Saturday, 16 October 2010

It was nineteen years ago today...


The wooden eggs are still there on the roof, a perch for seagulls and an enigma for the young. The vertical metal lettering at the front of the building, however, has been obscured by four fat blue discs.
Lorraine Kelly and Mike – Mike who, for heaven’s sake? I sat with him at lunch in the Camden Bistro while he raged, close to tears, I thought, at the injustice of the auction in which TVAM had been stripped of its franchise. Now I’ve forgotten his name.
Nineteen years ago today, October 16, I was in Plymouth, sitting in an office with Nick Smith, Pete Colebrook and Tom Goodison. It was a grim morning, soot-coloured clouds rolling down from the Hoe. We were watching the internal TV service. Harry Turner, our MD, stepped up to the microphone.
“We’ve lost,” said Tom, before Harry said a word. And we had. TSW was history. So were Thames, TVS and TVAM. We went to a pub called The Bank and got drunk on Mr Bass’s bitter and Mr Bell’s whisky.
Mike Morris. Thank you, Google. Apparently he went off to work for Yorkshire TV. Funny, that. I thought he was one of the best network performers. Couldn’t understand, in the bistro, a week or so after Franchise Day, why he was so upset. The BBC or ITN or Carlton were bound to bag him, I thought. You don’t know, do you?
The ITV Franchise Auction was the last zany, picaresque wheeze thought up by Margaret Thatcher. Even she realised in the end that it was nuts, and apologised to Bruce Gyngell, the TVAM boss. The conclusion of the process was, of course (and as predicted), the consolidation of ITV into the sorry and pointless monolith most of us have now stopped watching, via the destruction of that subtle amalgam of regional identities which was the essence of its brand.
Here’s a story I’ve never told. A year before, I made a film for the ITV network about a Soviet spy, Ruth Werner, aka Ursula Kuczynski, aka Sonia, who’d retired from her trade and was living in East Berlin.
We had a deal with the Sunday Times that they’d run a feature about her to coincide with our transmission. Only, a couple of weeks before the scheduled date, the ITV network bumped our documentary into the following month.
I had the task of persuading the deputy editor of the ST, a guy called Brian MacArthur, to hold back the splash he’d prepared for the front page of the News Review.
Since I was lobbing a grenade into his own schedule, he was understandably cross with me. Very cross.
Remember that this conversation was taking place before our franchise submission was written, let alone lodged with the Independent Television Commission.
Brian’s (extremely cross) parting words on the telephone were these: “I know which ITV companies are going to lose their franchises. And TSW is one of them.”
Weird, eh?

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