Bring in the new
1 Jan 2002 0 comments. tbs.pm/1780
As years go, 1982 was hugely significant in terms of setting the agenda for British broadcasting by any standards; the first franchise changes since 1968 under the shadow of Channel 4, planned to redefine the shape of UK television. Soon after, the evolutionary steps of breakfast television and 24-hour broadcasting would follow.
1982 ushered in changes to the ITV regional franchise composition, with ATV in the Midlands becoming Central, Westward formally replaced by TSW, and last but not least Southern replaced by TVS as the ITV contractor serving the South and South East of England.
Another significant change took place in the south east that is easily overlooked – that of the Bluebell Hill transmitter in Kent switching from Thames/LWT to TVS, part of the creation of a new dual region in the south which TVS was contracted to serve using new studios in Maidstone.
Living in the South of England meant that I grew up with Southern as a broadcaster, and TVS gained the franchise when I was at secondary school.
The daily ritual of the station start-up usually took place when I was at school, and the family television was almost never switched on in the morning before 9am since there was nothing worth watching; if it was, it was invariably tuned to BBC-1 and not Southern.
The Southern start-up sequence – a strange concept nowadays in an era of 24 hour broadcasting for ITV1 – was just a fact of life at that time; it was something that just happened every day and many people didn’t give it a second thought.
This meant that I almost never saw Southern commence broadcasting when I was at secondary school, so watching TVS start the day for the first time was both unusual and exciting.
The impression gained from watching the new start-up was that the blue and white colours Southern used had been banished into the history books, and it was immediately apparent that TVS would be completely different from Southern – it’s amazing what a simple change of colour and typeface can do.
It was slightly disappointing that there was no transmitter information displayed, but the reality was that Southern had also dispensed with showing this information before its demise. By way of some compensation, TVS also showed a programme menu, which was something that Southern never did even in its later years.
The first programme listed was appropriately entitled “Bring In The New”, and its arrival was eagerly awaited. The local newspaper had already printed some details about TVS and its launch, since the change was deemed to be important for Southampton and the central South region in general.
New presenter Khalid Aziz would be making a grand entrance via helicopter after a brief aerial tour of the TVS region, and the new evening local news programme would be entitled “Coast to Coast”. The new music used for the start-up was apparently entitled “TVS Gallop”, and whilst it lacked the cosy familiarity that Southern Rhapsody had engendered over time, it was a tremendous piece of music in its own right and was a fitting fanfare to the new franchise.
When “Bring In The New” finally started, the programme turned out to be slickly presented and relatively well put together, which was all the more remarkable given the lack of prior preparation TVS had before the day itself.
Unlike its fellow new franchises Central and TSW, TVS were denied access to the previous franchise’s studios whilst it was still on air right up to the last day of 1981, so all preparatory work had to be conducted using portacabins located in the studio car park.
Their presence must have been a daily unwelcome reminder of the uncertainty ahead for existing Southern staff. Indeed, TVS were nicknamed “portacabin TV” by Southern critics and a parody song was broadcast as a derisory gesture, but that was a touch unfair when considering the organisational nightmare that TVS had been subjected to at the time.
“Bring In The New” had all the hallmarks of a programme which had been well prepared but showed that TVS had very little time to establish themselves in their Northam studio base. Extensive use was made of outside broadcast footage, including Khalid Aziz in a helicopter, but the TVS studios were shown to be relatively unprepared internally – examples included a presenter sat in the news studio in front of journalists sat at typewriters working away, and a weather forecast that used lines drawn with a marker pen on a map instead of magnetic symbols or computer graphics.
“Bring In The New” – despite its flaws – worked very well as an introduction. It was quite literally a triumph of meticulous forward planning and was the culmination of a frantic night’s work after Southern had finished broadcasting for the very last time.
I suspect that the programme worked well simply because much of it simply “ran on adrenaline”. Compare and contrast with the extract from TSW’s opening programme which was featured on BBC-2’s TV Hell night several years ago which is often cited as being tacky and over the top (“Television Simply Wonderful”).
TVS used “Bring In The New” as a basis to introduce itself to the viewers and showed its station identification (or ident) for the very first time during the programme (but not before it). My initial reaction to the ident was that of puzzlement; I didn’t quite know what to make of it at the time since it was very different from the white star on a blue background Southern had used.
But it fitted well with the new ethos that TVS had introduced, sweeping away seventies middle class conservatism and replacing it with eighties modernism.
The multicoloured symbol on a black background was a concept that was to be used by both Central (launching simultaneously) and Channel 4 (nearly a year later) among others. TVS had (in effect) to prove that it was completely different from Southern in nearly every way, whilst simultaneously attempting not to alienate loyal ITV viewers in the South, a daunting proposition to say the least.
Ironically, despite trying to be different, TVS consisted of many staff members who previously worked for Southern, showing that a broadcaster’s image is all down to branding and programme content and is dictated by management working with branding consultants and programme planners (amongst other factors).
Not all of the Southern staff remained with the company, and there were some important new arrivals such as Anna Home from the BBC, appointed programme controller for the new south-eastern region.
TVS got off to a good, if not flying, start with “Bring In The New”, and the franchise’s early productions were solid efforts that attempted to bridge the gap between the cosy world that Southern had inhabited and that of the bolder networked light entertainment productions that TVS were to produce later.
If anything TVS were to become a bit too adventurous in later years and indulge in some risk-taking (courtesy of some dodgy business deals such as the purchase of MTM Entertainment) which eventually helped lead to its own downfall.