Welcome to Didsbury 

12 August 2016 tbs.pm/9194

tinytriangleThis article is from our new website all about ABC Weekend TV

When Howard Thomas left the BBC on bad terms in 1944, he expected to either be called up for National Service or unemployed for a long period of time. Instead, the Associated British Picture Corporation came knocking on his door. Their newsreel, Pathé, had had a sudden and alarming fall off in popularity. The audiences thought it dull, the cameramen were leaving for competing services, and the whole thing was reducing bums on seats in the Corporation’s ABC cinema chain. Could the producer of wildly popular radio shows like Sincerely Yours, Vera Lynn and The Brains Trust repair the damage?

The answer was yes. To get an overview of his new, unexpected empire, Howard Thomas made a trip to Pathé’s headquarters in Soho. There he found piles of tins of film in no order; there was no preservation or filing in operation; the film was decaying in the rusting tins and nobody cared.

His first order to his new workforce was to reverse this. The film, all millions of miles of it, was to be index and preserved. Rushes, too, would be kept from now on. There would be no throwing things away: someday, film going back to the wars in South Africa it would be of use to ABPC, and, if not, then at least to historians.

This is why we now have the huge and wonderful resource that is the British Pathé archives. In that resource are two tins of rushes from the opening of ABC Weekend TV in Didsbury in Manchester on 5 May 1956.

They’re a mix of rehearsals and live output; they’re mostly silent, but what was captured in sound is fascinating.

Here’s what you’re watching.

  • 0:01 Guests arriving at the Didsbury studios
  • 0:17 The outside of the converted Capitol cinema with its new, illuminated ABC Television sign
  • 0:32 ABC Television camera inside, filming the stage from the gods
  • 0:45 Rehearsals for the ensemble finale of the opening variety show
  • 0:58 The sophisticated lighting control grid
  • 1:15 Jerry Desmonde and Thora Hird rehearsing
  • 1:20 Continuity announcer?
  • 1:25 The lighting rig in operation
  • 1:34 Betty Driver and Jerry Desmonde feeding a dog chocolate. Please don’t do this
  • 1:48 Floor manager or director in action
  • 1:58 Guests arriving at the Didsbury studios
  • 2:02 Howard Thomas of ABC and Sir Philip Warter of parent ABPC arrive
  • 2:13 More shots of the outside of the studios and more guests arriving
  • 2:27 The Lord Mayors of Lancashire towns ABC North serves
  • 2:37 More shots of the outside of the studios and more guests arriving
  • 2:47 Rehearsals continue in Studio 1
  • 3:39 Betty Driver singing
  • 3:45 More rehearsals
  • 4:08 Jerry Desmonde and Thora Hird rehearse their skit
  • 4:23 An outside broadcasting van
  • 4:42 Pretending to repair a camera for the cameras
  • 4:57 Camera rehearsals while the scenery is constructed
  • 5:05 Sound boom operator and an electrician playing with his inky-dink
  • 5:24 Ready Camera 1
  • 5:37 Scenery assembled, rehearsals starting
  • 5:45 The actual event – dancers amongst the diners in the studio
  • 6:15 Jerry Desmonde comperes
  • 6:22 SOUND! Derived from the television output itself
  • 8:12 The first ABC ident chimes! And the start of some title music
  • 8:18 Dancing for the guests in the studio. ABC’s actual output is likely to have moved on by now

  • 0:01 Camera rehearsals; wildtrack of sound
  • 0:42 Jerry Desmonde and Thora Hird rehearsing
  • 1:14 ABC’s “casual” symbol
  • 1:21 Camera rehearsals
  • 1:34 Wildtrack of sound; no vision
  • 1:53 Choreography rehearsals
  • 2:46 Launch programme underway, filmed from off to one side
  • 3:44 Jerry Desmonde pauses. Commercial break?
  • 3:48 Back to the show
  • 4:20 Sound boom operator and cameraman
  • 4:28 Conducting the music
  • 4:35 Live output: the town cryer makes an announcement; meanwhile, “station host” Edward Ward can be heard in the background – his voice is going out live on the ABC Network
  • 5:27 The film camera keeps running in the studio as Edward Ward sends the televiewers over to an OB in Liverpool. The hand-painted background ABC logo is… wrong
  • 5:36 OB welcome is over, back to the studio and ABPC starlet Susan Stephen
  • 5:45 The big announcement from Edward Ward
  • 6:09 Cue Susan Stephen!
  • 6:58 The opening variety show starts with an exciting ABC-based jingle
  • 8:26 The show continues
  • 9:37 The show ends

You Say

6 responses to this article

garry 14 August 2016 at 10:09 pm

Thank You for this Russ. As a 51 year old former disabled carer,can I ask The first A.B.C Broadcast Weekend Franchise in Manchester and The Midlands Were they separate service”s or the same at the Weekend programme service for The North and Midlands First I.T.V Franchise”s From the New Forest. GOD BLESS!

Russ J Graham 15 August 2016 at 10:19 am

Almost entirely the same programmes – just some news programming was different. Joint continuity was the norm at first and remained not uncommon for things like the opening and closing either side of the Morning Service until 1964, when the ITA specified that it must almost always be differentiated.

garry robin simpson 30 August 2016 at 10:07 pm

Thank You Russ. Why did I.T.V/I.T.A.. have such an obsession with Weekend Franchise”s? Also on a completely unrelated issue What did the I.T.C.A. stand for and do. They were always mentioned at the start of Westward and then T.S.W. programming. From The New Forest.

Russ J Graham 30 August 2016 at 10:29 pm

The Television Act 1954 demanded that there be competition on every level in ITV: for talent, for programmes, for viewers and for advertisers. Then the Post Office stepped in and said that it would only make one frequency available in each area. So competition for viewers and advertisers was impossible.

The ITA therefore created weekday/weekend splits as a way of recreating that competition. It worked. It also meant that 4 companies of roughly equal size could share three regions, creating a solid backbone for ITV and helping to ensure profitability – the system initially being very unprofitable.

The rules changed for the 1968 contracts; 5 companies were fitted into 4 regions not for purposes of competition but because Saturday and Sunday alone in London would not make enough money for one company while one company in London all week would make so very profit it would dominate ITV entirely.

Russ J Graham 30 August 2016 at 10:35 pm

The ITCA was the Independent Television Companies Association. It was the trade body for the industry and its secretariat provided services that were national and which made little sense repeating 14 times across the country: advertising clearance, an industry press office, a legal library and an industrial relations service.

Read more about the ITCA in the 1963 ITV Yearbook: http://itv1963.retropia.co.uk/independent-television-companies-association/

Mervyn Hagger 7 August 2019 at 11:59 am

Does anyone know what happened to Arthur Carrington? He left Marconi where he was associated with marketing their TV cameras, and he was employed by Thomas at Didsbury to install its TV cameras and he was given the title ‘Head of Engineering’.

I am trying to build a CV of this man and I need to find credible and documented links to his life between 1956 and 1963.

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