Hello and goodbye 

8 December 2014 tbs.pm/5589

1968

July 1968. After over a year in the planning, the big changes at ITV start to happen (TWW had stalked out in March, Harlech had entered in May and the TVTimes would relaunch in September; but the main changes are July).

In London, Rediffusion, the Monday to Friday contractor, and ATV London, the Saturday and Sunday contractor, both in place since the system started in 1955, leave. In their place comes Thames Television operating Monday to Friday evenings and London Weekend, operating Friday evenings to Sunday.

In the Midlands, ABC Weekend leaves, hand its two days over to the weekday contractor ATV Midlands. In the north, the weekend/weekday split of ABC and Granada ends and is replaced by a geographic split: Granada continues, now a 7-day operation, to the west of the Pennines; in the east, the new Yorkshire Television comes on air.

London

New London lookIn the (Rediffusion-owned) London edition of the TVTimes for the week of the changes, the new system is explained: how ABC had moved from the north and midlands into London by merging with Rediffusion. This wasn’t exactly true – Thames Television was a new company, formed by the parent companies of ABC and Rediffusion, the existing companies continuing in order to handle exports of their old material. Also, the joint venture, which handed 51% of the control to ABC’s parent Associated British Picture Corporation and 51% of the profits to Rediffusion’s parent British Electric Traction, wasn’t very joint: ABC management, staff and talent swept in, Rediffusion management, staff and talent were swept out and ABC picked over Rediffusion’s bones for departments – current affairs, documentaries, schools – that it didn’t already have.

The new London Weekend was a consortium of the great and the good of British television, drawing management staff from the BBC and Rediffusion and retaining something of the ethos of both. They believed that the diet of light entertainment, variety and popular drama that ATV London had offered to millions of viewers was base and low. They wanted a highbrow, arty, quality drama and opera service for the weekend, programmes they’d very much like to watch themselves, in fact. The millions of viewers for the turns and legs on display in the London Palladium show would now be given the opportunity to see Yehudi Menuhin perform and Benjamin Britten operas instead.

Last ATV London SundayATV’s last Sunday has no particular mention in the TVTimes. There’s no special programme – but then the company weren’t closing, nobody was being made redundant, nothing was really changing internally. Work would start as normal at Elstree in north London on Monday morning and continue as normal, only now with everything being broadcast from Birmingham rather than two days a week from London.

Rediffusion's last dayBack up north, the contract change date falling on a Tuesday bothered Granada and Yorkshire, so Yorkshire simply bought the day off Granada and both companies started with a clean sheet on the Monday.

In London, the change from Rediffusion to Thames was more painful. There was no nice way for ABC to render down the carcass of Rediffusion while making the new Thames. The year-long negotiations on how the new company would be run had soon devolved into John Spencer Wills of Rediffusion and Howard Thomas of ABC butting heads all the time – neither were the most flexible people in the world and both had spent years in the business convinced they knew how to make television the best way. Howard Thomas held all the cards, however – his 51% trumped Wills’ 49% every time.

In only one place could Rediffusion flex its muscles. It declined to sell that last Monday to Thames. Rather than bowing out gracefully on the Friday before, they held on to the last possible moment: midnight on the night of the 29th.

Thames debut

 

First networked Thames ident (Sooty) with errorRediffusion’s last day being the Monday, Thames got its gala launch on the Tuesday morning. That didn’t go well: the racing from Tyne Tees was pulled by the broadcasting unions in Newcastle in a protest over pay and conditions. The first Thames ident to be networked, at 4.40pm for Sooty, was run from the programme and separately in a display of confusion at Television House, leading to a surreal, double ident that confused non-London viewers.

Union trouble would continue at Thames that evening. Cooper King-size went into its first commercial break after 15 minutes and never came back. The technicians pulled the plug and walked out for the rest of the evening, leaving Thames’s first night in tatters.

These industrial relations troubles would continue for the rest of the week, before taking the entire ITV network (with the exception of Channel Television, spared a break because it would mean bankruptcy) down for several weeks and leading to a hurried national service put together by ABC management and ATV transmission staff.

LWT comes on air

On Friday 2 August 1968, just before 7pm, Thames did a formal closedown (a practice that would soon stop as it was clearly ludicrous) and a few seconds and a picture roll later, London Weekend began a full formal start-up. And that’s as far as things got. London Weekend staff and technicians pulled the plug and walked out. London Weekend’s opening night didn’t happen at all.

North

In the north of England, things were much smoother – although the industrial action that started at Tyne Tees and had spread to Thames soon spread to Granada and Yorkshire. In the Granada (west of the Pennines) edition of the TVTimes, ABC was given a two-page spread to say goodbye to the northern half of their region.

Goodbye Didsbury

David Hamilton (or an ABC ghostwriter using his name more likely) is given space to explain how much he has enjoyed working in the former Capitol Cinema building in Didsbury that ABC had converted into a set of small studios in 1956.

ABC bows out

He wasn’t however, given the same space over in the new Yorkshire region, so for them, this was how ABC bowed out – with a programme of clips and reminiscences presented from the continuity studio late that night.

Made in Yorkshire

Taking the place of the Goodbye to Didsbury article over in the east was this long piece on how wonderful the new Yorkshire Television service would be. Meanwhile, back in the west of the old region, the TVTimes squeezed in an article about how wonderful a 7-day Granada service would be for viewers.

This is the NEW Granadaland

Midlands

Down in the Midlands, TVWorld didn’t do much about the changes. ATV itself had a variety programme (what else?) on the Monday, called 5/7ths to 7/7ths, but the change was pretty minor in the midlands anyway: ATV would be there on Monday even if no change had happened; their first weekend in the midlands seguing into their usual service with nary a blink.

And that was that. ITV’s face had been changed. In September, TVWorld and the other regional magazines would be swept away and a relaunched TVTimes would go national. The new companies would take time to bed in, the painful and long strike at the start notwithstanding. Thames would become the powerhouse of ITV that Rediffusion had been. London Weekend would teeter on the edge of disaster for years, finally jettisoning their highbrow aspirations and bringing in Rupert Murdoch. The remaining parts of Rediffusion Television Limited would grumble about the situation they’d been brought down to, until they discovered that 51% of the profits of Thames was making them more money than 100% of the profits of Rediffusion London. Yorkshire would find itself too small for the obligations put upon it, strategically joining forces with Tyne Tees to form Trident Television and being given the Lincolnshire UHF transmitter in 1974 to try to make their area bigger. Granada seemed happier with the northwest than it had been with the pan-north idea and soon became something of a powerhouse at the weekends, filling the gap left by London Weekend’s failures.

ITV was now ready to face the 1970s.

 

You Say

11 responses to this article

Dave Rhodes 8 December 2014 at 5:44 pm

Note the dominance of ATV (and ITC) fare on the company’s last day in London. And a final Rediffusion-badged installment of This Week following uneasily on the heels of World In Action the following night.

Alan Keeling 8 December 2014 at 8:19 pm

It was sad to witness the demise of ABC TV during the summer of 1968. Here in the Midlands, there seemed to be a decline in programme standards with ATV at weekends, as well as during weekdays. Very little U.S. cartoon series, but more old ITC series repeats of shows such as “Fury”, “Robin Hood”, “Cannonball”, etc.

Arthur Nibble 8 December 2014 at 8:37 pm

Interesting to see the new companies plugging their products in the bottom part of the vertical strapline on the front of TV Times, yet Yorkshire don’t refer to the “Royal Gala” further up, despite having a member of royalty opening their studios.

“The new look for the (London) weekend offers something for everyone”. Famous last words. Had I read that list of new programmes at the time, I’d have been almost as dejected as when Carlton took over.

ABC were (probably quite rightly) saving their pennies on the last day – produce some sport and a nostalgic last programme, and leave virtually everything else to that ATV lot to cover.

An odd way for Rediffusion to say goodbye to their viewers – a “This Week” special on Biafra, a staff-made programme on handicapped children, a soap opera, an epilogue and, er, that’s it. Almost as if they didn’t want anyone to tune in to Thames the next day. I wonder if The Rev. Austen Williams made any mention of Rediffusion’s last programme?

Of course, there was the logistical problem of some Rediffusion staff not only moving to Yorkshire TV, such as Redvers Kyle, but missing their first day with their new company due to Rediffusion holding on grimly to their last franchise day and Yorkshire paying to start a day early – Yorkshiremen being frivolous with their money? Must have been a mad dash from London to Leeds for some of those employees the next day.

Bill Everatt 10 December 2014 at 11:59 am

Harlech TVs arrival was not greeted with much enthusiasm in my families household! We all missed TWW and generally thought of Harlech as a substandard replacement. As the years progressed, and TWW receded further into history, we stayed unimpressed with this replacement which was forced upon us by the ITA.

There was a great deal of sympathy with TWW. That’s the point of view from my family and their friends who were very much typical of those who lived in Glamorgan.

John Hepworth 12 January 2015 at 11:10 pm

According to the official IBA history of ITV contractors, the ownership split of Thames was 60% ABC, 40% Rediffusion.

Russ J Graham 13 January 2015 at 12:42 pm

The ABC/Rediffusion figure is quoted differently in many official places. I’ve seen 50/50, 51/49, 60/40 and, most recently, 51/49 in voting shares but 49/51 in dividend shares.

The problem is that the shareholding varied in the 1970s as ABPC (owners of ABC) went through corporate reshuffles when bought by EMI, and then again when EMI merged with Thorn.

Certainly at one point in the 1970s BET (Rediffusion’s owner) found itself with a majority of Thames voting shares and was summoned to the IBA to be told that they were not to make changes at Thames.

The 60/40 split, by the way, sounds like the composition of the board of directors, where, if I recall correctly, 6 came via ABC, while 4 were via BET/Rediffusion.

Alan Keeling 18 January 2015 at 8:42 pm

As Rediffusions last day was on a Monday, announcer Redvers Kyle’s voice could be heard during their final start-up, intoning, “This is Rediffusion, broadcasting for the last time, from the London station of the Independent Television Authority”. Yes, it’s true.

Stephen Wildsmith, of Yorkshire 9 February 2015 at 7:22 pm

Good to see a page or two of Yorkshire Television’s launch, as pages from TV Times.
Any chance of any Yorkshire Televison TV Times listings (their first week on air 1968) being uploaded to the site?

garry robin simpson 24 October 2015 at 12:03 am

As a 50 year old disabled viewer in 1968 I don”t seem to remember SOUTHERN having so many Industrial disputes until 1977 when SOUTHERN TELEVIISION went off the air for seven weeks.

Geoff Nash 21 July 2016 at 12:06 pm

I remember my parents commenting about something they’d read in the paper (probably sometime in 1967) that ITV was going to change and the name Thames TV was mentioned. I found this rather exciting, but at the time all I thought was going to happen was a name change. Redvers Kyle, Muriel Young and Jon Kelly would all still be there, the programmes would be the same but they would have ‘Thames TV’ rather than ‘Rediffusion’ pinned on the front and back.

Switching on for the children’s programmes on July 29th 1968 was a massive surprise, coming out of an ad break while the set was warming up and then seeing Sheila Kennedy (I didn’t know she’d come down with ABC at the time) announcing in front of a very different backdrop. It was when she casually said something like “Now we begin our children’s programmes for today on Thames…..” that it sunk in. It had really happened and it WAS different. The blank “FROM THAMES” ident played and we were into ‘The Sooty Show’, followed by ‘Magpie’ which I loved from the start, then the Thames clock ticking up to the early evening ITN News. I was out playing with my mates after that, but I was back in time for “Cooper King Size” and being grossly disappointed when it disappeared during the first break to be replaced by an apology caption, my Dad commenting about how poor Thames’s organisation was (being unaware that it was really the mighty ABC’s organisation and this really wasn’t their fault!).

Looking in on Saturday London Weekend Television was a real disappointment for a nine year old (although, in my memory, apart from the Gerry Anderson shows ATV London was not that hot on children’s programming either, their version of Tingha and Tucker being a religious show). LWT was dull, serious, boring. Why was there no proper symbol? (Thames was also guilty of this, at the time the ‘skyline’ was only really seen at start-up). Why, just like Thames, was everything ‘FROM LONDON WEEKEND TELEVISION’ when ATV and Rediffusion had ‘Productions’?

It didn’t last long, all the new presentation vanished within a few days with the industrial action and I feared that the temporary national ‘INDEPENDENT TELEVISION’ branding would be permanent. Surely there would never be one national ITV company, that could never happen, surely?

As for the other changes, I never quite understood where ABC had gone to or why some of it’s programmes were now on in the week rather than at the weekend, I’d been puzzled as to where this ‘Yorkshire Television’ had suddenly popped up from and why Granada had lost it’s north-pointing arrowhead. Harlech I never even noticed. I didn’t really miss Rediffusion, their end-cap occasionally popped up accidentally on the odd schools programme being networked by Thames. Southern, who we could also receive at the time, remained unaffected by all of this. I had no idea that it would be their turn next time around.

Geoff Nash 29 August 2017 at 11:45 pm

Interestingly the cartoon series ‘The New Adventures Of Superman’ starts it’s run at 4.55 on Rediffusion’s last day, the rest of the series would continue in that time slot for many weeks afterwards on Thames.

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