the majority of people receiving pictures from the Midlands area, served by ATV, and the rest from the North-West, served by Granada. And the issue which roused most people at the meeting was whether the present service gave the area a fair crack of the whip in local programmes.

It’s a subject which has already caused controversy in many regions at IBA meetings. People in outlying areas of a large ITV region complain that coverage is too centralised. Richard Patterson, a local teacher, spoke strongly on the subject: “We require that in any future franchise operation, we have a studio in our area,” he said. “This is now possible with new electronic news gathering cameras. The coverage we get is a disgrace.”

There were murmurs of agreement. “Our impression,” said another speaker, “is that if news doesn’t happen in Birmingham, it doesn’t matter.”

Another topic which seemed to stir a lot of people was the use of bad language on television. “How much control does the IBA have over the use of bad language?” asked a Mr. Johnson. “It is terrible in Hazell,” he said, “and The Benny Hill Show, which used to be family entertainment, is now a crude show.”

 

 

Clare Mulholland pointed out that the IBA saw scripts, synopses and often previews of programmes which they thought might not be acceptable. But they relied on the public to tell them when they thought material was offensive. In any case, she said, did everyone agree with Mr. Johnson’s views about this?

There was a general hum of consent, although a couple of hands went up in disagreement. “We don’t want to get into the realms of censorship,” warned one lone voice.

In between more bonging from the bells across the road, the audience warmed up with a wide exchange of views. Mr. Tipper, a teacher, lamented that schools could not make full use of ITV schools programmes because transmissions didn’t coincide with the school timetable. If they couldn’t afford a video-recording machine, could they hire one, or were schools programmes available on film?

 

Three shots of people talking at the meeting

A man speaking at the meeting

Photos by Bernard Fallon

 

IBA – The future of Independent Television – public meeting 17 July 1979

Advertisement in the Staffordshire Sentinel for 11 July 1979

A grocer complained that people who watched commercials in the Granada area and shopped in ATV-land were disappointed when they couldn’t get special offers advertised on ITV. (Offers are sometimes confined to campaigns in individual ITV areas.)

And a gentleman who didn’t give his name saved up his quote of the night until the end: “I’m always amazed how the BBC does so much, so well, so often, with so little, and how ITV does so little, so badly, with so much revenue.”

The disappointing thing about the Stoke meeting was that almost everyone who turned up was a member of a local organisation, pressure group or political party, although the IBA had advertised the meeting in the Press and on local radio.

Between now and the beginning of next year there are IBA public meetings in many areas. They’re free, and if you like watching television, they’re important, because they could shape the IBA’s attitudes to the companies they appoint and the programmes you’ll be seeing in the coming years.

 

 

A TV station in your town?

 

HOW CAN LARGE ITV companies cater for people on the fringe of their areas – communities which often feel left out when it comes to local news coverage? The question was raised at the Stoke-on-Trent meeting and has been a recurrent topic in IBA public meetings. Already, many companies are expanding their local news operations, opening up studios and information centres in outlying towns.

ATV, for instance, has an information centre, manned by journalists with interviewing rooms at their disposal, in Nottingham and Oxford, and Bob Gillman, ATV’s Head of Regional Development, says the centres already attract more local stories.

Next month, Granada opens its new studio in Liverpool, and the Grampian company serving the North of Scotland has opened a new centre in Dundee. Many other companies are following suit, and the big hope is that union agreements will soon allow them to use the new Electronic News Gathering equipment which speeds up the process of getting local news on screen. The new cameras can record a news story directly on to videotape, instead of film, or beam it straight to the nearest studio.

But will a town like Stoke-on-Trent ever be able to have its own news programme, opting out of regional programmes to screen their own local news? Money would be needed to install the engineering at the transmitters which would make such a service available, but this could be the shape of TV to come.

 

 

BIAS – NO, SAYS TV EYE’S EX-M.P.

 

TV Eye title card

 

MRS. MARY REEVES of the Stoke-on-Trent Conservative Association won’t be too pleased about the latest news from TV Eye. At the IBA meeting, she complained that ex-politicians shouldn’t present current affairs programmes because, she claimed, they are bound to be biased.

But next week, when TV Eye begins a fresh series, a former politician, Bryan Gould, the member for Southampton Test until the last election, joins the team as a reporter.

Gould sees the problem, but feels that ex-politicians would be unlikely to let their personal views creep into a story.

“A good interviewer is always seeking the weakness in a politician’s stand,” he says. “And a former politician knows all the arguments from all the parties’ points of view.”

In his own case, he thinks his training as a lawyer will be invaluable in bringing a balanced feel to his reports. “You become accustomed to putting someone else’s case whatever your own views.”

Married with two children, 40-year-old Gould will be bringing his experience of working in the Foreign Office to TV Eye. And though he has no previous experience as a TV reporter, he has plenty on the other side of the camera. “A Labour M.P. in the South of England is a rare species,’ he says. “So I was always appearing on local programmes putting across the Labour view.”

 

 

Hazell, expletives deleted

 

Hazell, played by Nicholas Ball

ARE PROGRAMMES like Hazell too blue, as suggested at the IBA meeting in Stoke? Hazell producer Tim Aspinall was surprised by the accusation when we tackled him on this controversial subject.

Conceding that one four-letter word did find its way on screen in one episode, when it was overlooked at the cutting stage, Aspinall said the programme makers went out of their way to keep the scripts free from expletives. “There are very firm IBA directives on this, and we follow them carefully. We were aware that the programme had a large teenage following, and we rigorously kept out any words which might have caused offence. Nicholas Ball was particularly sensitive to the problem, and between us we cut anything in the dialogue which we were doubtful about.

“We realised it was extremely sensitive subject, and we didn’t want to lose viewers, quite unnecessarily, through giving offence over a few words.”

 

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