Television South (TVS) was the broadcasting name associated with the ITV franchise holder in the south and south east of England between 1 January 1982 and 23:59 on 31 December 1992. The company operated under various names, initially as Television South plc and then following reorganisation in 1989 as TVS Entertainment plc, with its UK broadcasting arm referred to as TVS Television plc. On-air the company was known as TVS, Television South and eventually TVS Television.
Broadcasting commenced in 1982 following takeover of the franchise from Southern Television during the review of franchise holders in 1980. During their 11 year history, TVS produced a number of notable programmes for the ITV network including C.A.T.S. Eyes and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, and challenged the monopoly of ITV’s ‘Big Five’ companies in controlling the allocation of primetime networked programming slots, although access was ultimately denied. They were a significant regional broadcaster producing a wide range of programmes for the region, with the flagship being the nightly award winning news programme Coast to Coast produced as two separate editions for the south and south east.
They ceased broadcasting on 31 December 1992 after they lost the franchise to the present holder Meridian Broadcasting during the review of franchise holders in 1991. The company was sold to International Family Entertainment Inc. (IFE) in 1993.
TVS was formed to apply for the franchise for South and South-East of England under the working title of South and South-East Communications Limited, following discussions between James Gatward (a television producer), Bob Southgate (a television executive who had previously worked at ITN and Thames Television) and Martin Jackson (a journalist). Finance was provided by Barclays Bank and the investment bank Charterhouse. The franchise for this area was the most hotly-contested with seven other applicants besides TVS and the incumbent, Southern.
The company's Chief Executive was Lord Boston of Faversham assisted by James Gatward as Managing Director. James Gatward had been a former drama producer at Southern. Director of Programmes was Michael Blakstad, a former producer of BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and Head of Children’s Programming was Anna Home.
The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) decided to review the franchises in 1980, with the changeover in franchise holders (where applicable) occurring on 1 January 1982. At the changeover, the IBA had decided to change the area covered from the south to include the south east and included the Bluebell Hill transmitter, associated relays and the main relay at Tunbridge Wells which previously were covered by ITV’s London contractors. To reflect this the contract area served by Southern Television, which was previously titled the South of England area was renamed South and South-East of England. In order to serve the new region better the IBA expected the successful applicant to operate separate facilities for both the south and the south-east (known as a dual-region), with new additional facilities to be built in the latter.
Following submission of their application, TVS were anticipating that they would be forced into a shotgun marriage with Southern Television, but won outright since their plans for a better mix of programmes and greater investment were considered good enough to operate the franchise alone. This was the official line given by the IBA, but it was also considered that Southern’s non-local ownership (the majority shareholders were companies based in London and Dundee) and their very conservative nature lead to it being dropped in favour the more interesting proposals made by TVS in their franchise application.
The first commercial television studios for the newly-created South of England franchise were founded in Northam Road, Southampton by Southern Television when they were awarded the licence to broadcast in the south of England in 1957. The studios were originally the Plaza Cinema, and the building was selected for the new venture as the owner, the Rank Organisation, was a large shareholder in the new broadcaster. In 1967, and with the introduction of colour television in 1969, Southern built new, larger studios adjacent to the original development on land reclaimed from the River Itchen. These were the facilities purchased by TVS (and later Meridian): TVS were delayed in the purchase of the site by Southern and therefore had to initially operate prior to launch from portakabin's in the Southern car park, leading to Southern comtemptuously naming them Portakabin TV. TVS finally completed the purchase of the Southampton site, equipment, news library and staff pension fund in August 1981. Also included in the sale was land purchased by Southern for planned new studios in Maidstone.
The Southampton base was the company's corporate headquarters and their primary production and transmission centre. Upon purchase TVS made significant investment, building a further studio to the rear of the existing site. TVS, having lost its franchise bid the previous year, sold the studios to their successor Meridian in 1992 as part of an asset disposal designed to raise enough revenues to stay afloat to the end of the licence period.
After 11 years of (slowly declining) production at the site, in 2004, Meridian relocated to new and more modern, rented facilities on the Solent Business Park at Whiteley near Fareham. It is believed they had originally intended to be based here from the beginning of their licence period but decided instead to purchase the existing studios from TVS. The Southampton site is now derelict and earmarked for demolition and re-development (for housing) although it is unclear as to whether the site has actually been sold. The former studios are currently being used as a secure lorry/truck store. Reports suggest that as the land was reclaimed from the river (and is essentially a flood plain) it is struggling to achieve offers that match its supposed value. Plans for new homes on the site have also yet to be formally approved by the city council.
The studios to serve the south-eastern section of Television South's transmission area were at Vinters Park near Maidstone in Kent.
The site was originally acquired by Southern Television who had commissioned a conceptual design for new studio facilities on the site. Following the award of the franchise to TVS, Southern sold the site to the new company at a premium.
Construction commenced in early 1982 and the first studios at the centre became operational in mid-1983. During the construction period, TVS served the south-eastern part of their area from the former Southern studios at Southampton and Dover (the latter closing when facilities at Maidstone became operational - see below).
The Maidstone Studios, though significant (and home to many networked shows) were ancillary to those in Southampton which were the company's corporate headquarters. Meridian, the new licensee, were not offered the studios as TVS initially intended to become an independent producer in 1993, however Meridian agreed to rent the newsroom and facilities for an initial 10 year period. However following the sale of TVS in 1993, the studios were acquired by TVS’s new owners IFE and Meridian's agreement came to a premature end. A newsroom and studio for the south east was subsequently set up on an industrial estate near New Hythe. Meridian have since returned to the site and use it as a news base as today they broadcast mainly from Hampshire.
The studios, on Russell Street, were originally the south-eastern base of Southern Television from which Scene South East and Scene Midweek were broadcast, and were essentially a news gathering operation with transmission facilities for regional news opt-outs. TVS used Dover as a regional studio for a year until completion of Vinters Park when they disposed of the site. The buildings have since been demolished and the site is now used as a car park.
TVS acquired the former Plaza Cinema in Gillingham, Kent as a stop gap measure between the commencement of broadcasting and the completion of Vinters Park. The theatre was quickly converted for television use ready for the start of broadcasting.
The decision to operate a television theatre was in contradiction to the trend in television at that time (Both the BBC and Thames Television were to dispose of similar facilities in the next two years).
Production at Gillingham was limited. It was used for several quiz shows and it was the base of the regional afternoon magazine show Not for Women Only and TVS filmed the UK inserts for Fraggle Rock there. TVS sold the theatre in 1988. For a period afterwards the site was used for other activities before being demolished to make way for redevelopment. A campaign to have it listed failed as the large-scale conversion for television production had made it unsuitable for listing.
TVS began broadcasting at 09:30 on 1 January 1982. The first show was titled ‘Bring in the New’ presented by Khalid Aziz. A number of presenters made the transition from Southern to TVS. All production staff were transferred as part of the then union agreements within ITV that no technician should lose their employment as a result of franchise changes. 200 staff were also recruited for their facilities at Gillingham and Maidstone although a small number of these were made redundant after the company went on-air as the studios struggled to reach production capacity, restricted by TVS's limited access to the ITV network.
TVS was soon recognised as ambitious (in contrast to the rather staid Southern) and who wanted to be a 'major player' within ITV and not just a large regional company. At that time, networked programme schedules were agreed by a committee with representatives from the ‘Big Five’ ITV companies Thames, LWT, Central, Yorkshire and Granada. This was done to ensure that the larger ITV companies bore more of the production costs as their size enabled them to.
This led to criticism in some quarters that the larger of the remaining 'regional' ITV companies (TVS, Anglia, STV, Tyne Tees and HTV) found it difficult to get network access for their grander productions, or that they were left with softer non-primetime sectors, such as children's and religious television.
TVS attempted to get the 'Big Five' turned into the 'Big Six' with their inclusion as during the mid-1980s their revenues were greater than that of Yorkshire, and often equal to that of LWT. The attempt failed (although they did form an alliance with LWT which enabled some of their shows to obtain primetime network status) but in the 1990 Broadcasting Act the 'Big Five' committee was replaced with an independent ITV Network Centre.
The South edition of "Coast to Coast" was produced in Southampton and was anchored by Fred Dinenage and Fern Britton. It was broadcast from the Hannington and the Rowridge (Isle of Wight) transmitters and their associated relays. It included a separate news "opt-out" for the Thames Valley area which was produced live in the TVS Reading studio. Another studio and news centre in Poole provided coverage of the Poole, Bournemouth and Western extremities of franchise area. The South edition of "Coast to Coast" twice won the Royal Television Society's award for the Best News Programme of the Year - in 1989 and 1991
The South East Edition of "Coast to Coast", presented by Mike Debens and Liz Wickham, was transmitted from the TVS Maidstone studios with a separate ultra-local news opt-out being developed for viewers in the Brighton area from TVS's own Brighton studio. Both the South and the South East editions of "Coast to Coast" also used the TVS London news studios in the QE2 Conference centre - particularly for Parliamentary reports. A tiny studio in Dover, bought from Southern Television, was used as the original news base in the South East whilst the £16 million TVS Maidstone studio complex was under construction. The Coast to Coast South East programme covered a number of major news stories including the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the construction of the Channel Tunnel, the bombing of the Royal Marines base in Deal by the IRA, and the Storms of 1987. It won the Royal Television Society Award for Britain's best regional news programme in 1983.
TVS was the first TV broadcaster in Britain to have its own dedicated live-link news helicopter - an Aerospatiale Twin Squirrel equipped with remote control camera and facilities to receive live pictures beamed up to it from two Land Rover Discovery mobile up-link units. This system was brought into use in 1990 and relayed live news coverage from anywhere in the South and South East to reception dishes located on the region's main transmitter masts.
Apart from news, TVS produced a vast array of programming in-house including regional gardening (That's Gardening), business (Enterprise South), farming (Farm Focus) and investigative programmes (Facing South) alongside quizzes (Challenge of the South) and other entertainment strands including a regional chat show "Coast to Coast People". An award winner was the Country Ways series, which examined the people and places of the region.
TVS also innovated with the experimental Afternoon Club, a dedicated programme encompassing a number of afternoon soap operas, quiz shows etc linked by general chat and guests etc. They also produced their own afternoon magazine show Not for Women Only.
In common with their predecessor, TVS had a strong performance in children's programming. Early successes included Saturday morning show No. 73 which was later networked, On Safari (TVS's first pre-transmission production), The Witches and the Grinnygog, Fraggle Rock, The Boy Who Won the Pools, Get Fresh, and Knights of God. Later successes included Motormouth, The Storyteller, TUGS, How 2, Finders Keepers and Art Attack.
As they became established TVS made significant contributions to network drama (through their tie-up with LWT) with shows such as the detective series C.A.T.S. Eyes. The production of the Inspector Wexford Mysteries (1987-1992), television adaptations of Ruth Rendell's novels, proved to be a success with over fifteen programmes being made over a ten-year period.
TVS also provided a number of networked factual and science-based programs including In The Mouth of the Dragon and The Real World which, for the first time in the UK, broadcast in 3D (the glasses were made available via the TV Times).
TVS's franchise in a prosperous area generated large profits. Restrictions on network programming resulted in the search for non-television investments. Speculative small investments in UK companies was followed by the purchase of the American media company MTM Enterprises, founded by Mary Tyler Moore and responsible for many US hit shows including Hill Street Blues. MTM specialised in the syndicated television market (programmes made independently and sold to the major American television networks). Television South was renamed TVS Television in 1989.
TVS was banking on benefiting from this syndicated market and so borrowed heavily to finance the £190 million purchase with the expectation of huge financial rewards. The purchase initially boosted TVS profits, but a faltering US economy lead to a downturn in US television fortunes.
By 1989, uncertainty over the high price paid by TVS for MTM lead to their share price falling in October 1989. TVS was also failing to secure network slots for its programming and they axed 200 jobs in Northam and Maidstone. As they entered the 1990’s, TVS fortunes were poor and this would have an impact upon their chances of successfully bidding for their franchise when it came up for renewal in 1991.
In 1990 a new broadcasting act was passed through Parliament which deregulated broadcasting in the UK and removed the monopoly on programme production held by franchise holders. Changes to network broadcasting and the introduction of cable and satellite channels meant that ITV needed to be leaner and fitter to compete with its new found rivals.
The Act saw the replacement of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) with the Independent Television Commission (ITC). The Act also changed the rules for the allocation of ITV franchises: In previous franchise battles, incumbents were judged on track record and future plans while new applicants were judged on potential and financial backing.
Incumbents and new applicants still had to undergo this examination but now also had to submit a cash bid, payable annually, via a single sealed bid based on what they valued the contract at. One other change made was that applicants no longer had to own production facilities or produce shows in-house, allowing them to become publisher-broadcasters and opening up the ITV network to independent producers.
The original draft of the Broadcasting Act stated the applicant with the highest cash bid would win; however following fears that this would financially stretch the network and diminish programme standards the concept of a 'quality threshold' was introduced. Incumbents and applicants had to pass this first before cash bids were even considered; even then if a cash bid was deemed to impact on plans the application could be rejected.
TVS passed the quality threshold - indeed, as the incumbent broadcaster it could hardly have failed to do as failure would have called the ITC's own regulatory regime into question. The lucrative nature of the TVS contract area made it one of the most desirable franchises in the UK. Despite preparing vast amounts of audience research, programming proposals and an extremely comprehensive application document for the ITC, the TVS board - now minus its founder James Gatward - calculated that it needed to outbid all opposition in order to retain its licence. This resulted in the "bid high or die" strategy - in which the management calculated the highest possible bid that TVS could possibly afford. The result of these calculations was a massive £59 million per annum payable for the next ten years. It was the highest bid ever made by any UK television broadcaster.
The ITC announced the results of the franchise battle by releasing simultaneous faxes to the contending companies. Two companies had passed the so-called programme "quality threshold" - TVS and Meridian Broadcasting. Of these two TVS's bid was the higher - and therefore should automatically have been awarded the licence for the South and South East of England. However the ITC asserted that there was now a third criterion, a requirement that the ITC could confidently expect the winning company to sustain its annual payments throughout the entire period of the 10 year licence. The ITC used this new criterian to foot-fault TVS and claimed that the company would not be able to sustain the proposed £59 million a year licence payments. The ITC then awarded the licence to Meridian Broadcasting who had bid only £36million per year.
The ITC refused every attempt to get it to explain its decision. Eventually on 7th November 1991 the issue was raised on the floor of the House of Commons:-
But although TVS had said it would consider a judicial review the legal advise that it received was that the prospect of success would be slim and the costs would be enormous. Whilst it carried on broadcasting to the end of its franchise period it began partially liquidating the company. The studio facilities at Southampton were sold to the incoming franchise winners Meridian Broadcasting - even though Meridian had said they intended to operate as a "publisher broadcaster" and would not be making anything like the amount of regional programming made by TVS. The Maidstone Studios were to be retained with the news facility being leased to Meridian as TVS planned to continue trading as an independent producer.
The unions started to negotiate with Meridian to absorb some of the 800 TVS staff facing redundancy as Meridian only planned to employ 370 staff as they intended to produce a far smaller amount of network programming and would use independent producers for the remainder of its programming.
It was ironic indeed that, in the event, the projections of advertising revenue on which TVS had based its massive bid turned out to be correct. However, only three years later, all the high-bidding licensees - including HTV which had virtually bankrupted itself to put forward a massive £25 million bid to win the Wales and West licence - were allowed to reduce their licence payments in some cases by more than half.
TVS ceased broadcasting for ITV at midnight on 31 December 1992. While many the other regions were broadcasting Thames' goodbye show, TVS broadcast its own final show titled Goodbye to All That, a retrospective of TVS's programming and was presented by Fred Dinenage and Fern Britton. The show was recorded earlier that day and aired at 22:45 and concluded at 00:00, with a TVS logo, with the words "Thanks for watching" under the logo. The logo faded to the image of Big Ben chiming in 1993 along with the beginning of Meridian Broadcasting, which replaced TVS. Six hours later, GMTV began their first broadcasting day, having obtained the breakfast franchise from TV-am.
TVS Entertainment was sold on 1 February 1993 to the American Company International Family Entertainment Inc. (IFE). IFE then created the Family Channel based from The Maidstone Studios and used the TVS programme archive. Later the Family Channel became Challenge TV and was broadcast on Sky's analogue service.
TVS was regularly referenced in the 1987 BBC Two comedy series Filthy Rich & Catflap as the most prominent work the character Richie Rich, played by Rik Mayall had achieved was as a continuity announcer for Television South.