Roddy Buxton visits Giltbrook - the news studio set up by ATV to serve the East of their region following the 1980 franchise round.
The Midlands gets sliced in two .
In 1980, ITV franchise applications were announced for the next ten years. Though not as controversial as the franchise auction ten years away in the future was to be, this round nonetheless had its changes.
Firstly, two long-serving ITV regional contractors were lost: Southern was to be replaced by TVS from January 1982, and Westward by TSW during the summer of 1981.
Secondly, well-established Midlands contractor ATV was forced to re-structure to provide a better Midlands-based service. This also included a requirement that the region was split into a dual news area - East and West - to provide better coverage.
During the late 1970s, ATV was strongly lobbied by viewers and even City Councils in the North and East Midlands to provide a news service that covered their area better, as they felt that anywhere 20 miles outside of Birmingham didn't seem to get a look in.
ATV was successful with their franchise application and its proposed changes for the region - but the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) was still concerned that the viewer wouldn't really notice a lot of change apart from a few new programmes, and of course the new dual news service. (ATV had also proposed to change their name from 'ATV Network' to 'ATV Midlands'.)
To satisfy the IBA, ATV called in the image consultants - and the company was re-born as 'Central Independent Television'. As part of this re-structuring, 'Central' had decided to re-locate its main production studio from Borehamwood, Hertfordshire to a new East Midlands-based complex in Nottingham: another move that was to prove rather controversial in the not-so-distant future. The Lenton studio complex in Nottingham wasn't to be completed until 1984.
In the meantime Central had to locate a temporary news studio, based somewhere in the East Midlands, to satisfy the new IBA franchise requirements.
Shady dealings on an industrial estate
Based on an industrial estate in Giltbrook, Nottingham, was Recording and Production Services (RPS) who specialised in hiring OB and video equipment to broadcast companies - both ITV and BBC. The company's owner, Malcolm Bartram, had formed very close links with top brass' in Birmingham - often providing supporting OB and recording facilities for many ATV productions.
On hearing of the forthcoming franchise changes, and the requirements laid down to ATV by the IBA, Malcolm hastily added a full IBA-spec studio extension, production gallery, dressing rooms and other facilities to the existing offices and hire company storage area, and then offered the facility as a temporary base for the new East Midlands service, scheduled to open in January 1982. The management at Central jumped at this offer, and began to equip the studio and production areas with a combination of new and surplus equipment from Birmingham and Borehamwood.
Central moved into Giltbrook around late 1981 to make preparations for the East Midlands news service, scheduled to open on the 1st January 1982. Meanwhile, Malcolm Bartram had relocated RPS to larger premises further up the road. The company was later purchased by Chrysalis and now provides OB facilities internationally. Malcolm Bartram is still involved today.
From In Colour' to In Cash' .
It is rumoured that Central only wished to sign a 2-year lease on the property, which would take them into 1984, by which time construction of the new complex at Lenton in Nottingham would be complete. But Bartram was unhappy with this arrangement, as it was in effect costing him and RPS just to move out for two years and provide a temporary studio. As the end of 1981 drew closer, management at Central realised that they hadn't much time before the new service was due to begin - and they hadn't officially got a studio facility available.
Thus a deal was quickly struck, and Central signed a lease for a much longer period: the actual figure was kept quiet. Part of the deal was apparently that Central paid in full, up front. Which they did - and allegedly in cash'.
The East Midlands gets its own news service - well nearly
Central made sure its viewers were fully aware of its new service and its fresh look to programming, with publicity on-screen and in the Midlands press throughout late 1981. Even the final ATV Today on 31 December, 1981, ensured that Central News got a mention.
ATV Today reporters Anne Diamond and Nick Owen were chosen to host the new East Midlands news programme. Local mayors, dignitaries, and officials from Central were invited to see the new 'Central - East' studio officially opened by Sir Bryan Young of the IBA, followed by the transmission of the first East Midlands news service. But things were not to go as planned.
Back then it was a time when unions still had the power to take a television station off the air - and did. There had been the great ITV strike of 1979 and a strike at the BBC the previous year, for example.
The early 1980s saw a lot of unrest at Central - mainly as a result of the changes. As previously noted, the company had planned to relocate its facility from Borehamwood to a new complex to be opened in Nottingham. Many of the staff working at the Borehamwood studio were asked to re-locate, and refused due to costs. From this a dispute between management and the Electricians' Union brewed that was to remain unsettled for a further 4 years, affecting pan-regional continuity announcements from Birmingham, lunchtime news bulletins and even major drama series in production such as Boon and Aufwiedersehen Pet.
At Giltbrook, the electricians were also unhappy with pay and working conditions. So they pulled the plug. Instead of their much-vaunted own programme, viewers in the East Midlands on opening night were instead given 'Central News - West' from Birmingham. Back to square one! 'Central News - East' had in fact gone ahead as planned, but it was only viewable on the internal monitors.
The East Midlands continued receive its news service from Birmingham until 1984, but Central did manage to balance items from both the East and West Midlands. In comparison, ATV Today would have had problems due to its reliance on 16mm film.
Central vacated Giltbrook around 1983 - pretty much in the same way they vacated Broad Street in 1997 - by simply walking away, locking the door and leaving the equipment. The only known transmitted output from Giltbrook was continuity'.
Some of the equipment left - namely camera, vision and control equipment - was removed and sold off. But the bulk of it was left installed - and the building remained locked and boarded up until the late 1980s when it was sold to the first of many independent video producers.
And the present...
Around 1997, an independent production company based in Nottinghamshire - Finishing Post Productions - purchased the building. It's perhaps ironic that much of the equipment installed in the building today was purchased and removed from ATV Centre following its closure in October 1997.
Internally, the building hasn't changed that much since the days of Central, but today it is thriving with activity, and always fully booked throughout the year, producing corporate and promotional videos and even educational and shorts for major broadcasters.
The building now hosts a full studio, production gallery, sound booth, edit suites, music suites, DVD/Media suites, Graphics Department, Green Room, Dressing room, Machine rooms and facilities for parking OB vehicles.
The lines to Birmingham are still fitted in the PABX room - in BT junction boxes labelled 'Links to ATV Birmingham': the building management have chosen to leave these fitted (we are told) for 'Old times' sake ' The old Central uplink dish and smaller dish pointing towards the transmitter at Kimberley (which is within sight of the studio) are still fitted to the roof- but looking a little tatty.
The area itself has undergone major development. The industrial estate now looks dated, as a major retail park, consisting of a massive car park, Ikea and a few sports' shops have been built opposite.
Original Building Specs
Studio 12.3m x 9.6m fitted with 360-degree wraparound cyclorama cloth -, which can also be used for either Blue-Screen or Green-Screen chroma-key. Constructed to IBA specifications.
Studio height is 5.7m from floor to lighting grid.
2 x dressing rooms. Dressing Room 1 is 2.3m x 2.9m and Dressing Room 2 is 3.1m x 4.6m.
1 x Green Room 5.9 x 6.1m with Pool Table.
900 Amp supply for lighting.
Access for OB trucks.