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Thames Television History

The shotgun marriage

Thames Television was formed in 1968 by an enforced franchise merger of ABC and Rediffusion, at the instigation of the Independent Television Authority in their 1967 review of franchises. Although it was to be an equal arrangement in terms of share ownership, the ITA wanted ABC to effectively have the management control.

Neither side was particularly happy with this state of affairs, but neither wanted to mount any kind of challenge, and agreed to try to make it work. A complicated structure was created, where the new franchise was vested in a company jointly owned by holding companies ABC Television Ltd and A-R Ltd, effectively husks of the original organisations. The parents held the rights to the existing material.

The other main difference from the previous pattern was that the new weekday franchise had lost Friday nights, with the changeover to London Weekend to take place at 19:00.

Naming the Baby

Howard Thomas, as the Chairman of the new body was very keen that the new name should not consist of initials, and that it should portray London clearly. Since London Weekend had already taken the name `London' (although later they were to disappear behind initials) something else was needed. The first option was Tower Television, combining images of the still new GPO Tower with the historic Tower of London. Eventually the name Thames Television was favoured. Oddly this was a name that had been considered and discarded by London Weekend.

Thames took over the franchise from Rediffusion on 30 July 1968. Programmes were disrupted on the very first day as part of a strike by the technician's union, which plagued the whole of ITV for about a month, during which time an emergency service was transmitted to the whole country by ATV and Thames management, from the old ATV suite in Foley Street.

Company Fortunes

The odd financial structures of Thames Television meant that its ownership was seemingly always in question. Only a few years after its formation ABPC was acquired by EMI, although assurances had to be given to the ITA that the company would be managed separately from ATV, in which EMI already had a significant stake. Subsequently Thorn merged with EMI.

Through the late 1970s and early 1980s the parent companies seemed to lose interest in actively developing Thames, using it as a cash cow to fund other developments. The company was wracked with continual internal disputes. Nevertheless they managed to retain their franchise in 1981, although a little more of Friday was hacked from their broadcasting hours. This was helped by their only opponent bidding also for the London weekend franchise. The London franchise area had been reduced by the move of the Bluebell Hill transmitter to the South East of England area, served by TVS.

In 1985 Carlton Communications made a takeover attempt. Carlton obtained the agreement of EMI and BET that they would sell their shares, and gained an understanding with some members of the IBA that the takeover would not be blocked, as Carlton was a public company, while Thames was not. However, Thames' management, in particular Richard Dunn felt somewhat aggrieved that their two shareholders had behaved in this manner, and appealed directly to the IBA, who proposed a compromise solution: Carlton to own 49% of the company, with the existing shareholders owning 25.5% each. However Carlton was not interested and the deal lapsed.

Later just before the 1991 franchise round Carlton again tried a purchase which in the end did not go through, but BET sold its shares to Thorn EMI.

Loss of Franchise

The rental was fixed at 11% of qualifying revenue in the 1992 round. Thames Television lost the London Weekday Franchise to Carlton who outbid them, 43.17 million against 32.79 million. A higher bid had been put in by the Virgin/David Frost/Charterhouse consortium, which was ruled out on programming quality.

Current Prospects

Thames Television continued in business as an independent producer for ITV, and more recently the BBC and satellite/cable. Additionally Thames used to be part owner of the UK Living and UK Gold satellite channels, with UK Gold drawing on the extensive catalogue of Thames programmes. This arrangement changed recently after a deal with Flextech plc, where they traded their ownership for 8.8 miilion Flextech shares. Their former Children's Television Department has become Tetra Films.

Thames Television is now a subsidiary of Pearson Television , who also own a small part of BSkyB, all of Grundy Television, and a 30% share in Channel 5.

Dates & Transmitters

Start: 30/07/68
Stop: 31/12/92



Croydon 9V 30/07/68 - 3/1/85

UHF (Main)

Crystal Palace: 23H 17/11/69 - 31/12/92
Bluebell Hill:  43H 25/02/74 - 31/12/81

Thames Programmes Addresses ITW