24 May 2004 0 comments. tbs.pm/2002
London Monday to Friday evenings: 1968-1992 (Franchise change)
On reflection, it was a monstrous thing to do.
Unable to give ABC the London weekends contract that both the ITA and ABC thought the company deserved, the ITA had to consider its options. With the split at weekends abolished everywhere except in the capital, where else but London could ABC go and still be seen to be rewarded?
Nowhere. But ABC, a weekend company, had neither the resources nor the manpower to run London weekdays. They could do it, eventually, but it might drain the company in the attempt. The London weekday contract was the mainstay of the network. The company there had to be strong and powerful.
Rediffusion had the manpower, the experience and the track record for running the London weekday station. ABC did not. But the ITA, and especially Lord Hill, loved ABC. To Rediffusion, they were indifferent, if nothing else. And so a plan began to form.
The contract announcement was simply put. ABC and Rediffusion would combine to form a new station to run London weekdays. 51% to ABC, 49% to Rediffusion (in reality a new company was formed rather than an actual merger, but that was immaterial to the outcome).
In practice, this arrangement handed a bound and gagged Rediffusion to a fully armed ABC, for them to pick away the staff, expertise and programmes they wanted while throwing away the rest. They did this with gusto.
While Thames was to inherit the best of both of its parents output, everything else was inherited from ABC. Suddenly the founding company was gone from the system it helped create, reduced to a large investment in someone else’s dream.
Thames was to become the personification of ITV – a cool, calm, cosmopolitan powerhouse of television – and every inch the worthy successor to ABC.
As to their demise, perhaps they placed too much reliance on the ITC invoking the “exceptional circumstances” clause to strengthen their low, if sensible, bid in the 1991 franchise applications.
This combined with a disinterested major shareholder and the Thatcher Government’s irritation with ITV and the IBA, spelt the demise of Thames. ITV ceased to be special on that day.
The beginnings of the famous Thames ident. When the company first launched, two varieties were created, one with the skyline, one without. The one with was delivered to ABC’s Teddington, the one without to Rediffusion’s Television House.
It was not intentional that the public should be able to tell the difference between the two outputs, and products made at both locations helped to blur the line. But a unified look would have to wait for colour.
The unified identity used the skyline ident in colour – perhaps the second most famous colour ident in the country after ATV’s Zoom 2.
Using a shortened version of Hawksworth’s Salute to Thames, played on brass and based on the folk song “Who will buy my sweet lavender?”, the ident and specifically the frontcap to some top entertainment in the 1970s and 80s became instantly recognisable.
Internationally the frontcap is well known, still being used by Fremantle Media on exported programmes made under the Thames name. It is even well known enough to have featured in an episode of Fox’s The Simpsons about PBS use of UK ‘violent’ sitcoms.
When the remains of Thames productions and programme catalogue ended up under the wing of the new Fremantle Media, their press release suggested this ident would reappear. What they meant was that the name – previously destined to die – was to be extended. The ident, however, was never revived.
And, post-1989, Thames modified its symbol again (actually a couple of times, ending up like this). The same skyline, but gone is the reflection, replaced by CGI landmarks.
A stark announcement, owing more to Rediffusion than to ABC.
And even then, its connections with Rediffusion are tenuous, not least because of the change in the style of daily opening.
ABC had always run in the format “Music, Announcement, Music”, whilst Rediffusion London had picked one piece of music and run their announcement over it (both were acceptable to the ITA, as were an announcement followed by music, and vice-versa).
The Rediffusion style was dropped immediately, and ABC’s former first piece of music, Perpetuum Mobile, moved to Thames. The second piece, after the announcement, was an extended version of the Thames ident called ‘Salute to Thames’.