East of the M60‘s first post of 2014 – and of course, first Not So Perfect Ten of the new year
Today, we live in a digital age where the old conventions of watching television have died out. We used to sit in front of the box and watch similar programmes. Whether you liked Sale of the Century or not, the head of the household controlled your viewing. Until you were old enough to afford a portable TV of your own and able to watch your own programmes in the comfort of your bedroom.
Contrary to popular belief, we probably watch more television than ever. The medium of the message has changed a little, in the sense we no longer sit in front of a rented Granada Finlandia set or the like. First came video, which enabled us to tape Brookside if it clashed with Wildlife on One, thus time-shifting part of our viewing. Then came multichannel television which saw an increase of channels from two in 1956 to around 700 in some households by 2014. Then came broadband; today, if we miss our desired programme on the 36″ plasma screen telly, we could catch up on our programme at a later date. Not only on one’s digibox, but also our smartphones, PCs and portable tablet devices.
Though we have more options than ever, I miss some of the old conventions, prevalent in most households and educational institutions till around the mid-1990s. Hence of course the subject of this month’s Not So Perfect Ten. Chances are, there may be some nuances of 1970s and 1980s viewing which may be alien to some of our younger readers.
- ITV franchises;
- Start Up Routines;
- On-screen continuity announcers;
- Engineering announcements;
- Idents at the start of each programme;
- Schools’ programming;
- Pages from Ceefax;
- Lo-fi local advertisements;
- Pre-BSkyB-era football coverage;
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1. ITV franchises: prior to 2001, ITV had a federal structure with regional franchisees, and it was possible to have some grasp of basic geography depending on each region. The North West was indelibly Granadaland. If you went to Scarborough for your holidays, Geoff Druett rather than Tony Wilson fronted your regional news programme. As soon as you heard a guitar twang and saw a white star on a blue background, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Bournemouth.
Each franchise, as well as its distinct regional identity and presentation (idents, captions, for instance), had a forte in certain programming genres. Granada’s, besides Coronation Street, was always synonymous with hard-hitting documentaries. London Weekend and Thames, often light entertainment. Yorkshire Television, some fantastic quiz shows, Emmerdale and a scary flying chevron. Viewers identified with their channels. Though nearly 14 years since the single ITV came to fruition, I am often proud to say I was born in Granadaland.
2. Start Up Routines: before everything went digital, 24/7 and impersonal, all our terrestrial channels including each ITV franchise began the day’s programming with a start-up routine. This would typically last 5 – 6 minutes, begin with an announcement along the lines of, ‘This is Yorkshire Television, broadcasting on the Emley Moor, Belmont and associated transmitters of the Independent Broadcasting Authority’. In ITV’s case, we would see a list of the transmitters, then our station ident atop the IBA logo, before building up to see our station’s ident in full. Cue Redvers Kyle, Jim Pope or Trish Bertram at the end, giving us a summary of our programmes.
Each of ITV’s franchises had their own start-up music. From 1977 to 1988, Granada had the New Granada Theme composed by Keith Mansfield (who also wrote the theme tune for Grandstand). Yorkshire Television had at one time The Yorkshire March, composed by Alan Tew and arranged by Ron Goodwin, before adopting Christopher Gunning’s excellent Yorkshire Theme. The latter was also the signature tune for their local news programme Calendar.
3. On-Screen Continuity Announcers: each channel also had a personality or three, which was indelibly associated with that channel. Granadaland was always the domain of Jim Pope, Charles Foster and Colin Weston, whereas Christopher Robbie would be associated with Southern and TVS. Besides ensuring the smooth running of each station, it added a personal touch, particularly so for lonely households. Sometimes, there would also be a children’s birthdays slot; the best known being Gus Honeybun’s on Westward and TSW. Today, we no longer see our continuity announcers on screen, which is a real shame. Then again, if you had on-screen continuity on a single ITV, the birthdays slot would be long enough to warrant three ad breaks!
4. Engineering Announcements: both the BBC and ITV had engineering announcements detailed on a once weekly basis. As well as telling us if Belmont or Caradon Hill was on low power or about to be replaced, they were of more use to television engineers. IBA’s (ITA till 1972) Engineering Announcements would be shown each Monday from 1970 to 1990 prior to each franchisee’s start up routines. From 1983, they would be shown instead on Channel Four. With 24 hour television commonplace, we no longer get to see such programming.
Today, the internet is a viable source for engineering announcements and, unlike the formative years of ITV, we no longer own our own transmitters. 1990 saw the privatisation of Emley Moor, Winter Hill et al, and the formation of an independent company. Our digital terrestrial transmitters are owned by Arqiva, owned by Canadian pensioners and Australian bankers.
5. Start of programme idents: it’s teatime, and your house in Funnyname Street (I make no apologies for the gratuitous End of Part One reference!) is met by a head rush of horns and timpani. Yes, you’ve guessed it: you’ve returned to 1979 and Crossroads is starting thanks to the ATV ident. Besides reinforcing who made your desired programme, it added a touch of class and emphasised ITV’s federal nature. With the former, akin to going to your local cinema and seeing Universal’s or 20th Century Fox’s signature ident at the start of each film.
Before the 1990s, each ITV programme would begin with the franchisee’s ident, whether networked on a Saturday night, or shown at 10.30pm in front of a sleep challenged audience in its own region. This was also true with schools programming.
6. Schools Programming: before video cassette recorders were common, watching TV in school hours seemed like a treat. You would sit on a floor in the hall shortly before dinner. Then a couple of teachers (yes, two) would wheel the television cabinet, owing to its massive size. The doors would be opened wide with a hood. One teacher would try and find BBC One or ITV, has trouble; more technically minded one takes over: we see a countdown clock, and it would either be Look and Read or Chemistry In Action. Before we dream of getting the popcorn, the dulcet tones of Sue Robbie or Charles Collingwood take over. Blast! No Bugs Bunny then.
Each programme would be prefaced with a two minute sequence of music and animation. Sometimes, there would be a static caption with artwork before we cut to a countdown sequence lasting a minute. Before your programme starts, there would sometimes be a short advertisement for teachers’ supplementary material (often fact sheets, textbooks or software (usually for the BBC Micro or Research Machines’ Nimbus computers)). In our formative years, we would enjoy the programme and recite the Magic E song. By the time we got to our ‘O’ Level or GCSE years, time to make notes, take in the more staid fare and – in later years, thanks to the VCR – see our 20 minute programme lasting 55 minutes.
7. Pages From Ceefax: before the internet was king, a television set with teletext was a must-have in 1980s households. From 1974, BBC’s Ceefax service began whereas ITV’s Oracle began four years later. Early users had to buy a separate decoder box, but the end of the 1970s saw our first integrated TV/Teletext receivers reach the market.
If you didn’t have Ceefax or Oracle, there was always Pages from Ceefax. Before the Beeb inflicted Escape to the Country on the nation’s housebound or unemployed citizens, some of the post-dinnertime dead time would be occupied by Ceefax pages set to instrumental music. In the late 1980s, when ITV began 24 hour broadcasting, sleep and teletext deprived unemployed people could watch Jobfinder. Which, in a nutshell was Pages From Ceefax in association with the DHSS. Only on the Oracle, at about the same time you expect to see reruns of the Jeremy Kyle Show or some roulette game these days.
8. Lo-fi Local Advertisements: one of the great joys of the federalised ITV was each region’s local adverts. As well as productions equalling national adverts in terms of production values, there was a more lo-fi cheaper alternative for smaller businesses, local theatres or community groups. Instead of a full-on 30 second commercial, there would be a 10 second slot with a static slide. The franchise’s own continuity announcers would voice each advert.
Such advertisements would either be within its usual ad-breaks or part of a dedicated slot. ATV dealt with such adverts in the latter form, under the banner of ATV Telespots. Its roots predated the formation of ITV; single slide advertisements were common in cinemas from the early part of the 20th century.
9. Pre-BSkyB era Football Coverage: it is hard to imagine association football coverage in the pre-BSkyB era, but before 1992, a live televised match was a treat. Before 1983 (the year when ITV won the rights to broadcast a handful of live Football League First Division matches), live football meant the F.A. Cup Final, a European competition final, the World Cup Finals and the odd international qualifying fixture. As for Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal before ’83, edited highlights: Jimmy Hill’s chin or Brian Moore’s bald patch.
In addition to Match of the Day and The Big Match, we also had a number of regional football highlights programmes. The most celebrated of which was Granada’s Kick Off, anchored by Gerald Sinstadt. Besides showing highlights of Granadaland’s footballing sides, there was previews and irreverent features. Some of which could be seen in BSkyB’s more exhaustive coverage, the irreverent angle seen in Soccer AM. After working for Granada in the early 1980s, Martin Tyler would follow suit in 1992 to Sky Sports and the rest they say…
10. Closedowns: appropriately for our last entry, we shall focus on something which is done with less subtlety today. Before 24 hour television became the norm, our trusty continuity announcer would round off each day’s programmes. Typically, this would include one more check of the region’s weather, and an overview of the following day’s programmes. A Public Information Film may be shown. Then our announcer would end proceedings by boding its viewers a fond farewell. The channel’s clock would appear, we see the station’s ident for one last time, and this would be set to the station’s own signature theme (New Granada Theme again in Granadaland of course), or The National Anthem.
Then we fade to black, straight to a test card, or a final announcement detailing our local Independent Local Radio stations (IBA also regulated Piccadilly Radio as well as Granada Television). Then of course, the most important announcement of all:
‘Don’t forget to switch off your set’, or anything along these lines.
And why was this important? Well, before 1988 or thereabouts, the average television set had a load of valves and inflammable materials. Wooden cases were commonplace, so leaving the television on overnight was a greater fire risk than at present. Hence of course, I suppose, the reason why 24 hour broadcasting didn’t feature till the late 1980s, by which time television technology improved.
Today, what counts as a closedown is a derisory message from an off-screen continuity announcer to say we are moving over to a 24 hour news channel, some inane interactive casino, or syndicated teleshopping feature. Give me the tones of the late great Jim Pope any day.
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This is Stuart Vallantine saying goodnight… feel free to add any comments or add to this list, and please remember to switch off your set. Goodnight.
S.V., 03 January 2014.