YORK FILMS News and Views


By David Taylor

Stringent times at Independent Television, the UK’s leading commercial network. Beset by a thumping £2.7bn loss for 2008, plus falling advertising and ever increasing competition from cable, satellite and the internet, ITV has slashed budgets, amalgamated regional news operations and mothballed a major studio complex in Leeds, home of once mighty Yorkshire Television.

In the glory days of the 60’s and 70’s, when BBC and ITV had the UK airwaves to themselves, ITV hadn’t even Channel 4 to contend with in divvying up the advertising cake.  When I joined Yorkshire TV in the early 70’s, it had a staff of 1,500 churning out a raft of network soap and drama, light entertainment, documentaries, science, education and a vibrant regional news magazine.

Tempus fugit.  Long gone is that gravy train of generous budgets and world-is-your-oyster documentaries.  No more Top Ten status and a weekly audience of nine-million for pop-science like Don’t Ask Me of which I was a producer.  Today ITV doesn’t make a frame of science, much less launch daring innovations like running physics, chemistry, natural history and medicine in the slot before Coronation Street.

YTV is all but dead and buried. So too Tyne Tees Television which I joined in 1964 to run a weekly farming programme for seven adventurous year. Yes, TTT was a bit tinpot, but we had and heart and soul. And the station truly realised its regional remit while coat-tailing the affluence and ratings supremacy (over BBC) of the rumbustious ITV federation of 15 or so regional and network companies.

Just as the swingeing ITV cuts were biting, it was good to see so many of my colleagues of yesteryear at the 50th Tyne Tees anniversary bash.  Appropriately, the venue was St James’s Park, Newcastle, that soccer stadium of other broken dreams.  We embraced and reminisced like aging refugees from another country – the past.

For all the tea in China, I wouldn’t trade my 21 years with ITV. But neither would I my quarter century on the roller-coaster of independent production.  It taught me the realities of business and the marketplace. Times change. The original ITV model, with its regional and public service obligations, doesn’t work in a digital age of multi channels and new media.

As ITV sheds jobs and jettisons the regions, we may shed a tear for the glory days.  But equally, we must salute the efforts of departing ceo Michael Grade and those yet to succeed him in keeping the network afloat in very choppy waters.