A new start 

1 December 2002 tbs.pm/1837

At 0525 on 27 October 2002, LWT had its first start up in almost twenty years – and began its last ever day. Colm O’Rourke was watching.

The last weekend of October 2002 marked a television event of high outcry and controversy. The Carlton- and Granada-owned ITV companies were introducing new identification and promotional films on Monday, 28th October, bearing the universal identity ITV1 and dismissing the regional station’s name to use before local news bulletins and local interest programmes.

Six stations would lose their on-screen identity completely. What’s more, ITV1 continuity for the English companies was to be centralised in London, leading to the closure of continuity facilities in Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton and Cardiff, and the loss of over 20 posts.

Only the long serving and prolific announcers took the opportunity to bid farewell on air, and on the whole, the transition to a “universal” ITV1 was undocumented and neglected.

In the weeks leading up to the 28th, news circulated among TV presentation forums and mailing lists that one of the stations to succumb to on-screen rebranding, London Weekend Television, had an ace up its sleeve.

Its on air launch in August 1968 was blighted by industrial unrest, and if the rumour mill was to be believed, it would be “leaving” in a grander style.

It quickly became common knowledge that LWT was planning a series of special continuity junctions on their last day of broadcast, but it was an event scheduled to be transmitted (although not listed in television guides) at the unearthly hour of 5:25am that generated anticipation.

The handful of viewers tuned in to LWT on 5:25am on the morning of Sunday 27 October 2002 had no idea what to expect in the subsequent five minutes. No doubt, casual viewers of Nightscreen may have expressed alarm at their nightly dose of ITV1 trivia being faded out too early.

But, to those “in the know”, we were on the cusp of witnessing a television event quite unprecedented in contemporary television broadcasting – a four-minute sequence of music and still visuals presented in a formal, almost pompous fashion.

It may be an antiquarian concept to the unfamiliar, but it satisfied the requirements of the old IBA, and sufficed for the broadcaster and audience alike for almost 20 years.

This concept is colloquially known as “the start up”. For the younger television presentation enthusiast such as myself, young men and women whose knowledge and interest had been stimulated by the myriad of TV presentation websites, what was forthcoming would be the first, and probably last, experience of witnessing a station start-up sequence transmitted live on-air.

Anyway, onto the actual start up itself. By 5:25am, ITV Nightscreen was displaying information on a forthcoming adaptation of The Forsythe Saga, when all of a sudden, a fade to black occurred.

A second or two later, a still slide, pale blue with white and gold lettering, appeared, bearing the legend “LONDON Transmitters in Service” and a list of television transmitters and channel frequencies under a white horizontal line. Curiously, a list was contained on the right hand side of the screen, reading: “MPEG-2 562 LINES: Digital Terrestrial, Digital Satellite, Digital Cable”, the position where a list of VHF transmitters in service would have been listed on an official caption.

While a few viewers scratched their heads, rubbed their eyes and reached for their remote controls ignorant to what had appeared on their screens, hundreds of people nationwide felt a tinge of excitement and anxiety down their spine; this was a replica of the Transmitters in Service captions widely used in start up sequences from 1971 to 1981.

Recreating the IBA Transmitters in Service caption is one of the obstacles to overcome when reconstructing a start up sequence, with the IBA itself reincarnated as the ITC and its transmitter network in the hands of NTL. To incorporate mentions of the ITC and NTL on the caption, neither as intrinsically linked to the ITV network as the IBA, could potentially be viewed as free advertising.

This was remedied by the replacement of the IBA logo in the top left corner of the screen by a monochrome LWT 1978-1986 logo. This practice could have landed LWT in hot water with the IBA in the 1970s, but one gets the impression that placing the station logo on the Transmitters in Service caption in lieu of the IBA logo would certainly have been an effective means of station promotion.

With the replica Transmitters in Service caption in place came the following announcement, courtesy of former LWT announcer, Trish Bertram:

“This is London Weekend Television, broadcasting a Colour 625 line analogue service on the UHF band, and also on Digital Terrestrial, Digital Satellite and Digital Cable networks via the MPEG-2 encoding system.”

Like the IBA logo on the Transmitters in Service caption, the scripting of this announcement could have been a potential bone of contention.

Since the days of start ups, VHF 405 line transmissions have long ceased, and audience can today receive ITV signals via the digital platforms, and to notify viewers of the station’s VHF frequencies in a modern start up recreation would be as self-indulgent as it is erroneous.

Adhering to the authentic Authority Announcement style as closely as possible was a requirement, as was updating it for the present, and both ideas were done justice to. Bertram’s announcement was resonated clearly and comprehensibly, with the tone of authority and formality used in an archetypal original start up sequence.

Indeed, the idea to commence LWT’s last day on air with a start up has been credited, among others, to Bertram, whose prominent continuity duties at the station spanned 20 years until the start of October 2002, so her contribution to the sequence is enthusiastically acknowledged, and, from an announcer with such a close affinity to LWT, seemed quite natural.

After Bertram’s Authority message, Don Jackson’s A Well Swung Fanfare, the march used by the station for almost 20 years, was broadcast in its entirety. Jackson’s piece sounded as fresh and relevant as upon its first transition in 1968; indeed, the “muzak” accompanying the previous Nightscreen was as jazzy and jaunty as Fanfare, the distinction between modern “muzak” and the classic television march was hardly noticeable.

At the halfway mark of A Well Swung Fanfare, abiding with tradition, a still LWT ident took screen presence. In the style of the 1978-1986 LWT ident, the striped logo reprising its familiar blue, white and orange striped motif with pride; albeit with a different font used for the “London Weekend Television” legend holding up the station’s logo, the Helvetica type replaced with Franklin Gothic.

Rather than switching to a clock for the last bars of A Well Swung Fanfare, the march’s anti-climatic ending was accompanied by the still LWT caption.

On cue as the track faded out, another disembodied voice was heard; LWT announcer, Glen Thompsett. As Thompsett was the on-duty announcer on the previous evening, it quickly became apparent that this start-up was recorded prior to transmission, not a live broadcast like the thousands of previous sequences conducted by the ITV companies beforehand.

However, the painstakingly accurate aesthetics of the whole sequence gave the impression of a live transmission relying on captions and a rostrum camera. Shading on the blue background and dirt marks managed somehow to belie the computer-generated nature of the captions and give the impression of repeated use of cards with a naturally unrefined quality.

The script always referred to the station as “London Weekend Television” and did not abbreviate the station name, and a reference to “…the studios of ITN…” was also included.

After Thompsett’s greeting (“Good morning, and welcome to London Weekend Television…”) his announcement continued “…direct from our world famous studios on the South Bank.”, accompanying a night-time photograph of the South Bank studios, as widely used for continuity links in the 1980s accompanied with a LWT logo.

The combination of image and script breathed a sense of humanity to the proceedings that, as an audience, we can picture a place and person conducting this ritual.

With the station name and studio base namechecked and sanctified, we were offered the chance to view the morning’s schedule in a programme menu form, via a screen wipe.

Unlike current “menus”, the programme menu relied on the announcer’s programme descriptions to inform viewers of the day’s schedule, without the aid of video or pictorial icons to illustrate each programme, a harsh contrast to the endless stream of trailers attempting to influence our viewing habits.

Notably, the menu template used a representation of the original “river” logo, as introduced in 1970, and the “London Weekend” station identification; in contrast to the earlier captions featuring the latter LWT logo.

To conclude this surreal, yet magical, sequence, a reconstruction of the elusive clock that should have made its appearance 30 seconds before finally graced our screens; the 1970 London Weekend clock, the deus ex machina returning us to ITV1 2002 and the ITV Morning News, with Thompsett’s concluding announcement: “…This is London Weekend Television”.

The use of the reconstructed clock provided a more appropriate segue into a news programme that no dancers on a London roof could ever convey. It’s likely this timepiece could probably be one of the last times a clock is used on-screen on UK terrestrial television.

In hindsight, LWT’s start up was a fitting and sincere tribute to the station, which, after watching, left me with the realisation that the ITV network as developed and nurtured in the 1950s and 1960s has been lost in the mists of television’s historical ether.

This start up sequence, despite its masked slot in the schedules, wasn’t just a minor fantasy made real for television presentation anoraks.

It was a testimony to an era of television about to be irretrievably eradicated from our screens, and an active demonstration to the younger television generations of an era when television wasn’t a 24/7, on-demand medium smothered by information technology. An era that will probably never materialise on our screens again.

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