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Granadaland: What if we still had 'Television for the North'?

Ed Costello

meaningless Light
Sea Lion Press staff
Published by SLP
Location
The Pool of Life
#1
Inspired by Mazdaposting; don't say I didn't warn you.

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When commercial television was launched in the United Kingdom in 1954 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority (which ran ITV, or 'Channel 3' to the sequentially-minded), the franchise for the North of England was awarded to Sidney Bernstein's Granada Television. Broadcasting to Lancashire, Cheshire and the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire, Bernstein envisioned 'television for the North' as a creative counterbalance to the London-centric focus of the BBC and some of the other commercial franchisees. Based in Manchester, Granada became the most successful of ITV's regional franchises, creating Coronation Street, the world's longest-running TV soap opera, Ricky Tomlinson vehicle The Royle Family, the brains-and-brawn game-show Krypton Factor, and the generation-following documentary Seven Up! Not even calving off the Ridings to Yorkshire Television in 1968, or even ITV's abandonment of regional broadcasting after the turn of the century, has stopped them, although their once-ubiquitous corporate identity is now non-existent (partly because, well, these days they are ITV; they merged with their one remaining competitor, Carlton, in 2004).

Did it always have to be this way, though? Bernstein bitterly resented the 1968 sundering, having spent fifteen years building a brand which represented 'the North' (as in, those bits of it he broadcasted to); he even coined the term 'Granadaland' for it. That period represents the only time since the English Civil War that any kind of administrative unit sought to build ties that rose above the hills of the Pennines. It was a limited vision - Granada was a broadcaster, after all, not the Council of the North - which would have met with many of the same obstacles that face the Northern Powerhouse today (whither Newcastle, Sunderland and other points Oop Further North?). It was also rooted in a particular self-image of the region, one which predated the South Asian immigrations of the 1970s that would change the face of the region forever (there's a quote from Bernstein where he talks of the North's 'indigenous' society, describes London and its suburbs as 'full of displaced persons' and manages to insult Wales by dismissing Scotland. It is a trip). It also ignores the tendency of the North's great metropoli to squabble amongst themselves; imagine taking the Liverpool-Manchester rivalry and the Leeds-Sheffield-Hull one, banging them together to create a bunch of whole new spats, and then trying to build a cohesive television empire out of it.

But what if Granadaland did survive? How might the cultural landscape look if there was one vast entity representing - and defining - 'the North'? Could Bernstein's vision of a home-grown, homogenous society adapt to the upheavals of mass immigration, or would it harden in the face of turmoil and open the door to something nastier? Would civic petty chauvinism tear the whole thing apart anyway, or could it survive to become its own 'Northern Powerhouse'? Or would it just lead to an earlier form of a consolidation that was inevitable anyway?

Most importantly, what would Auntie do?

(Gratuitously tagging @Thande so he sees this when he returns from the Great White North)
 

RyanF

Abbot of Unreason
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Falkirk
#3
I doubt Bernstein would be able to maintain a franchise covering the entire north, aside from YTV there was also an effort to create a Mersey based alternative to Granada in the 1967, 1980, and 1991 franchise rounds (by Palatine Television, Merseyvision, and Mersey Television respectively). In each instance these bids objected to the Manchester-centric bias of Granada, so it wasn't just across the Pennines that was chaffing for something a bit closer to home.

Perhaps the abandoned weekend franchises outside of London could create an opportunity. Say the Lancashire/Yorkshire split still happens in the 1967 rounds but five day contracts are specified; Granada could put in a bid for the Northern weekend franchise from ABC (which also held the Midlands weekend franchise). A lot of ifs and buts in that route but it would allow for a pan-Northern service at the weekends.

On the consequences of a body representing the entire North (interesting if the weekend franchise is extended to TTT as well; though if the ITA go gaga for weekend franchises there might very well be a new one covering Grampian, Scottish, Border and TTT) remaining in existence, it would take a while for this to truly percolate but it will get there. A good comparison would be STV which was always seen as the Scottish channel opposed to the BBC; being seen as this for the North but with Granada's quality of programming (which STV unfortunately lacked) would make it a formidable beast. Especially if programmes like World in Action start to take on a more local flavour, I'm imagining the coverage of strikes, deindustrialisation, and increasing unemployment, but things would only really come to a head if politics stays as OTL until the rise of Thatcher. Granada could become one of the biggest thorns to the government, but all this might likely do is bring forward a version of the Broadcasting Act 1990 by a few years. Granada could very well gobble up the weekday franchises though if they make it past that hurdle, so by the turn of the century we might wind up with five ITV franchises left - UTV, STV, superGranada (more likely to take over Border and TTT than STV), a franchise covering the rest of England (and possibly Wales), and Channel Television.

I think by the 1990s you would likely see a lot of Asian actors appearing in Granada dramas, though whether these changing demographics would be represented in news or in programming content is less likely. As to what the BBC would do, I can't see them behaving any differently until there's an equivalent backlash against them in the North as we saw in Scotland in 2014. On the other hand, the presence of at least one strong ITV franchise outside of London would continue the pursuit of competition between the BBC and ITV in order to "make the good popular and the popular good", to quote BBC1 Controller Bill Cotton. He was referring to the BBCs quality output becoming more accessible to all audiences, and ITVs populist programming being produced in such a way to rival the production values on offer on the other side.

It's difficult to imagine the modern ITV producing the likes of Death of a Princess, "Death on the Rock", Disappearing World, Up, or World in Action. Similarly, it's difficult to imagine the modern BBC making programmes like Morecambe & Wise, Quatermass and the Pit, Steptoe and Son, The Wednesday Play, or Z-Cars. The two companies fed off each other in competition, and this was only enhanced when Channel 4 was added to the mix in the 1980s, the increasing consolidation of ITV into exactly what it was expressedly meant not be was one factor toward losing this. Perhaps a strong independent Northern broadcaster with the quality of Granada would go some way to keeping the popular good, and therefore the good popular.
 

Alex Richards

Etched Swiftly.
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#4
Interestingly, if the government perceives Granada as something too critical to support, but too popular to outright scrap, we could well see something from the mergers/take-overs that results in a sort of cordon-sanitaire to ensure that Granada's influence stays out the Midlands. Which could also help with that competition angle.
 

RyanF

Abbot of Unreason
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Falkirk
#5
Was inspired last night to do some reading on the subject and I found a POD that might potentially allow Granada to continue broadcasting on both sides of the Pennines:

In the 1964 franchise round, the existing franchises took their bids being accepted as a given to a cocky degree. By the time the next franchise round came up in 1967 Lord Hill of Luton, Chairman of the Independent Television Authority, was determined to make an example of one of them. It was decided that the sacrifice would be Scottish Television, whose output Lord Hill personally disliked, and whose owner, Lord Thomson of Fleet, had famously described commercial television as a "permit to create money". Since there were concerns over the money being made by the franchises Thomson's declaration put him square in the firing line when the ITA decided to put the fear of God into the other franchises.

There was just one problem, the only other bid for the Central Scotland franchise, a consortium led by Jo Grimond and Ludovic Kennedy (what is it with the Liberal Party and broadcasting?) completely misread the ITA telling Hill they liked STV and did not plan on changing much. Gone was the cover to remove the franchise from STV; they were poor in presentation, programming, and offerings to the network, not to mention painting Scotland in the most twee manner possible. All this was especially stark in comparison with the North East Scotland franchise, Grampian Television.

There still had to be a sacrifice, the Gods demanded it! None of the majors were on the cards - Granada was exactly what the ITA wanted from a major company, ABC had won major plaudits at the last franchise round, ATV raked in the money from exports, Rediffusion was too much of a gamble in the event the new company got London weekdays wrong. As for the regional companies, the rest were all pretty solid at what they did: the aforementioned Grampian, Border, Tyne Tees Television, Channel, Westward, Anglia, and Southern. This left two possibilities, Ulster Television, who did not have any competing bids in the 1967 franchise round, and Television Wales and West.

There was a competing bid for the dual region of Wales and parts of the South West of England, from a consortium led by Lord Harlech who promised a future of star-filled entertainment and quality documentaries. This included the involvement of the Burton boy and his wife Elizabeth Taylor; the easily star-struck Lord Hill might have gone for their bid anyway even if he had succeeded in removing STV, since TWW keeping their headquarters in London and not Bristol/Cardiff would have still given him ample excuse. TWW were appalled at the decision, and in protest ceased broadcasting a full five months before Harlech Television (later HTV) was due to go on the air.

There were further complications though, the core idea going into the 1967 franchise round for London was to keep Rediffusion at the weekdays and give over the lamentable ATV weekend service to ABC. ABC was the superior weekend broadcaster, perhaps made clear in a panel of television critics on the merits of weekend television where the six London critics pulled from London based newspapers were all very dismissive of what was on offer at the weekend as being dumbed down offerings of what was on during the week, but the critic from the still Manchester-based Guardian was more receptive towards what they were seeing on ABC in Armchair Theatre and Just Jimmie with Jimmy Clitheroe. In some ways it was almost as though London were pinching the superior Midlands/Northern weekened franchise to get rid of ATV, but nothing is ever that easy.

Franchise bids were asked in 1967 to submit a list showing which regions they were interested in, naturally for the regional broadcasters this was rather pointless, but for the major companies it was genuinely possible they could be granted one of their second choices. For ABC, with the loss of the Midlands and Northern weekend franchise their first preference was for the London weekend franchise, seen as almost a given, then the Midlands seven days (against ATV), and finally the new Yorkshire franchise. As it turned out they would receive none of them - remember those critics who dismissed weekend television as being too dumbed down? Remember Lord Hill being easily star-struck? These two foibles would coalesce together with the emergence of the London Television Consortium, formed by David Frost, Michael Peacock, and Aidan Crawley, MP. They headhunted staff from both the BBC and Rediffusion promising highbrow arts programmes and drama like nothing that was on ITV at the time.

What would become London Weekend Television won the franchise for London weekends, and ABC was forced into an arranged marriage with Rediffusion. As a cinema chain that never had much interest in television beyond making up for their losses from audiences staying at home rather than heading out to the kino they never really wanted a seven day franchise, so they would hold a 49% stake in the new Thames Television. As to LWT, viewers deserted the third channel in droves when faced with Stravinsky, Jean-Luc Goddard, Jacques Brel, and Kurt Weill. They continued to lose money until they were saved in 1970 by an obscure character by the name of Rupert Murdoch, in his first foray into UK television.

To bring this back to the topic of the thread, how does this help Granada? Well, in addition to the Liberal Party consortium there were strong rumours that Grampian was going to put in a bid for STV. At the time the Chairman of Grampian was Ward Thomas, who would go on to form the winning bid for the new Yorkshire franchise as Managing Director and Chairman of YTV. What if Thomas became convinced of the potential for a pan-Scotland franchise (excluding Borders) as Sidney Bernstein was of a pan-Northern one? It is likely any bid from Grampian would have won over the continuation of STV, likely to the betterment of Scottish television. It is possible a combined Grampian/Scottish (let's call them Caledonian for simplicity) could also fulfil the ideal of the ITA to turn the Big Four (ABC, ATV, Granada, Rediffusion) into a Big Five (in OTL ATV, Granada, LWT, Thames, Yorkshire).

Not only would this mean TWW survives, since the blood sacrifice would already have been filled, but the precedent would be set for a seven day franchise controlling two 'regions'. Or rather, it would be solidified since TWW already served both the Severnside and North Wales regions. Since there were also rumours of Rediffusion taking over from Southern Television it was not that much of an out there idea. Bernstein might not be keen at having to form a bid for a region his company already served, but without Thomas at the helm of the YTV bid perhaps Granada might be the only game in town? Perhaps ITA would force Granada to take over one of the other Yorkshire bids, there were 10 in all in 1967, and make a commitment to producing more content across the Pennines (likely in Merseyside too).

Just a year after the 1968 franchises began airing there were calls for some that the OTL 15 franchises were too much and that perhaps some of them should be consolidated. Baron Willis made such calls in the House of Lords saying that the country would be better reorganised into 8 or 9 regional franchises as opposed to the current 15, he changed his position after visiting the studios of STV and Westward Television. He was not alone, one such call in The Daily Telegraph in 1971 called for the merger of Grampian and STV along with the Scottish parts of Border; the merger of YTV and TTT along with the English parts of Border; Harlech to retain responsibility for Wales but lose the franchise south of the Severn to a new West Country franchise also encompassing Westward and Hampshire from Southern; the rest of Southern would go to LWT, which would also control London television south of the Thames; Thames would keep north London as well as the South Midlands split off from ATV and Anglia, with Anglia expanding into the East Midlands parts of the Yorkshire franchise.

These proposals are complete bollocks, since the position of the transmitters means that the franchises cannot be neatly split along national or county lines. So was the proposal for the same article to encourage two services to be available in the same region as an ITV2, which would have been detrimental to both companies as well as viewers. There is something to be said for consolidation of the franchises from fifteen to around ten.

If we presume that following the 1967 franchise round the franchises and their regions look like this, and ignoring weekend television for the moment:

Anglia: East of England and Lincolnshire
ATV: the rest of the Midlands
Border: the Scottish/English border region
Caledonian: North East and Central Scotland
Channel: Guernsey and Jersey
Granada: Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and parts of the East Midlands
Rediffusion: London and South East England
TWW: Wales and part of South West England
Tyne Tees Television: North East England
Ulster: Northern Ireland
Westward: the rest of South West England

Then there are some further mergers that could be made. OTL Tyne Tees was facing collapse by the early 1970s and sought affiliation with YTV becoming Trident Television, what this meant in practice was that Trident managed advertising sales for both companies but both retained their own studios, management, and on-screen identity. Anglia was also rumoured to be involved as the 'third prong' but the ITA forbade their involvement. Some of the problems that led to the affiliation would still be present with the alternate franchises listed above, and Bernstein would no doubt jump at the chance of affiliation with TTT with a mind to integrate it into Granada later. Rediffusion might try the same with Anglia.

By the time the next franchise round came in the mid-1970s we might see Granadaland encompassing the whole north of England aside from Cumberland and Westmoreland, but if the Bilsdale transmitting station still goes from *Anglia to *Yorkshire (perhaps more likely if Anglia has affiliated with Rediffusion) then it would extend from the river Tweed all the way down to Norfolk on the East Coast. Großgranadaland indeed.

Also, it would be nice if the ITA kept the weekend franchises outside London and awarded them all (North, Midlands, and London) to ABC. Perhaps if I travel back in time and warn them about Murdoch.

It has to be said though that the franchise rounds were always short-sighted focused on the problems of the past franchise round without a mind paid to the future, so it's possible that by the time the franchises come up again in the late 70s/early 80s the multi-region franchises are forced to de-merge. Unless a more hands-off regulator like the IBA is introduced earlier at a time when the regional identities were still strong enough to avoid the mergers and mergers that led to the current OTL situation. Perhaps the franchises might eventually look like this.

ATV: The Midlands excluding those covered by Granada
Caledonian: OTL Grampian, STV, and Border
Channel: as OTL
Granada: OTL Granada, Yorkshire, and TTT
Rediffusion: OTL Thames, Anglia, and Southern
TWW: OTL HTV
Ulster: as OTL
Westward: as OTL

There also might be more time based franchises in addition to the regional ones. Perhaps a UK-wide weekend franchise, an earlier UK-wide breakfast franchise, even a UK-wide late-night franchise once the move to 24-hour broadcasting is complete? Then there's the possibilities of a different ITV2/Channel 4 coming about as a result of these changes to ITV.
 

Geordie

Digital Hustings and Wyboston
Published by SLP
#7
Can't help but hope Rediffussion would still be producing the quality of Thames Television in the Children's sector. A world without Dangermouse et. al. feels grim.
I'll give a (gluten-free) cookie to the writer of any TL set in the 80s-early 90s period that saves TVS. Somewhere, there's a version of me who's looking forward to showing all five or six series of Tugs to Geordie the Younger.
:cry:
 

Geordie

Digital Hustings and Wyboston
Published by SLP
#8
Speaking with my North Eastern hat on, Granadaland expanding north of the Tees will always lead to grumbling that the people of Durham and Northumberland are having Mancunian and Tykey Television foisted on them. Demographics and economics mean that they'll always be more important, but that probably won't help a lot: chips on shoulders don't tend to deal well with facts. Hell, I personally know more than one person who repeatedly complained that all the kids in Heartbeat and its spinoff had Leeds and Bradford accents, rather than proper North Yorkshire ones.

Sadly, these complaints might get worse if Granada's programming starts to reflect the demographic changes seen in West Yorkshire and Lancashire in the seventies and beyond. There wasn't really a significant South Asian wave of immigration to the North East; television ostensibly for the region showing such changes as a realistic slice of their lives (as opposed to Auntie in London, who doesn't know what it's like up here) may not be very well-received.
 
#11
"Thames was the victim of Maggie T." is a decent joke, but Thames would have kept its franchise had it submitted a better financial bid and not assumed that any challengers would be disqualified for failing to be good enough 'quality'.
 
#12
"Thames was the victim of Maggie T." is a decent joke, but Thames would have kept its franchise had it submitted a better financial bid and not assumed that any challengers would be disqualified for failing to be good enough 'quality'.
Wasn't that true for most of the ones that lost, though, besides the quality threshold? I'm thinking of that one company (forgot the name) that made Knights of God.
 
#13
the promo in Thames dying weeks showed how they went with dignity:

"Rediffusion Television, ABC Television, Thames Television. For 37 years, we have been proud to serve the London ITV region".