History of TVS

HISTORY OF TVS

Welcome to our section about the history of Television South (TVS) over the years.

 

 

 

THE 1980 FRANCHISE BATTLE

TVS started out as a company called South and South East Communications and was set up for the purposes of bidding for an ITV franchise, that of a new South and South East of England dual region.

The new South and South East region came about due to the poor service the South East had been receiving at that point. This was due to the way the broadcast transmitters were allocated which limited the reach into the South East. As part of the 1980 franchise award the then regulator of commercial television, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) redrew the transmitter map to provide a better service in some areas. One of these areas would be to the South East of England where the IBA decided to re-allocate the transmitter at Bluebell Hill which was at that time part of the London region. This caused much dismay of the London holders Thames Television and London Weekend Television (LWT) (in particular LWT who went on a PR campaign to serve their viewers better).

As part of this transmitter change the IBA abolished the South franchise, which was held at that point by Southern Television, creating a new franchise which would serve not only the south but also the south east of England. A condition of any broadcaster serving this new dual region would be a requirement to provide a distinctive individual service to both parts of the region.
At that point in time Southern Television had a small studio in Dover but it had made little sense for them to pool large resource in this small part of their much bigger region (they held the South of England franchise after all). The other part of the South East was part of the London region and they were not overly keen to provide much of a service here either.

This new region would a big area to cover but also predominately an affluent one and this was an attractive prospect to any prospective bidder as it could attract the big money with advertising revenue. Southern Television was also seen by others to be vulnerable due to the way the company was structured. Southern was controlled by three large shareholders, none of which had any real connection with the region they served, the company was run from London where most decisions were made and this structure met disapproval from the IBA.

Nine applications were made for the franchise and this would make it the most hotly contested region in the whole of the ITV network, no other area has generated that much interest previously or indeed since. One of those applications was TVS who had seen Southern to be vulnerable and wanted to be part of ITV in some form, with the financial backing of Barclays and the investment bank Charterhouse.
The initial TVS team met in a small room above a club in Mercer Street, London where the team assembled to prepare their bid and discuss their progress Other members of the initial group would include

   
The room in Mercer Street
1st January 1982
Television South
James Gatward
1st January 1982
Television South
   
Bob Southgate
1st January 1982
Television South
Bob Southgate
1st January 1982
Television South
   
Anna Home
1st January 1982
Television South
John Miller
1st January 1982
Television South
   
Burt Chappel
1st January 1982
Television South
Burt Chappel
1st January 1982
Television South

 

James Gatward - An independent drama producer
Bob Southgate - former TV executive at Thames and news provider ITN
Martin Jackson - Fleet Street Journalist
Michael Blackstad - producer on Tomorrow's world
Burt Chappell
Anna Home

Southern were very blase about the whole thing they knew in their own minds they were going to win and this was quite clear in their franchise application. The application was minimal to say the least and the IBA were not impressed by Southern's arrogance and sent their application back to them to provide proper detail.

 

   
The TVS Franchise Document
28th December 1980
Television South
Lady Plowden awarding the franchise
28th December 1980
OfCom

 

Lady Plowden, the outgoing chair of the IBA announced the decision of the franchise awards on Sunday 28th December 1980. it was a decision that would be a huge shock to those involved. Southern had lost the region they had served since 1958 to South and South East Communications which would later be known as Television South (TVS). Other announcements were that Westward Television would lose the South West region to Television South West (TSW), ATV would be restructured and a new company called Central Television would run the midlands and that TV-am would be awarded the ITV Breakfast service (which would eventually start in 1983).

TVS was awarded an eight-year franchise to run the new South and South East dual region, the IBA felt that TVS gave a better proposal on how it was going to serve the two parts of its region. The TVS bid was new and exciting while that of Southern seemed to be more of the same in comparison and lacking ambition despite the plans for new studios to serve the South East. The IBA were also pleased with the company's plans to improve children's and science programmes for the network, an area which had been previously lacking. The authority had hoped that TVS could reverse the decision of viewers to switch to the BBC's output, quoting figues as high as 50,000 deserting ITV.

The decision left Southern Television stunned as they had never expected to lose, they had been a solid and dependable broadcaster with a good track record, needless to say they were very unhappy with the decision. The decision was also a huge shock to TVS who had not really expected to win outright thinking their best chance would be a forced merger with the incumbent broadcaster.

As part of their franchise application TVS had ambitions, they wanted to be different to Southern and the output they had produced. TVS were to focus on providing more targeted programmes towards specific audiences rather than going for the lowest common denominator. TVS was not going to be home to the big named stars instead the company would use that money on providing good quality programmes investing in content rather than style.

Southern were angry with the IBA however most of their frustration was with TVS that they had applied for in the first place in a “how dare you apply for our franchise” attitude.

TVS started setting up their service and approached Southern about buying their facilities, however the incumbant broadcaster was still licking its wounds and in no mood to get into discussions with the new company taking over. There was a stalemate between the companies for some time with Southern not wanting to give into anything asked for by the newcomers even though this would often be to the detriment of the company. Getting nowhere with Southern, TVS started looking elsewhere for a site, focusing on the Boyatt Wood Estate in Eastleigh. The company approached the local authorities there regarding their plans to convert a large former warehouse into production facilities on the site and put together planning applications for this.

TVS purchased a former bakery in the heart of Victoria to act as its London office, converting the building over a period of six months. The London office would include viewing rooms, a restaurant and dining facilities along with housing the sales teams that would sell air time for the company. These facilities would also be available to hire when not needed by the company.

 

 
   
TVS London Offices
1987
Television South
 

 

As it became clear Southern were not going to get anywhere with the regulator in staying on the air they considered re-inventing themselves as an independent producer and continuing to supply programmes to the ITV network. Even if Southern did continue as an independent (it didn't) they would need to downsize and they eventually they agreed to part with the studios at Southampton and Dover and received £11M from TVS for these. Southern also sold the news archives to TVS but decided to retain the rights to their other programmes which they would market themselves throughout most of the 1980s. Under a union agreement where members should not lose their position as part of the franchise changes TVS would also take on the majority of Southern staff both on and off screen.

Southern sold a plot of land at Maidstone which the company had wanted to use to build new studios for the South East had they won the franchise. The studios that Southern had planned to build would be similar in layout to the Southampton site but as this was not going to happen they sold up to TVS for a handsome profit. TVS started building their studios there in the spring of 1981 much to the same design as Southern had planned to. The breaking of the ground ceremony at Vinters Park was attended by key members of the TVS tea including chair Lord Boston of Faversham. They were welcomed to the region by the IBA who were also in attendance.

 

 
   
Lord Boston of Faversham at Maidstone
1981
Television South
 

 

The purchases by TVS continued when they acquired a former cinema, The Plaza, in Gillingham which had been lying derelict since 1980. This would be converted to a single studio which would be used for mostly producing programmes for their region and initially was the base for magazine programme Not For Women Only. The TVS Television Theatre as it would be come know was intended as a interim solution while work was underway on the studios at Maidstone but would continue to be in use until the mid to late 1980s.

By the time summer had come Southern and TVS were on talking terms (just) and TVS had set up camp in temporary buildings in Southern's carpark at the Southampton Studios (those temporary buildings would still be there when TVS lost their franchise eleven years later), there was also an agreement that TVS would hire Southern's studios and staff to produce the programmes the new company would provide when it went on the air in January the following year. This earned TVS the nickname Portakabin Television by disgruntled Southern staff.

 

   
Lord Boston of Faversham at Maidstone
1981
Television South
Filming the TVS Children's Drama - The Haunting of Cassie Palmer
1981
Television South

 

Work continued at both Gillingham and Maidstone to prepare for launch on the 1st January 1982, Maidstone would not be ready until the October of that year so the solution was for TVS to use Southern's studios at Dover to serve the South East until the new complex was ready. An additional 200 members of staff were employed for the Maidstone studios and the Television Theatre.

 

THE LAUNCH OF TVS

At 09:30 on the 1st January 1982 Television South went on the air with a piece of music known internally as ˜TVS Gallop. The first voice heard from viewers was that of continuity announcer Malcolm Brown who eleven years later would announce Fern and Fred on the final programme. Malcolm would announce

 

Good morning. It's New Year's Day 1982, and this is Television South. TVS, the new independent television company that's proud to serve both the South and South East of England. To begin with, we bring in the new with for the first time our symbol which will soon become very familiar

 

 

THE LAUNCH OF TVS - 1982

Here is the first moments of TVS from New Years Day 1982

 

 
   
  Play Video
The Launch of Television South
1st January 1982
ITV PLC




 

The TVS ident came on the screen and the into first programme “Bring in the New” presented by Khalid Aziz. Aziz was initially doing a piece to camera outside the IBA's London offices in Brompton Road before flying into the studios at Southampton in what he calls a glorified eggbeater. The short programme followed this by a news report read by Christine Pollard, Vyvyan Mackeson welcoming viewers from the south east of the region and talk from various celebrities either making programmes from TVS or just living in the TVS region.

 

Later that evening TVS followed up Bring in the New with another show about the company called Birth Of A Station. This show was presented by Peter Williams and looked at the struggle to get on the air from the franchise application process to their dealings with Southern Television and the process of building their new studios.

 

 

The news programme for TVS was called Coast to Coast and there would be two distinct versions, one for each part of their region, a condition as part of their franchise award. These would be two full editions rather than the opt-out news that had existed under Southern.  The Southampton version would be fronted by Khalid but would also include various presenters that had appeared on Southerns Day by Day including Trevor ˜The Weather Baker.

 

The South East edition was presented by Vyvyan Mackeson and would initially come from Dover, located in the old Southern studios in Russell Street while work continued at Maidstone. They would move to Maidstone later in the year and the Dover studios were later demolished to make way for a car park (which has since made way for housing).

   
Lord Boston raising the flag at Maidstone
1st January 1982
ITV PLC
Lord Boston raising the flag at Maidstone
1st January 1982
ITV PLC
   
 
Vyvyan Mackeson
1st January 1982
ITV PLC
 

 

A later addition to the news gathering resources was the TVS news helicopter

 

The original look for TVS would be a colourful ident on a black background, this would be in contrast to the blue and white from Southern. There would be occasions where separate continuity was used in the two halves of the region, this was shown on screen with the onscreen clock stating either TVS South or TVS South East. Where continuity was the same in both parts of the region neither the South or South East titles were used.

TVS would soon do away with this dual continuity and just have a joint continuity for the regions. There were two versions of the main ident with additional versions for promotions and one titled Best View Of The South with views from the region.

 

By the October of that year Maidstone was open and TVS were operating from three sites (Southampton, Maidstone and Gillingham) however they were struggling and had issues with over-capacity in their studios.

 

The company struggled to get their programmes onto the ITV network and in particular the lucrative primetime slots which were dominated by the big five ITV companies (Granada, Yorkshire, Central, Thames and London Weekend Television (LWT)). The big five were responsible for the scheduling as they were the biggest and had deeper pockets to be able to accommodate the huge costs associated with producing some of these types of programmes. This situation did not suit TVS as they were ambitious and they felt that it should be a Big Six as they could play a big part of the network, something that stayed with them throughout their short existence. The situation was no better with TVS’ staff, some who were made redundant in those early times as they could not make the scale of programmes they wished to.

 

By May of 82 they had got their foot in the door and were allowed to attend the network contractor meetings although they were only there to observe and had little impact in the meetings themselves.

 

A couple of years on and in the August of 1984 a new director of programmes was appointed in Greg Dyke who had been at the breakfast television operator TV-am. Gregs arrival at TVS began a shift in focus at the company; the initial ideals of those highly focused programmes went out the window to be replaced with those that were going to generate higher revenue for the company and those easier to sell to other ITV companies. One other change was that Greg had bought with him presenter Fern Britton who had previously worked on BBCs Breakfast Time and Westward Television to appear alongside Fred for the Southampton version of Coast To Coast.

 

Within a year TVS had formed a partnership with LWT to get more profitable slots on the ITV network. LWT had wanted to acquire more British shows for their allocated slots but it did not want the expense of shooting them so the agreement was beneficial to both parties concerned.

 

One area in which TVS would excel was in children's programmes and they would provide many for the ITV network, much in the same way that Southern had before them. Much of this came from the Maidstone studios including Saturday mornings with No73 and later Motor Mouth. The company also worked with other international production companies including Jim Henson productions to produce The Story Teller and Fraggle Rock.

In addition to the studios in Maidstone, Southampton and the television theatre in Gillingham TVS would also establish small single camera studios located in Reading Civic Centre, the Brighton Centre and Poole Arts Centre. These small regional studios all had a small crew of reporters and technical crew in addition to a vehicle equipped to make contact with the TVS news helicopter. These mini studios would be used for local news and for opt-outs in the main news programmes. Outside the region was a small studio in the basement of the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre at Westminster for political coverage which the company would rent out to other broadcasters when it was not in use along with a roof camera to give a backdrop of parliament when required.  Building work was also undertaken at Southampton to include a new scenery dock

Things were improving but the station still had some critics and added to those was now the regulator. By 1986 the company had become one of the most complained about by the IBA with its drama, light entertainment and the Southampton edition of Coast to Coast being the authority's biggest target. Various changes were made including a new controller for drama in George Benson, new head of religious output (Peter Williams) and a new editor for Coast to Coast in the south. By the end of TVS franchise period Coast to coast would win the award for the best news programme a record three times (1983,1989 & 1991)

 

Alan Boyd
1987
Television South
Clive Jones
1987
Television South
   
George Benson
1987
Television South
John Kaye Cooper
1987
Television South

 

By the following year the company was back in the IBAs good book. The company, now without Dyke who had returned to LWT and had been replaced by Alan Bond. The company had improved profits to £14M giving it a higher advertising revenue than Yorkshire Television, by January the following year profits were £21.8M despite possible strike action about to take place over its proposed overnight service (an offshoot of the strike at TV-am). 1987 also resulted in a change of look on screen with the original colour ident being replaced with one that was a blue/grey coloured. The new ident was designed by John Hayman and the jingle was by Ed Welch who had produced the jingle (and various other pieces of music) for neighbouring station Television South West (TSW). There was a onscreen clock but this was rarely used.

 

1988 would see the end of the road for the TVS Television Theatre in Gillingham which was sold off to an independent production company.

 

The company was looking to increase its reach still further but was still frustrated as it felt it was not being taken seriously as one of the big ITV companies, resulting it in looking for investments elsewhere.

 

 

Following failed bids to enquire Thorn EMI Screen entertainment and TF1 the company made purchased Gilsen International (a distribution company in California selling programmes outside the states), a stake in Austrailian firm Northern Star (part of their Network Ten) and a company called Midem which promoted trade fairs.

 

Their biggest and most well known purchase was that of the Americian production company Mary Tyler Moore (MTM) Enterprises which had produced programmes such as Hill Street Blues. TVS paid £190m for MTM in July 1988 which involved both Mary Tyler Moore and Arthur price getting a stake in TVS (5.1% and 6.6% respectively which they would not sell for at least five years) and TVS finances the deal through shareholders (£47M), bank loans (£38M) and selling stakes of 10% to Canal Plus and Generle D Images for £29M each.

 

As part of the purchase of TVS the company became TVS Entertainment PLC with the station becoming TVS Television on air. The look of the station was changed again on the 1st September 1989 to reflect the name change and this time was a brighter blue and would be used to link in with the titles of Coast to Coast.

 

THE DEMISE OF TVS

 

In the UK during the late 1980s and early 1990s recession loomed and things looked bleak for TVS. This was not helped by a drop in advertising in the US where many syndication stations were effected leading to loses of £7.3M for its subsidiary MTM. The company was also forced to write of its stake following the disposal of cable channel Super Channel which would cost them a further £5.7M 

In early 1990 TVS set about trying to sell a 49% stake in MTM as part of restructuring efforts following reports of the groups profits had been hit by 35%. TVS set about cutting costs resulting in the loss of 140 jobs in the UK although this had been less than anticipated.

Changes were made at board level as they felt that the current chief executive, James Gatward, was not putting in enough effort to get things in order so was dismissed. The changes also involved the merger of the TVS Television and TVS Entertainment boards. Further redundancies took place with another 100 posts went to shore up the company further and progress was made in offloading MTM as four interested parties emerged.

The other big issue for TVS was the ITV franchise awards coming up and the company was in real trouble.

 

The year of 1990 was a big change for the broadcasting industry with the abolition of the 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 (a task that had been delayed while changes too place as those starting in 1982 had been for a period of eight years). 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’ the company would not only have to put in a plan of how it was going to serve it’s region but also had to put in a sealed bid, an amount they were prepared to pay the government each year for the right to broadcast in the area.  

Initially this highest bid wins approach was the only requirement but later a quality threshold was introduce to protect programming standards and any successful applicant would need to pass this first before the sealed bid was considered. TVS passed the quality threshold and was the highest 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 years.

 

On the 16th October 1991 the ITC sent all applicants a fax with their result, TVS were told they were unsuccessful 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. TVS hit back at the regulator with numerous requests to get the ITC explain themselves and considered asking for a judicial review.

The prospects of TVS being successful with the judicial review were slim and they were advised by their legal team the costs would be huge so reluctantly they started taking steps to liquidate the company

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. Things had moved on since the early 80’s when TVS had won, there was no union agreements so people did not lose their jobs like there had been during the last awards.

 

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 commission independents to produce programmes and were not looking to make many themselves so did not really need studios that size. 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 as they planned to remain as an independent production company.

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 final day for TVS was the 31st December 1992 and included a special feature edition of Coast to Coast in the South East where Mike Debens and Liz Wickham looked back at the Coast to Coast years and interviewed various people that had made the news over the eleven years they had been on the air. The Southampton edition was mostly business as usual. A book was produced looking back at the stories that had made the news with profits from the book going to the RNLI.

At 10:45pm the final programme from TVS was aired where the company said Goodbye to All That. The show was presented by Fern Britton (who had come back for this one show having left the company earlier that year), Fred Dinenage and Matthew Kelly who had been in Panto at the Poole Arts Centre. The programme had been recorded earlier in the day in Studio 1 in Southampton.

The final programme was a look back at their output over their eleven years on the air, this was a fun packed show and was a celebration, a big contrast to the show that their predecessors Southern had put out at the end of their time onscreen (Southern were very unhappy about losing their region and they certainly let viewers know that in their final show). The show included chats with Neil Buchanan, George Baker, Roy Walker, Bryan Murphy, Peter Bowles and Jill Gasgoine, all who had stared in various TVS programmes.

 

At the end of the show Fern and Fred gave a warm thanks to shareholders, suppliers staff and of course those watching and how lucky Meridian were to have them. The show ended with the TVS logo being shown for the final time but this time saying thanks for watching.

As the bells tolled midnight TVS ended their time on the air and handed over to Meridian.  

TVS - OFF THE AIR

After going off the air TVS had planned to be an independent production company, much in the same way that had happened with Thames Television. The company retreated to Maidstone where they had retained their studios (although had rented out one of them and the newsroom to Meridian for their south east service), TVS had also kept hold of their programme archives which they planned to distribute. This plan would not last long however as many TVS programmes were previously made by independents which had been formed out of TVS and this reduced the amount available in their archives.

In February 1993, a little over a month after going off the air, TVS was acquired by International Family Entertainment (IFE). They were setting up a UK version of The Family Channel and had planned to use content from TVS on their service. TVS had been of interest to several companies back in 1992 including Lorne Michaels, TCW Capital and IFE who were left as the main contender after others pulled out following examination of TVS’ accounts. IFE would be turned down on a couple of occasions as it was felt by some that they were devaluing the company. The final accepted offer was £56.5M.

 

The Family Channel did for a time use some of the material in the TVS archives but this was eventually dropped as the channel focused more on US programmes. The channel was based at the Maidstone Studios. This purchase also meant the end of Meridian’s agreement to use the studios and they moved out for a time before moving back to a smaller newsroom in 2004. Flextech, a UK broadcaster who were joint owners of the UKTV network, would take a 39% stake in the channel.

In 1996 Flextech bought the 61% of the Family Channel they did not already own and the channel was closed down being replaced by Challenge TV (now just called Challenge) on the 3rd February 1997 broadcasting vintage game shows. IFE retained the TVS archives as these were not part of the deal with Flextech.  IFE was to disappear also when it was sold to Fox Kids the following year and later Fox Kids being absorbed into Disney in 2001. This would leave Disney responsible for the TVS archives while those of MTM would end up with 20th Century Fox Television. The end of IFE also meant the end of TVS’ links to the Maidstone studios which were sold off and now operate independently.

The archives of TVS are currently inaccessible, this is due to them being moved from location to location, this resulted in the paperwork to the rights for programmes being displaced and therefore a number of programmes are unable to be shown on copyright grounds.

TVS’ former home at Southampton was used by Meridian until 2004 when they left for the smaller studios the company had always wanted (Meridian never has the need for the capacity that TVS did). 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.

The TVS Television Theatre after being sold off by TVS in 1988 eventually became a laser gaming centre before being demolished. A campaign was established to fight the demolition and get the building listed however due to the alterations made by TVS this was refused.

The London offices in Victoria are now an embassy building.

 

 

 





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