The ITV Top 10: 10 – Grampian
3 Sep 2005 0 comments. tbs.pm/3460
When digesting 50 years of broadcasting history and almost 30 companies down into a selection of the “top ten”, it is perhaps inevitable that you will end up including something because it isn’t something else.
In this case, Grampian is in at 10 for reasons that sound suspiciously like “because Grampian isn’t STV”.
When an ITV company launches, there are a number of choices to be made over regionalism. The company can attempt to sternly ignore its region; it can embrace an outsider’s view of the area; or it can attempt to do something more difficult and sell the region back to its inhabitants.
The big 4 original companies, except for Granada, made a point of sternly ignoring the regions they covered. Nothing about their presentation gave any clue that they were also regional contractors. Eventually, the ITA had to step in and, from 1964, all the companies included on-air references to their region. But that was about as far as it went.
For different reasons, poor old TWW avoided identifying too closely with its region, reasoning that a tilt toward either western England or southern Wales would insult the other population. Having lost its contract partially because of this, it must have given a small shiver of malicious pleasure when Harlech, the successor company, immediately blundered into the trap TWW had avoided.
Other companies chose the option of embracing the area they served. This sounds like a good idea, but since the people involved were often from outside of that area, the results were simply stereotypical. To a degree, Granada was guilty of this. Their dour presentation and strong northernism reflected a dour north that existed in books and films but, if it had ever existed in reality, had long since passed by the region.
Harlech was guilty of this too, being more Welsh than the Welsh at first, and thus forgetting that half the audience wasn’t.
But most guilty was Scottish Television. With a contract taking in the Empire’s second city – Glasgow – and one of the world’s foremost seats of learning -Edinburgh – it had a lot to choose from when deciding their ‘take’ on their region.
It chose the tartan-biscuit-tin, Sir-Walter-Scott, bagpipes-and-haggis view of lowland Scotland. Its presentation suggested that Scotland was an imaginary place designed for North American tourists, full of kilts, shortbread and Edinburgh Woollen Mill branches.
Undoubtedly this type of Scotland does exist. But it isn’t to be found in the great working class metropolis of Glasgow. It isn’t to be found in posher Edinburgh, either. This minority view of Scotland only ever applied to the minority of lowland Scots.
Ironically, there’s a greater argument for the existence of this twee world in the Highlands. Certainly, time moves slower and traditions die harder in the cold, sparse, but ruggedly beautiful north of the country. But Grampian came on air a couple of years after STV had established its tartan trews self.
This closed off the option of being more Scottish than the Scots – Grampian and STV were in direct competition for Scotland’s advertising revenue and had substantial transmitter overlaps around Dundee; the last thing they needed was to be indistinguishable.
Coming on air in the 1960s had an effect too. The ITA had allowed the 1950s companies to establish themselves in their region, or not, however they liked. As the network was nearing completion, however, the ITA got on to a regionalism kick that was to last until the Authority itself was abolished 30 years later.
That quest for regionalism meant that the last few companies, serving the less viable areas of the UK, were charged from the beginning with showing off their regional roots; they had to look the part.
For Grampian, that closed off the ‘ignoring the region’ policy too. So it didn’t have the biscuit tin approach available and also couldn’t pretend to be a disinterested national company that happened to be in the Highlands.
Grampian’s solution should have been an object lesson for every company; and especially the newcomers on the scene in 1968, 1982 and 1993.
Grampian’s solution was inspired – and very difficult to quantify. It was clearly a Scottish company and proud of it. It showed a link to Highlands life in everything it did, including their on-air presentation. Yet they avoided the biscuit tin.
Instead, it gave a clear indication of being “North British”. Scottish and of Scotland but no stereotype. British and of Britain but not loftily dismissive. Somehow, it managed to balance a sense of being Scottish without resorting to the cheap tricks of STV.
Grampian presented to its viewers something they already knew: Scotland. At the same time, they presented something else: cosmopolitanism. The Scotland of Grampian wasn’t something for the tourists. The Scotland of Grampian was a real place, a place where people lived and worked and existed.
Yes, it was a Scottish company. But it was also a part of Britain, part of a wider world with bigger horizons. To the crofters of the Highlands, this must have seemed a long way away; but it was in reach and it was now in their living rooms every night.
For managing that amazing trick that few others have since managed, Grampian claims its rightful place in our Top Ten.
Grampian in Video
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