24 May 2004 1 comment. tbs.pm/2037
Associated Broadcasting Company
London: weekends 1955 (Name change)
London: weekends 1955-1966 (Company change)
Midlands: weekdays 1956-1966 (Company change)
London: weekends 1966-1968 (Franchise change)
Midlands: weekdays 1966-1968 (Franchise change)
Midlands: all week 1968-1981 (Franchise change)
Bold as brass
If London weekday rival Associated-Rediffusion had planned from the outset to be the BBC with adverts, ATV seemed to set out to prove critics of the new ITV right – from day one.
Sceptics had feared ITV would be bold, brash, shamelessly down market, cheap, cheerful, unchallenging and money-minded. ATV had all this – and more. ‘The Entertainment Network’ was also the vulgar network – appealing to the common man and not ashamed of it.
Variety, music, quiz shows and comedy marked – and marred, the critics felt – weekends in London from the beginning, and weekdays in the Midlands (to a lesser extent) from soon afterwards. From ‘Emergency – Ward Ten’ in the midlands to ‘Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium’ from London, ATV knew how to be popular and populist in a way that modern ITV executives must only dream of.
ATV’s presentation was direct and bold. Its opening ident (hastily redrawn after legal wrangling with Associated British Cinemas) had been created with the wrong proportions. Rather than pay to have it done again, ATV trusted that no one would care – or even notice (would that the Grade Organisation could have predicted Electromusications or the Transdiffusion children, charting every twitch of presentation in a way no-one considered – or considers – likely to happen). The argument that viewers were there for the programmes only was never heard louder than from ATV.
And ATV had the programmes people wanted, barrels of them, programmes that live on in memory years after the station – and even its reconstructed Midlands successor – disappeared.
From ‘Crossroads’ to ‘Lunch Box’ (both featuring Noele Gordon), from the ITC production of Robin Hood to the Gerry Anderson production of Thunderbirds, moving passed such ways of wasting your childhood as ‘Tiswas’, ‘Sapphire and Steel’ and ‘Timeslip’, ATV always knew how to draw a crowd.
Off-screen, the company changed name in 1966 from Associated TeleVision Limited to ATV Network Limited, a division of the Associated Communications Corporation, reflected the accumulation of off-shoots that ATV made thanks to the huge profits that rolled in from 1958 onwards.
On-screen, the ident went from bold to outrageous when colour arrived. No other company made such a prominent show of colour – featuring every colour, accompanied by a painful, yet brilliant and still memorable, musical score. The new colour ident was named ‘Zoom 2′, on the basis that the predecessor idents in the two regions ‘zoomed’ toward the viewer (though slower than the word would seem to suggest).
As each day passes, we and ATV get further apart in time, and they slip further from the tangible, into the realms of memory and speculation. Yet ATV remains the best known, and fondest remembered, of all the ITV companies we have lost.
Two early examples of ATV to start with. The mis-scaled ATV eye is the start-up ident, hurriedly redrawn after the change of name from ABC, 4 weeks in.
Second, an unusual design of frontcap – one of the few on the network that boasts about which region the company serves, and the only one to boast of two regions. An earlier version – mentioning just the London weekends franchise – also exists. This version dates from the opening of the Lichfield transmitter.
In this ident, the symbol – something ATV were surprisingly casual about, all told – is relegated to mere punctuation. The main thrust of the entire thing is based on the letters A T V making their appearance.
And now a flash forward to 1964. An avant guarde Trevor Lucas in a large studio brings us the continuity for ATV London. The star-burst ATV ident is actually part of the title-sequence of the Palladium show.
Two end caps – one for bought-in and one for ATV-made material.
It’s Palm Sunday in 1964, and ATV London does its bit for religious broadcasting in the early evening, showing its main ident for London. The midlands ident was identical except for a change of wording.
Most interesting, besides the simple layout of the set and the plain titles, is the programme itself – only overtly Christian, of no particular denomination. In this ATV is experimenting with programming for Sundays that is more inclusive than had previously been considered ‘fitting’. This follows the trend set by ABC in the late 1950s that the rest of the network would only catch up with just before religious programming largely faded away in the 1990s.
The Black and White Zoon 2 – not the predecessor to the colour version, but an ident used concurrently for programmes that hadn’t made the switch to colour after 1969.
A shorter, punchier and – I’m afraid – better tuned and played version of the music accompanies a form-up that could have given ABC’s triangle a run for its money in 1966. Used in the mid-1970s, though, it has more grandeur and less of the startling impact it would have achieved if it had been introduced a few years earlier.
Arguably the most famous ident/frontcap in the UK – and only beaten worldwide by the longer-lasting and, in some areas, still extant Thames reflected skyline – this ident is a riot of colour forming into the symbol with a ‘shiver’ that is almost impossible to describe but fascinating to watch.
Produced with a couple of variants in music over the years, plus a version with ‘colour’ spelt in the international fashion, the ident ran from 1969 until the death of ATV in 1981 – although it could still be seen for several years afterward on schools programming (often prefaced ‘Central presents…’).
However, ATV’s casualness for the symbol continues – technically, the animation is not well made, being cobbled together from several poorly matched elements, made all the worst by ATV continuity announcers having the habit in the closing years of the company of talking over it to announce the programme it was foreshadowing.
A chance to look at what was happening elsewhere on ATV in the late 1970s now. A standard end cap (no copyright date – it didn’t become the norm until the 1980s) and the final frame of an ATV News bulletin (the main programme was ATV Today).
A still from a promo for an imported American sitcom next Friday at 10.30pm leads us to an animated promo bumper for ATV, curiously using the music that BBC Midlands Today used for much of the late 1980s.
Interesting for viewers who have only ever heard the BBC do it (and then only recently), the announcement spoken over the top of the promo is done live by the duty announcer Mike Price.
This style of promo would be short lived, but would reappear with different music and graphics a few years later as the standard style for many of Central’s promotions.
Paul Freeman writes:
“In the late 70’s I was a Station assistant to the Pebble Mill newsroom whose main output was of course Midlands Today. In 1970 I left to become a Floor Manager at ATV, where I worked on TISWAS, Crossroads, and ATV Today. I seem to recall we used that particular piece of music (and variants) for trails and pointers around and about the 5-minute headline version of ATV Today which preceded Crossroads.
“When I left ATV in the middle of 1980 and went back to Pebble Mill, I again worked for Midlands Today as a Station assistant, spending much of the time either Floor Managing or dubbing news film in our small dubbing studio (studio 9), surrounded by a library of production music and a set of sound effects discs.
“When it was decided that we were to have one of our regular changes of set and titles, I was looking for a suitable theme and came across the disc with the sting we’d used at ATV and decided that, since ATV weren’t using it any more (and had never used the full theme as a sig tune, but only as a v/o bed) it would be fine for us: it was bright and lively but essentially neutral.
“It was from a Bruton library music disc, composed (I think) by Mike Fenton and served us well until, some years later, it was replaced by a specially-written piece, composed by a young sound recordist, working for a local freelance film company, who had the contract to shoot news footage for MTD. He was David Lowe, and as far as I know, this was his first published composition. I have a horrible feeling he sold it outright to the BBC; a mistake he’s not made since: he is the composer of the music which, at the time of writing, is currently used for all BBC TV news: national, regional, News-24 – the lot. So every bulletin you see and hear drips another few pennies into his coffers!
“Incidentally, when I pitched the idea of the music to the News Editor, I never mentioned its having been used by ATV, and suspect he never knew.”
Paul Freeman (BBC 1969-1979, ATV 1979-1980, BBC 1981-2002)
With the ident and a warm ‘Good Afternoon to you’ before the actual text of the announcement is read, ATV appear to be aiming to be more friendly than the weekday competition.
Mention is made here of the VHF channel number – 9 – but not the transmitter name, something that would be a universal habit of all London contractors. Even Thames and LWT would stick with a mention of ‘London’ rather than Croydon, though in LWT’s case it would sound comically redundant.
From the ‘cool and suave’ school of announcing comes Trevor Lucas. Originally an announcer at ATV London, he made the (notional) leap to Birmingham with the coming of the 7-day franchise.
The authority announcement itself is now in a different place, moved to lie over the new piece of music, ‘Sir Lew Grade March’, that replaced the earlier ‘Sound and Vision’ in 1972.
With a slight head cold, Stuart White makes the announcement over ATV’s final opening tune ‘Midlands Montage’ in the late 1970s.
The structure of the announcement has again changed, and the cheery welcome before it has returned. The music has a special bed written into it to allow the announcement to be made – and it’s a luxurious one, with plenty of space for even the slowest reader. Compared to, say, TWW’s announcement – Ivor Roberts would be the fastest talker in the country at the time, it seems – this seems very laid back.
Watch as Central presents an ATV programme
There are some startling things to be found hidden in the deep recesses of ITV history. For instance, TVS was Southern and TSW was Westward – both companies took over the company number of their predecessor, renaming the old company to match the new on the stroke of midnight of 31 December 1981. This – admittedly purely technical – occurrence is never mentioned in reports of what happened in those two regions.
In the Midlands however, this is basically how it is always reported, whilst the opposite is true: Central Independent Television plc was a new company, in which ATV’s parent, ACC, had (at first) a 40% stake.
But whilst the other new companies rarely showed any productions of their predecessors – they usually didn’t take the rights with them – Central was born with a number of ATV shows already in the can. Whilst many of ATV’s programmes reverted to ACC, programming like that for schools remained with the new company.
This left Central in an awkward position, presentation-wise. They chose to leave on the ATV frontcap – something that would never happen in the Philistine days of the 21st century – but pop a card reading ‘Central Presents’ before it.
Once the company was more secure in itself, the card disappeared and, for much of the 1980s during morning schools programmes, ATV briefly lived again.