Monday, 2 January 2012

Bring in the new... The 1980 South and South-East franchise round

Welcome back, last time I looked at the 1980 Midlands region franchise round as ATV won and eventually turned into Central. This time we head southwards to the dual South and South-East franchise.

Most of the talk in this franchise round was about the new dual Midlands franchise, by the prestige  it would bring any company coming into the ITV system but getting a place at the top table within the Big Five. The Big Five, so called contained both London franchises, the North West one, the Midlands and the Yorkshire one. These were the powerhouses of ITV, but when the Financial Times wrote about the upcoming franchise round in May 1980, they noted the Midlands franchise may be the most prestigious franchise for any company to go for. But it was the South and South-East franchise where outside the Big Five that the most financial rewards were there for any company with disposable income awash in these areas because of the nature of them containing rural, urban and coastal areas as well.

Since 1958, Southern had made their impact on ITV with specialist programming to the fore including Out of Town, varying children's programmes plus also Houseparty. It would been seen to be said that this would be taken into account when IBA made their decision in awarding their franchise. But with Southern's shareholding which was divided between three groups, which had been unchanged since the start of its existence. The Rank Organisation, Associated Newspapers and D.C. Thomson who took 100% of the shares between them. Though the Authority had made note of this in both 1963 and 1967 as well, where as other companies took swift action to resolve any major issues, Southern had not taken notice of this and decided to plow on relentlessly into this franchise round without any changes.

Other issues of not serving parts of the region i.e. Kent and the South East were to be Southern's achilles heel in the main part which left six competitors going for the franchise, outside the breakfast contract, this was the biggest number of challengers for any region.

With true friends like this, who needs enemies...

The first challenger to show their hand, seems like a very strange one. Tellecom (Broadcast) Television had been formed by a Brighton television technician, he registered the name Home Counties Television and set about selling shareholdings for £1 without recruiting any well known names at all. Though he withdrew his bid in September of that year, almost realising that the bid wouldn't have got off the ground or it seems like a bit of speculation that some might use that name for any new franchise.

Of the other major contenders, one of the strongest would appear to be Television South and South East. This consortium was lead by Bruce Fireman who had links to bankers Charterhouse Japhet, they had been assembled over three years thought they had grown out of a group who had tried for the franchise in 1967. In their intial group of people, they had Paul Bonner as their Programme Controller, but he had elected to join Channel Four. So they replaced him with Ian Martin who had previously been Controller of Features, Education and Religion at Thames. He was backed up by William Hodgson, who at the time was ITN's General Manager who was to become Managing Director of the group if they had won. Plus they also had Sir Freddie Laker as a director who could bring business sense to the group. But  in retrospect it did seem the make up of the shareholders would have been like the Southern situation with Charterhouse taking 20% of the shares and also Haymarket Press and the British Rail Pension Fund taking another 23% as well. So the IBA didn't want to face upto the same situation as they had with Southern, plus they needed guarantees that the group didn't wasn't more interested in making money then making programmes and serving their new region.

Though Network South who's major figure was Tom Margerison, a former chief executive of LWT. Their plans was to sub-divide the franchise into five mini-regions, a plan which would come into fruition nearly ten years later with most ITV franchises dividing their regions into sub-regions each with their own local news. Network South used the talents of Peter Batty as Programme Controller with also Christopher Morahan, Tony Palmer and Christopher Railling as consultants to the group. The actual plan of community television gave the authority questions on how it would work, but one key thing stood out to them. Of the original members of the group, none lived in the south and three of chairmen for each of the sub-regions didn't even come from the UK at all.

Then we come to South and South East Communications, the group who had been put together by James Gatward, Bob Southgate and Martin Jackson. Gatward had been a drama producer who had masterminded the series Star Maidens, so he had the programme making experience which was ironically with Southern. Southgate had experience with both ITN and Thames, bringing journalistic nous as Head of News and Current Affairs. Michael Blakstad, who had been a producer for the BBC, Yorkshire and also as a freelancer as well, he was to be the Programme Controller assisted by Anna Home, who's success in producing Grange Hill at the start and also on other BBC children's programmes as well lead her to be named as Head of Children's Programmes. But in addition to this, she was to help out Blakstad in his role as a deputy controller. Added with Herbert Chappell, to be in charge of music programmes, an area where Southern had triumphed in, these people brought a mixture of experiences to the group.

TVS' thoughts were that they thought they were going to be forced into a shotgun marriage as Redifusion and ABC had been to form Thames in the 1967 franchise round and were almost counting on this to happen, but to their surprise, their interview went so well that the IBA decided to award them the franchise. Though in winning the franchise, apart from studios being built at Maidstone which Southern had already planned, they needed a base, so decided on buying Southern's studios at Northam. They negotiated a deal to buy the studios, but in setting up what programmes to make and plan what they were going to do, they need somewhere to work, so with Southern's agreement as part of the deal of purchasing the studios, that they were allowed to set portacabins in the car park.

This proved amusing to Southern and lead to Richard Stilgoe performing a song in Southern's last show called 'Portacabin Television' about how TVS were seemingly almost second class citizens on the sight they were going to take over. Southern's final show, 'And It's Goodbye From Us..' almost seems to cock a snook at the IBA for what they had done and reminding them what they done for ITV over the previous 23 years. Though TVS had the last laugh or did they? 

Stil-going after all these years...

In from starting in 1982 and serving the new dual region, they did not get off to the most auspicious of starts and it was not until 1984 when Greg Dyke had arrived from TV-AM that they started to move forward and they made significant progress until the late 1980's, exporting shows around the world. But with this success came almost a need to get bigger, they wanted to become one of ITV's leading players joining the Big Five with James Gatward even lobbying the government at that time to do so. They purchased Mary Tyler Moore's production company MTM Entertainment hoping to increase in size and getting a stranglehold in the American market, but by doing this they took their eye off the ball with the 1991 franchise round coming up and this was cost them as they got usurped by Meridian Broadcasting, who wanted to be a publisher broadcaster themselves just like TVS thought they were going to join forces with Southern and just Southern, TVS gave a reminder to not only their viewers but the ITC at that time what they had done for ITV at that time in 'Goodbye to all That'.

Kelly's eye... for a cameraman..

So you could you say, what goes around comes around really. But next time, we find a bunny re-hired and we don't go down a Black Hole instead going to Plymouth for a party with Lennie Bennett. In other words from South and South East to the South West as we see a galleon sunk 
by its own ambitions...

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