Southerner station 

2 Jul 2003 0 tbs.pm/1905 Article text released under the Creative Commons Attribution license Media copyrighted Report an error in this article

Television came to our house in 1960. As a child living in the capital, I was brought up on the programmes and presentation of Associated-Rediffusion and Rediffusion London, for many years until Thames took over the weekday contract in 1968.

Before London Weekend was even a glint in David Frost’s eye, our Saturday and Sunday programmes came from Associated TeleVision.

The presentation and ITV company symbols dominated sufficiently to make me notice that when I was away on holiday there were other logos less familiar to me, and programmes of a more regional flavour than Associated-Rediffusion and ATV London appeared to need.

It was on the south coast that we spent our summer holidays, initially in Bognor but later for many years near Dymchurch in Kent.

We often stayed at a caravan park close to Dymchurch town. It was 1968. Few caravans had televisions but the holiday camp provided a TV room that opened at about 4 o’clock just before each weekdays transmission began.

Other children, my sister included, would merrily be playing on the beach – but not me! For whether sat on the sea wall, on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch steam railway, or day tripping in Folkestone, I was a teenager and independent enough to make my way back to the caravan park. I wanted to go into the TV room and be able to sit and watch the ITV contractor, Southern Television, as the all day test card faded, and the station opened up for another evening of programmes around 4.20.

The Southern logo had long fascinated me. I had recognised it fronting some programmes seen in London. However at Dymchurch I was able to enjoy a daily rendition of Southern’s opening tune and from 1969 onwards the campsite had a colour television (something we did not have at home) so I was able to see Southern’s announcers, clock and animated logo in glorious colour. This was a real novelty.

As a schoolboy, I wrote to the company about its daily opening theme and was told the music specially created for the station was called ‘Southern Rhapsody’ by Richard Addinsell, a composer better known for his famous “Warsaw Concerto” the famous score for the forties war film “Dangerous Moonlight”.

I had by 1969 begun to purchase the yearbooks published annually by the Independent Television Authority. The symbols of all the ITV companies were printed inside this annual report of the network’s performance, which was published each December.

There were usually two pages about Southern Television itself and more about the programmes. These pages contained addresses, phone numbers, names of senior staff, details of technical facilities and a list of the previous years local, part-networked and fully networked programmes. On the Southern page there was usually an aerial picture of the company’s main studio base at Northam in Southampton.

I learned that Southern was different in make-up to the other ITV companies in that it was wholly owned by three other organisations, based on having a part share each.

25% owner was DC Thompson, the Scottish based magazine and comic publisher. I was familiar with their Dandy and Beano comics. Owning 37.5% was Associated Newspapers and third owner, also with a 37.5% share, was The Rank Organisation, with its famous ‘man and gong’ logo. Rank were said to be more “in the driving seat” than the other two shareholders, though how true this was, is unclear today.

“Wheel of Fortune” was a networked Southern TV quiz show in which Michael Miles, formerly of Rediffusion’s “Take Your Pick”, would have a one minute banter with each contestant, during which they had to resist from answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Failure would lead to Miles’ assistant, Alec Dane, banging a gong, in a curious pastiche of the Rank symbol. The announcer of prizes was Bob Danvers-Walker, the veteran Pathé newsreel commentator.

The part of Kent where we holidayed was served by an ITA transmitter at Church Hougham, 450 feet above sea level, situated between the towns of Folkestone and Dover. Looking along the beach at Dymchurch towards Dover you could easily see the outline of this transmitter on the hilltop, beaming Southern programmes to the Kent coastal towns. No time for Holiday dawdling for me though, as it would be back over the road and into the holiday camp TV room for another 4.20pm daily start-up and its famous, if oddly self evident announcement “This is Southern Independent Television… the station that serves the south”.

Southern’s evening regional news magazine was ‘Day by Day’ and the lead presenter for many years was Barry Westwood, well known in the Midlands and North as co presenter of the magazine show “ABC Weekend”.

‘Day by Day’ came from the Southampton studios. Faces included James Montgomery who also presented Southern’s arts programme ‘Music in Camera’, and a young Alistair Stewart, later of ITN who cut his teeth as cub reporter with Southern. The very popular and long serving weatherman Trevor Baker always enjoyed live banter with the studio Presenters, a common idea today, but very daring then.

Southern also had a small studio in Dover and a separate opt-out programme ‘Scene South East’ was created for viewers in Kent, initially shown in the ‘Day by Day’ slot on Wednesdays and Fridays only.

The advertising sales office in Dover enabled businesses in the ‘sub region’ to book spot ads and local campaigns. Television South that much later took over from Southern, opted to build a studio centre at Maidstone so the original Dover studios have long since gone and a car park now covers the site.

Many TV announcers appeared on Southern over the years and some spent periods with other ITV stations, in some cases regularly working a few days for Southern and a few days for some other company during the same week. Roving TV announcers were not unusual!

The leading announcing team in the seventies was Brian Nissen and Christopher Robbie with relief announcers including Adrian Edwards, Jane Criddle, Peter Marshall of Thames, Mike Prince of ATV, Bill Flynn, Ian Curry, Christine Webber, Clifford Earl and Verity Martindil. Head of Presentation at Southern during this period was Peter Pritchett-Brown.

Southern Television was one of the middle ranking ITV stations, alongside Tyne-Tees, Anglia, HTV and Scottish TV. Its opportunities for making programmes for the ITV network were limited but it managed to carve a successful niche in children’s programmes like ‘Freewheelers’ an adventure drama filmed in and around Southampton which the contractor’s own motor launch “Southerner”.

The Southerner, ITV's only waterbourne studio

“Southerner” came to the fore in 1968 when Yachtsman Alec Rose received a hero’s welcome as he sailed into Portsmouth after his 354-day round-the-world trip. The 59-year-old was escorted into harbour by 400 motorboats, yachts, catamarans and canoes blowing sirens and whistles.

A crowd of more than 250,000 people had gathered to congratulate the Portsmouth greengrocer on his 28,500-mile solo trip around the globe. Southern cameras on board its own boat were at the scene to relay pictures of the end of the sailor’s historic journey, for which he was later knighted. Pictures were screened in a special networked programme.

Southern also provided church services and religious programmes to ITV. One year a live Christmas Morning Carol Service from Winchester Cathedral was set up, but due to a dispute at the company, technicians withdrew their labour and ITV had to screen a pre-recorded Granada programme instead. Many of Southern’s Outside Broadcasts were the responsibility of Stephen Wade.

One of Southern’s pioneering programmes for women was ‘Houseparty’. It was one of few specialist magazines for women around at the time. Thames liked it and made a special programme swapping arrangement. Thames would provide Southern with its daily ‘Tea Break’ show with Michael and Mary Parkinson in return for Southern relaying Houseparty to Thames. This swap ran for some time.

Southern carved both a niche for itself and some kudos for ITV when it snatched the contract to screen world famous operas at Glyndebourne, from under the nose of the BBC. Programme directors in ITV rarely specialised, but Dave Heather who had worked on many church services and live specials was put in charge of these marathon outside broadcasts.

Sung in their original German, Italian or Latin with English subtitles provided by Gillian Widdecombe, these were screened for up to three hours on ITV at mid week peak time a couple of times a year.

These programmes earned the ITV network much credit with both critics and regulators alike and audience figures were surprisingly high – though they always dwindled as the programme proceeded!

‘Out of Town’ a series filmed by Stanley Brehaut and produced by George Egan exemplified ‘Countryside life’ programming. The presenter was unmistakeable bearded pipe smoker Jack Hargreaves who was actually Assistant Controller of Programmes at the company! Hargreaves also doubled as one of regular presenters of the children’s network series “How?” along with Fred Dineage, Bunty James and Jon Miller. This series ran for many years.

It was in programmes for young people that Southern really excelled and ITV national schedules were peppered with many a season of children’s shows from this company.

‘Runaround’, presented by comedian Mike Reid, ‘Oliver in the Overworld’, a musical comedy co-written and starred in by Freddie Garrity (Freddie and The Dreamers) The producer was Angus Wright. Sadly no episodes of this six part series survived. Many Southern productions have been lost, and the videotapes re-used, as was customary in those days of very expensive blank videotape on big open reel machines.

‘The Black Arrow’, the famous Robert Louis Stevenson classic survives, as do the entire 6 networked episodes of Southern’s pioneering youth drama “Going Out”, created by Phil Redmond of Grange Hill and Brookside fame.

Southern had a difficult job in getting an agreed network slot for this social drama for teenage viewers, an almost unknown genre at the time and it was eventually placed in an assortment of late night slots across almost all ITV stations but on different nights and at varying times. Sadly this depleted the amount of national press coverage and promotion it could receive. This was typical of the fate of middle ranking stations aspiring to the network in those days.

No written account of Southern Television would be complete without mention of perhaps its most famous children’s programme of all, ‘Worzel Gummage’. The eponymous Scarecrow was played with gusto by the late Jon Pertwee, better known as the first colour Doctor Who, and the series saw renaissance for Barbara Windsor and Geoffrey Bayldon. He had entertained children similarly in LWT International’s “Catweazle” series. ‘Worzel Gummage’ ran for several seasons, and Christmas specials. It was produced by James Gatward who was later a leading light in the new TVS company, which eventually wrestled the South of England ITV contract from Southern.

Other well received network programmes from Southern included ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ with Alec Guinness and one favourite of the critics, “Miss Nightingale” about the founder of modern nursing, set in Scutari during the Crimean War and having Janet Suzman in the lead role of Florence Nightingale.

“Spearhead” was a well received modern army drama filmed in Ireland, Germany and Hong Kong, which ran to 3 networked series, and very few older people will forget Southern’s revival of the popular radio serial ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’, filmed in 32 quarter hour segments and using for the first time in ITV drama a light weight hand held video camera.

The futuristic children’s TV series “Noah’s Castle” was one of Southern’s last networked dramas, about life in a future totalitarian Britain, with rationing, censorship and secret police. The serial deliciously scared a generation of child viewers and was very popular.

Television in the UK is now in a revolutionary period of multi-channel choice and media interactivity. Clocks and symbols for individual television companies, once of interest to some viewers are well on the back burner today.

The ceremony, music and excitement of ITV companies opening up and closing down several times each day are long gone. It is unlikely that any teenager on holiday these days would feel any TV station was so special that they would come off the beach to watch it as a station, rather than to catch a specific programme.

Those far off days of company idents, daily opening routines, time checks and announcers, created memories for some of us – that will never be forgotten. Not to mention the programmes.

 

David Brockman

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