Sunday, 1 January 2012

Bring in the new... A look at the Midlands 1980 Franchise round

And welcome back after Christmas to the New Year, which in televisual terms means the start of new ITV franchises, well in 1982 and 1993 anyway. These are always seen as a way for ITV to regenerate and reinvigorate itself.


Such with these affairs, which saw Central bid £2000 for their franchise in 1991,  Carlton bid £43 million to win the London Weekday franchise and Thames bidding £32 million, passing the quality threshold and losing. Though TVS' bid £57.96 million and lost to Meridian's £36.5 million one. As proved this at that time could be a crap shoot, crap as in the game craps and no reference to Carlton's programming at all. 


Though this could be said to significant in the history of ITV, especially combined with political machinations as well. But the 1980 franchise round, I think is the more significant. We know the winners, but how much do we actually know about the other competitors? Their place in history may be recorded to the ages, though what exactly more could they have offered in place of the winners. Some like TVS we know through their history and record as well, but who else could have offered programming and what exactly would their structure be?


First of all, the Midlands. So ATV won the the new dual region albeit changed into Central to make sure their was a look to the new company to have seen to have changed both physically on-screen and at boardroom level to make the IBA give them the franchise, they knew that the East Midlands had to be served after being almost put aside in years previous with programmes coming from Broad Street and Elstree for the vast majority of it entertainment output. 


Plans were in place for studios to be built in Nottingham to satisfy the need for a studio complex in the East Midlands and take off the pressure on Elstree, such with this there was a long campaign to keep programming being produced at Elstree. Though with the ammount of programming reduced to a minimum of being produced there and the phasing in of the Lenton Lane Studios after being made to broadcast from Giltbrook.


"Welcome to Central..."

The two main oppositions to Central were two newly formed companies, one was Mercia Television and the other Midlands Television Limited. Mercia itself had John Fairley as its Head of News, Current Affairs and Documentries plus John Wilford as Head of Local Programmes. Both had come from Yorkshire Television to fill these positions, with Fairley later on becoming the Chief Executive of Yorkshire Television. Their aim was to take a separate East Midlands franchise, but when this did not happen they went for the dual region. With the talents of Brian Walden, Beryl Reid and Jasper Carrott on board, it seems like their angle was trying make top quality entertainment and also topline Current Affairs programming as well. Walden, the presenter of Weekend World had the experience in both broadcasting and politics   to be able to make this a possibility, at that time his star was rising in such a way that his position was vital to be able to break the ground politically. This would have been vital for any franchise to get kudos for its Current Affairs output, plus with any potential politicians as well coming upto the 1983 General Election as well meaning that any coverage could be favourable but also seen to impartial as well.

With Reid and Carrott, bringing entertainment would be the brief but serving it from both angles. Reid's more traditional line of entertainment would be good to allow variety to at least flourish within its boundaries, with more and more alternative comedy becoming the norm on screens, the variety angle with a hint of Midlands flavour would have been ideal for the company at that time, allowing for them to spread out as ATV had done into lavish productions. Rivalling what the BBC had to offer and making sure ITV would have had the edge into supporting what Thames, LWT, Yorkshire etc were making at this time. This was vital to ITV who had made sure in the early 80's that their big name signings, new talents and new programming that they worked. 

Squished in good with Paul Squires and Friends...

As far as the IBA concerned it seems the costings were not right and Mercia had not seemed to have understandable, the need for studio facilities plus also union relations making the point that two of their leading light had come from Yorkshire, where union issues had been a problem throughout the 1970's

Midlands Television seemingly had try to woo the IBA with clich├ęs about ATV's record as a broadcasting stating they would be daring in the pursuit of excellence whilst displaying Reithian values as a broadcaster, which may have been good for some but for other this seemed a bit stiff in it style. Everyone wanted quality from a franchise holder, but this was seemingly beyond the call of duty almost like a white knight in the ITV system. Though in launching a partnership with several leading independent producers, they had an eye on the 1980's ahead and almost foreseeing Channel Four's ambitions in that way. 

The main force behind the franchise was Stuart Wilson, who had been a leading light in putting together the consortium for Yorkshire Television. Himself having become the Joint Managing Director of Yorkshire and also Assistant Managing Director of holding company Trident Television before leaving in 1977. His experience was vital to be able to have the know-how of how to run an ITV franchise, in backing him up he had Sir Robert Booth who's experience had been as Director of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and also Chairman of the National Exhibition Centre between 1965 and 1978 as well. The board boast the like of the writer Lord Willis, the Duke of Rutland and also Joe Gormley, at that time the President of the National Union of Mineworkers. 

But this was not to do for Midlands Television, at press conference Lord Willis who had worked    for ATV over a period of 15 years said "I would be ashamed to associate myself with a company who produced Crossroads.." But then he put ahead is plans for a new series called Auto, which would reflect the Midlands car industry and the people who worked within it.

Although the IBA would have it reservations about Crossroads and its quality, it realised that it was a winner with the viewers and having immediate change did really seem really not alienate the viewers really. Though it seems the fact that Midlands was almost preaching to the IBA that their way of doing it was wrong proved to be their biggest downfall in not getting the franchise. As we will learn in the the round for the South and South-East next, its never no good to annoy the IBA at all...

Next time, we head South with a man used to Star Maidens and a scarecrow being handed the keys to the Dream Factory...

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