Central eyes 

13 April 2015 tbs.pm/6341

Television in the UK as a whole has changed on a considerable scale over the past 25 years. Younger viewers have been brought up on a cocktail of digital interactive multi-channel 24-hour broadcasting, quite different from the television watched by their parents. In particular, ITV has changed not only in its on-screen style, but also in its company structure and management.

In the ITV of old, the country was divided into areas served by a broadcaster based in each region. Contracts or even franchises for each of these areas were awarded to broadcasting companies by the ITV governing body – the Independent Television Authority (ITA, later, with the addition of commercial radio, the Independent Broadcasting Authority or IBA). Franchises were awarded based on a number of strict criteria laid down by the governing body, including such things as the applicant companies’ financial stability, programme planning for both the network and region and also balance of programme output to name a few.
Many ‘older’ viewers agreed that this system worked well for many years.

So it was that in 1980 the IBA invited applicants for a new period of ITV contracts, set to begin on the 1st January 1982.

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In January 1980 ATV received a copy of “Contract C – Particulars of Independent Television Contract – East and West Midlands” from the IBA, an 80-page document outlining contractual conditions for the new contract beginning in 1982, as well as contract particulars for the breakfast TV franchise and provisions that should be made for the forthcoming Channel 4.

With an application closing date of 9 May 1980, ATV had just 5 months to prepare its application to the IBA. One major change affecting ATV was that its midland area had now been split into a ‘dual franchise’ – an East and West Midlands broadcasting area; quite a sore point for ATV, as for the previous two years they had been under pressure from numerous local MPs, viewers and City Council officials in the east of the region, all wanting their own dedicated East Midlands news service. The Derby Evening Telegraph reported on the matter during 1978, ending with a statement from ATV stating that “[we] have reporters and freelance camera crews based in the East Midlands already, they make a valuable contribution to ATV Today. ATV have no plans to create a separate East and West broadcast area as it would not be financially viable. And that is the end of the matter.”

On top of this there was controversy in the West Midlands with a rift that had been going on for over 10 years – after nearly a decade, members of the Labour council were still angry over the deal struck between ATV and the then-Conservative council over land and planning for the new ATV Centre. The Labour council attempted to use the franchise renewal round against ATV by lobbying the IBA to cancel its contract and “kick them out of the Midlands” – using the old trope that ATV were more interested in Birmingham, Alabama than Birmingham, England.

In May 1980, the Leader-Elect of Birmingham City Council, Clive Wilkinson, via a statement to the Birmingham Evening Post, accused ATV of “using the Midlands as a launching pad to sell films to the USA”. He went on to state that the then Principle Chief Officer – Mr William Page – had been instructed to prepare an in-depth report into all three of the Midlands franchise applications, which would enable the city to put its point of view across to the IBA. The details went before Birmingham’s ‘General Purposes’ committee during June 1980, and then their assessment was eventually passed on to the IBA during the late summer.
The Council pointed out that ATV had acquired the Paradise Centre (which later became the ATV Centre) during 1968 and was paying a “peppercorn” rent of £80 a year for the lease on the entire complex, including the Alpha Tower, hotel, studios and car park.

Under the 1968 agreement, it was in 1980 that the rent was due to increase to £35,000 per annum – with another rent review due in 2008 (ironically the same year that demolition work began and 11 years after all television had ceased at the site). Planning permission had just been granted for a £5 million expansion of the studio utilising the unused Exhibition Hall. Councilor Wilkinson accused ATV of “using the City for all it could get, with very little in return. The site was offered as a ludicrously low rental because of the promises of cinemas and exhibition halls”.

Some weeks following the publication of this article Leonard Matthews, a senior director of ATV Network, published his response to the council’s allegations. Mr Matthews began by pointing out that he was directly involved with the planning, design and location of ATV Centre in 1967 and now was the time to set the record straight. Mr Matthews said that the planned exhibition hall was scrapped in an agreement by ATV and the City Council – but not until after much of the building work had been completed – in light of the unveiling of plans for the National Exhibition Centre in Bickenhill near Birmingham Airport. The planned theatre was dropped because the Birmingham Repertory Theatre was due to open a mere 100 yards away, and large numbers of the city cinemas were closing their doors due to a slump in cinema attendance, so opening two more large cinemas was simply not a viable business option. ATV Centre itself stood on the site of a disused Gaumont cinema.

atv midlands logo

ATV submitted its application to the IBA during April 1980 under the name of “ATV Midlands”. Along with this application, a glossy booklet was issued to all staff and made available to the viewing public by request, outlining ATV’s application and proposals for the new franchise period. Along with a tweak of the name, a tweaked on-screen brand and company logo was proposed – but still using a form of the familiar double-eyed symbol.

One of the conditions included in the new contract was that a new studio complex should be opened in the East Midlands and ATV had considered building its new studio somewhere in the ‘triangle’ between Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. After consultation with Nottingham City Council and the Ministry of Defence, a 10 acre site at Chilwell, on the outskirts of Nottingham, was chosen. ATV proposed to construct a 9000 sq ft complex here, creating 600 new jobs. At the same time, ATV stated in its application that it intended to retain the Elstree Studios complex near London – albeit managed by Associated Communications Corporation, ATV’s parent company, and operating as a facility house producing programmes for any ITV or international broadcaster.

For Channel 4, ATV proposed using Elstree for programme production, while making provision at ATV Centre for providing local opt-out facilities for Channel 4 (for advertising and regionally-based programmes).
ATV Midlands was formed as a totally new and separate operation, with a Midlands-based board of directors; the Elstree site would become “Elstree Television Services”; and both companies being wholly-owned subsidiaries of ACC. The centre of the ATV Midlands operation and the head office et al was proposed to be based in Birmingham after further expansion of the ATV Centre site, with Elstree for the time being supporting the programme requirements for the East Midlands until the new Nottingham studio was completed.

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The other applicants

It would have been thought that with a track record such as ATVs there would have been no real competition for the Midlands franchise. In fact, there were at least 3 other consortia trying to win over the IBA.

A (then) little-known company called ‘Carlton Communications’ were one of the first applicants, followed a company aptly named ‘Midlands TV’; then came ‘Mercia TV’. Mercia TV was a consortium formed by Brian Walden, the former Ladywood MP and then-presenter of LWT’s Weekend World) and Clive Richards, a Birmingham City financier. In a bid to gain backing from the Birmingham and Nottingham City Councils, Mercia offered each council 25% of the voting shares with seats on the company boards. With approval from the IBA, Mercia also intended to conduct elections amongst the Midlands population to put ‘representatives’ on the board of directors. The consortium would operate two subsidiary programme companies to meet the new IBA requirements, one to be based in Nottingham and headed by John Fairley as programme controller, and another operating from Birmingham with Charles Wilford as programme controller; the two men would be joint Managing Directors of Mercia TV.

Both Nottingham County Council and the Courtaulds Chemicals Pension Fund wished to provide additional financial backing to the consortium. Along with this there were 6 other West Midlands-based companies (who wished to remain unnamed) that were prepared to put up additional cash. The involvement of Nottinghamshire County Council in the consortium would mean it would clearly back the Mercia TV application against the rivals.

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During this franchise round there were three applications submitted to the IBA by ACC – the ATV Midlands franchise; an application for the new Breakfast TV franchise under the name Daybreak; and an application to officially licence the Elstree studios as Elstree Television Centre.

daybreaktv_statement

On the carpet in the headmistress’s study

It was during December 1980 that the IBA called each franchise applicant in for a formal interview with Lady Plowden and her staff. Each interview lasted some 80 minutes; some argued that this was simply not enough time to win or lose a multi-million pound contract.

“Like rats in a maze”, as one observer described it, each applicant was led in via a different route so that they didn’t meet any of their rivals. Outside the interview room they were offered a cup of (what the IBA described) as “the best [tea] in London”. Once at the interview room, they were greeted by Lady Plowden before being filed into the main interview. Each interview was carried out under formal circumstances, using surnames and titles. Most of the applicants spent a great deal of time rehearsing their interviews, some using ex-IBA officers to put questions, while others tried to find a suitable woman to play Lady Plowden… you just couldn’t make it up could you?

The IBA decision

It wasn’t until 28 December 1980 that the IBA announced its decision, in a letter to ATV Chairman Lord Windlesham.

The letter informed ATV that the IBA were prepared to offer ATV Midlands a franchise for the East and West Midlands from 1 January 1982 – but with conditions attached. The IBA had taken into account ATV’s good record in a number of fields, but required additional changes to the new company and its structure. The IBA stressed that it was important that the new company should be seen in the Midlands as making a fresh start for the new franchise period – in fact the regulator insisted that a convincing presentation was clearly important if criticism was to be avoided that the company in its new shape was to be nothing more than ATV under a different name.

The changes the IBA stipulated not only included changes to company name, but also changes to the entire financial structure of the new company.

  1. ACC should hold 51% of the new company (divided into voting and non-voting shares in proportions to be agreed with the IBA). The remaining 49% should be disposed of, as far as possible, within the East and West Midlands, with special consideration for those who interested themselves in other groups bidding for the Midlands franchise
  2. The non-executive members of the board should consist of an equal number of ACC nominees and representatives of the new shareholders; the number of non-executive directors should be as agreed with the Authority
  3. The role of Chairman should be separated from that of Managing Director, and only one of the two posts should be occupied by an ACC nominee
  4. Discussions should take place with the IBA, and with the Midland interests as suggested by the Authority, with a view to proposals being made for further new elements in the programme company’s composition and structure. The intention was that the company should emphasise in its structure and key staffing the separate nature of the dual East and West Midlands regions, including the creation of two area boards each with adequate representation of the main board and with a provision that the Regional Chairman and General Manager should not both be representative of ACC
  5. The Company should adopt a new name which marks more clearly than does “ATV Midlands” the establishment of a substantially new form of company for the East and West Midlands.

The IBA gave ATV until the end of January 1981 – around a month – to submit its proposals for the creation of a restructured company based on the above terms. By 30 January, ATV Midlands had submitted its proposals, but this time outlining twelve major changes (as opposed to the IBA’s original five) to the company structure:

  1. 49% of the shares would be offered to investors other than ACC
  2. An outside Chairman of the main board, well-regarded in the Midlands with no previous connection to ATV or any rival consortium would be elected
  3. An outside Chairman of the West Midlands board would possibly be drawn from losing applicant Midlands Television
  4. A Vice Chairman of the East Midlands board would possibly be drawn from Midlands Television as well
  5. Two representatives on the main board of outside shareholders, making five main board directors who have had no previous connection with any part of ACC
  6. The establishment of two Regional Boards with no previous connection with ACC; several directors having been associated with a rival consortium
  7. The possible evolution of some form of educational and arts trust which would constitute machinery for the election of certain non-executive directors on the regional boards
  8. Seven additional senior programme appointments to be filled in consultation with the IBA
  9. The construction of a new television centre in the East Midlands
  10. A severance with the Elstree Television Centre in terms of ownership and management
  11. A new name for the company, to be decided by the new board

It was suggested in the proposals that many of the boardroom posts should be filled by directors from unsuccessful applicants, once the authority had reached its decision. Discussions with Sir Robert Booth, Chairman of failed applicant Midlands Television, had taken place on several occasions with a view to him accepting the chairmanship of the West Midlands board; it was suggested that Sir David Perris and John Madocks (a director of ATV Midlands) would consider directorship roles within the new structure.

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Finance

The first condition that was laid down by the IBA what that ACC should hold 51% of the capitol of the new company. This would be divided into voting and non-voting shares, with the remaining 49% being disposed of, as far as possible, within the East and West Midlands. Special consideration would given to those who were interested in other groups bidding for the Midlands franchise. ACC accepted this condition, and the IBA agreed that SG Warburg & Co should be appointed to consider ways of implementing it. Learning of the IBA’s initial decision, and attached conditions in 1980, Nottingham City Council were quick off the mark to contact Lord Windlesham at ATV to wish them well in the new franchise period and at the same time offer a deal for some (or all) of the 49% of the company that was due to be divested. The council had already been in negotiations with ATV concerning the construction of the new East Midlands studio – though a deal and decision had not been reached by any party – and offered a position where they would take some of the 49% of shares to be divested in return for a land transaction, in whole or part.

notts council letter

The East Midlands studio

Initially following negotiations between ATV and the Nottingham City Council, the new East Midlands production centre was to be constructed on the site of the Ordnance Depot at Chilwell, to the west of the city centre. As the negotiations rolled into 1981, it was discovered that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) didn’t have a date as to when it would wind down and release the site ready for construction to begin. Without a definite date, ATV were forced to consider an alternative site not too far away at Lenton Lane – close to the A52 and the A6514 Nottingham Ring Road. As soon as a final decision was given by ATV, preparation of the site and construction work began. Timing became an issue. It was a certainty that the new studio would not be open until after the start of the new franchise period; to cover this period temporary space at Giltbrook in Nottinghamshire was leased to provide an East Midlands news studio and presentation facilities.

Timetable of change

ATV-Midlands submitted a time-table of change to the IBA during 1981; as follows:

  • Spring 1981: Move to temporary office accommodation; start expansion of news gathering facilities
  • Summer 1981: ENG operations to start at Giltbrook feeding material into ATV-Today
  • Autumn 1981: Training and Dummy runs at Giltbrook. Presentation and Newsroom installations completed
  • January 1982: Start of new programme service in the East Midlands. Waltham Transmitter fed from Giltbrook presentation. Studio delivers up to 4 hours a week of local news and current affairs for the East Midlands viewers
  • Autumn 1982: Presentation operations move to the new East Midlands Television Centre
  • Jan-March 1983: News and Current Affairs move to new studio centre. All temporary services at Giltbrook cease
  • Summer 1983: East Midlands Television Centre fully operational

As many are aware, what did happen was completely different to the proposals. Industrial action over pay and relocation fees saw the studio at Giltbrook used only for news production – no proper transmission ever came from the site. The ENG operations at the East Midlands Television Centre did not come into commission until autumn 1983, and the main studio site only followed in 1984. For that period, East Midlands viewers were provided with a news service from Birmingham – back to square one, perhaps?

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That globe thing…

Nearly 300 names were suggested for the new company; among them were Central Television, Central Television Company (CTC), Meridian Television and Albion Television. It’s perhaps interesting to note here that Meridian Television was, of course, not connected in any way to the Meridian Broadcasting which took over the TVS franchise 12 years later; and observant readers may notice that Albion Television could have easily ended up with the abbreviated name ATV! A company name wasn’t chosen for some time. Indications that Central Television had been adopted began to surface during the late summer of 1981; this name was soon changed to Central Independent Television after some aspiring West Midlands businessman had hastily registered the Central Television name with plans to sell it back to the new company.

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Once again the new company brand took time before it was officially unveiled. It wasn’t until the autumn of 1981 that the ‘Globe’ concept put in its first appearance with a Midlands press advertising campaign reporting on ‘strange lights and objects seen floating above the Broad Street studios’. The new on-screen logo – in the shape of a sphere with the shadow of a ‘C’ – was designed by image consultants Minale Tattersfield & Partners – who were also responsible for the familiar Thames skyline logo.

Minale Tattersfield commented “a corporate identity for a TV station always offers an exciting challenge, partly because a job such as this comes along only once or twice in a career – the last comparable project was with Thames Television in 1967. We were lucky with Central in having a client who not only had an aspiration to be seen as a progressive company artistically but also commercially, but also had set up a design committee whose role was to encourage good design and see it applied throughout the company.

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“Creatively we were given a free hand, but very little time to produce an initial concept. Many ideas were explored, but the one that attracted the most enthusiasm was the concept of a sphere. It was felt that this concept could be used in an infinite number of ways to express the many facets of television as well as being the symbol of the name, Central, and suggestive of television of the future; e.g., satellites, etc.

“We chose not to choose a house colour, since this is a symbol for colour television, all colours of the spectrum were used.”

The concept and colour scheme – from printed note paper, studio signage, vehicle livery to the on-screen look – remained with the company more or less until the demise of the ITV regional brand in 2002 – albeit in an ever-more up to date fashion.

The sphere was intended as a point towards broadcasting technological advances of the future, while the colours and lights ‘reflected the colourful programme output from a bright new company.’

The animation work was not carried out by the ATV/Central graphics department, though they did work closely with Minale Tattersfield on developing a brand that would look good on both paper and screen. The Animation work for the new logo was carried out by leading animator David Speed, using two halves of a 6-inch polystyrene sphere, along with some specialised photographic and lighting techniques. Two spheres were used to create two separate pieces of animation, which, using lab techniques, were superimposed to create the final composite animation. The first sphere was filmed standing static, but with a moving light source to create the ‘C’ shadow, while the second sphere was split in half, with a light source behind. With additional post-production work, the ‘Central’ caption was added and the two clips mixed together. Observant viewers may notice a slight misalignment of the two animation pieces.

As one door closes…

By December 1981, Midlands viewers were well aware of the forthcoming changes to ITV, with local press reports, on-screen promotions and coverage in the national news.

At 6.10pm on 31 December 1981, the final ATV Today went on air in the Midlands, and compared to Southern TV’s final edition of its local news programme Day by Day (aptly renamed Day by Yesterday) was quite a low key affair – quite surprising as ATV were once regarded as the ‘song and dance company’. Instead of going out on a song, ATV chose to relive a few moments from their extensive local news archive linked by presenters Wendy Nelson and Bob Warman in a mock courtroom with long serving roving reporter, the late John Swallow, in the ‘dock’. For all of his antics, Mr Swallow was sentenced to “reign under a new name: Central Independent Television” – cue an appearance of the new ‘globe’.

By 12.30am – 30 minutes into the new contract period – announcer Mike Prince and ex-announcer Shaw Taylor were closing down ATV as they had for many years before, but this time it was the final time. Again, no song and dance, just a quick rendition of the national anthem and a look at the ATV digital clock. And by 12.34am the familiar ATV ‘double eye’ logo faded away to take its place on a shelf deep in the vaults 3 floors below.

The next morning, as many Midlands viewers were waking and nursing their new year hangovers, millions of TV sets in both and East and West Midlands were tuned to ITV to see what this new company, which they hadn’t chosen, had to offer. Viewers were greeted with a welcome announcement, and a 5 minute promotional film showing excerpts from forthcoming new series, which included some reassurement for those viewers who thought that their favourite programmes would vanish when ATV went off air. At the time it was thought that flagship programme Crossroads would vanish from schedules under the new company – these suspicions were first raised during June 1981, when ATV sacked the show’s main star Noele Gordon. This was seen by viewers as an attempt to kill off the show. Central continued the show; it was to run for a further 6 years, being axed after around 4500 episodes in 1988.

noele gordon_centenry square_1979

Central promoted the company as a “bright company with a fresh approach to television”. Maybe so, but to viewers it was the same staff, presenters and studios that produced the programmes – just a different logo and snappier music. Initially the public response was lukewarm; many Midland viewers seemed happy enough with ATV, regardless of the politics between the boardroom, regulator and a tiny minority of local politicians who seemed to hold more of a grudge than consider what was best for the Midlands. When asked, many viewers thought the Central name sounded more like a train operator (even some 10 years before British Rail was broken up in to franchise areas like ITV), while others were left pondering over exactly what that ‘globe thing’ was supposed to be.

With the creation of a new sub-region in the East Midlands, it was intended that the two areas also have their own presentation and continuity, even when linking to a networked programme. But the opening was overshadowed by industrial action by the electricians unions, locked in a dispute between management and members over pay and relocation fees. In light of the strike taking the temporary studio at Giltbrook off-air, the only regional announcement the East Midlands received was a pre-recorded out-of-vision announcement (taped in Birmingham), explaining to viewers that due to strike action, the new Central News East had been replaced by the West Midlands service. It wasn’t until the autumn of 1983 that viewers in the East Midlands first received their own dedicated news service – nearly some two years after the start of the new contract period.

Following the opening of the new East Midlands Television Centre in 1984, the IBA carried out viewer research and consultations, producing a report on the response to the new company and its local news coverage; they even went as far as asking viewers to compare the new company to its predecessor. In 1979 the IBA had carried out a review of the performance of the ITV companies, which included a large national survey being carried out on the attitudes of viewers towards the service provided by their local company. Local news was featured large in the questionnaire. It was found that 87% of those interviewed usually or sometimes watched a local news programme. Around 90% were interested in local news and 19% extremely interested. Viewers were asked if ATV provided a reasonable amount of news from different places; 67% said that they did while 17% said that some places were covered too much. The proportion that watched ATV Today was around 74%.

From the later research completed in 1984 it was found that some viewers felt that there was fair-to-extensive geographical coverage of the region, while others felt that areas were still left out. Other gripes, still standing from the 1979 research, included Crossroads being inserted between the news headlines at 6pm and the main programme at 6.30pm. Over in the East Midlands, the response was only slightly different, with the local aspect of the programme attracting favourable comments.

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