Gary Rodger takes us on a journey to Thames in 1984 as the management put out an emergency service when the staff go on strike

Reading Time: 28 minutes

“The Managing Director, Bryan Cowgill, accepted a plan put to him by the Director of Production, Richard Dunn. It was a plan that proposed the unthinkable; the management would operate the station.”

In late 1984, Thames Television’s output was affected by two industrial disputes. The first occasion lasted one week and led to blue screens throughout London and the South East; the second occurrence saw Thames management respond with their own makeshift service.

Monday 27 August 1984

On Bank Holiday Monday (for most of the UK), an ongoing and lengthy dispute concerning new working arrangements spilled out into industrial action. As outlined in Independent Television in Britain, Volume 5: ITV and IBA 1981-82 – The Old Relationship Changes:

The heart of any television station is its Central Transmission Facility (CTF), which presents and transmits the programmes and, in commercial television, the revenue-earning advertisements. For historical reasons, up until this time Thames CTF staff had been self-rostering. The unions wanted thirty-two staff, all to be paid at six times the normal hourly rate (the industry term for this was ‘golden hours’) to run a night-time service, an expansion of operation favoured by the IBA.

The management developed a roster by which the night service could be run by six people on time-and-a-half rates. [Richard] Dunn (Director of Production) received support from [Bryan] Cowgill (Managing Director) and the Board when he sought to impose the new roster. 1Independent Television in Britain, Volume 5: ITV and IBA 1981-82 – The Old Relationship Changes, p. 157

Meetings between Thames management and the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) – from December through to July – culminated in management pressing ahead with its plans to implement the new rosters for seventy staff in the CTF.

Talks at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) followed in August; then, on the 22nd, ACTT members voted to support the men in the CTF unit and against further ACAS discussions.2The Stage/Television Today, 30 August 1984

Monday 27 saw the implementation of the new arrangements, with the likelihood of a dispute highlighted in the morning newspapers. “ITV companies were yesterday making emergency arrangements to avoid a television blackout today”3Glasgow Herald, 27 August 1984, noted the Glasgow Herald whilst the Newcastle Journal explained the numbers involved:

The 70 men involved in the dispute earn between £26,000 and £29,000 a year for a basic six-day fortnight of 74 hours.

The new rosters would mean a nine-day fortnight and would cut between £2000 and £7000 from overtime payments to the technicians.

Thames says the change is aimed at saving £200,000 a year in overtime payments which it has to pay because of local agreements, even though the technicians do not actually work much of the overtime.

The technicians have been told to start working the new rosters from 8am today, but they are likely to ignore the instruction and continue working the old system.

If they do, they will be suspended and their department, central technical facilities, will stop putting out programmes.4Newcastle Journal, 27 August 1984

Monday morning came and as predicted, one technician was suspended for failing to observe the new rotas; his colleagues then walked out in protest. 6 The technicians subsequently received the backing of their colleagues, though the union meeting was attended by fewer than 200 of the 550 ACTT members at Thames’ Euston studios.5Glasgow Herald, 28 August 1984

MD Bryan Cowgill remained bullish: “We do not require thirty men on duty in our central transmission area on overtime late at night when the operation requirements of the company can be met most of the time by ten men working normal rostered time.”6Newcastle Journal, 28 August 1984

At 9.25am, following the conclusion of TV-am’s output, viewers served by Thames saw this caption which remained in place throughout the day.

 

 

For the rest of the network, the dispute had a sizeable effect with as much as nine-and-a-half hours of output affected.7Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 August 1984 Some regions were immediately hit by the absence of Sesame Street at 9.25am,8The Times, 28 August 1984 before the whole network lost its scheduled afternoon and most of its evening output:

  • 12.30pm Bank Holiday Sport featuring golf and racing from Epsom and Newcastle (all regions) until 5.05pm
  • 8pm The Benny Hill Show (all regions)
  • 9.15pm Film: The Long Good Friday (all regions)
  • 11.20pm Elton John in Central Park (except HTV Wales & West)

Tyne Tees viewers did receive the planned horse racing coverage from Newcastle, but otherwise makeshift schedules with recorded sport and other material were the order of the day. Following the racing, Tyne Tees aired American drama CHiPs at 4pm; The Benny Hill Show was replaced with Quincy before John Wayne’s western The Train Robbers at 9.15pm. Elton John’s performance was substituted with Tom Jones in concert at Knott’s Berry Farm, California from 11pm; a That’s Hollywood profile of Gregory Peck closed proceedings.

STV’s makeshift afternoon service began with a repeated edition of the documentary series Weir’s Way followed by local golf highlights, the 1955 film Doctor at Sea, cartoon fun with Snuffy Smith and Barney Google, CHiPs and the animated adventures of the Harlem Globetrotters. The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra in concert and James Coburn spy caper Our Man Flint replaced the bulk of the evening’s scheduled output.

From 8pm, Yorkshire viewers received a locally-produced comedy double bill of In Loving Memory and Duty Free before the 1968 Michael Caine drama Deadfall stood in as the evening film and Tina Turner – in a Canadian concert performance from 1982 – substituted for Elton John.

Elton John in Central Park title card

Meanwhile, Grampian replaced Benny Hill with an instalment of Lee Majors’ adventure series The Fall Guy. Following a brief musical interlude from Rod Argent, the evening’s big movie premiere was replaced with Peter Nichols’ 1973 satirical feature The National Health starring Lynn Redgrave and Jim Dale; eagle-eyed viewers would have noted the presence of Bob Hoskins – star of the evening’s scheduled film – in the cast. Wishbone Ash Live in Concert at The Marquee Club, produced by Trilion Pictures the prior year, completed the evening.

On Tuesday, the dispute continued to affect sports coverage from Epsom, this time as part of Channel 4 Racing;9Aberdeen Evening Express, 28 August 1984 though ITV disruption was minimal, with only a repeated edition of Rainbow at 12.10pm absent from network schedules. HTV’s delayed screening of the Elton John concert at 11.30pm was likewise blacked.

Meanwhile, London’s screens – TV-am aside – were once again devoid of ITV output. Thames management offered to go to arbitration to resolve the dispute; meanwhile, at midday,10Reading Post, 28 August 1984 ACTT members in Euston Road voted 158 to 147 to return to work. However, the union’s shop stewards decided that the margin of victory was too narrow; instead, a strike committee was assembled – half the membership formed of representatives from the seventy members within the CTF – with a further meeting scheduled for Thursday.11The Times, 29 August 1984

Further disruption occurred on Wednesday with Rod, Jane & Freddy (12noon & 4pm) and a repeated edition of The Sooty Show (4.20pm) displaced; Tyne Tees viewers received World Famous Fairy Tales and Flintstone Frolics respectively, whilst STV ran Alfie Atkins before Sooty was inexplicably replaced with teenage comedy import Joanie Loves Chachi. Later, in place of the documentary Crime Inc (9pm), Tyne Tees screened The Streets of San Francisco whilst STV & Grampian also swapped fact for fiction with The Sweeney.

Thursday’s ACTT meeting saw staff vote overwhelmingly to continue their action until at least Monday, whilst management considered proposals put forward by the strike committee;12Aberdeen Evening Express, 30 August 1984 subsequently, ACAS talks continued into the early hours of Friday.13Aberdeen Evening Express, 30 August 1984 That evening’s scheduled TV movie – the WWII drama The Scarlet and The Black – at 7pm was a further casualty of the dispute. Grampian aired the feature-length musical South Pacific whilst STV viewers saw Steve McQueen in the western Nevada Smith.

Channel 4 logo

Britain’s fourth channel was also experiencing disruption. On Monday, the signal for London viewers – normally sent via Thames before reaching viewers’ homes – was rerouted directly to transmitters; this meant that Channel 4 transmissions in the capital were airing without commercials.14Glasgow Herald, 31 August 1984 The situation was now escalating:

“Channel 4 was going out…in [the] Central, Border, Grampian, Ulster and Scottish areas…without any advertising.

“The commercials blackout – which will lose the companies advertising revenue – follows a response from technicians to black Channel 4 after attempts to get the network off screens in the Thames area failed.

“Although the Independent Broadcasting Authority can route the Channel 4 signal direct to transmitters without passing through the companies, only the individual companies can insert the advertisements appropriate to their areas. Because the technicians’ union, the ACTT, could not get Channel 4 stopped in the Thames area, it asked other companies to blackout the commercial breaks.”Aberdeen Evening Express, 31 Aug 1984

Friday’s programme changes were limited to daytime output with a repeat of Chorlton & The Wheelies (12noon) and a new Rainbow (12.10pm & 4pm) displaced; at 4pm, Tyne Tees deployed European Folktales whilst STV screened a film on Canadian wildlife. As usual, LWT – unaffected by the dispute – took to the air at 5.15pm.

Following twenty hours of talks over the weekend, programmes on Thames resumed at 1pm on Monday 3 September after ACTT technicians voted 370 to 35 to accept a deal between management and the union. The settlement allowed the company flexibility over rostering whilst agreeing to a reduction in working hours.15Evening Standard, 3 September 1984 Further talks relating to the future integration of video, telecine and the master control areas of the CTF would follow.16The Stage/Television Today, 6 September 1984


With thanks to Ferguson Videostar


With thanks to Ferguson Videostar

Wednesday 17 October 1984

“Threat to ITV Tonight” was the Evening Standard headline, following a dispute involving sixty-two film editors and their proposed use of lightweight videotape cameras. Thames management had offered the staff a 20% pay increase in two stages, an initial 13% followed by a further 7% upon implementation of the new technology; union members were asking for 30% (26% then 4%).17Independent Radio News, 22 October 1984 ACTT shop steward Peter Bould emphasised that the editors, “were naturally seeking some parity in earnings” with other technicians 18The Stage/Television Today, 18 October 1984 and noted that the stumbling block in reaching a settlement was agreement on a date for the payment of increases for handling the new equipment.19Evening Standard, 18 October 1984

The union wants the high settlement in return for operating new technology, but Thames management pointed out that the men already earn £13,000 – £20,000 [£43,000 – £66,500 in 2019, allowing for inflation] and have just received a 10 per cent bonus under the company’s profit-sharing scheme.

The pay dispute has run for 18 months and programmes were disrupted at the beginning of the month because of an unofficial work to rule.

Programmes affected were Thames News, the current affairs series TV Eye and a major show business special featuring Jim Davidson entertaining troops in the Falklands.

A Thames spokesman said this afternoon: “We have heard nothing official from the union yet but we are not hopeful about tonight’s programmes. We will not know until 6pm what is happening. We do not plan to change our minds.”

“It is most upsetting because we feel that 20 per cent is a more than reasonable offer.”

Tonight’s blackout threat came after the 550 members of the ACTT shop at Thames Television decided at a mass meeting to support the 62 film editors.Evening Standard, 17th Oct 1984

ACTT members at Euston Road began industrial action – having given management five hours’ notice20Aberdeen Evening Express, 18 October 1984 – at 7.26pm.21The Stage/Television Today, 1 November 1984

London’s ITV screens were then filled by the already familiar apology caption whilst other regions continued with Coronation Street before deploying their own alternative output in lieu of the scheduled evening programmes, all due to emanate from Thames:

  • 8pm New Series: This Is Your Life
  • 8.30pm New Series: Mike Yarwood In Persons
  • 9pm Minder (New Episode: ‘The Long Ride Back To Scratchwood’)
  • 10.30pm Midweek Sport Special featuring England vs Finland from Wembley (except STV & Grampian)

Viewers of Grampian saw an episode of the ITC action series The Adventurer at 8pm followed by Happy Days – its first of several outings over the coming few days – with The Streets of San Francisco replacing Arthur Daley.

ITV Schools countdown clock

The dispute continued the following day. Unlike the initial strike during August, this blackout also affected ITV Schools broadcasts; on these occasions, no substitute programming was provided with only a simple apology caption and music airing in place of the scheduled Thames output. The first such broadcasts to be affected were Middle English, Seeing and Doing and Craft, Design and Technology. Later on Thursday, Sarah Kennedy’s discussion show Daytime at 2.30pm, American drama Hotel (networked to some areas at 8.30pm) and TV Eye (9.30pm) were all absent from the various ITV regions – the latter interruption prompting a further appearance by Fonzie on Grampian’s screens.

On Friday, only Middle English and the traditional double screening of Rainbow at 12.10pm and 4pm were absent from the network; as usual, LWT resumed its broadcasts at 5.15pm.

At this stage, Thames staff at Teddington continued to work as normal;22Evening Standard, 23 October 1984 meanwhile, the Daily Mail noted a plan by Thames management to get the station back on the air:

Senior executives said that if the strike was not settled by Monday, management engineers would screen programmes.

Such a move, bypassing the company’s 550 [Euston] technicians, could lead to a complete ITV shutdown by the technicians’ union ACTT. But there is no doubting the seriousness of the Thames plan, which was given a dummy run yesterday.

The programmes would be old ones – Minder repeats, for example, rather than current Minder episodes. But they would keep advertisers happy and probably many viewers as well in the 11 million homes in the Thames TV area.

A senior Thames source said: “The repercussions of this would be enormous because [the] ACTT might pull everyone out.”

“But we are very, very angry – not with the pay claim, but with the way the strike was called on Wednesday. In blatant defiance of the disputes procedure, the Euston shop gave only five hours’ notice of industrial action.”23Daily Mail, 19 August 1984

Planning for the makeshift service was already at an advanced stage:

Fred Atkinson, a wise and able engineer, who was in charge of operations at both the transmission centre at Euston Road and the outside broadcast centre at Hanworth and was Dunn’s right-hand man, worked out a roster of managers to run the station. These included a backbone of managers of the key transmission, videotape and telecine (film transmissions) areas. But the remainder of the forty-five or so people necessary to keep the station on the air were hastily trained finance, personnel and other members of the non-broadcast aspects of management. Dunn proposed the plan to Cowgill, who backed it. Fred Atkinson on the operations side and Barrie Sales on the programme schedule side were to implement it.Independent Television in Britain: Volume 5, p159

Following nineteen hours of discussions over the weekend, talks broke down in the early hours of Monday morning, 22nd October; the management service was then primed for launch that evening.

Thames TV is going back on the air tonight – with programmes put out by management in defiance of striking technicians.

Thames managing director Mr Bryan Cowgill said the strike was costing the company £3 ½ million a week in lost advertising revenue.

He promised to continue the emergency service “for as long as it takes”.

The technicians’ union, ACTT, attacked the decision to mount what it called a “pirate” service and warned that serious disruption could hit programmes throughout the ITV national network.

The union’s general secretary, Mr Alan Sapper, added, “The union states its total opposition to such a venture and commits its full resources to frustrating it.

“This move by management is totally unprecedented in the history of independent television’s industrial relations and seriously hinders any resolvement to the present dispute involving film editors.”

Mr Cowgill said the union had put a “double-barrel shotgun to our head and pulled the trigger.”

He went on, “I am not, and neither is my board, haunted by the prospect of a blank screen.

“It offends me and it spits on the public. I’m not prepared to sit around any longer.”

Mr Cowgill said there were still 1500 people working normally and Thames would continue to meet the £950,000 wages bill for as long as possible before considering further action.Evening Standard, 22nd Oct 1984

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Contrary to earlier press reports, Cowgill confirmed that the service would not only broadcast repeats but would contain some new material.

To avoid an escalation of the dispute, the service did not run programming from other ITV regions or from ITN; as before, Thames programmes remained off the air in other areas. Alan Sapper, General Secretary of the ACTT, explained the logistics to LBC:

At 6pm, the service – which had required the approval of the IBA24Independent Television in Britain, Volume 5: ITV and IBA 1981-82 – The Old Relationship Changes, p. 160 – went live.

Thames’ Monday evening schedule, as originally published, was:

  • 6pm Thames News
  • 6.25pm Help!
  • 6.35pm Crossroads
  • 7pm The Krypton Factor
  • 7.30pm Coronation Street
  • 8pm Tripper’s Day
  • 8.30pm World In Action
  • 9pm Quincy
  • 10pm News At Ten f/b Thames News Headlines
  • 10.30pm Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense
  • 11.55pm The Bounder

…whilst the new makeshift schedule was thus:

  • 6pm Carry on Laughing
  • 6.25pm Help!
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Knight Rider
  • 8pm Tripper’s Day*
  • 8.30pm Fresh Fields
  • 9pm Minder
  • 10pm Quincy
  • 11pm Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense
  • 12.10am Night Thoughts

(Note: * indicates peak-time programmes scheduled in Thames’ originally published line-up)


With thanks to Ferguson Videostar

Initially, the replacement service contained no national or local news bulletins.

Outside London, The English Programme, Seeing and Doing and The French Programme were absent from ITV Schools. Then, Christopher Lillicrap’s Flicks – at 12noon & 4pm – Educating Marmalade at 4.40pm and Danger Mouse at 5pm were all displaced from Children’s ITV. Tyne Tees aired cartoons and Laurel & Hardy’s three-reel Chickens Come Home before deploying a clever replacement for the evening’s single affected programme; in place of Tripper’s Day at 8pm, Leonard Rossiter instead featured in the 1978 short film The Waterloo Bridge Handicap. Over on Channel 4, Thames’ daytime show A Plus 4 failed to appear in its regular 4pm slot; the programme remained off the air throughout the dispute.

The following day, Thames – having carried out a telephone survey of viewers – claimed that the emergency service had proven extremely popular;25The Guardian, 24 October 1984 subsequent BARB figures confirmed this with Minder – postponed from the prior Wednesday – having attracted 3.1m viewers in London.26The Guardian, 24 October 1984

Minder promo still

With its entertainment-centric schedule free of the usual allowance of news and documentaries, the company claimed that advertising was 100% of what was normally expected.27The Guardian, 24 October 1984 Over the course of the dispute, Thames registered a 46% audience share, only 2% down from the prior year.28Independent Television in Britain, Volume 5: ITV and IBA 1981-82 – The Old Relationship Changes, p. 160

On Tuesday, ACTT staff at Teddington responded to the management’s actions by joining the strike;29Glasgow Evening Times, 23 October 1984 this decision immediately affected programme production and threatened to disrupt the recording of a planned Eric Morecambe tribute at the London Palladium on Friday 9 Nov.30Glasgow Evening Times, 23 October 1984 However, despite earlier suggestions, no national blackout of ITV – aside from the absence of Thames material – was to occur.31Newcastle Journal, 23 October 1984

The makeshift service for Tuesday began at 1.40pm – this would remain the opening time throughout the rest of the service – with a Danny Kaye film displaced from the previous day’s originally planned schedule.

Tuesday 23 October 1984

  • 1.40pm Film: Up in Arms
  • 3.30pm The Young Doctors
  • 4pm The Wind in The Willows
  • 5.30pm Botanic Man
  • 6pm Diff’rent Strokes
  • 6.25pm Help!
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Carry on Laughing
  • 7.30pm Give Us a Clue*
  • 8pm Des O’Connor Tonight*
  • 9pm The Bill*
  • 10pm Shelley
  • 10.30pm Schindler (documentary, 1983)
  • 11.50pm Night Thoughts

David Bellamy’s 1978 nature series and the American comedy Diff’rent Strokes would become permanent fixtures at 5.30pm and 6pm respectively; likewise, the Robert Gillespie sitcom Keep It In The Family at 6.30pm.

Along with networked programmes, also missing from Thames’ regular Tuesday schedule was current affairs staple Reporting London at 6.55pm. Fortuitously for the makeshift service, however, Euston Road was already due to provide almost the entire evening’s output across the network, allowing Thames to largely stay with their published peak-time schedule; following Give Us a Clue, guests Ted Rogers and Jill Gascoine appeared on Des O’Connor Tonight before the second episode of new police drama The Bill.

Reporting London title card

No schools programmes were affected on Tuesday. Later, Rainbow (12.10pm), Daytime (2.30pm) and CBTV (4.45pm) were all absent; for the latter, Granada substituted an edition of its 1982 space technology series The Final Frontier whilst Grampian aired the animated Flintstone Frolics.

That evening, the regions were further deprived of two-and-a-half hours of scheduled output. On TVS, Olivia Newton-John’s feature-length music video Twist of Fate replaced Give Us a Clue before the Sidney Poitier drama To Sir, With Love. Central viewers saw American sitcom Benson and 1966 western Alvarez Kelly.

Granada filled the entire evening’s gap with one film, WWII thriller The Eagle Has Landed, as did Tyne Tees with Nevada Smith. Network output returned to normal with News at Ten followed by an ITN/Central documentary on Afghanistan with Sandy Gall.

Wednesday 24 October 1984

  • 1.40pm A Country Practice
  • 2.30pm Mary Berry
  • 3pm The Adventurer
  • 3.30pm Sons and Daughters
  • 4pm We’ll Tell You a Story
  • 4.15pm Cockleshell Bay
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm Danger Mouse
  • 5pm CBTV
  • 5.30pm Botanic Man
  • 6pm Diff’rent Strokes
  • 6.25pm Help!
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Name That Tune*
  • 7.30pm Morecambe & Wise
  • 8pm Benny Hill
  • 9pm The Sweeney
  • 10pm Shelley
  • 10.30pm Hill Street Blues
  • 11.20pm Night Thoughts

Members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) joined the strike on Wednesday,32Evening Standard, 25 October 1984 the same day that Thames began to stage makeshift news updates throughout its schedule, with bulletins at 1.40pm, 3.30pm, 6pm, 8pm and 10pm. The short updates were written and read by Director of Public Relations, Donald Cullimore, a former ITN political correspondent.33Daily Mail, 26 October 1984 When Cullimore departed for New York on Thames business,34The Stage/Television Today, 1 November 1984 his place was taken by Ronald Allison, Thames Head of Sport and ex-BBC reporter.35Independent Television in Britain, Volume 5: ITV and IBA 1981-82 – The Old Relationship Changes, p. 160

The Peterborough column in the Daily Telegraph… found a pleasurable nostalgia in the fact that, since the autocue operators were on strike, the two men had reverted to the ‘head down with an occasional glance up to the camera’ newsreading technique of the fifties. The London Evening Standard was less supportive, believing, not entirely without justification, that a number of stories each night were culled from that paper’s early editions.Independent Television in Britain: Volume 5, p160

Elsewhere, the ITV Schools schedule was once again affected, with Craft, Design and Technology and The English Programme missing. Later, Rod Jane & Freddy (12noon & 4pm) was similarly absent.

Once again, the evening’s planned network output was severely impacted. STV replaced Name That Tune at 7pm with a further outing for the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, whilst TVS & Central turned to regular standby Happy Days; Granada viewers enjoyed the lively chaos of The Grumbleweeds Radio Show.

Following Coronation Street, films replaced the 8pm to 10pm Thames triple-bill – This Is Your Life, Mike Yarwood and Minder – in several regions: STV screened the Neil Simon comedy Barefoot In The Park whilst TVS aired Western prequel Butch & Sundance – The Early Days. Our Man Flint appeared on Granada whilst war drama Hanover Street was shown on Central.


With thanks to 2ombieboy’s VHS Vault

A proposal to resolve the dispute was sent by the ACTT to the Independent Television Companies Association;36Evening Standard, 25 October 1984 meanwhile, the makeshift service continued apace. Thames’ Thursday schedule included some previously displaced programmes and a new series.

Thursday 25 October 1984

  • 1.40pm Falcon Crest
  • 2.30pm Mary Berry
  • 3pm The Adventurer
  • 3.30pm Sons and Daughters
  • 4pm We’ll Tell You a Story
  • 4.15pm Cockleshell Bay
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm Danger Mouse
  • 5pm Challenge
  • 5.30pm Botanic Man
  • 6pm Diff’rent Strokes
  • 6.25pm Help!
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Knight Rider
  • 8pm New Series: Up The Elephant and Round The Castle*
  • 8.30pm Hotel
  • 9.30pm TV Eye
  • 10pm Hill Street Blues
  • 11.40pm Night Thoughts

Hotel – the episode ‘Intimate Strangers’ with guest Elizabeth Taylor – had originally been scheduled for the prior Thursday; likewise, TV Eye, the weekly current affairs programme whose report on the Ethiopian famine, entitled ‘Bitter Harvest’, was intended for broadcast throughout ITV. By this point in the dispute, all programme production at both Euston and Teddington – Euston Films was not affected by the dispute37The Stage/Television Today, 1 November 1984 – had halted entirely.38The Stage/Television Today, 1 November 1984 However, outside intervention and a unique networking arrangement ensured its transmission across the UK, as reported in The Guardian.

Striking Thames TV technicians will today go into the company’s Euston studios in London for the first time for a week after volunteering to work on a TV Eye programme on the Ethiopian famine, to be shown tonight.

The gesture by the technicians’ union the ACTT, was in response to an appeal from Oxfam and the Save The Children fund, “to show humanitarian support by allowing this powerful film to be shown on national television as a special case.” Both charities expect the programme to stimulate donations and other help.

TV Eye title card

A complicated formula had to be worked out to enable production and transmission work on TV Eye to be completed without either side losing face. The film department of the Euston studios, where 550 technicians are on strike, will complete production work free of charge, so that technically they will not have returned to work.

The results will be taken to the Teddington studios in West London, where over 300 technicians are out, for final processing and for production of two copies. One copy will be given to Thames management to transmit in their management-run emergency service from the Euston studio tonight.

The other will be given to ACTT members to transmit to the network of TV stations outside London from Teddington. This means that Thames management are not seen to restore even part of a service outside London, and the management do not have to allow ACTT members to transmit in the Euston studios while they are on unofficial strike.39The Guardian, 25 October 1984

Earlier, ITV Schools broadcasts of Middle English, Seeing and Doing and Craft, Design and Technology had all failed to appear. Later, a varied selection of repeats aired in place of Daytime at 2.30pm including Paint Along with Nancy (TVS), Laverne & Shirley (Central) and The Beverly Hillbillies (HTV). Elsewhere, TSW screened the 1982 film Yvonne Hudson – Sculptor whilst Granada viewers saw an edition of the RTE documentary series Hands (entitled ‘A Dublin Candlemaker’). Yorkshire broadcast an instalment of its locally-produced series Clegg’s People.

At 4.45pm Spooky – the Thames children’s drama – was substituted by TVS & Yorkshire for the ongoing adventures of The Smurfs. Central opted for an edition of Groovy Ghoulies whilst TSW aired the American fantasy comedy Just Our Luck. HTV broadcast a tale from the International Storybook and Granada dusted off The Adventures of Black Beauty; Grampian screened a further episode of Happy Days.

Replacing Up The Elephant and Round The Castle (at 8pm in some regions, 8.30pm in others), TSW aired Tim Conway vehicle Ace Crawford, Private Eye whilst Yorkshire paid a further visit to Marbella in Duty Free; Grampian screened another episode of The Adventurer.


With thanks to The TV Museum

Members of the National Association of Theatrical, Television and Kine Employees (NATTKE) voted not to cross picket lines;40The Stage/Television Today, 1 November 1984 meanwhile, Thames management and union representatives met separately at ACAS for exploratory discussions; by now, over 1000 technicians had joined the dispute.41Daily Mail, 26 October 1984

Friday’s line-up on Thames, running until 5.15pm, opened with a Gary Cooper film previously scheduled for 19 October.

Friday 26 October 1984

  • 1.40pm Film: The Wedding Night
  • 3pm Mary Berry
  • 3.30pm Sons and Daughters
  • 4pm We’ll Tell You a Story
  • 4.15pm Cockleshell Bay
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm Five Magic Minutes
  • 4.50pm Freetime

Following the non-appearance of Middle English during schools programming, two further Thames shows were absent from network schedules: Rainbow at 12noon & 4pm was replaced with more Smurf-based antics on TSW & Channel whilst STV also featured animation with Bamse, the world’s strongest bear. Granada screened an edition of its own pre-school programme A Handful of Songs whilst cartoons aired on TVS & Anglia.

Finally, at 4.50pm, a new series based on the Davenport Collection of magic-related ephemera, Illusions, was postponed. Anglia repeated an edition of its own series Animals in Action; similarly, Granada looked to its archive for Graham’s Ark on the subject of ‘big dogs’. STV screened a Canadian film from 1978, The Game Reserves of South Africa (along with a bonus Abbott & Costello cartoon) whilst Grampian, eschewing the trend for natural world documentaries, paid yet another visit to the Cunninghams in Happy Days. Following an uninterrupted weekend’s viewing courtesy of LWT, Thames resumed its temporary service on Monday.


With thanks to Ferguson Videostar

Monday 29 October 1984

  • 1.40pm Film: Wuthering Heights
  • 3.30pm The Young Doctors
  • 4pm We’ll Tell You a Story
  • 4.15pm Button Moon
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm Danger Mouse
  • 5pm The Coral Island
  • 5.30pm Botanic Man
  • 6pm Diff’rent Strokes
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Knight Rider
  • 8pm Tripper’s Day*
  • 8.30pm Fresh Fields
  • 9pm The Sweeney
  • 10pm Quincy
  • 11pm Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense
  • 12.15am Night Thoughts

The Coral Island, an adventure series originally screened in 1983, aired daily at 5pm (4.45pm on Friday). The episode of Quincy was entitled ‘The Golden Hour’ with ‘Paint Me a Murder’ as the featured Hammer drama.

As per the previous Monday, the affected ITV Schools broadcasts were The English Programme, Seeing and Doing and The French Programme; however, with Central’s new drama Murphy’s Mob beginning its run at 4.45pm, only one Children’s ITV show – Flicks at 12noon & 4pm – was disrupted. In its place, Anglia, Central, Grampian & TVS all ran cartoons; Yorkshire, Granada & HTV screened their own productions, Gammon and Spinach, A Handful of Songs and Flower Stories respectively. The Adventures of the Blue Knight aired on STV whilst TSW & Channel showed European Folktales at 12noon and The Smurfs at 4pm.

Later, a variety of domestic and imported sitcoms replaced the final episode of Tripper’s Day at 8pm. Grampian, TSW & Channel went stateside for an episode of the Lynn Redgrave comedy Teachers Only, likewise Central (Nine to Five) and STV (Benson). Closer to home, Anglia & HTV offered repeats of YTV’s Bill Maynard vehicle The Gaffer; Yorkshire themselves screened another of its own productions, In Loving Memory.

Granada opted for stand-up comedy with The Comedians whilst Tyne Tees deviated from the pack with a musical offering, Jack Jones in concert at HTV’s Culverhouse Cross studio.

Once again, Tuesday’s line-up on Thames benefited from their originally scheduled peak-time line-up.

Tuesday 30 October 1984

  • 1.40pm Film: The Odd Couple
  • 3.30pm The Young Doctors
  • 4pm Rainbow
  • 4.15pm Chorlton and the Wheelies
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm Danger Mouse
  • 5pm The Coral Island
  • 5.30pm Botanic Man
  • 6pm Diff’rent Strokes
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Carry On Laughing
  • 7.30pm Give Us a Clue*
  • 8pm Des O’Connor Tonight
  • 9pm The Bill*
  • 10pm Shelley
  • 10.30pm Class of ‘62
  • 11.25pm Night Thoughts

Although airing in its assigned slot, Des O’Connor Tonight was a repeated edition; however, The Bill continued its new series with the episode ‘Clutching at Straws’. Shelley – ‘Brave New World’ – was followed by Marilyn Gaunt’s 1983 reunion documentary.

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Outside of London, ITV Schools programmes aired as scheduled; otherwise, there was severe disruption throughout the day. A variety of children’s shows replaced Rainbow at 12.10pm including Bamse the Bear (STV), Sally & Jake (Ulster), Unicorn Tales (Tyne Tees), Get Up and Go (Yorkshire), Flower Stories (HTV), European Folktales (TSW & Channel) and Wincey’s Pets (Granada).

At 2.30pm, Anglia’s replacement for Daytime was the ever-present clip show That’s Hollywood; Tyne Tees repeated an edition of its recent documentary series fronted by Jack Charlton, Big Jack’s British. Central deployed an instalment of its own business technology series Venture; STV viewers enjoyed another outing for Tom Weir whilst Granada, TSW, Channel & Ulster all visited the art studio of Nancy Kominsky. Grampian aired an episode of the American sitcom Silver Spoons.

CBTV title card

CBTV at 4.45pm was switched for the usual eclectic mix of children’s standby material such as Unicorn Tales (Anglia), Sport Billy (Ulster), The Smurfs (Yorkshire & TVS), International Storybook (HTV), The Final Frontier (Granada), Silver Spoons (STV) and Short Story Theatre (Tyne Tees). Elsewhere, with Hallowe’en fast approaching, seasonal scares were to be found courtesy of Fangface (Grampian) and the Groovy Ghoulies (Central) whilst TSW & Channel selected the 1979 animated short Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy in the Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile, a title surely worthy of an appearance in Give Us a Clue.

For the second week running, Tuesday’s planned peak-time line-up from 7.30pm to 10pm was absent, prompting most regions to consult their film libraries; this time, Nevada Smith popped up on TSW & Channel whilst Anglia & HTV screened the adventures of Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King. An episode of Benson on Central preceded the crime drama Diamonds with Robert Shaw; Carry On Up The Jungle on Granada was followed by Magnum – a story entitled ‘Smaller Than Life’ – at 9pm and Tyne Tees aired the 1968 war drama The Green Berets with John Wayne.

Yorkshire selected the biopic MacArthur, The Rebel General starring Gregory Peck whilst Grampian opted for sci-fi TV movie A Fire In The Sky. STV viewers enjoyed a variety of silent-era stunts in the 1962 compilation The Great Chase, followed by an episode of Magnum at 9pm; Border’s fare was somewhat less frantic – Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby.

At ACAS, mediation continued with some tentative progress being made after almost twelve hours of talks; a further meeting was scheduled for the following day.42The Press and Journal, 31 October 1984

Wednesday’s peak-time offering from Thames was prominently displayed in the London Evening Standard.

Thames advert, Evening Standard, 31 Oct 1984

 

Wednesday 31 October

  • 1.40pm A Country Practice
  • 2.30pm Mary Berry
  • 3pm The Adventurer
  • 3.30pm Sons and Daughters
  • 4pm Cockleshell Bay
  • 4.15pm Flicks
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm Danger Mouse
  • 5pm The Coral Island
  • 5.30pm Botanic Man
  • 6pm Diff’rent Strokes
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Name That Tune*
  • 7.30pm Morecambe & Wise
  • 8pm The Mike Yarwood Hour
  • 9pm Minder*
  • 10pm Film: The Island of Dr Moreau
  • 11.45pm Night Thoughts

Minder at 9pm was a new instalment, contrary to newspaper listings advertising a repeat of the first episode from 1979; this was, in fact, the intended final chapter of the current series, ‘The Balance of Power’.

Craft, Design and Technology and The English Programme were the day’s two absentees from ITV Schools, whilst Rod, Jane & Freddy at 12noon & 4pm were once again replaced with varied delights; a selection of cartoons aired on Anglia, Border, Central, Grampian, TVS & Ulster whilst Granada dipped into its own archive for Songbook; likewise, Yorkshire with Gammon and Spinach. Flower Stories (HTV), The Adventures of The Blue Knight (STV) and a combination of European Folktales at 12noon and The Smurfs at 4pm (TSW & Channel) filled the gaps elsewhere.

7pm’s appointment with Name That Tune prompted some regions to repeat their own productions, such as STV’s Closer To Home, a documentary on the Highland Games in America, Border’s Look Who’s Talking fronted by Derek Batey, Granada-based mayhem with the Grumbleweeds and Ulster’s Country Style with host Gene Fitzpatrick. Elsewhere, imports including Ace Crawford – Private Eye (Anglia), Benson (Grampian, TSW & Channel), Diff’rent Strokes (Yorkshire & TVS) and – of course – Happy Days (Central & HTV) filled the slot. Tyne Tees looked to their regional neighbours for a repeat of YTV’s The Gaffer.

Name That Tune title card

From 8pm, most regions opted for films. Border’s offering was the post-WWII drama Tunes of Glory starring John Mills and Alec Guinness; TVS featured Gene Hackman in March or Die whilst Granada screened the John Wayne comedic adventure Donovan’s Reef. Elsewhere, The Thief Who Came To Dinner (Grampian), Von Ryan’s Express (Central), Butch Cassidy & Sundance – The Early Years (Yorkshire), Operation Crossbow (HTV) and Where The Spies Are (Anglia) ran until News at Ten. Special mention should be made of Tyne Tees’ selection, Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda in the 1939 crime drama Jesse James; the oldest standby material to appear in peak-time during the dispute.

A handful of areas declined films in favour of music and drama. STV once again welcomed the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra – their third such outing since the initial Thames dispute in August – before The New Avengers at 9pm. TSW viewers saw Tom Jones perform at Knott’s before Patrick Mower and George Layton guest starred in The Sweeney episode ‘Trojan Bus’.

31 October 1984 was, of course, the 25th anniversary of Ulster Television’s launch; following a celebration of songwriter Percy French at 8pm, the channel aired its scheduled birthday special at 9pm. The intended screening of Minder at 10.30pm was then substituted with an episode of the Hammer horror anthology series Journey To The Unknown.

Back at Thames, the unity of the strike was weakening, with The Guardian reporting that 200 of the 500 ACTT staff at Teddington had signed a petition urging a return to work. 43The Guardian, 1 November 1984 Meanwhile, Thursday’s makeshift schedule on Thames included an early evening feature film and two new series.

Thursday 1 November 1984

  • 1.40pm Falcon Crest
  • 2.30pm Mary Berry
  • 3pm The Adventurer
  • 3.30pm Sons and Daughters
  • 4pm Rod, Jane & Freddy
  • 4.15pm Jamie And The Magic Torch
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm Danger Mouse
  • 5pm The Coral Island
  • 5.30pm Botanic Man
  • 6pm Diff’rent Strokes
  • 6.30pm Keep It In The Family
  • 7pm Whose Baby?
  • 7.30pm News Headlines then Film: The Eagle Has Landed (1976)
  • 10pm George Robinson of Newmarket
  • 10.30pm New Series: The Master
  • 11.30pm New Series: Jobs Limited
  • 11.55pm Night Thoughts

The 10pm documentary was a repeat of an item originally shown within the daytime A Plus strand. The Master, an American drama starring Lee Van Cleef, began with the episode ‘Max’ whilst new factual programme Jobs Limited debuted in its originally planned timeslot.


With thanks to Ferguson Videostar

Across the network, ITV Schools programmes Middle English, Seeing and Doing and Craft, Design and Technology were blacked out. Various factual shows replaced Daytime at 2.30pm including Portrait of a Legend (Anglia), Hands (Granada), At Home with…Jilly Cooper (HTV), Big Jack’s British (‘Trooper Charlton’, Tyne Tees), The Moviemakers (TSW & Channel), Paint Along with Nancy (TVS) and Clegg’s People (Yorkshire).

In the evening, the absence of Up The Elephant and Round The Castle and TV Eye prompted several regions to shuffle their line-ups: Anglia’s celebrity snooker show A Frame With [Steve] Davis, originally shown on Channel 4, made an impromptu appearance at 8pm following Knight Rider whilst at 8.30pm, TVS inserted an episode of Kojak, ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ and Yorkshire replaced Jim Davidson with a further repeat of their own sitcom Duty Free.

Diff’rent Strokes and The Adventurer aired at 8.30pm on Border and Grampian respectively whilst films were added to the schedules of Central (Carry On Abroad, 7.30pm) and Granada (Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 8.30pm).

Later, in place of TV Eye at 9.30pm, some regions substituted other factual programmes. TVS screened a 1982 edition of its series Just Williams entitled ‘Gherkin and Truffle Go To War’, a documentary on WWII. Tyne Tees aired ‘Hunters of Okavango’, an episode of Anglia’s Survival series; similarly, Grampian opted for an instalment of Orphans of the Wild, an imported nature series, whilst TSW repeated a film from its own Scene South West strand.

Elsewhere, STV welcomed Jonathan and Jennifer in Hart to Hart at 9pm, whilst Border completed its revised line-up with the 1973 crime short, The Laughing Girl Murder; Yorkshire aired a repeat of Thora Hird sitcom Hallelujah! ahead of News at Ten.


On Friday 2 November, the dispute was resolved. ACTT members voted to accept Thames management’s offer, settled at ACAS talks the prior evening. Staff agreed to the conditions of the originally proposed remuneration; specifically, that the two-phase 20% increase would be tied to the introduction of new technology 44The Stage/Television Today, 8 November 1984 with the ACTT committing to start immediate negotiations on the introduction of single-operator video cameras. Future pay negotiations would concern all relevant employees rather than the existing arrangement of multiple agreements within the Thames ACTT membership. 45The Stage/Television Today, 8 November 1984

Programme production would resume on Saturday;46The Stage/Television Today, 8 November 1984 meanwhile, Thames management concluded its emergency service with Friday’s programming.


With thanks to Ferguson Videostar

 

Friday 2 November 1984

  • 1.40pm Film: Raffles
  • 2.50pm Cartoon Time
  • 3pm Mary Berry
  • 3.30pm Sons and Daughters
  • 4pm Rainbow
  • 4.15pm Button Moon
  • 4.30pm The Sooty Show
  • 4.45pm The Coral Island

Middle English was the only schools programme affected on Friday. Later, Rainbow at 12.10pm and 4pm was replaced with the now-familiar pattern of substitutions: various cartoons in most regions (Anglia, Border, Central, Grampian, TVS, Tyne Tees & Ulster), A Handful of Songs (Granada), Get Up and Go (Yorkshire), Flora and Fauna (STV), Flower Stories (HTV) and European Folktales (12.10pm) & The Smurfs (4pm) (TSW/Channel).

Two further Children’s ITV shows were blacked out. At 4.25pm, Granada substituted The Wind In The Willows with Japanese animation Kum Kum whilst Yorkshire paid another visit to The Smurfs. Then, at 4.50pm, Illusions – on the subject of escapology – was replaced on Granada with another instalment of Graham’s Ark. Yorkshire repeated an edition of its own 1982 geography-based series, Two-Way Ticket.

Other regions screened fifty-minute shows to cover both gaps with The Adventures of Black Beauty (STV), The Nancy Drew Mysteries (Anglia & Central), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Border), CHiPs (‘Tiger In The Streets’, HTV) and The Little House on the Prairie (Grampian) all making an appearance.

As ever, normal service resumed with LWT at 5.15pm; Thames’ management service and the regular sight of unscheduled changes elsewhere came to an end. However, it would be several months before the full backlog of displaced programmes made it to the air.


Thames’ initial challenge was to catch up with serials, soaps and schools programmes. Having aired five episodes of The Coral Island during the dispute, the channel rapidly screened the final four chapters on Monday 5, Wednesday 7, Thursday 8 and Monday 12 November at 4.45pm; these displaced Wednesday’s Razzmatazz and Murphy’s Mob, the latter airing across the network on Mondays and Thursdays but yet to debut in London. The Central series would eventually reach Thames on Wednesday 14 Nov at 4.45pm (in place of Razzmatazz) and continued on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays into December. In turn, viewers in the capital enjoyed weekday morning screenings of Razzmatazz for two weeks beginning Monday 10 December (except Friday 14 and Monday 17).

In addition to the regular Monday and Wednesday slots, additional episodes of Coronation Street aired in London on Tuesday 6 November (7pm), Thursday 15 November (7.30pm), Thursday 22 November (7.30pm), Tuesday 27 November (7.30pm) and Tuesday 4 December (7.30pm). On the latter two occasions, the rest of the ITV network caught up with the two displaced editions of Give Us a Clue. Meanwhile, on Thursdays throughout November, truncated editions of Thames News and Thames Sport (running for twenty minutes apiece) enabled visits to the Crossroads motel at 6.40pm.

The displaced ITV Schools output was screened in December, with Thames’ programmes airing nationally on Thursday 6 & Friday 7. London viewers then received the backlog of non-Thames titles such as Picture Box, Stop, Look and Listen and How We Used To Live from Monday 10 – Friday 14 December whilst other regions aired pre-Christmas holiday children’s programmes.

This is Your Life title card

Name That Tune, This Is Your Life, Mike Yarwood In Persons and Des O’Connor Tonight all reclaimed their regular slots though the latter took a one week break on Tuesday 4 December, allowing The Benny Hill Show – lost from Bank Holiday Monday – to air at 8pm.

Other programmes appeared in London and beyond as time and schedules permitted. For Thames viewers, The Krypton Factor resumed on Thursday 15 November at 7pm with the competition’s finale airing in the same slot one week later. Sandy Gall’s documentary on Afghanistan was screened on Wednesday 5 December at 11.40pm whilst the final episode in the second series of Duty Free reached Thames’ screens on Thursday 20 December at 8pm.

The Eric Morecambe tribute Bring Me Sunshine, which had been threatened by the dispute, took place as planned in November and was networked on Christmas Day. Up The Elephant and Round The Castle stayed on the shelf until January (the one episode already shown on Thames – ‘The Hostage’ – went out nationally as the last of the run), with Never The Twain repeats taking its place meanwhile.

The unscreened episode of Minder, ‘Hypnotising Rita’, originally scheduled for Wednesday 24 October, aired nationally on Tuesday 1 January 1985 at 9.15pm. Then, ‘The Long Ride Back To Scratchwood’, was broadcast outside London on Monday 7 January at 9pm (except STV, Monday 21 January at 9pm) with ‘The Balance of Power’ following on Monday 14 January 1985, also at 9pm; Thames screened episodes of Quincy.

The Bill title card

Whilst The Bill continued in its regular slot – Tuesdays at 9pm – from 6 November, two episodes remained unscreened outside London until the new year: ‘A Friend In Need’ aired on Tuesday 29 January 1985 at 9pm with ‘Clutching At Straws’ in the same slot the following week; on both occasions, Thames aired repeats of The Sweeney.

Elton John in Central Park aired on Boxing Day whilst on Easter Monday – 224 days late – Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren’s crime drama The Long Good Friday finally enjoyed its ITV premiere.


The autumn disputes of 1984 were by no means the last instances of industrial disruption to affect the company and, indeed, ITV as a whole, though there would be no such protracted blackouts of Thames programming again. Meanwhile, the precedent of an individual company staging a successful, management-run service had been established; in 1987, this tactic would be seen again within the ITV network.


Footnotes

Listings information from: Aberdeen Evening Express, Daily Mail, Glasgow Evening Times, Glasgow Herald, The Guardian, Liverpool Echo, London Evening Standard, Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Newcastle Journal, The Press & Journal, Reading Post, The Times

ITV Schools information from: Broadcast For Schools

Categories: History

2 Comments

Carry On Euston

    1. The Sweeney was made by Euston Films, so after its initial network run from Thames, it was sold outside of the ITV networking system to individual ITV stations for use as they saw fit. That being the case, it wasn’t being run off by Thames to the network (each company had their own copy) so wasn’t affected by the ACTT at the other stations refusing to handle Thames network material.

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