The ITV Top 10: 6 – Westward 

3 September 2005 tbs.pm/3470

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ALBUM Westward

This article was written in 2005 to coincide with ITV’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The text has not been revised.

At 6 on our top ten comes a company with such influence that the locals still call ITV by its name more than 2 decades after it closed.

Of course, this may be a reflection on the companies that followed it: TSW was as different as it could be without making any changes besides the ident and the sales force; Westcountry was so desperate to be different it created the most forgettable franchise ever and viewers barely noticed when it succumbed to the ridiculous and pathetic “branding” of the little-missed Carlton.

Westward appears to be in a class of its own. As one of three companies with a “3D” ident – certainly the most contrived and intricate of the three – it already stood out.

But by concentrating on local television for local people, with local programming of interest to the local population, local presenters of genuine quality with an affinity for the local people and local area, it probably represented the ideal local company.

Certainly Westcountry’s idea of a separate news organisation for each transmitter was notionally more regionalised, but it simply didn’t connect with the viewers (boring local news being boring without interesting presenters). TSW’s odd, surreal even, idents didn’t do much for the viewers, but backed with faces known to the locals it kept the Westward link.

So Westward had it all – great local programmes, great local presentation, great local devotion. Everything the IBA could ever want and certainly something the viewers now miss. For that it deserves its sixth place in the top ten.

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Whether the manner of its departure adds or detracts from this placement is another matter – or perhaps doesn’t matter at all. But it is certainly an interesting state of affairs.

The ITV franchise rounds have always been fraught in one way or another. Whether you risk having your top management deserting to a new entrant (Rediffusion to LWT), actively conspiring against you (virtually everybody), the ITA taking against you for no good reason (TWW) or simply having competitors listening in (as LWT thought in 1991/2), the 5 franchise rounds were hell for the controller of a company.

This situation is made worse when you run the company from London but it is based impossibly far away. TWW had found this to be a handicap when the ITA took against it for it. That Westward was run from London meant less because the company was so obviously not a London company.

But the executive management was a long train ride from the management board. With the franchise round approaching, could the London board trust the local management not to bid against them? And could the local management trust the London board to look out for them?

The answer to both was, in fact, yes. Both wanted to win the franchise, even if both had different ideas of the terms of the new contract and how it would be run. But neither knew that.

So the London board started to manoeuvre behind the scenes to undermine and control the local management. The local management found themselves having to resort to underhand tactics to establish what the London board was doing – for instance, were they even bidding?

And then the news leaked. The papers started to mention the private detectives, the secret tape recordings, the lack of communications between the two and much more.

The IBA was always willing to forgive very much. But there are limits.

Westward won the contract in all but name. The London board lost, the local management were reorganised, and a little-known television enthusiast masterminded the company’s replacement by TSW – new name, new look, but still Westward. The IBA gave TSW the contract with almost immediate effect, so that Westward left the scene in everything but name in August 1981.

Whatever revolutionary plans TSW had for the region died a death in the 4 months it had in overlap, under the gaze of the local Westward management. TSW would be Westward in all but name until 31 December 1992, a feat that only ATV-Central would exceed in terms of company ethos, and even then TSW had few of the growing pains of others.

For that projection of itself 11 years into the future (and, in the minds of the viewers, a further 12 years) as well as the entertaining method of its official departure, Westward deserve our sixth place.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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3 responses to this article

D Stone 9 February 2013 at 9:42 am

Westward TV was, undoubtedly, the friendliest, happiest and best ITV company in the UK. Why its franchise was lost is a mystery to any logical, thinking person.

That round of franchise changes was the thin end of the wedge; look at ITV now – it’s like the BBC with advertisements – but not nearly as professional.

So, we no longer have regional TV and how long before the new “local TV” stations end up in one pocket like ITV. So ludicrous, this country – do your best and loose everything because one or two people don’t like you. Still so very feudal!

And yes, I AM leaving!

D Stone 9 February 2013 at 9:43 am

Westward TV was, undoubtedly, the friendliest, happiest and best ITV company in the UK. Why its franchise was lost is a mystery to any logical, thinking person.

That round of franchise changes was the thin end of the wedge; look at ITV now – it’s like the BBC with advertisements – but not nearly as professional.

So, we no longer have regional TV and how long before the new “local TV” stations end up in one pocket like ITV. So ludicrous, this country – do your best and loose everything because one or two people don’t like you. Still so very feudal!

And yes, I AM leaving!

David Craig Little 14 May 2015 at 2:51 am

Television South West, was great. I loved it when I used to go down to Cornwall.

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