Nevermind: ATV Midlands unused design
4 Oct 2010 2 comments. tbs.pm/2257
In 1980, the Independent Broadcasting Authority held a new contract round. They had last done so for the 1974-1981 period, where the contracts had not changed. The last memory the companies had of change happening was therefore the 1967 round, which completely transformed the system from July of 1968.
Like the 67/68 round, 1980 was an “all bets are off” transformational process. The IBA made it clear to the existing companies that they expected some effort to be put into their reapplications, and told potential new entrants that, provided the same effort was seen from them, tenure and past performance would not count towards a decision.
We all know what happened: Southern found themselves out of a contract with no explanation provided – the IBA were not required to explain, as Chairman Lady Plowden tartly told Mrs Thatcher when she questioned the decision. Westward had sailed the Golden Hind on to the rocks already; they applied in the probable full knowledge that they couldn’t win, as local management fought, and was fought by, the board and Sir Peter Cadbury in London.
The major point the IBA had been stressing since 1963, ever louder every year, was that ITV was a regional system and they expected their regional companies to reflect their regions. The 68 changes had enforced that, blending ABC and Rediffusion, two companies most likely to think of themselves as a ‘national’ ITV franchise, into the regionally-minded Thames. TWW, serving Wales and the West of England, was seen to be run from London and was simply ejected from the system. And ATV, that most international of national television companies, was politely reminded of its place and moved permanently to the Midlands.
But ATV didn’t move. They kept their head office in London and their main studio base in Elstree (they did adopt the on-screen branding of ATV Midlands in 1964, but its use fades away with the coming of colour). Come 1980, the IBA had had enough. ATV Network knew that they were done for unless they portrayed themselves as a Midlands-focused company. Their application for the contract renamed them ATV Midlands Limited; they talked of closing Elstree, of building more in Birmingham and, with the knowledge that the IBA planned to split ATVLand into two sub-regions, even had thoughts about what could be done in Nottingham.
As we know, this wasn’t enough for the IBA and they imposed further changes on the company. The name had to go, as did the ownership by the transatlantic entertainment company Associated Communications Corporation.
But before the IBA told ATV of its fate, it did seem likely that ATV Midlands would survive. Clearly it needed something new in its on-screen look, for a new decade if not just for a new contract.
This is what they came up with, from paperwork found by Roddy Buxton as part of his excellent series on the Elstree studios used by ATV. It’s not all that new, at first glance: it’s ATV’s old logo, with the colours tweaked for printing, if not for the screen itself (it’s easy to put this back into yellow-on-blue with little change from the predecessor shadowed eyes or this new version).
But there are two clear changes that make the symbol more flexible. ATV’s ident hadn’t been touched since colour arrived in 1969, so the “tweaks” are significant if not without precedent. For instance, gone is the shadowing of the upper eye represented in the stripes below. Did ATV still have in mind Lew Grade’s original idea for the ident – that CBS’s style and success should be “shadowed” in the UK, and literally with the CBS logo itself? If so, the dropping of that unpopular (with the IBA, anyway) idea was a useful piece of politics.
Also gone are the letters ATV within the eyes. This again is politically useful, distracting from that unregional, baggage-laden name and allowing the ‘Midlands’ part of the new name to stand out, or at least gain some semblance of parity.
Placing the whole thing in a TV-screen shape could just be a useful thing for printing, but it’s not without precedent in ITV idents. Grampian’s ident was always a saltire squeezed into a TV screen shape, a not unarresting design in itself. Tyne Tees had prolonged the life of the TTT symbol by wrapping it in a TV screen shape in the late 1960s, sadly not continuing with either the symbol nor the shape when colour caused a relaunch. The ITA/IBA had used a TV screen shape around their logo since the late 1960s as well.
Even ATV itself had done something similar before. The ATV eyes had been boxed into something resembling a TV screen for end caps in the 1970s. That boxed look became the official house style, with promos and captions making use of it locally.
ATV’s use of its own symbol had always been somewhat flexible anyway. From 1955 until 1969 the company had happily switched between the correctly drawn symbol and one done in a hurry a few weeks into the initial London contract when the then-ABC was required, by the new Midlands and North contractor, also an ABC, to rebrand. The animated ident produced for the new ATV suffered from a draughtsman who misread the scale of the original and drew an awkwardly stretched 1.5:1 version. This was ignored, or thought not to matter, and both correctly-drawn still and unsettlingly-wrong animated version were unselfconsciously interchanged daily for fourteen years.
They were also willing to play with the ident. Here, the ATV eyes become fish for ATV’s Angling Today programme – and again we see the TV screen shape making an appearance.
For clocks, they had alternated between using the shadowed part of the eye and using a hollowed-out version of the solid eye. Meanwhile, in print it’s not unusual to find the stripes represented as lighter print or as cross-hatching, especially in the 1950s.
The ATV symbol therefore already had some flexibility built into it, as the endcap above suggests, so this ATV Midlands symbol isn’t a radical change. But then ATV Midlands Limited wasn’t meant as a radical change – just enough to please the IBA, but not the wholesale changes that would eventually usher in Central.