24 May 2004 1 comment. tbs.pm/1999
Nationally at breakfast (eventually settled to 0600-0925): 1983-1992 (franchise change)
Good morning, Mrs Thatcher
When constructing the legislation that was designed to run the new ITV system on an increasingly deregulated and commercial basis, Mrs Thatcher and her ministers forgot a small point.
By reasoning that all ITV companies should be like TV-am – small, de-unionised, middle-of-the-road and conservative with a small ‘c’ if not outwardly with a capital ‘C’ – they failed to take account of how much money was actually in the system.
The incumbents knew how much they valued their franchises, and could guess at how much they should cost. But they would be unable to guess what others were bidding. Prices could soar above the real market value, and only the richest would then be able to afford the franchise (and the losses it would make paying huge sums to the government).
TV-am knew that £8 million was as high as they could go, if they were to have sufficient profit left over for themselves. The assumed that the government of the day had, in building a system designed to support companies like TV-am, left a back door in that would protect existing companies like TV-am.
Like so much legislation of the time, the small item the government forgot was the consequence of a course of action. The primary goal – deregulate and lay ITV bare to market forces – was achieved. The consequence was that they sacrificed their favourite son on the same altar.
After a start-up tune (but no authority announcement) over an IBA caption, it reaches 6am and TVam comes on air in 1983 with an ident that was never changed but never promoted to the degree it should have been.
Years of tradition in daily start-up sequences were thrown to the wind by the birth of TV-am in 1983.
Esoteric questions like “what should an authority announcement say” and “what sort of tuning signal should appear before the station” must have been asked.
The eventual answer was to simply remove most of the rules. The transmitter network wasn’t prepared for early morning television, so no tuning signal was required – just a blue card with the IBA logo and a brief text message. Any authority announcement would have sounded odd in a world where they were dying out. “This is TV-am, on the national transmitters of the Independent Broadcasting Authority” causing more confusion – in the eyes of an IBA used to promoting regionalism – than simply saying nothing.
So TV-am started up with the bare minimum – a blue card and a registered piece of music called “Daybreak”.
First programme – Daybreak, a 30 minute news rundown. This programme was one of the first casualties of TV-am’s almost instantaneous collapse. Initially seen with a bustling newsroom behind Angela Rippon et al, the removal of both presenter and newsroom marked the start of a desperate cash crisis that led the a shortening of the news segment and finally its disappearance as the station started coming on air at 6.30am to save money.
Between Daybreak and GMB, it’s a quiz – Run It Again. Identify the year and write in for a low-value prize.
Good Morning Britain kicks off with the fluff and light ‘news’ we all grew to know and love. You choice if you didn’t want to watch this? More of the same on BBC-1.
The 1980s were hell.
And the famous title sequence – skydivers, pigeons (bread placed in the correct shape did it), the Royal Navy, and a crowd of Bristolians.
More clearly than successor franchisee GMTV would manage, TV-am’s programmes were distinct from the station itself.
Thus ‘Good Morning Britain’, the magazine programme that, during the financial crisis that rocked the early years of TV-am, was briefly the only programme TV-am made, is still more clearly remembered than GMTV’s similar offering, called… er, something different.
That people called TV-am as a whole “Good Morning Britain” didn’t seem to bother TV-am, but the lesson was learnt by GMTV who reversed the process.
Off goes TV-am at 9.15am. ITV regional companies come on air at 9.30am.
The reason for the gap was because the switching between TV-am and the regionals had to be done manually at each switching centre. Therefore BT needed 15 minutes to get it all done.
When the process was automated and that 15 minutes no longer required, the daily start-up sequence was doomed.
And there’s something that the government of the time didn’t plan brought to horrible fruition.
A company that de-unionised, that made programmes that were relentlessly populist, that appealed to middle-class women who didn’t like the idea of independent thought, that was slavish in supporting the government at all times.
That company dies by the hand of a government that aimed to kill a different company and effectively privatise ITV. The managed both, to the detriment of quality television in the UK – but also saw off Mrs Thatcher’s favourite company at the same time by the same rules.
She apologised in writing to TV-am. But by that point she had been replaced by a government that had all of her limited beliefs but none of her limited political nous. Goodbye TV-am.
But why end on a sad note? Here, full of the hope that would be crushed a few weeks later – let alone a decade in – is TV-am’s opening moments, from start-up (using the Good Morning Britain music rather than Daybreak as used from day 2) through to ident, GMB titles and a warm hello from David Frost.
Robert Key welcomes you to 30 minutes of news from the country’s newest news service, TV-am. An one item that must be covered, of course, is history in the making.
It should have been the country’s first regular breakfast programme – but Calendar of YTV had got there first a few years earlier.
It should have been the country’s first national breakfast programme – but the BBC had gone flat out to arrange a spoiler – the awful Breakfast Time, which beat it to air by a few days.
So it ends up as being the country’s first national ITV company and ITV’s first national breakfast programme. Less ringing, but still worth getting the Chairman of the IBA in to wish it well.
And on to the ad breaks. ITV’s launch night – and following few months – was marked by advertisers not knowing quite what to do with the new audience, so choosing to do nothing. ITV as a whole teetered on the edge of bankruptcy – saved only by AR’s parent company having very deep pockets – well into 1956.
TV-am shows the same symptoms. The advert breaks are short – the first had just Walls, advertising breakfast; the second has just Pye advertising a breakfast TV set.
The adverts themselves would betray a bankruptcy of ideas at the agencies: advertising breakfasty things to people watching television over breakfast. It would be months before they realised the audience was the same as during the early evening but in microcosm.
Desperation sets in for TV-am in the final break of the morning. Here they accept an advert that, had the company been profitable, they would have confidently turned down: the Newspaper Publishers Association explains to viewers that breakfast TV is effectively a waste of time. Pick up a morning newspaper instead.
But, at the start of the day, there is hope, in the shape of the Pye Tube Cube – an idea that went the same way as the ‘hard-nosed’ TV-am of the first few weeks.
The TV-am archives are owned by Moving Image Communications, a very friendly company who own several other archives. They have made the TV-am archive, along with others they own, available to producers for programming use and to the public for personal use for a small charge. Visit their website for more clips and for information on how to licence TV-am programming for television or personal use.