December 1981 was a strange time for me, even though I was only 8, coming on 9. It was strange for many reasons, not least the Penlee Lifeboat disaster. But for someone like me, the strangest thing was the fact that 3 TV companies were about to disappear from our screens, and just because a bunch of people decided that was going to be the case.
I didn't really understand the idea of a system of franchises back then. I just felt sad that an couple of old friends in Westward, Southern and ATV were disappearing, but at The Penlee Lifeboat disaster features in the titles to the ITN News on 31 December 1981 the same time, I was looking forward to seeing just what TSW, TVS and Central had to offer - a strange mixture of feelings.
ATV had been responsible for some great programmes over the years. As a network programme producer, there was little doubt that it had produced some great stuff, under both the ITC and ATV brand names. The fact that ATV was only going to be a minority partner in the new consortium did hold out some hope that we would continue to see ITC and ATV productions for Central, but that never really happened. However, some old schools programmes did get a Central Presents' slide just before the ATV pre-programme ident. But all new programmes were Central productions.
Southern had been seen a lot less down here than Thames, ATV, Granada, Yorkshire or LWT, but still Southern had made more of an impact back then than Border, Tyne Tees, Ulster, Scottish, Grampian or Channel. It was strange that Southern would be disappearing, for if anything, I had little knowledge about where Southern had supposedly gone wrong. Were TVS's promises better than Southern's combined performance and promises? I guessed it had to be. But Southern had been very reliable from my perspective. TVS was going to have a tough time living up to that.
The greatest amount of sadness was for the imminent demise of Westward, although at the time, I didn't realise that the company had already gone, and the Westward I was lamenting was merely a brand name of TSW, who were going to launch the rebrand on January 1st 1982. They'd kept the August 1981 changeover comparatively quiet, and there were very little in the way of visual signs that TSW had already taken over. It was very well done, and without question, one of the smoothest handovers in Independent Television, possibly the smoothest ever.
Although it is widely believed that TSW's opening night show was generally awful, it didn't seem quite so bad back then. At least, I don't remember it being as bad as everybody seems to suggest. Okay, it wasn't brilliant by a long shot, but it wasn't awful. However, TSW did pick up after this initial trouble, and slowly started down the road to proving itself a worthy successor to Westward.