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London Weekend Television
London TV.png
Based in London
Broadcast area London
Launched 2 August 1968
Former LWT logos
Closed lost on-air identity October 27 2002 (known as ITV1 at all times)
Replaced ATV London on Saturdays and Sundays
Rediffusion, London on Friday evenings
Replaced by ITV London
Owned by ITV plc

London Weekend Television (LWT) (now part of ITV London) is the ITV network franchise holder for London and the South East at weekends, broadcasting from Fridays at 5:15pm. (prior to 1982 at 7:00pm)[1] to Monday mornings at 5:59am[2].

London Weekend Television is now known on air as ITV1. The company is managed with Carlton Television as a single entity (ITV London), but still legally separate. The franchise is currently operated by ITV plc under the licensee of ITV Broadcasting Limited.


Early years

In its original application, the London Television Consortium (LTC, who went on to name the company London Weekend Television) promised a variety of high-brow arts and drama productions, which caught the attention of the Independent Television Authority (ITA) who had been worried by criticism of the network's programming, which at the time was seen as downmarket. The LTC plans were seen by the ITA as serious contenders to the quality educational programming of the BBC; so keen were the ITA that they were quoted, at the time, as saying the LTC had to have its chance, whatever the repercussions.

The consortium was offered the contract to serve London at weekends, presently held by ATV London. The new company benefitted from a slight extension in broadcasting hours as they were allocated Friday evenings from 7pm as well as the traditional weekend.

The changes within ITV in the 1968 franchise round meant a surplus of studio facilities in London. The LTC had planned on buying the superior Teddington Studios of ABC, but following ABC's merger with Rediffusion, London to form Thames Television, the LTC were forced by the ITA to purchase Rediffusion's site at Wembley.

Wembley employed a bigger workforce than Teddington, and legally LWT were obliged to employ them all. In addition, the studios required far more upgrading for colour production as Teddington had been a test centre for ITV's colour research and was well advanced in the conversion to colour production. Having previously worked weekdays for Rediffusion, transmission staff now had to work weekends and as such wanted extra pay for the inconvenience. This led to threats of industrial action and fifteen seconds into their opening night of August 2, 1968 technicians went on strike and the screens went blank. An emergency service was provided by management from the transmission centre of ATV at Foley Street, London.

Upon resolving the dispute, LWT suffered poor rating figures, as viewers deserted their primetime offerings of opera and Hamlet in favour of the more traditional Saturday night viewing on the BBC. Other ITV stations refused to show LWT shows because of poor ratings. ATV, still smarting at losing their London contract to LWT, refused to take any of their shows; elsewhere, the powerful sales department at rivals/neighbours Thames took advantage of LWT's ratings disaster by adopting a beggar thy neighbour strategy, encouraging advertisers to use them during the week by heavily discounting airtime. (This caused great animosity, even decades later, with both Thames and LWT refusing to promote each others' programmes).

The crisis at LWT deepened so much that the ITA started to make emergency plans in the event of the station collapsing. At the same time, Thames started making enquiries about a seven-day contract in such an event, an offer quickly rebuffed by the ITA. LWT's saviour came in an unlikely form and in unlikely circumstances.

Rupert Murdoch

Between 1969 and 1970, Australian media owner Rupert Murdoch purchased a controlling interest in LWT, following an altercation on a live LWT show presented by David Frost (coincidentally the first live colour programme shown on ITV). Immediately, he set about dismissing existing board members, and changing schedules and programme ideas. Although it made him unpopular within sections of LWT, audience share began to grow and, albeit slowly, so did income and profits.

However, Murdoch's presence rang alarm bells at the ITA, who expressed concern that a foreign national and owner of significant British newspaper interests, could own a British television station. A discreet but effective ultimatum was given: Murdoch had to sell up, or LWT would have its licence revoked. The ITA won, and in 1971, Murdoch left.

Better fortunes

The South Bank Television Centre, seen from across the River Thames.

LWT's original programming was considered high-brow but by 1972 it was more populist with comedies such as Please Sir! and On The Buses being the mainstay of its productions. In the same year, the new South Bank Television Centre (also called Kent House) was opened on the south bank of the Thames, at Upper Ground. These facilities at the time were considered the best colour studios in Europe, which allowed LWT to produce shows with the 'gloss' that it became famous for. The problems of 1968-1971 were soon forgotten; audience share grew, and in 1975 the company won seven BAFTA awards, more than the rest of ITV put together. Although programming changed from their original remit LWT still produced shows which were considered more upmarket, notably the dramas Upstairs, Downstairs and Bouquet of Barbed Wire; Unlike earlier offerings however these were both critically acclaimed and attracted high audiences. LWT continued to show arts programming, notably Aquarius and its successor The South Bank Show.

Despite this, LWT was more vulnerable to economic downturn than the rest of ITV. Other network companies had between five and seven days of transmission, whereas LWT had two days and Friday evenings (even these were not particularly attractive to advertisers, as shops were closed on a Sunday and people returned to work on a Monday). It also had competition for advertising with another company (Thames), something which affected no other company outside of London.

The battles with Thames' sales force were fierce. Thames had massive and wealthy shareholders (unlike the independent LWT), a far longer pedigree, bigger facilities, and made the most programmes. It also had an international reputation. LWT's response to this was to reinvent itself as possibly ITV's first 'brand': the on-screen identity changed from the cumbersome 'London Weekend Television' to 'LWT', the 'river ident' was modified to three letters, the strapline 'The weekend starts here' was introduced, and greater use of the distinct black-and-white-layered tower block (Kent House, later becoming The London Television Centre) that was its studios, was used in continuity. A well-known London landmark, this cemented LWT's role in the life of the people of London, and helped to distinguish it from its rival across the river.

Airtime expansion and de-regulation

The 1982 franchise round was the first time LWT had to re-apply for its licence. The original 1968 contract ran only to 1974 (like the rest of ITV), but the ITA elected to extend all contracts to 1981 because of the enormous costs of introducing colour television. It is debatable that if LWT had had to have applied for its licence in 1973, as to whether it would have been renewed. 1982 saw the company in good health, and it easily beat off weak competition to secure a second contract (although it lost the Bluebell Hill transmitter near Maidstone to TVS as part of a re-organisation of the new South and South East dual-region). By now, LWT had a reputation in many fields, and co-ordinated the network's sport production and presentation. The station was credited with bringing reality television to the UK with the audience participation show Game For A Laugh. Elsewhere, shows such as Play Your Cards Right and Blind Date drew audiences of millions, and ran for many years.

However many changes were scheuled to hit ITV in this decade. Industrial action at breakfast station TV-am had seen it dismiss striking staff, and replace them with non-unionised labour. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had commented on the excess over-manning within the network, and plans were afoot to deregulate ITV. LWT were receptive to this and began to streamline operations, and by the end of the decade, the number of employees had fallen from 1200 to around 700; however this became an advantage to LWT as the 1993 franchise round was no longer the traditional "beauty contest", but was now an auction.

Changes and takeover

The Broadcasting Act 1990 changed the way ITV contracts were awarded. No longer the 'beauty-contest', the rounds were conducted on the basis of cash being handed to the Exchequer. Incumbents and applicants had to bid a sum to the Treasury for what they thought the contract was worth each year, in a blind auction; the winner was to be the applicant who bid the most. This led to fears that applicants would bankrupt themselves, or offer cheaper programming so as to be able to pay the fees. Opposition led to the introduction of a 'quality threshold' which allowed that, in exceptional circumstances, a bid could be rejected if it were deemed excessive, or that an incumbent could be chosen against a higher- bidding applicant, if it were felt that incumbent's programming was 'exceptional'. As described by Greg Dyke, the franchise round, '...Became a crap shoot. You had to work out, in the franchise round,you had to work out who was bidding against you. Of those, would they pass the Quality Threshold, and would they pass the financial test... Scottish and Central both found out that nobody was bidding against them, and both bid virtually nothing [3] It was the Quality Threshold that saved LWT.

Despite the streamlining and the successful battle with trade unions, LWT knew that if it were to keep on making quality programmes, it could not over-bid. It had to rely on the quality of its programmes and submit the best offer it could, knowing it could be far less than a rival bid; the strategy worked, and LWT won a third contract with an annual bid of £7.5m, against a rival who bid £36m but whose plans were deemed not good enough.

The round brought many changes around the network and caused much confusion. TVS bid £59m and lost, Yorkshire Television bid £43m and won, and Central succeeded with a bid of £2,000, knowing it had no rival bidders. LWT even had a stake in Sunrise Television, who outbid TV-am.

Significantly, LWT's weekday rival, Thames, lost its licence - outbid by Carlton. It was told it could not fall back on its long history of programme-making. After 24 years living in its shadow, LWT now outlived the station that was its fiercest enemy. LWT had a far better relationship with Carlton, and shared many operations including playout and studio space, but most notably creating a joint news service, London News Network.

The South Bank Television Centre was renamed the London Television Centre in 1992 (a name which still officially remains, despite signage bearing the name having been removed from outside the building), with the studios re-branded as The London Studios to avoid confusion with BBC Television Centre (although the name 'The London Studios' has been in use since the early 1990s as the trading name of LWT's studio operations). Today, it is the chief production centre for ITV plc.

Shot of the London Studio (ITV's London HQ, and known for being the home to LWT)

From 1993, LWT's low bid made it attractive to others wishing to take it over. The Broadcasting Act allowed for some consolidation in the network, and in 1994, the North West franchise holder, Granada launched a hostile takeover for the company. Eventually, a deal was agreed, valuing LWT at over £650m.

ITV London

By 2001, Carlton and Granada owned all of the franchises in England and Wales, and in 2002 took the decision to unify the playout and branding of all of the companies to become ITV1, with regional references used only in accordance with regional programming.

LWT marked its final day on air with a series of tributes to LWT's past, beginning with an authentic startup routine leading into the ITN Morning News. All elements of the startup were recreated in Macromedia Flash and in the 16:9 aspect ratio. Later that day, a recreation of LWT's famous River ident would lead into The South Bank Show, which would be the last programme broadcast under the LWT name. The show was followed by a final signoff featuring continuity announcers Glen Thompsett and Trish Bertram appearing 'in-vision' to toast the departing station, and a celebratory montage of LWT presentation across the years, assembled by senior ITV presentation producer Gareth Randall.

When GMTV handed over to the weekday franchise the following morning, the national ITV1 brand was on-air, with the new team of Network Continuity Announcers announcing for the first time; former Meridian announcer Paul Seed was the first network voice.

The operations of LWT and Carlton Television were merged to become ITV London, a 7-day service. Unlike the other English and Welsh franchises, ITV London did not receive regional idents featuring the London name til the 2003 refresh,however only one of these idents was ever used at a single junction from launch. Apart from this rare occasion, the channel was only known verbally as "ITV1 London" prior to regional programmes only. In February 2004 Granada and Carlton completed their merger to become ITV plc, owning eleven of the fifteen ITV regional franchises.

The LWT logo continued to appear at the end of its programmes until 31 October 2004. However from 1 November, it was replaced by a Granada endcap, with programmes either credited as "A Granada London Production", or simply "A Granada Production" instead. Since January 16, 2006, all network productions produced by any ITV plc-owned company carry an "ITV Productions" endcap and since the start of 2009 have adopted the "ITV Studios" brand.

LWT people and programmes

The station's output was limited, producing an average of 50 hours of programming a week. However, LWT had a disproportionate effect on post-war British television, as a number of high-flying media personalities including Michael Grade and Greg Dyke were 'LWT Boys'.

David Frost was an original director of LWT, and he presented a late-night chat show on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the station's early years; another chat show host who made his debut on LWT was Russell Harty.

Other notable early shows included We Have Ways of Making You Laugh (a sketch show starring Frank Muir which was due to be the first programme scheduled to be aired on LWT, but industrial action blacked it out early in the first show); the children's fantasy Catweazle; and several sitcoms, including On the Buses, Please Sir!, Me and My Girl and Mind Your Language. The channel also created the comedy-clips format with It'll Be Alright on the Night, Clive James On Television and the much-derided Game for a Laugh which in turn spawned Beadle's About and You've Been Framed!.

Because it was a weekend station, LWT's output tended to concentrate on more lightweight material than Thames and Carlton, but it did produce a number of successful drama series. Within These Walls, a prison drama starring veteran actress Googie Withers, seems to have inspired the later Australian soap opera Prisoner Cell Block H. Lillie was based on the real-life story of Lillie Langtry, and saw Francesca Annis reprising the role from ATV's Edward the Seventh, and The Gentle Touch starring Jill Gascoine was the UK's first drama series with a female police detective in the lead role. However, by far the station's most successful drama was Upstairs, Downstairs, a successful attempt to produce a costume drama comparable in scale to the BBC's The Forsyte Saga. Neither did it neglect other responsibilities: it established the long-running Sunday lunchtime political series Weekend World and ITV's most famous arts programmes Aquarius, and its replacement The South Bank Show (due to end during 2010). The Sports Department at LWT featured programmes such as World of Sport which ran for 20 years on a Saturday Afternoon and was billed as ITV's answer to Grandstand. Other shows included Saint & Greavsie, On the Ball, and The Big Match (re-named The Match between 1988 and 1992). The latter two shows were hosted for many years by ITV's main football commentator Brian Moore.

Major programmes on LWT included most of ITV's weekend line-up, which included gameshows like Friday night favourite Play Your Cards Right, Saturday night favourites Punchlines, Blind Date, and Gladiators, and long-running Sunday night drama series London's Burning. Nigel Lythgoe, who won infamy as a judge on ITV's pop talent show Popstars, is a former controller of entertainment at the company, working as an executive producer on many of the station's top-rating programmes during the 1990s and early 2000s. LWT also owned 50% of London News Network Limited, producers until February 2004 of the news programmes London Today and London Tonight; regional news for London is now produced by ITN.

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ From 1968 until 1992, when LWT's weekday neighbour was Thames Television, there was an on-screen handover to and from LWT at each end of the weekend; from 1993 to 2002, when LWT's weekday neighbour was Carlton Television, the transfer occurred invisibly during a commercial break as Carlton and LWT shared studio and transmission space.
  2. ^ "London Weekend Television". Ofcom. Retrieved 21 July 2009.  
  3. ^ .The Story Of ITV (Episode 3, Part IV)(2005) Executive Producer, Melvin Bragg

External links

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