With the shock demise of Southern Television in the second franchise shakeup that took place in 1980, 1 January 1982 saw TVS Television take over the ITV franchise for the South and South-East of England region. TVS (an abbreviation of TeleVision South) was determined to be different from its Southern predecessor in most respects but TVS used the same Northam studio base as Southern, along with retaining nearly all of the staff which had worked for Southern; in essence TVS was initially just a change of management from the workers' perspective.
Unlike some other ITV franchise changeovers, Southern continued to operate its service right up to the end of transmission on 31 December 1981 and were less than charitable when it came to the issue of studio access; it did not allow TVS to use any of the studio facilities unless they weren't being used at the time, therefore all planning for the launch of TVS had to be performed from inside portacabins based in the Northam studio's car park. Southern's nickname for the TVS operation as a result was 'Portacabin TV' which was slightly unfair given the special circumstances. At least one of the portacabins remained on site right up to 2004 when the unwanted contents of the Northam studios were being sold off; it was listed as one of the items for auction, though the purchaser had to make their own arrangements for its transport.
The difference between Southern and TVS was clearly noticeable on-screen even before TVS broadcast its very first programme; the startup sequence before the start of programmes at 9.30am (breakfast television was still over a year away) didn't just look different from Southern's but also featured a list of programmes that strictly speaking was technically against the rules for inclusion in the formal sequence used to commence each day's transmission. The startup sequence naturally used a new piece of accompanying music, which was formally entitled The New Forest but gained the unofficial nickname of "TVS Gallop".
The inaugural show was entitled Bring In The New and was basically in introduction to TVS and its new and 'improved' service (essentially a corporate video) but also incorporated a news bulletin.
Khalid Aziz was the first face to be seen on the new channel, and he was to present the flagship news programme Coast to Coast. Bring In The New showed him flying above the South of England in TVS' new helicopter to the studios after surveying the region from above.
TVS had precious little opportunity to plan its news operation in advance of launch day due to the aforementioned restricted access to the Northam studios whilst Southern still had the ITV franchise. Therefore much of the reorganisation of the newsroom had to take place during the early hours of the morning on the first day of operations.
Also new was the Vinters Park studio complex in Maidstone, Kent, which was still under construction in January 1982 when TVS launched its service, plus a physically separate Television Theatre building. This investment in new Kent-based studios was part of the conditions that were attached to TVS' successful franchise application, and were intended to improve both the news service (Southern owned a building in Dover but it was small) and the regional programming.
Central to this new improved service for the South East of England was the switching of the Bluebell Hill transmitter from Thames/LWT to TVS, effectively making the UHF coverage area similar to that of the old VHF Dover service so viewers in this area were hopefully better served in terms of regional programming from the new TVS studios.
Despite the new faces and presentation style, a few familiar people were still present, such as long-serving weatherman Trevor Baker (or "Trevor the Weather"), who was on hand to provide the first TVS weather forecast.
With the launch over, TVS had succeeded in proving that it was at least radically different from its predecessor but now needed to show that it could produce programming that was at least as good as what had come before.
The new TVS News bulletins initially had a title sequence that was somewhat reminiscent of that used for Bring In The New (see above). TVS basically retained 'the best bits' of Southern including the retention of familiar faces (such as Fred Dinenage and Trevor Baker) whilst giving ITV in the South an extreme makeover in relation to the channel's general presentation.
As well as familiar on-screen faces, new reporters were recruited for Coast to Coast, the new teatime local news programme replacement for Southern's Day By Day, which was shortly to offer a true dual-region news service as part of its franchise agreement.
Other new programmes soon followed such as A Full Life which featured celebrity interviews, Radio Pheonix, The Real World (essentially a Tomorrow's World clone also featuring ex-TW presenter Michael Rodd), On Safari and No 73, which was a new Saturday morning children's programme - Southern had previously given the world The Saturday Banana in the late 1970s which featured a giant inflatable banana in the studio car park, and was presented by Bill Oddie. No 73 by comparison was a studio (sorry, house)-bound affair with no Bill Oddie (or inflatable banana) in sight, though many of the people who had worked on The Saturday Banana also worked on No 73. Does anyone know where the banana went to - perhaps it floated off somewhere?
Short news bulletins produced by TVS weren't substantially different from what Southern Television had produced even if their presentation was more contemporary, judging from the above example from late 1984, though further technological advances would radically improve news presentation over the next few years.
Another feature of TVS during its early years was in-vision continuity, though much of this was restricted to times like just before closedown before soon being discontinued altogether; TVS being an early adopter of a 24 hour schedule, taking into account the separate TV-am morning programming block which had nothing to do with TVS whatsoever.
TVS also experimented with a few different styles of ident during the first few years (at least up to 1986); pictured above is an ident where the TVS logo rotated along a vertical axis, complete with "ORACLE 888" text designating the fact that optional in-vision subtitles for the following programme were available to viewers with teletext-equipped televisions by selecting page number 888. (ORACLE being the ITV brand name for its teletext service.)
And here's an ident that just features a kaleidoscope-style pattern of TVS logos scrolling vertically up the screen; this particular ident was only used occasionally and had been quietly dropped at least by 1986.
Before local news bulletins, a clock was usually displayed with region-specific branding; in this case, 'South' designated news bulletins originating from Southampton as opposed to the South-East (Maidstone) studios, and this also provided a helpful check that the correct sub-region was being broadcast to the correct transmitters, helping to ensure that viewers in Kent weren't subjected to news about the New Forest.
This was the style of caption used at the start and end of commercial breaks during a film, combining a movie promo shot with the TVS logo and the film's name.
Here's an example of a caption displayed when a fault occurred during a programme or film that TVS was showing; in this case the picture was temporarily unavailable but the sound was OK.
If TVS had shown a feature film as opposed to either something that TVS or another ITV franchise had produced, then technically speaking it was a 'presentation' hence this TVS Presentation caption would be shown at the end of the feature film.
And here's the end caption used by TVS for its own productions with an added corporate "with the south in view" slogan; this example dating from 1984.
Also shown during commercial breaks during the early years of TVS was this style of 'optic' animation (or 'ad spacer'), where a white TVS logo in the centre of the screen would split into separate coloured logos with each logo moving towards the edge of the picture. This animation would appear at the start of the commercial break and between each commercial shown.
TVS' own community programming initiative was entitled PO Box 13, named after the postal address (in Rochester, Kent) used as a contact point for the project. The initiative enabled charities and community groups to raise awareness of their particular cause(s) via the medium of television, hence reaching a much larger audience compared to many other forms of promotion available at the time.
Shown just before closedown on a regular basis was a short programme entitled Company, which was basically a late night discussion featuring a few people sat round a table. Any similarities between this idea and something like Southern Television's Houseparty were of course entirely coincidental.
This was the style of caption used for short weather bulletins in 1986, and certainly looks much more modern in terms of on-screen presentation even compared to the similar caption shown in 1984.
Towards the end of the 1980s and right up to the end of 1992, TVS was probably churning out more networked programmes than either Southern or Meridian to date, which proves how ambitious TVS was compared to its Southern predecessor. Whilst Southern was just content on providing a good quality regional service targeted at a 'conservative' audience along with some networked drama and entertainment, TVS by contrast wanted to be on an equal footing with the largest franchises such as Thames and LWT for peak time light entertainment and thanks to a relationship with the latter it more or less succeeded in its aim. This shiny blue TVS logo replaced the original white/colours logo during the autumn of 1987 and was used until TVS stopped broadcasting.
A trumpet-blowing, 33-seconds-long promotion was commissioned by TVS in the summer of 1989, basically telling everyone who would listen (especially its advertisers) how completely wonderful TVS was as a broadcaster, including such corporate essentials as gloriously happy production staff interspersed with clips of an improbably content upper middle class family watching television both indoors and outdoors (bet they're not watching BBC1), and ending with the slogan "Making it happen in the South". It naturally featured a helicopter.
Major TVS productions which are probably best remembered from this period include the shows featuring comedian Bobby Davro, frequently featuring elaborate song and dance routines shot in outside locations that were often not far from the Northam studio complex, shown alongside comedy sketches (studio-based or otherwise) with a studio audience.
However, the show that went on to have the longest life was the quiz show Catchphrase, which continued to be produced independently after the demise of TVS and a revamped Catchphrase series has been commissioned by ITV in 2013. Originally presented by Roy Walker, the format requires contestants to guess the catchphrase or expression from an animated picture represents as it is slowly revealed in order to win money and other prizes.
TVS had much greater ambitions than just being a major ITV franchise player, and it was that ambition which ultimately contributed to be its undoing; it bought the MTM production company in the US which soon ran into financial difficulties, and that alone was a significant factor in persuading the government of the day to look elsewhere.
It was painfully evident as the MTM share price dropped that TVS had made a catastrophic tactical error, and this error would surely be punished at the next ITV franchise round as a consequence; an assumption which turned out to be correct when it was announced in 1991 that TVS had lost its ITV franchise to Meridian Broadcasting, which would take over the Channel 3 South and South-East of England franchise from 1 January 1993. This map was used by the TVS programme TV Weekly to explain the franchise changes.
The final programme shown on TVS on 31 December 1992 was entitled Goodbye To All That, which was a suitably tearful retrospective of what TVS had achieved since 1982.
After Goodbye To All That had finished, this caption was briefly displayed and the TVS era had drawn to a close. To summarise, TVS was the dynamic opposite to its distinctly conservative Southern predecessor and matched the corporate mood of the 1980s; Southern failed to evolve quickly so paid the price in not doing so, but TVS ended up being far too overambitious for its own good and came unstuck as a result.
But what has happened to TVS and its extensive programme library after 1992? As was the case with with Southern Television, TVS tried to go it alone for a while, selling the rights to some of its assets but was ultimately bought by The Family Channel which was later taken over by Disney, therefore Disney now owns much if not all of the TVS programming archive. Keith Jacobsen owns the TVS and associated logo trademarks and until recently used them for his own TV production company.
However, with many TVS productions being so popular at the time, why are so few TVS productions seen on-screen nowadays? Whilst a TVS office was being cleared out, a lot of paperwork relating to rights ownership for TVS productions (actors, crew, copyright details, etc.) was binned perhaps by accident, meaning that those details no longer exist for most if not all of the TVS programme library, therefore the videotape(s) may still exist for a particular programme but any absence of accompanying paperwork creates major legal complications if that programme is to be broadcast again.
This isn't an insurmountable obstacle but inevitably means that if someone wants to broadcast a TVS-produced series for which the paperwork no longer exists, they would have to spend additional time and effort in terms of finding everyone who was involved in the production of the show; something that Disney (who owns most of the TVS archive) wouldn't want to do unless there were significant financial benefits in doing so.
Certain clips taken from TVS productions can be reused if they had been subsequently shown as part of a series like Southern Gold for which the paperwork still exists and residing with another broadcaster such as Meridian (ITV plc). Also certain TVS series were actually independent productions - The Ruth Rendell Mysteries and TV Weekly being two examples - therefore the producers would own at least some of the rights and have copies of the associated legal paperwork. The master tapes for 'minor' TVS programming that was networked like the aforementioned TV Weekly plus Highway, etc., are held by ITV plc, but The Family Channel (Disney) holds a fair quantity of the rest of TVS's networked output. (Being a Topical Television Production, TV Weekly continued for another series in 1993 when Meridian took over the franchise.)