Three’s company 

1 February 2002 tbs.pm/1796

Channel 3 North East logo

In February 1998, viewers in the north-east of England could see a change about to happen – their ITV station since the 1950s was about to come back, and elements of its branding had started to peep through. This would be the first return of a defunct station name in the entire history of UK television.

Coming back to now, the Christmas idents used in 2001 by the ITV stations owned by Granada Media offer a glimpse into the future – a future where regional names are entirely banished in favour of a single name. During the festive season, viewers were no longer watching Tyne Tees or Anglia; the logo on-screen was just a large ITV1. Whilst the Christmas rebranding was only temporary, it seems possible that Granada Media was testing the water before launching a single ITV1 brand across its stations.

It wouldn’t be the first major ITV rebranding, but would be the first time that huge sections of the ITV network had ditched separate names completely, using just a single brand name instead. Carlton came close, renaming Central and Westcountry in it’s own likeness in 1999, but has shied away from taking just the ITV1 name.

It’s not the first time that a single brand name has tried to be applied across a number of franchises. The first attempt didn’t come from Carlton or Granada Media, but from a company based in Leeds – Yorkshire-Tyne Tees Television.

In many ways, Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees were before their time. In the 1970s they were part of Trident Television, the first company to own two distinct ITV franchises. They went their separate ways again in the 1980s, but the takeover of Tyne Tees by Yorkshire in the early 1990s created the second multi-franchise group. It was a merger that would start the consolidation of the ITV companies, with Granada launching a bid for LWT not long after.

After the takeover, the Leeds based group, called Yorkshire-Tyne Tees, set about merging departments and culling staff. Four years after the takeover, Tyne Tees was a very different station and by 1996 had even been given a new name.

Channel 3 North East was part of a vision that was never fully implemented. The idea was to unite the two franchises under a common branding. Tyne Tees would become Channel 3 North East, and Yorkshire, Channel 3 Yorkshire.

Channel 3 was a popular term for ITV at the time. Many viewers referred to their ITV station with the number, and most TV sets were programmed to have ITV on button 3. ITV had also just broadcate a large promotional campaign claiming that 3 was the nations favourite button.

“3” may have been a popular button but Yorkshire never got its name changed. The board of directors decided it would diminish the station brand, and the name change was cancelled, although idents included the new “3” logo.

Tyne Tees didn’t escape. No one seemed to care enough about diminishing its identity, and in September 1996, the station launched with its new name. At the same time, Yorkshire gained a new ident – a continually rotating gold chevron that changed to become a giant ‘3’ before returning to its original state. In the light blue background, more 3’s were swirling.

Tyne Tees didn’t get a rotating 3. Its ident, with a similar background, consisted of the large gold 3 moving across the screen before resting on the right, with “North East” written next to it. At the bottom, ‘Tyne Tees Television’ was displayed in small gold letters.

The daily news programmes were also renamed. Tyne Tees News made way for North East Tonight, although the title sequences and set remained in the same style as they had before the name change. The separate Teesside opt out was scrapped, and a new presenter brought in. Mike Neville, a presenter on the BBC’s North East regional news since 1964, joined the new look ITV station on the day the Channel 3 North East launched.

The Tyne Tees name continued to be seen on production slides outside the region, but local viewers were usually treated to slides with the phrase “A Tyne Tees Television production for Channel 3 North East”. The Leeds based announcers also had a habit of calling the station by its old name, but despite much public hatred of the new station identity, the management refused to back down. It would have stayed too, had it not been for further consolidation amongst the ITV companies.

In 1992 Yorkshire-Tyne Tees had been at the forefront of the consolidation but by 1997 the group found itself subject to a takeover bid. After a lengthy and bitter bid to takeover LWT, Granada had sat back as Carlton and Meridian owner MAI (later United News and Media) went on shopping sprees in the ITV supermarket.

After biding its time, the Granada Group snapped up Yorkshire-Tyne Tees in 1997 and announced that the ‘Channel 3’ branding would be scrapped. The new owners declared that Channel 3 North East was a weak brand, and didn’t help the station’s regional identity. The 3s would be consigned to history.

It didn’t take long for Yorkshire to remove them from its idents. A virtually identical, but 3-less ident appeared quickly, presumably made at the same time as the ident it replaced. In the North East it took longer, taking nearly six months before the 3 was scrapped and it wasn’t until the following March that the old name returned

Unlike the launch of Channel 3 North East, which had launched in a blaze of glory with trailers and promotional films, the return of Tyne Tees was quiet and low key. On the 9th March viewers saw the new ident and were welcomed to the new look station. Later in the day, North East Tonight presenter Mike Neville ended the evening news programme telling viewers what was coming up that evening on Tyne Tees. “Isn’t it great to be able to say that name again?” was his comment as he turned to weatherman Bob Johnson, sat next to him in the studio.

Four years later and ITV has changed even more. There is pressure to allow Granada and Carlton to merge, and to allow one company to control all of ITV. It seems likely that the regional names will disappear someday, but when that will happen remains to be seen. It’s ironic though that the company testing the waters in introducing a single, generic brand once declared that Tyne Tees needed a stronger regional identity. When the ITV1 rebranding does arrive though, one thing is sure – this time Yorkshire won’t escape.

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