Southern Rhapsody 

1 January 2002 tbs.pm/1696

In 1981, the final ITV franchise battle overseen by the IBA was over and the new franchisees were busily making preparations to take over from their soon-to-depart rivals.

At midnight on January 1, 1982, a lot of television sets in the south and south-east of England were still set onto Southern Television, a rather dull and plain ITV company that never seemed to quite make it out of the 1950’s. ITV had always been like this in the south, even if Southern did a good job of being local and making some pretty decent programming. Their time was almost up. In three-quarters of an hour they were saying goodbye to the south for the last time. In the space of twenty-four hours, ITV in the south and south-east, and the region itself, would be changed forever.

Southern Independent Television logo

Less than two years earlier, Southern Television was given its death warrant by the IBA in the 1980 Franchise renewals. It’s still not clear why Southern’s license to broadcast was not renewed – poor coverage of the south-east, a company rather behind the times and an outstanding bid by TVS could all be given as reasons.

TVS – or Television South – thought they could only win in a shotgun marriage to Southern or another bidder. To their surprise, the company, led by James Gatward, won outright. Needless to say, Southern and it’s chairman, David Wilson, were furious. Over 20 years service to the south and then to be thrown away. “We didn’t do anything” was the cry. Exactly – they didn’t do anything. They made plenty of good programming (including Out Of Town despite what second rate “Laugh At The Stupid Old Telly Shows” say) and they did a fairly good service to the region – but was it enough? They never seemed to break out of the mould of a 1950’s TV station – they never did anything exactly challenging. The region had lots and lots of potential, but they didn’t try. Lady Plowden, the then chairman of the IBA, put it right: “a victim of the system”

However, Southern would not go out quietly – even if they lost most of their dignity. Their final program was “1958-1981 Southern Independent Television”, a final self-destruction of an ITV company. They inserted tapes of the final staff dinner including a song – “Portakabin TV” making fun of the new station TVS (for TVS was working in Portakabins in Southern’s car park at Southampton) – and a final vile attack on the IBA by David Wilson. But despite loving Southern so dearly, Mr Wilson didn’t show up for this last show.

They passed midnight and carried onto 12:45am. Then it was goodbye from those Southern people, as we saw a roll call of famous regional faces. There were a number of them smiling, for they were going to TVS. Then the final endcap came, with the star on it’s blue background… only to have background turn black and the finally the star joined the other stars in the night sky over the south and then a haunting final jingle. That was the end. No epilogue or closedown. The Station That Serves The South was no more.

Southern's last moments

But life goes on. Later that morning the for the new company played TVS Gallop over a clock, followed by a voice over who introduced us to a symbol that would become very familiar. On a black background, a multicoloured symbol looking like a flower of the south was formed. It was a million miles away from Southern’s white on blue that was only on screen only a few hours before. Everything had changed forever. Their first program was an introduction to TVS including a helicopter trip to the new studios – again, it was so different from Southern and its final program.

Their news program Coast to Coast might have had a similar name to Southern’s Day By Day, but it had separate editions for the south and the south-east as promised in the licence application.

TVS breakbumper

Unlike Southern, TVS was ambitious. But far too ambitious and an over extension which saw a silly name change to TVS Television and an ill-fated purchase of MTM Enterprises almost killed off the company by bankruptcy. Gone was the rainbow of colours, except for a quick flash during their subtle early-90’s ident.

They weren’t killed by bankruptcy but by the 1991 Franchise Auction. And they provided the new ITC the bullets. The bid was far too high to have a financial plan that would at least prevent them from falling into bankruptcy. So they were replaced by Meridian – a station that’s decent enough, but like Southern not ambitious at all. TVS, like the station they replaced, was forgotten and dismissed to ITV history.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Ray goldsmith 24 November 2012 at 4:56 pm

Just wondering if the theme tune, I believe it was called ” Theme southeast” is on release or any record of it still exists. I can remember the tune and am often whistling it.

Zack Toombs 20 August 2014 at 4:25 pm

MTM Was Sold To A Company That Owned The Family Channel (now ABC Family) Then To News Corp In 1997 And Folded MTM Into 20th Century Fox Television In 1998 And Now Rupert Murdoch Spilt His Company In Two And MTM Is Now Owned 21st Century Fox

Geoff Nash 29 January 2016 at 10:12 am

TVS’s Coast To Coast was so similar in title to Southern’s Day By Day that even presenter Khalid Aziz accidentally referred to the former as the latter a few days after the changeover, saying something along the lines of “…… and you can see that on tomorrow night’s edition of Day By Day”, to be met with howls of laughter from his fellow presenters and the floor staff and a reference to his gaff in a letter from a disgruntled viewer (there were plenty who hated the changes) the following week on Watch This Space.

Alan Keeling 24 May 2016 at 10:54 am

The final Southern programme, screened at 12.45am was rather enjoyable & well worth staying up for. Actor & announcer, Christopher Robbie did an excellent job as host of said programme & it was, indeed, sad to see the famous Southern TV star symbol disappear into the night sky. I viewed this on YouTube, by the way.

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