ATV programmes from the past
Old Alpha studios - "centre of professional
Independent television came
to the Midlands on February 17, 1956. It was
launched by a massive gala ball at Birmingham
Town Hall and speeches by civic heads and the
then chairman of the ITA, Sir Kenneth
On that first night an
estimated 1,500,000 viewers watched the first
evening of ITV in the Midlands.
The big switch-on was at
7.45pm., when announcer Leslie Mitchell - the
man who launched BBC Television in 1936 -
introduced speakers at an opening ceremony in
Birmingham Town Hall.
One of the highlights of the
first night was a variety show with, as its
stars, Barbara Lyon, Bob Monkhouse and Richard
Hearne ("Mr. Pastry").
There was a special edition
of Independent Television News, followed by
Boxing from the Embassy, Sparkbrook.
Robin Hood made an
appearance on that first night and so did
Lucille Ball in one of the I Love Lucy
In those early days of
independent television in the Midlands two
companies had contracts to provide the area
with programmes - ATV and ABC Television
ATV held the contract to
transmit programmes from Monday to Friday and
ABC had the weekend Midlands programme
When these contracts were
issued in late 1955 there was little time to
find and organise studios to meet an opening
date for the Midlands transmitter at Lichfield,
which had been scheduled for February 17.
Both companies set out to
find studios, but it soon became clear that
time would be saved if the two operated on a
joint basis and looked for a single site. As
the companies were not in any way in
competition this was obviously the best
arrangement at the time.
The name of the joint
company set up to organise supplies, offices
and staff throughout the seven days was Alpha
Television Services (Birmingham) Ltd.
From this point, the Alpha
Studios - a former cinema in Aston - occupied a
key position in the ITV network.
When Sir Robert Fraser,
Director-General of the Independent Television
Authority, came to review independent
television in the Midlands some years later, he
wrote: "The Alpha Television Studios have from
the beginning been a centre of professional
skill, of television craft. From the floors and
through the controls, from the planners, the
producers and the crews have come good
television programmes, both bright and
thoughtful, some heading for the network, some
building a link between all those who live in
the Midlands and between them and Independent
Today the Alpha Studios are
an empty shell. And ABC Television is no
When the contract period
ended, ATV applied for, and was awarded, a
seven-day contract for the Midlands.
But many people will
remember Alpha and the programmes produced
there by ATV in those earlier days.
There was Lunch Box,
a departure in outside-broadcasts - a variety
show taken to the people. Star of this midday
show was Noele Gordon, known to millions now
for here role as Meg Richardson in
The programme pioneered the
way for television at this time of day.
There was Godfrey Winn, the
Birmingham-born columnist, in his series
Godfrey Winn Speaking Personally. His
approach to viewers' personal problems brought
a flood of letters into the studios each
Then there was Dotto,
a popular quiz programme played out before
invited audiences in the theatre at the Aston
produced by Kit Plant, brought a host of
personalities to the studio each week. Items
were introduced by Leslie Dunn and Pat Astley
also made frequent contributions.
In those early days, the
Midlands news was read by a woman, Patricia
Cox. One of ATV's most popular announcers was
another woman, Jean Morton.
For the children there was
Gerald Cuff, as the Boson, introducing a
mixture of cartoons and fascinating facts about
the seafaring way of life.
There were many more, too.
One of the last to come out of Alpha was The
Golden Shot, a new-style show which quickly
went to the top of the audience ratings. This
programme was transferred to the new ATV
Centre, where it is now in colour.
ATV, of course, has another
production centre - the company's massive
Elstree studios in Hertfordshire.
From here came one of the
most popular series of all time: Emergency -
Ward Ten, the hospital drama which was
followed avidly by millions throughout the
Other series from Elstree
have been, The Plane Makers, The Power Game,
Sergeant Cork, The Crime Busters, Fraud
Squad - which went to the top of the
ratings in its first week - Love Story
and Who Dun It?
Among the spectacular
variety shows produced by ATV have been
Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The
London Palladium Show and programmes
starring Judy Garland, Frank Ifield, Tommy
Steele and Max Bygraves.