A personal view of Thames Television’s programming legacy

It isn’t often at Transdiffusion that we talk about the programmes. We’ve built our reputation on talking about just about anything but programmes.

But it is very difficult to talk about Thames without thinking about the great programmes they produced, and almost impossible to think of Thames without thinking of “Death On The Rock”. That documentary, produced by the “This Week” team, was about a suspected shoot to kill policy against IRA suspects, focusing on a killing of 3 IRA suspects on Gibraltar.

The documentary infuriated the government of the time; an inquiry resulted, which found in the programme’s favour.

Conspiracy theories still exist about how the government manipulated the regulator into denying Thames licences to broadcast twice in 1991. Firstly, they lost their Channel 3 licence to Carlton Communications. Secondly, they were denied the Channel 5 licence despite there being no other bidders.

However, there is no proof that “Death On The Rock” was in any way responsible for either situation.

Thames were great documentary producers, but they did far more. “In Loving Memory”, the 1969 play that was later developed into a period sitcom by YTV starring Thora Hird and set in an undertakers, is forever in my childhood memories as a classic Thames comedy.

It was just one in a long stream of successful comedies from Thames. The Carry On team produced a ton of specials at Teddington; then there was “Father, Dear Father”, “The Benny Hill Show”, “Bless This House”, “Man About The House” and its two spin- offs, “George and Mildred” and “Robin’s Nest”, “Never The Twain”, “Fresh Fields” and many more.

Man About The House, with the incomparable Paula Wilcox

They had a ton of great comedies and great comedy talents too, such as Mike and Bernie Winters, Leslie Crowther, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper, Kenny Everett, and of course, as the ident into their programme went, “Here they are now, Morecambe and Wise.”

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Thames Television, and their subsidiary company Euston Films, produced a ton of dramas that were and indeed still are among ITV’s best ever drama productions.

“Van Der Valk”, “The Sweeney”, “Minder”, “Widows”, “Quatermass”, “Reilly: Ace Of Spies”, “Jack The Ripper”, “Hannay”, “Rumpole Of The Bailey”, and many others were amongst the staple diet of ITV prime time for over 20 years.

Thames still has a prime time drama on ITV today, despite not having an ITV franchise. “The Bill” began in 1984, and 21 years on, the programme continues to garner good ratings in an even more competitive market than the one it was born into.

Thames also produced an incredible amount of children’s programming, both itself and through animation studio Cosgrove Hall. “Jamie and The Magic Torch”, “Chorlton and the Wheelies”, “Danger Mouse”, “Cockleshell Bay”, “Count Duckula”, “The Wind In The Willows”, “The Tomorrow People”, “Button Moon” and many more were all part of growing up for kids in the 70s and 80s, but none more so than “Rainbow”.

For over 20 years, Geoffrey, Bungle, Zippy and George played with and entertained the nation’s kids. Few programmes of any kind from any broadcaster can match that kind of longevity, and even fewer kids programmes can even come close.

Thames Television were not specialists, they could produce almost anything, and generally make a success out if it.

Sure they had their failures, just like anybody else. Everybody who loves The Goon Show will say that the TV version, “The Telegoons”, was not a patch on the radio shows, but how many people remember the other TV version, produced by Thames in 1968, called, “The Goon Show”? And who can forget the flop that was “Capital City”, about an investment bank. The show generated much controversy when one of the female characters kissed another woman on screen, then promptly disappeared.

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But for every Capital City, there was a ton of successes, such as “The Bill”, “Give Us A Clue”, “Whose Baby?” and many more, across all genres.

Thames used to say that they had “A Talent For Television”. Given the fact that 13 years after losing the Channel 3 London franchise, they are still producing successful shows for ITV1, Channel 5 and anybody else who wants them to, I think we can truly agree with that statement.

Categories: History

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