ITV: Tyne Tees Television at 50

Last year we celebrated the 40th anniversaries of Thames Television, HTV, Yorkshire Television and LWT. Now we turn to Tyne Tees Television who today celebrates half a century on air.

The City Road studios of Tyne Tees Television in Newcastle. They shut for the final time in 2005.

Despite there being little to celebrate with the current regional ITV downward spiral due to cost cutting, and quality cutting, we look back to the days of Tyne Tees in the 1970s and 80s when the studios employed over 1000 staff members.

Tyne Tees Television burst into life at 5.00pm on January 15th 1959. The station from the outset was proud of its region and set out to provide the North East with programmes of entertainment, drama, education, news and documentary.

Tyne Tees began life officially on January 4th 1958 when the national and regional newspapers were issued with a statement from the ‘new company which is to provide commercial television in the North-east.’ Back then, however, the name Tyne Tees hadn’t been devised with directors of the new ITV franchise calling the company by its unofficial ‘working title’ of North East Television.

The early founders of ‘NET’ included Sir Richard Pease, a North Eastern industrialist who was appointed Chairman. Other members of the board included film producer Sidney Box and George and Alfred Black who ran a successful entertainment empire which included a number of theatre and cinemas.

In October 1959 ‘Tyne Tees Television’ began a publicity campaign across the region. ‘Don’t Be Late For Channel Eight’ was that first slogan. Adverts for the new service were placed on billboards, in newspapers and even traveling displays were seen across the area consisting of a Tyne Tees film unit van showing off its equipment with leaflets and staff on hand to let as many people as possible know about this new local service.

Tom Coyne one of TTTV’s early stars.

The name North East Television had been dropped, so legend has it, because someone pointed out to the board that ‘NET’ was likely to end up being nicknamed ‘Netty’ by viewers in the region. Not a flattering brand for the station; as in the North East ‘Netty’ was a common term for a toilet.

Meanwhile behind the scenes Tyne Tees had been building their empire; in two old disused warehouses. By December 1958 the warehouses had been transformed into the state-of-the-art City Road Studios, a complex the company would remain based in for over forty-five years.

The first transmissions by Tyne Tees, Channel 8, in January 1959 were watched by a quarter of a million viewers. The opening ceremony was performed by the Duke of Northumberland and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

The Big Show was a mix of music, variety, game show and stand-up comedy. Tyne Tees while intending to educate and inform where possible also set about from the outset of providing local entertainment. Show business was the backbone of the station, which isn’t to everyone’s taste.

As noted in ‘Tyne Tees at 20’ author Antony Brown remarks “Show business is a phrase that may be used with contempt or enthusiasm according to taste. In the early days of Tyne Tees it was undeniably the keynote.”

One local newspaper critic commented on The Big Show that Tyne Tees’ first production was ‘A strange mixture of slick American film productions and somehow amateurish live broadcasting’.

Outside of the area Tyne Tees was noted as being haphazard, amateur with a sever lack of sophistication. Yet ITV viewers didn’t seem to care, or even notice such issues – they loved the station. It was after all their local broadcaster. Something from the North East which was making programmes about, and for, the North by many people who had grown up in the region. Some viewers even believed that everything they saw on ITV in the North East was made and broadcast from City Road.

Presenter, singer and later a public relations officer at the station George Romaine recalls: “One night an old lady came round to the studios with her two grandchildren asking if they could be shown the horses… …she thought we could show her boys the horses from the Westerns.”

TTTV’s on-screen look from 1979 to 1987.

The first big hit show from TTTV was The One O’clock Show a daily variety series – which ran for 1098 episodes between 1959 and 1964.

Based on the already successful format of ITV Midlands’ Lunchbox series The One O’clock Show was held in much affection by the Tyne Tees viewers and demand to be in the audience was always high. Critics of the ITV regions claimed performers wouldn’t travel to Newcastle to appear, yet The One O’clock Show boasted the big stars of the day only too happy to appear live from City Road.

Former programme controller Tony Sandford recalled: “It had an enormous public relations effect……Five years of a hundred people coming in and out of the studio five days a week. It was a great link with the people.”

While Tyne Tees excelled in entertainment, they didn’t neglect their promises of a wide variety of local programming that was of interest to the viewer. Spotlight was a discussion programme which saw everything from religion to racism. Guests over the years included Barbara Castle, Harold Macmillan and Enoch Powell.

News coverage came in the form of North East Roundabout, sporting events in Sports Desk and The Epilogue the nightly dose of regional religion. Documentaries about the region also proved popular – especially the ones looking back at historic events, culture, people and the lifestyle of the North East.

In 1960 The Guardian gave the station a backhanded compliment: “An energetic down-to-earth station very much aware of its regional audience and of what would go down with them. It makes no pretension whatever to meet highbrow tastes which must be a great minority [in the north] anyway.”

From Northern Life to Tonight via continuity announcing, the North East legend Bill Steel.

But highbrow was about to be forced onto ITV, whether they – or the viewers – liked it or not. When the station launched Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick – the ITA regulator chairman – commented “ITV has been criticised for giving the customers what they want rather than what they ought to have… …We will make every effort to give you what you want.”

By 1964 a look into the operation of ITV by the Pilkington Committee recommended some serious changes. Their scathing report noted: “The general judgment is unmistakable; it is that the service falls well short of what a good public service of broadcasting should be.”

The committee wanted to see a more ‘grown up’ ITV, a more responsible broadcaster. At Tyne Tees a major revamp took place to appease these views. The first casualty was that of The One O’clock Show, airing for the last time on Good Friday ’64. The Black brothers stepped down from their role as Programme Controllers, replaced by Arthur Clifford – a former ITN stalwart executive who brought the further-needed seriousness to the station’s output.

North East Roundabout was restyled to focus more on ‘hard news’ rather than lifestyle. Other programmes such as Newsview and a late night service North East Newscast introduced more news coverage to the station with a more intensive and professional stance.

Public service was also a popular buzz-word of the time. Just because ITV was commercial it was felt it shouldn’t be an excuse not to ‘serve’ the viewers. In 1967 Tyne Tees launched Where The Jobs Are; a weekly employment information slot which in the end ran for decades.

In the same year they also broke new ground by employing Clyde Alleyn as a presenter and announcer – the first coloured announcer to appear on UK Television. A year earlier the company had also launched an adult educational strand. Programmes such as Say It In Russian, The Liberators and The Making Of Music were aired with booklets in association with Durham University released for viewers interested in learning about the subject matter.

North East Tonight personalities, host Mike Neville MBE and weatherman Bob Johnson.

The 1970s saw Tyne Tees continue its popular mix of news, sport, factual and entertainment with a wealth of programming including: Farming Outlook, Shoot!, Those Wonderful TV Times and Challenge.

Challenge proved to be one of the first big hits for the station, launching in 1970. A format that has become a staple part of daytime networks in the UK; the show was a debate and chat series with well-known guests participating in topical debate along with the studio audience.

It was a format that Tyne Tees made ‘their own’ for a long time with a late night version, Friday Live!, added to the schedules in 1978 – and although its name changed many times over the following years the station was still making a show with this format well into the 1990s. The series was pioneered by executive Andy Allan who would later depart for Central Television and bring viewers shows such as Boon and Inspector Morse.

Tyne Tees continued to break new television ground in 1973 with the launch of their Access series – a forerunner of programmes such as the BBC’s Open Air and Channel 4’s Right To Reply slots – it gave the viewers a chance to have their say on whatever subject was close to their hearts. A filmed report by the viewer was then preceded by a studio debate on the issue. A spin-off – Access On The Road – saw the debate held in various locations across the region.

TTTV’s entrance which became famous as ‘The Tube’ as seen in the music show of the same name on Channel 4.

News was also beefed up in this decade with Today at Six launching in 1970 – a change that also signaled Tyne Tees broadcasting in colour rather than black and white. By the 1980s the news show was Northern Life, running from 1976 to 1992. The 1980s saw the commitment to local programming continue, however the station also became slightly more ambitious and sought more national commissions. The biggest of the era was a programme which aired on Channel 4 – the legendary music show, The Tube. Hosted by Jools Holland and Paula Yates it became the show to be seen on. For a company that was considered cozy, The Tube was very much of the era, in fashion, edgy and not afraid to take risks.

Other popular networked programming from Tyne Tees during the 1980s includes, Crosswits, Chain Letters, Supergran and Play It Again.

The 1990s, as noted by most television presentation sites, was the beginning of the end of ITV as a strong regional network. Government pandering to ‘friends of Maggie’ saw changes that were to make ITV change from ‘the people’s channel’ to ‘the shareholders channel’ and from being considered a much loved network by viewers – to one that is seen as greedy, out-of-touch and far from loved by the many. Despite this Tyne Tees did make some notable regional contributions to the ever-decreasing local schedules in the past twenty years. Shows such as Tyne Tees Weekend, The Dales Diary, The Mike Neville Show and Robson’s Personal Call are all very much worthy of being classed as ‘Tyne Tees classics’. News was also boosted when in November 1992 Tyne Tees Today was launched, fronted by Paul Frost and Pam Royle. In 1993 the service was split with Network North launching for TTTV’s Teesside and North Yorkshire area, and Tyne Tees Today continuing in the Tyneside, County Durham and Northumberland area.

In 1996 they also pulled off a major coupe when TTTV lured Mike Neville over from the BBC to ITV. Mike had worked for Tyne Tees in the early 1960s before switching to BBC North to host Newcastle-based Look North. He remained with the show for 32-years before causing a media frenzy in the region when he quit for the rival station. Mike was lured over to host an hour long North East Tonight show, which replaced Tyne Tees News which had only launched ten months earlier.

We’re not going to focus on the decline – today Tyne Tees is fifty. We know it won’t make fifty-five, let alone sixty. How can I sum this article up, other than to say to everyone at Tyne Tees – past and present: “Thanks for the memories.”

Popular personality, Kathy Secker.

Top Ten Tyne Tees Facts:

  • The first person to be interviewed by the station was Prime Minister Harold Macmillan


  • Tyne Tees were the first broadcaster to conduct a live and unscripted interview with a member of the royal family. Prince Philip was the guest on Face The Press in 1968.


  • The Tube was taken off-air after Jools Holland said f*ck during a live trailer for the programme broadcast at tea-time. The name ‘The Tube’ comes from the tube-like entrance to Tyne Tees which was added in the late 1970s when the studios were expanded.


  • Tyne Tees were the first company to broadcast a live church service from a prison chapel. The Sunday Service programme was broadcast from Durham.


  • The station was the first to give Sir Jimmy Savile his own television programme. Young At Heart was aimed at the regions teenage viewers.


  • Tyne Tees were the first station to use a ‘mobile video unit’ rather than the traditional film units of the day.


  • Coronation Street was recorded at the City Road studios in the late 1960s. The regular home of Corrie – Granada Television in Manchester – was undergoing a renovation and so the sets of Weatherfield came to Newcastle.


  • Tyne Tees’ station theme tune was called ‘Three Rivers Fantasy’ it was also used in the original station idents. It was composed by Arthur Wilkinson.


  • Before the TV Times, viewers of Tyne Tees in the North East could buy the stations own television guide – The Viewer.


  • The first advert screened by Tyne Tees in 1959 was for Welch’s Toffee. The daughter of this company boss went onto find further fame herself on ITV – Denise Welch.

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