ITV awarded the breakfast franchise to TV-am in 1981, but unlike the other franchisees that went on air in January 1982. TV-am went on-air on 1 February 1983, two weeks after the BBC launched their show Breakfast Time. The delay was because ITV had failed in its negotiations for royalties and rates for advertising on the new Channel 4 and breakfast service. The station was originally scheduled for launch in June, however the Independent Broadcasting Authority allowed the station to bring forward its start-date in response to the BBC service. However, there was little or no advertising in the early days as acting talent was not permitted to take part in ads on the channel. This seriously harmed advertising revenue. When TV-am won the franchise, they beat out rival ITN who had proposed to present a news orientated show, hosted by Anna Ford. ITN were unaware that Ford was part of the rival TV-am bid.
TV-am was spearheaded by 'The Famous Five' who were not only lined up as presenters on the station, but were also shareholders — Michael Parkinson, David Frost (1983–92), Angela Rippon (1983), Anna Ford (1983) and Robert Kee. Esther Rantzen was originally one of the team, but she dropped out in 1982, when the BBC persuaded her to remain on their staff, presenting That's Life! There had been many difficulties for the other presenters in the run-up to the station launch. When the franchise was announced in 1981, Angela Rippon's contract with the BBC was about to expire and it was not renewed as a result of her defection. Anna Ford was dismissed by ITN. Michael Parkinson remained with the BBC, who hoped to persuade him to change his mind, as they had with Rantzen. In the end, he was replaced by Terry Wogan at the corporation.
TV-am's headquarters and studios were at 'Breakfast Television Centre', Hawley Crescent, Camden, London. Designed by Terry Farrell and converted from a former Henleys garage, the building included a number of large plastic egg-cups on its roof. These are still present on the building today, despite now being home to MTV's European operations. The TV-am logos, on the front of the building, are now obscured but still partially visible.
Programmes originally ran from 6.00-9.15am, with Daybreak and Good Morning Britain filling weekday mornings, followed by engineering announcements before the start of the regional ITV franchises at 9.25. It was not until later that the IBA extended its hours to 9.25am to allow continuous programming, and not until some years after that the ITV stations extended their hours to 6am to provide 24-hour television. (The engineering announcements were later moved to Channel 4, and cancelled in 1990 when the IBA was replaced by the ITC.)
While the BBC's Breakfast Time was a huge success, TV-am's early ratings were profoundly disappointing. Its high-minded and somewhat starchy approach sat uneasily at that time of day, and was easily upstaged by the rival's sure-footed and accessible magazine style which effortlessly mixed heavy news and light-hearted features (famously moving cabinet ministers, after a serious interview, to help with a cookery demonstration).
TV-am's chief executive Peter Jay was forced to resign when he refused to dismiss some of his star presenters. His replacement, British politician Jonathan Aitken wielded the axe and fired both Angela Rippon and Anna Ford and threatened to dismiss Michael Parkinson, whose weekend show was the only success the station was having - largely because the BBC did not broadcast in the mornings at the weekend. All three had given support to Jay live on air, which infuriated the station's management. David Frost was moved from the main show as part of the shake up. Anna Ford refused to be moved, leading to her dismissal. Angela Rippon was not a hit with viewers who complained when she was 'rude' and 'belittling' to sports presenter Nick Owen. When Anna Ford encountered Jonathan Aitken at a party some months later, she threw her glass of white wine in his face. Their replacements were Anne Diamond (1983-1992) and Nick Owen (1983-1986). A new director of programmes Greg Dyke was brought in, and slowly ratings improved. To save money, the show spent the summer on the road, in a show coming from various seaside resorts and presented by Chris Tarrant. A notable gimmick introduced in this time was the puppet, Roland Rat; this attracted large audiences of youngsters, but pushed up overall viewing figures.
The low audiences brought financial problems. The company was close to having its power supply disconnected, when a London Electricity official arrived during a press conference with a warrant to terminate power for non-payment: Elsewhere, a local newsagent stopped supplying the station with newspapers, for the same reason.
The cost-cutting was brought sharply into focus in the Brighton hotel bombing in 1984. The night before the terrorist attack on the British Cabinet TV-am sent the production team home as they could not afford to pay for hotel rooms. When the blast occurred in the early hours, the BBC and ITN provided immediate coverage. TV-am's response was limited to a caption of reporter John Stapleton while he reported over the phone while the BBC were showing graphic coverage of the attack. Trade Union rules of the time forbade technical staff at the local ITV station TVS from providing cover for another ITV company and previous conflicts with ITN meant that they would not share their footage with TV-am.
The whole affair earned the company a severe rebuke from the Independent Broadcasting Authority, who told the company to invest and improve their news coverage, or they would lose their licence.
In an echo of the changes which had occurred in newspapers, Gyngell was determined to make use of technical developments in television in order to reduce staff and save money. He believed that the ease of use of modern video recording and other broadcasting equipment meant that staffing levels could be reduced: ENG crews would no longer require a separate lighting technician (following a pattern familiar in Gyngell's native Australia) and technical personnel virtually eliminated. This brought him into conflict with the broadcasting trade unions, but gained him support from the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her government.
In 1987, technical staff at the station went on a 24 hour strike. Management locked out the strikers, but stayed on air using non-technical staff to broadcast a skeleton service including (among other things) episodes of the American series Flipper, Batman and Happy Days - while secretaries manned cameras Gyngell himself directed the show. Although shambolic at times, this schedule turned out on occasions to be more popular than former programming (although not what they'd be allowed to broadcast under any other circumstances). In the hurricane-force storms that hit England in October that year the electrical power to TV-am's studios was lost and an emergency programme had to be transmitted from facilities at Thames Television's Euston Road centre using reports from TV-am's own crews and those of ITN, TSW and TVS. All this withstanding, the programme continued to thrive. Eventually, Bruce Gyngell fired all of the strikers replacing them with non-unionised labour from around the world.
In the years that followed, the station gradually found its feet again, and by the early 1990s, operating with a significantly reduced staff, it was the world's most profitable TV station, in terms of turnover. During this period the station became the most popular breakfast television service in the UK as the BBC's Breakfast Time lost viewers: In 1989 the BBC replaced the magazine style Breakfast Time with a more in-depth and analytical news format called Breakfast News, reminiscent of TV-am's original format.
In 1990, changes in the law meant that ITV franchises were no longer allocated on merit or potential but rather through a blind auction, the results of which were made public on 16 October1991. TV-am bid £14.3m, but were outbid by another consortium, Sunrise Television, which had put down £36.4m.
By February 1992 the first on screen effects of the licence loss became obvious, with TV-am closing its in-house news service and contracting it out to Sky News for a one-off payment. Children's programming also suffered, with fewer appearances of Timmy Mallet and 'Wacaday', replaced by 'Cartoon World', which also ran on a Saturday from 8am (extended to 7.30am later in the year).
Margaret Thatcher, whose government had introduced this reform (but who had by then been replaced as Prime Minister by John Major), famously wrote to Bruce Gyngell, apologising for being partly responsible for the loss of its licence. The letter was written for private consumption but Gyngell made it public, an act which drew criticism from friends of the former Prime Minister.
TV-am broadcast its last show on 31 December 1992, and was replaced by GMTV on 1 January 1993. While TV-am had used an expensive, custom-built studio complex at Camden lock, GMTV has always hired studio space from The London Studios.
"TV-am: February 1, 1983 - December 31, 1992"
This was then followed by a final commercial break in which there was no final appearance by the famous eggcups. Instead the final commercial was for GMTV.
At 9:25am the other franchise losers (TVS, TSW and Thames Television) began their final day's schedules and were replaced at midnight by Meridian Broadcasting, Westcountry Television, and Carlton Television respectively.
The next day, GMTV began at 6am. Their opening studio segment included a tribute to TV-am in the form of a painting similar to their ident visible on the set behind the presenters.
The TV-am HQ in Camden Town was sold to MTV networks in 1993, where the famous eggcups still stand proud on the roof facing the canal. As well as being used by MTV for the production of its programmes, MTV Studios (as they are now marketed) are available for commercial hire within the TV industry. In 1999 a fire broke out in a video suite causing extensive damage to the first floor and roof of the building although production studios and offices were undamaged . TV-am performed a reverse takeover to become Crockfords Plc (a gambling company).
"TV-am", the TV-am logo and fifteen registered trade marks are now owned by Ian White. The archive of TV-am programmes made between 1983 and 1992, are now owned and managed by Moving Image Communications Ltd