Bryan Cowgill looks ahead from 1977 to another year of great entertainment and the challenges of the 1980s
IN AN ANNUAL COMPANY REVIEW like this, the Chairman’s Statement naturally takes the form of an end-of-term report. You will have read such a report from Mr Howard Thomas, with its record of Thames Television’s progress and achievements during 1977. But I am writing more as if at the beginning of a new term: both because my brief is to look at the future and because, as I write, it is less than six months since I joined the company at the invitation of the Board to become Managing Director. My task now, and I make no apology for describing it as a challenge, is to take Thames forward successfully and profitably into the 1980s.
But even before the Eighties arrive, the next couple of years are crucial to our future. We are faced by the need to secure a new contract from the Independent Broadcasting Authority and to justify its award, before and after the event. We are faced by the prospect that the Government may provide ITV with a second channel, and we must be ready to take the opportunities it would offer. But we recognise equally that this long overdue move might be even further postponed. If it is, we shall have to find other ways to ensure that our talents and energies can range more widely, and improve our service to the public even further.
PROGRAMMES ARE THE KEY to realising these aims. Conceiving programmes, creating programmes, transmitting them, selling them, making them better, bolder and sometimes bigger. So my priority as Managing Director, now and in the future, will be to work with my colleagues to ensure the excellence, invention and effectiveness of our complete range of programme production and scheduling. That process has already begun with a new annual Programme Plan developed with Jeremy Isaacs and his Controllers. The operation of this plan will be the basis of all the company’s future activities. As a result of that plan and its varied programme aspirations, we have a busy and rewarding year in prospect.
OUR NEW STRATEGY includes the development of a stronger, more comprehensive local journalism for our region with the creation of a fully-staffed Regional News Unit. This unit will also, I hope, see the introduction of lightweight electronic newsgatherjng techniques (ENG) which are such an important part of our future broadcasting technology. It will be responsible not only for the daily Thames at 6 but also for lunchtime regional news bulletins and other programmes. We shall also be developing our weekly network current affairs programme into new areas.
We intend to enlarge and improve our range of sports programmes and look afresh at what the viewing public want from sport on television. And we plan to introduce a complete new programme for the afternoon, designed by Thames, which will encompass the current variety of programmes seen during that period on ITV.
IN ADDITION to these extensive new developments we shall continue to concentrate on those areas where we have shown such outstanding success. In light entertainment we shall be producing no less than 70 situation comedies in the year, together with the variety and spectacular shows which have given the department such an unparalleled record. And it is our aim to continue to attract the finest talents in this field, as in others. The main newcomers in light entertainment are already household names: Morecambe & Wise, the record-breaking entertainers who have joined Thames to make television programmes and a feature film; and top DJ Kenny Everett, who will have his own pop music and entertainment show starting in the summer.
THE DRAMA DEPARTMENT will be producing Edward and Mrs Simpson, the story of Edward VIIIs abdication starring Edward Fox and scripted by Simon Raven, together with John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey, ten new plays for peaktime and, I hope, a new run of daytime dramas from Teddington. Euston Films will have a new series of The Sweeney and will begin to work on the first dramatic episodes of Danger UXB, featuring the heroic work of army bomb disposal.
We will have two highly popular and informative series in Botanic Man, David Bellamy’s study of ecology shot on location around the world, and Hollywood, a riveting documentary series about the silent era that gave birth to the world film industry.
I HAVE BEEN QUOTED as saying that the primary aim of a television company is to make fine programmes and that ‘the rest is housekeeping’. I do not underestimate the importance of everything that goes to make up ‘housekeeping’. In addition to Jeremy Isaacs I count myself fortunate to have alongside me controlling these activities Ian Scott, Director of Administration and Finance, whose wide-ranging experience is proving invaluable; a Sales Department under Jim Shaw which is the most effective of its kind in the country; an extremely successful international sales operation led by Muir Sutherland which has trebled Thames’ income from overseas sales in three years; and under Bob Godfrey’s direction a Technical and Engineering Department of high accomplishment and many varied and impressive skills.
Our plans for this coming year will require the cooperation and enthusiasm of staff in all areas and the gradual expansion of our facilities together with the maximum utilisation of existing resources. I know that all will be forthcoming.
I regard it as a privilege, as well as a challenge, to lead the 1750 men and women of Thames in maintaining our standards of excellence in the interest of the public we serve.