The joker who captured a telly station 

29 February 2016 tbs.pm/8562

From the Sunday Express Magazine for 15 November 1981.

 

Kevin Goldstein-Jackson, who won the franchise for Television South West, looks as blind as a buttercup. He has the vulnerable appearance of a comic, with a slight body, wide eyes behind thick glasses, a broad upturned mouth.

His Malaysian wife, Jenny, calls him “the Joker”. They met six years ago and their first child, a girl, Samantha Jenkev, was born on November 2, his 35th birthday. He looks even younger, and a woman doing a survey on the train Plymouth mistook him for a student and he still uses an old student card when he goes to the theatre: “After all,” he explains disarmingly, “I am studying for a Ph.D. in Arts Administration at the City University in my spare time.” Spare time! Already he has had ten books published, including the Mike Yarwood Joke Book and Magic With Everyday Objects, apart from launching a new television company.

Jenny regards her meteoric husband with dazed admiration: “I’m surprised really, he looked so studious when I first met him. I found him ambitious but soft- spoken; although he could be very short-tempered before we married.”

“She thought I was mad to want a TV licence.”

“Yes,” she agrees, “it was such a big thing.” I asked her when she was convinced he would win. “The day after we won!” he interrupts, adding, “Without her, TSW would not have been possible.” With obvious pleasure and pride, he describes how the Board presented her with a Dartington glass bowl after their victory.

In his case, appearances are literally deceptive, as he reveals when he produces an old Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank card. The swarthy, moustached face that stares out aggressively is so unrecognisable it is unlikely they would let him in to claim the £5 still left in his account. The nose in particular is… well, different, and he explains that when he needed an operation for medical reasons he decided “to have the whole job done at the same time”.

“No one would give a 30-year-old a television station!” Goldstein-Jackson protested with reason. “They might give you Westward,” said Harvey.

“Was it really that big?” I asked his wife. “Enormous!” she confirmed, with a cascade of laughter. “People could see it coming through the door,” he agreed modestly, “and I sort of followed on.”

Behind this beguiling facade and the open-necked lilac shirt is a man of extraordinary determination and dedication. The proof can be seen in his skilful playing of the franchise game. Anyone can play the game, but few have the nerve.

Already, Goldstein-Jackson has won the licence for Thames Valley Radio in 1975, against such powerful opposition as a wealthy consortium which included Michael Parkinson and the Duke of Wellington. Afterwards, a friend from Reading University, the artist Jonathan Harvey, encouraged him to make a similar bid for television.

“No one would give a 30-year-old a television station!” Goldstein-Jackson protested with reason. “They might give you Westward,” said Harvey.

Tantalised by the idea, Goldstein-Jackson went to Westward Ho! in North Devon for his holidays to study the local TV programmes, and decided he had a chance. Game had commenced: “Jonathan and I put the whole thing together. I read Who’s Who from cover to cover searching for names connected with the West Country, then I looked up every commercial company of any size. One contact led to another. No money was involved at this stage so I had to pay my own expenses. The radio licence was won for less than £l,000, while the rival spent £20,000 and now I spent much the same launching TSW while I was working for Anglia on programmes like Tales of the Unexpected.

Taking a house in Poole, the nearest he could get to the Westward transmission, he travelled there with his wife every weekend, watching the programmes, buying West Country papers, steadily gaining knowledge of the region. It was this astuteness, plus a relish for risk, that had prompted him to send 400 letters to television stations all over the world a few years earlier, asking if they wanted him as a producer. Hong Kong telexed back, so off he went. But why the massive 400, instead of 40 or even four?
“For two reasons,” he explains without hesitation. “Out of 400 you’re more likely to get somewhere. Also, it’s more of a gamble, like throwing dice, you don’t know what’s coming up.”

In the Oman, where he was Head of Film for the Dhofar Region, he produced programmes in English and Arabic where at first a female newsreader wanted to read the news while wearing her veil.

Though they made a formidable team, everyone told them it was impossible to replace Westward because it was so entrenched.

All this rarefied experience was paying dividends now, but one of his shrewdest moves was to surround himself with a team whose talents were entirely different to his own. Brian Bailey, Secretary of the TUC in the South West, became his Chairman; Peter Battle, then the Sales Manager for Southern TV, became his joint Managing Director and invaluable complement. “Peter Battle is all the things I am not,” says Goldstein-Jackson. “He is at home on the golf course, where I’d be ridiculous. I look utterly stupid in a dinner-jacket, but he can address political supper clubs. I can’t address anything like that, for I end by sending it up.” Goldstein-Jackson is a teetotaller: “Not for moral reasons, I just don’t like the taste.”

Peter Battle, smart, suited and socially at ease in the boardroom, 48 and married with three children, was put in charge of sales, finance and administration, while Goldstein-Jackson concentrated more on the programmes and staff relations. Though they made a formidable team, everyone told them it was impossible to replace Westward because it was so entrenched. But the franchise game has a strong element of chance and luck played straight into their hands with the boardroom feud between Peter Cadbury and Lord Harris which finally became too public and too petty to ignore.

Kevin Goldstein-Jackson was sufficiently confident to regret Westward’s suicidal antics. “Personally I don’t think it made any difference at all. The IBA could have asked for Board changes at Westward and re-awarded the franchise as they did with Yorkshire and ATV. I wish it hadn’t happened, for we’ll always be regarded as having won due to Harris v. Cadbury.” This is being calm after the crisis, and he would have been less than human not to feel gleeful at the time.

Forging ahead, he admits he felt like the Ayatollah when he addressed his advisory board at the start of last year. “It was almost like a religious campaign, people really cared about what TSW produced in the way of programmes.” The first television name declared himself, when Robert Robinson spoke at an IBA meeting in Plymouth. “He risked his reputation and it had quite an impact, for he wouldn’t have associated himself with people who weren’t serious.”

Reading numerous questionnaires, Goldstein-Jackson became aware of viewers tastes and was pleased by one conclusion which he had always suspected, that local viewers were tired of amateurism and wanted more sophistication. “People inside television frequently don’t watch what they’re responsible for putting out. I’m probably one of the few TV people who actually watches Charlie’s Angels.” As for his favourites, he’ll dash home to see Not the 9 o’clock News but not Panorama which is “boring” though he might hurry back for World in Action depending on the subject. Another survey showed the same six programmes in the top ten favourites as well as the hates, with Crossroads heading each list, only proving that the most prominent programmes receive the greatest attention, and confirming his contempt for the Top Twenty ratings system.

At this stage, finance was still on paper although backers had to pay £3.68 for every £211 guaranteed, in non-resumable expenses. It cost £35,000 to win the licence and his own expenses have since been repaid. Money was never the greatest problem, in spite of the high stakes involved. At last he assembled a formidable but lucid application for the lBA of 180 pages, excluding a further 75 pages which were strictly confidential relating to people already employed by other TV companies. When this arrived from the printers half the pages were upside down, so with 24 hours to go, the Goldstein-Jacksons had to take them all apart to make up the requisite 55 copies, succeeding with only minutes to spare – the “scariest moment of all”.

IBA EA 1“I expect the worst,” he admits, “because then I’m never disappointed. On the day the Franchise is awarded the applicants go to the IBA to fetch an envelope, but I couldn’t go because I was still officially working for Anglia. The waiting was so terrible I went into the garden to sweep leaves, convincing myself ‘I don’t want to do it’, so my pained reaction when they phoned was not what they expected: ‘Oh no. We haven’t won?’”

Was he surprised? “Not really. You never go into a battle believing you’re going to lose. We played the whole thing like a game, a serious game but still a game. I wonder if we’ll have as much fun now that we’ve won.”

Characteristically, Peter Cadbury was flying in his private plane over Exeter when he heard the news five hours before it was made public, and expressed delight though he announced that the IBA was discredited; “It imposed Lord Harris as chairman against the wishes of shareholders and staff and, having imposed a board of directors, it took away the company’s licence. Just what is it doing? It is Alice in Wonderland.” Though he expressed a hope that the Westward Board would now join the unemployed, he declared himself pleased for the staff who were currently having nightmares about their future.

Even now the internal squabbling continued. As one of Westward’s technical staff told me angrily, “It was time for a change. We had too many clowns with too much money and no idea what to do with it.”

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The transition seems, on the surface, miraculously smooth. In June the shareholders accepted a bid of £2.3 million by TSW for the Westward studios and though this is a low figure a television studio is little use to anyone else except as a TV studio unless pulled down for something else altogether. Inevitably TSW have been reminded of the promise in their application to build new studios of their own which would be superior, and I asked Goldstein-Jackson if that was naivety or deliberate deception. “Neither,” he replied, refusing to be ruffled. “The four walls are irrelevant, it’s the three to four million pounds of new equipment inside that matters.” This will be the cost of improving technical facilities and replacing much of Westward’s equipment which was out of date.

It makes perfect sense. Staff pensions are secured and everyone below Board level has had an informal chat with Goldstein-Jackson and Peter Battle who assured them that their jobs are safe. “If we hadn’t done this, all the good people would have gone, and what would have happened in the transition period? It’s impossible to hire a technician on December 31 and expect him to start work on January 1. But we have been able to stockpile since August.” He vows it will not be the Westward mixture as before and, although franchise applications are built on promises seldom fulfilled, his entire approach is encouraging, apart from the regional programmes he envisages with new mobile units established in Devon and Cornwall. “I want to bring the fun back to television!” says the winner, and promises an opening night on January 1, “with real surprises. Then people will know that TSW is different.”

In Westward, as the dust settles, there is an atmosphere both of defeat and anticipation. Peter Cadbury departed last year with a golden handshake of £75,000 (plus £65,000 legal costs) which he dismissed scornfully as more of a “bronze” handshake or even a “tin” one; “If anyone thinks £75,000 is a lot of money, then we are living in different worlds.”

“We didn’t really agree with the programmes, we were only acting under orders.”

The remaining directors may feel he received a fortune when the day is finally reckoned, for the company actually showed a loss of £7,000 for the six months which ended in January. With a bleaker outlook for themselves, they seem slightly stunned: “I personally feel the deciding factor was the Cadbury/Harris row,” Terry Fleet, the Programme Controller told me. “We had a strong record of excellent service to the region and our plans for the future were ambitious and exciting. Now TSW have the opportunity to prove themselves.”

Others whispered to me “off the record”, anxious not to be seen by their colleagues, and Goldstein-Jackson compared some of the comments during his talks with staff to those at the Nuremberg Trials, with people assuring him (unasked): “We didn’t really agree with the programmes, we were only acting under orders.”

Local concern centres on the future of such favourites as jovial Kenneth Macleod, who introduces Westward Diary and Gus Honeybun who gives appropriate bunnyhops for children’s birthdays.

“How would I describe Honeybun,” I asked Macleod, “as a glovepuppet?” “Certainly not,” glowered, “as a very real person.”

“Probably,” said the elegant receptionist overhearing us, “they’ll give him a mate who will gradually take over.” As Macleod is continuing, though teamed with a young lady to attract a new audience, I could feel him wince, but he has been in the business long enough to accept change.

“They’re pros aren’t they,” he told me philosophically, “and we ply for hire, after all, and it’s good to get the bloody thing settled.”

Asking him what he thought of the winner of the franchise game, the young Mr Goldstein-Jackson, Macleod replied with a smile of relief: “Its so nice these days to meet someone who’s unusual!”

“No longer a licence to print money?” I suggested. “A licence for grey hair!” he exclaimed.

Kevin Goldstein-Jackson has won the game, but with the general cut-back by television companies and the forthcoming competition from the Fourth Channel and Breakfast TV, another struggle lies ahead. “No longer a licence to print money?” I suggested. “A licence for grey hair!” he exclaimed.

“Is this a hazardous moment to launch a new television station?” “Not if one approaches it with confidence. One of our major interests is partly owned by the Bank of England and they don’t like something that’s going to go bust.”

“And what will your epitaph be if you lose your licence after eight years, when the franchise game begins all over again?”

“TSW – tried sincerely well.”

You Say

1 response to this article

David Miller 3 March 2016 at 10:48 pm

I remember reading this article back in ’81. It got me interested in the whole franchise game and the business of TV generally.

10 years later the Express (Daily I think) profiled Citytv in Toronto – the model for the ultimately unsuccessful bid by Thames for the Channel 5 franchise.

Goldstein-Jackson I seem to remember didn’t stay long at TSW. He’s now an author I believe.

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