Tuesday 30 July 1968, I was nine years old switching on for children’s programmes on ITV. I’d missed the previous day’s programmes on Rediffusion, having been taken out for the afternoon to have tea with one of my Mother’s friends, something that annoyed me immensely being that I’d noticed a slightly different line up for Monday’s children’s programmes for London in the newspaper TV listings, including the start of a new cartoon series of ‘Superman’. I really had no idea that I had also missed something of even greater significance.
Perusing Tuesday’s TV listings in that day’s paper I noticed that Sooty had moved over to ITV and a new magazine show ‘Magpie’ was on at 5.10. There had been something billed earlier that afternoon as Opening Of Thames but that meant nothing to me. The set warmed up during the ad break and then a very unfamiliar face appeared in the announcer’s chair (I was later to discover this was Sheila Kennedy) in front of a very different backdrop. It was when she said something along the lines of “Now we start today’s children’s programmes on Thames…” that it sunk in; change had come, it was all becoming a little exciting!
I hadn’t been completely unprepared for this, some months back my parents had mentioned something they’d read in the paper that ITV in London was changing and the name ‘Thames TV’ came up. I just assumed it was to be a straight name change, Redvers Kyle, Muriel Young, Jon Kelly and Laurie West would all still be there with a ‘Thames TV’ logo pinned on the front and back of the programmes instead of ‘Rediffusion’. But seeing Sheila Kennedy followed by the plain text version of the FROM THAMES ident playing into The Sooty Show it became clear that it had really happened and it was all going to be very different, subsequently I sat through ‘Sooty’ anticipating more Thames graphics and announcements at the end of the programme. I mention ‘graphics’ but up to this point it was just down to plain text, no station symbol at the start or end of the programmes, just a simple FROM THAMES.
Magpie was up next which immediately presented itself as an ITV version of ‘Blue Peter’ and, as often noted, a tad more hip and trendy, although I also recognised it as a near replacement for Rediffusion’s Come Here Often which, in retrospect I feel was the better show.
That first edition was not without excitement though, a filmed report of a balloon flight taken by Susan Stranks included footage of the balloon bursting into flames not long after landing and Susan had safely stepped away. Later in the show fellow presenter Tony Bastable introduced us to the concept of the various Magpie badges, inviting viewers to collect the complete set of eleven (I still cherish my ‘Four For A Boy’ badge to this day), while Pete Brady took us on a pre-filmed helicopter trip along the Thames around Teddington Lock and the weir, complete with an aerial view of the studio buildings. Also appearing in that first edition was the start of a short run of Captain Fantastic lifted straight from Rediffusion’s Do Not Adjust Your Set which seemed a bit weird really and at odds with the rest of the show.
Children’s programmes over, another commercial break and it’s ITN News time with, for the first time for me anyway, a sighting of the Thames clock, now with Philip Elsmore signing on as our evening announcer. The clock doubled as a calendar, I’m sure I’d seen something similar hanging on the wall in our local branch of Barclay’s Bank. Main story on the news was the arrival of Thames Television during which I noticed the skyline ident being played. Now that looked really impressive and I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t use that in front of the programmes.
The new regional news programme Today held very little interest for me as a nine-year-old and anyway, it was a summer evening so I was back outside playing with my mates until later in the evening when, along with the rest of my family I settled down to enjoy Tommy Cooper’s King Size show. During the commercial break the screen went blank cutting an advert part way through.
Around ten seconds later another commercial started playing but this was also faded abruptly as the screen went blank again and stayed that way, prompting my father to grumble about the poor organisation of this ‘young upstart of a company’. Little did he know! The apology card that followed at least went some way to explain. That was the last I would see of our new TV station that day, nine o’clock was bedtime for me and my siblings, after which I assumed my parents would be switching to BBC-1 for their further televisual entertainment.
The following morning I just had to reassure myself that, after the previous night’s fiasco Thames would still be there. As my little sister finished watching Play School on BBC-2 I quietly turned the dial to Channel 9 where I was greeted by the familiar Test Card D with the wording ‘ITA Thames Television London Weekend Television’ which somewhat confused me; Thames was London’s WEEKDAY television, how could they have got that one wrong?
After Rediffusion’s solid and paternal method of presentation it took a little while to get used to the slightly more ‘showbiz’ and lightweight approach from Thames. At nine years old I was totally unaware that we were really watching ABC in different clothes and I really had no idea as to why things had changed in the first place.
A few days into the new regime though it did occur to me to check out the other station that we could pick up in Crawley from a place called Chillerton Down. Sure enough, there on Channel 11 was Southern Television, dependable as ever and totally unaffected by what had been going on in London, armed with the reassurance that they would NEVER go away…