History of Meridian

Welcome to our section about the history of Meridian Broadcasting



The year of 1990 was a big change for the broadcasting industry with the abolition of the then regulator the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the formation of a new regulator, the Independent Television Commission (ITC). One of their first tasks was the renewal of the ITV franchises The ITC felt things needed to change to make ITV a better competitor against those satellite and cable channels waiting in the wings and wanted ITV to be a lean mean fighting machine.


As part of this new ‘franchise auction’ a company would not only have to put in a plan of how it was going to serve the region it was applying for but also put in a sealed bid, an amount they were prepared to pay the government for the right to broadcast in the area.


Initally this highest bid wins approach was the only requirement but later a quality threshold was introduce to protect programming standards and any sucessful applicant would need to pass this first. The indumbant TVS Television passed the quality threshold and was the higest bidder by some margin. TVS had taken the approach that they needed to bid high or die and looked to put together the highest possible bid they could get away with. TVS bid the highest of any bid for any region with a whopping £59 million which the company would have to find each year for the next ten.


On the 16th October 1991 the ITC sent all applicants a fax with their result, TVS were told they were unsucessful and they had lost out to Meridian Broadcasting.


Meridian had bid £36 million, considerably less than TVS however the regulator decided they were unhappy with the large sum promised by TVS and that it would have a detrimental effect on programming, especially as the company was already struggling.


Talks started straight away between TVS, Meridian and the unions to transfer across TVS staff to Meridian from 1993, this would be a difficult task as Meridian would only want to take 370 out of the 800 that worked for TVS as they were not going to be making the large number of programmes that TVS had.


Meridian was persuaded to purchase the studios at Southampton which they got at a massive discount, far less than TVS had paid for them in 1981. TVS were not in much of a position to argue over this, they were desperate for cash to keep the company afloat until the end of their franchise. Meridian lacked interest in Southampton as their plan was to comission independents to produce programmes and were lot looking to make many themselves so did not really need studios that size but took on the site because of its bargain price tag. Meridian would also rent space from TVS at the Maidstone studios on a ten-year lease but TVS wanted to keep hold of the ownership of these studios.


TVS also sold their news archives to Meridian (which included the news archives of Southern Television) as well as some of their local programmes, keeping the main programmes archives themselves.


  The Meridian Regions
1st January 1993
Meridian Broadcasting

The biggest change proposed by Meridian in their franchise application was the creation of a new region for the north of their patch. This new sub-region would be served by a news centre in Newbury and cover the Thames Valley area. The news centre was a converted warehouse which contained a news studio, post production facilities and a small newsroom


At the end of 1992 pre-launch promos starting to appear on screens letting viewers have a small glimpse of what they could expect from their new region.


Meridian went to air on the 1st January 1993 just past midnight with a programme presented by Debbie Thrower called Meridian - The First Ten Minutes where viewers got a glimpse of the new regions and some of the people they could expect to see on screen.


So as the name suggests here was where it started, the programme was a short programme presented by Debbie Thrower who gave introduced us to Andy Craig at the new Meridian News centre and Alison Holloway in Maidstone welcoming viewers to 1993 and their new station


  Play Video
Meridian - The First Ten Minutes [Titles]
1st January 1993
Meridian Broadcasting

Joining Debbie would be Andy Craig in Newbury and Allison Holloway who would co-present the news from Maidstone. The show ended with Michael Palin, asleep in a chair. He was supposed to give an intro into the film Best Defense but had passed out drunk (jokingly of course), he was poked with a stick and woke up with a Meridian brochure and said Good muck Leridian



The programme ends with Michael Palin being prompted with a stick to say his line which comes out "Good Much Leridian", Palin was one of those behind the company and would produce a series for them


  Play Video
Meridian - The First Ten Minutes [Credits]
1st January 1993
Meridian Broadcasting

Following the programme was a short train for a programme staring Palin and Tracey Ullman called A Class Act as well as a short clip of the company being wished good luck on their first day of broadcasting by Sean Connery


Later that evening was the no-nonsense titled ‘First Night on Meridian’, a look at the company and the programmes you could expect to see from your new ITV company (many of which would not make it past the first series). The programme was presented by Michael Palin who would talk to viewers in the region to see what they wanted to see on screen and would cut away to something which was vaguely related to it (a train driver wanting to see programmes about trains and a clip about Robbie Coltrane driving around the states in a Cadilac). Many of the programmes mentioned would not make it past their first series.


The station’s main evening news would be called Meridian Tonight with a different version from each of the separate regions. The edition from Southampton would be presented by Fred Dinenage who had worked for TVS (and Southern Television before that) being partnered with Debbie Thrower. Maidstone’s edition was presented by Mike Debens (yet again Mike also worked for TVS) and Alison Holloway while the edition from Newbury being presented by Andy Craig and Mai Davis (who was often seen in the Southampton edition of Coast To Coast with TVS). Weather came from Carl Tyler.

Things would change quite early on in Meridian’s time on the air in regards to them being at the Maidstone studios. This was due to a change of their landlord as TVS was bought by American company International Family Entertainment (IFE) and the agreement to rent space at the Maidstone studios came to an end. Meridian moved to a small studio elsewhere in Maidstone although they would later return to Vinters Park for a time.

In 2004 Meridian announced it was to move from it’s Southampton studios to a much smaller facility in Whitely. The company had never really wanted to have the Southampton studios as they never made the volumes of programme their predecessors did. A special programme was put out called ‘The Dream Factory’ which was presented by Fred Dinenage and Jill Cochrane which showed clips of the studios and the many programmes made their not just by them but also by TVS and Southern Television before them.

The studios fell silent at the end of 2004. The studios were stripped with equipment being sold at auction before becoming a storage area for trucks. The buildings were later demolished and the plot stayed empty for a few years, the site is now occupied by housing.

Meridian would not stay in their new Whitely home long as that agreement came to an end and they moved although only to another unit on the same estate. The new studios would be the hub for Meridian when the decision was made to have one news programme to cover the whole of the region instead of separate ones for separate areas.