Thames Television

From Academic Kids

Missing image
The classic Thames Television logo (1969 - 1989), featuring a geographically incorrect montage of London landmarks.

Thames Television is a British television production company, and between 1968 and 1992 was the weekday ITV company serving London.

In 1967 the Independent Television Authority decided to award the London weekday franchise to Associated British Corporation (ABC), but ABC, which had previously held two weekend franchises in the North and Midlands, complained that it did not have sufficient staff to run a London-based station. The solution adopted was to use staff and facilities from the outgoing London weekday company Associated-Rediffusion. Although Rediffusion was not happy with the arrangement, the two companies established a new organisation that was 51% owned by ABC and 49% by Rediffusion. After some discussion as to the name of the new company — some directors favoured ABC London, while others suggested Tower Television because its headquarters was in an office tower — the company was named Thames Television. (Coincidentally, this was a name that had been considered and then rejected by London Weekend Television.)

In 1968 Thames began broadcasting to London from Monday mornings until its handover to London Weekend at 7 PM on Fridays. (In 1982 this was changed to 5:15 PM).

An early success was the comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set - nominally a children's show, but actually an important forerunner of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Other important Thames shows include This Week, TV Eye, The World at War, Callan, The Naked Civil Servant, Rumpole of the Bailey, Strike It Lucky, Rock Follies, and The Benny Hill Show. Thames produced a number of sitcoms including Father, Dear Father, Bless This House starring Sid James, and Love Thy Neighbour, with its controversial take on racial issues. Less well known is its adaptation of Andy Capp starring James Bolam. It also produced the children's show Magpie, intended as a Blue Peter competitor. Thames became a significant contributor to the ITV network and its shows (most notably The World at War and The Benny Hill Show) became worldwide award-winning successes.

In the early 1970s, Thames established a subsidiary production company, Euston Films, which produced many of Thames' highest-profile contributions to ITV network programming. These included The Sweeney (1975-78), Minder (1979-94) and Quatermass (1979).

The loss of its broadcast franchise in 1992 may have been influenced by its documentary Death on the Rock, part of the This Week current affairs strand. The programme questioned the authority of British troops who shot and killed a group of suspected IRA members who were allegedly planning a terrorist attack on a British military base on Gibraltar. The documentary was regarded as almost an act of treason by many Tory politicians. Margaret Thatcher's government ordered that the new ITV franchises be determined by silent auction. The amount Thames offered for its franchise was significantly less than the money offered by other companies, leading many to smell a rat.

Another factor was the aborted takeover of Thames by Carlton Communications in 1985. This came about when EMI (which had taken over ABC some years previously) and BET (the parent company of Rediffusion) decided to sell. This was blocked by both Richard Dunn, Chief Executive of Thames, and by the IBA. Thames then had a management buyout and were floated on the Stock Exchange. This led Carlton Communications Chief Executive Michael Green to complain to Margaret Thatcher (who also happened to be a friend of his), which in turn led to the Broadcasting Act 1990, which replaced the IBA with the Independent Television Commission, which rebid the ITV licences.

Thames was replaced by Carlton Television at midnight on December 31, 1992 / January 1, 1993 — an event that for many observers seemed to herald the irreversible dumbing-down of British television. It certainly marked the end of an era that had begun with the launch of Associated British Corporation in 1956.

Since 1993 Thames has continued to produce programmes for ITV and other broadcasters, a notable example being the long-running police drama The Bill. The company has changed hands a number of times. It was owned by Pearson Television, which is now Fremantle Media, part of the RTL Group. Fremantle also acquired TalkBack Productions and has now merged the two companies as TalkbackTHAMES.

British television | Channels | ITV

Scotland: Grampian, Scottish Television, Border | North and Northwest: ABC, Granada
Northeast: Tyne Tees | Yorkshire: Yorkshire | Northern Ireland: UTV | Wales: TWW, WWN, ITSWW, HTV
Midlands: ATV, Central | East: Anglia | London: Rediffusion, ATV, Thames, LWT, Carlton
South: Southern, TVS, Meridian | Southwest: Westward, TSW, Westcountry | Channel Islands: Channel TV

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