East-West relations 

12 July 2017 tbs.pm/12934

From Television & Radio 1986, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority

When Central Independent Television began its new programme service for the Midlands in 1982, one of the major changes for viewers was that the region was to be divided into two. A new studio complex – the East Midlands Television Centre – was built in Nottingham and for the first time viewers in the East Midlands were to receive their own separate news and magazine programme and have their own announcers.

In practical terms this provided an opportunity to invest viewers with a new sense of identity and to make them feel more at home with a television service which had something of a local feel to it.

Central sees it as very much part of its job to foster that new identity, both through programmes on the screen, and through its activities in the neighbourhood. Daily contact with the viewers comes through the station continuity announcements, through the news bulletins and, in particular, through the early evening news and magazine programme.

But running a news and current affairs service for a dual region poses many problems. Central’s Controller of News and Current Affairs, Bob Southgate, is a former ITN reporter and newsreader who joined Central from TVS in the South and South-East of England, another of ITV’s dual regions.

Central News East. Andy Craig and Anna Soubry.

He says that one problem with dual regions is that transmitter coverage does not coincide neatly with the complexities of regional identities.

‘If only people would separate themselves into two neat and distinctive communities, the West Midlands and the East Midlands, for example, or the Central South of England and the South-East -things would be easier.

‘But people aren’t like that: they don’t always agree to being subdivided, classified and regimented into labelled compartments – and that is always supposing they accept that the labels are correct in the first place.’

But it is clear that the viewers do like hearing stories about themselves, and news items about neighbouring towns and villages. And these all help create a community spirit.

The transmitter pattern provides other problems. During all the years when they had no separate service, many East Midlands viewers had their aerials tuned to the Sutton Coldfield transmitter. But this now carries only the West Midlands service.

For some, seeking out the more appropriate East Midlands service of local news and information (now on the Waltham transmitter) was a simple matter of twiddling the knobs. But for others it has meant adjusting their aerials or even buying a new one. The fact that so many have done so is a tribute to the attention which Central has paid to the needs and news of the local community. But it is a process which is on-going and one which creates headaches for the news staffs.

Central News West. Left to right: Gary Newbon, Sally Jones, Bob Hall, Bob Warman.

For, a dual region means two separate newsrooms with two news editors and two teams of reporters and crews producing separate – and sometimes competing – programmes. But since not all viewers are tuned to the most appropriate service (and some viewers cannot in any case receive their preferred service because of the remaining engineering and transmitter problems) some stories of importance to viewers throughout the Central region have to be shared. But share too much – and the reason for a separate service disappears. Share too little – and there is a risk of failing to inform a considerable section of the viewers. That is the balance which the editors have to try to achieve each night.

The task of covering such a large region, with nine million viewers, is made easier by the use of the most modern technology. There are nine ENG crews out each day – ENG is television shorthand for electronic news gathering and means simply that the story is recorded electronically on video tape, which does not need processing, rather than on film, which does.

Permanent links between the studios in Nottingham and Birmingham facilitate the swift exchange of news items between the two centres. And the latest electronic wizardry is used to put the stories on the screen in the most graphic fashion.

The ability to split the transmission is not simply a device for programmes. Local advertisers, too, can use the facility to talk to either half of the region – and as this use expands, it will obviously become a very potent test-marketing tool for new products.

But whether it’s news, continuity, or the television equivalent of the corner shop advertisement, the concept of the dual region is making a major contribution to how the people of different areas of the country see themselves – and to how other people see them.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Neil Crosswaite 12 July 2017 at 11:51 am

I didn’t know Sally Jones was a Central presenter. I’m assuming this was before she joined BBC Breakfast Time

steve brown 12 July 2017 at 1:05 pm

amazing how anna soubry has gone from regional tv newsreader to member of parliament

Westy 12 July 2017 at 1:06 pm

Anna Sourbry

Before she turned to the dark side!

Arthur Vasey 18 July 2017 at 2:01 pm

Anna Sourberry – good name for her – achieved national acclaim by reviewing the soaps in early editions of This Morning!

Didn’t know Andy Craig worked for ATV (I refuse to call them “Central”) – also worked briefly for Southern (I refuse to call them “TVS” or “Meridian”) – originally a Tyne Tees continuity announcer, before becoming a reporter on Northern Life, their news programme!

Another journalist-turned-politician is Rebecca Pow – she’s now the MP for Taunton in Somerset!

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