Archive: grampian-tv

I was excited last week when I discovered that the great Gordon Burns is on Twitter. I used to love watching The Krypton Factor when I was a child.

The first thing I thought of was this ITV regions map puzzle. I knew I had to feature it as a television presentation gem of the week.

Is your knowledge of ITV regions strong enough to do this?

Today, the multicoloured map would be gone. There are, at most, four distinct ITV channels remaining. All of England and Wales has been homogenised into a merged ITV, and STV and Grampian has effectively become one STV channel as well.

This the accompanying article to my contribution to this week’s edition of The Pod Delusion. Parts of it are based on a previous article, What is STV playing at?

You can listen to the full podcast below.


In a recent episode of The Pod Delusion, Mark Thompson spoke about the good old days when ITV was still a federation of regional television stations. He outlined how, in England and Wales over the past ten or fifteen years, ITV’s regional diversity has given way to a bland umbrella brand.

But not all of the nooks on the ITV network have succumbed to the juggernaut. Four of the ITV regions are still independently owned, and three avoid using the ITV brand. In the Channel Islands, Channel Television still owns the franchise, even though it uses ITV1 branding. But in Northern Ireland, viewers are greeted by idents for UTV. And where I live, in Scotland, the two ITV regions operate as STV.

I can say with authority, given that I live here, that the reality of regional broadcasting on Channel 3 is not quite as rosy as Mark Thompson would like to remember. It certainly is not as quaint and charming as the ITV we remember from our youth — and, incidentally, it was delightful to hear the idents and jingles during Mark’s report.

Sadly, STV is a bit of a basket case. Apparently strapped for cash, for the past year or two it has been embroiled in a dispute with ITV plc that has only served to disadvantage viewers. ITV is trying to gain money that has been allegedly been owed by STV for over ten years. Meanwhile, STV is dropping as many ITV programmes as it can get away with in an apparent attempt to stop owing any more money.

This means that many of the ITV network’s most popular drama programmes have been dropped by STV. This has left Scottish viewers with no options if they want to watch some of the best British commercial television programmes.

Publicly, STV say this is all a brave stance for regional broadcasting in Scotland. That does not really explain why most of the replacements have been cheap imports, films and repeats. As amusing as South Park may be, it is not exactly an adequate replacement for the likes of Kingdom. Incidentally, South Park is seemingly supposed to count as Scottish programming because, in the words of STV director of broadcast services Bobby Hain, it is “mischievous and cheeky… just like the Scottish people.”

Bobby Hain often singles out Al Murray for particular criticism. He reckons that Scots cannot relate to a comedy cockney landlord, forgetting that there is in fact nothing Scots enjoy more than laughing at English stereotypes.

This strategy certainly is not being done for the benefit of the Scottish people. We can tell this because the ratings have largely fallen through the floor. Infamously, STV once ditched Agatha Christie’s Marple in favour of the film Blue Crush — because crap surfing movies set in Hawaii are really Scottish, right? It was a disaster for STV. You could almost have squeezed the viewers into a large football stadium. With just 6% of Scottish television viewers watching it, this made it the least watched of the five main channels in Scotland.

STV have recently broadcast Fitz, the woeful 1990s American remake of Cracker. Presumably they have done this because it is supposed to count as Scottish, despite the fact that it is American. In fact, Fitz more accurately describes what STV viewers go through when they realise that their favourite programme has been replaced by a low budget michty-me, jings, crivvens and help ma boab bag of shite.

Because when STV are showing “regional” programming, it is a parochial embarrassment. One of the programmes it’s pushing most is The Hour. Imagine a cross between The One Show and Live From Studio Five, with a twentieth of the budget and presented from a shed. That barely describes the horror.

In the evenings, STV broadcasts STV Casino. This is the sort of gambling programme I railed against in a previous edition of The Pod Delusion.

More ambitiously, STV sought to find out the Greatest Scot. Among the nominees for the title was John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television. What Logie Baird can’t have foreseen was that his compatriots would be unable to watch anything decent on it.

Soon enough, STV will run out of “Scottish” topics to make programmes about. What next? The History of the Word ‘Outwith‘? Barry Ferguson’s Greatest V-Signs? Susan Boyle’s Ten Favourite Ditches?

Maybe there will be a celebration of the Scots language and / or dialect, with a version of Countdown played in the Scots tongue. Sadly, the only exciting action would be a Buckfast-fuelled brawl surrounding the precise spelling of words like ‘airse’ (‘erse’?) and ‘bawbag’ (‘ba’bag’?).

This new found love for “local” programming really is rich coming from STV. This is a station that, just a few years ago, would do anything to avoid showing locally produced programmes. It transparently sought to meet its quota of regional programmes with cynical late-night repeats of Weir’s Way and extra editions of Scotland Today Interpreted For The Deaf.

This all makes me wonder just what the ‘S’ in STV stands for. Is it ‘Scottish’? Or is it ‘stultifying’? ‘Stupid’? ‘Sellotape’? In fact, I think it’s probably ‘shite’.

Mark Thompson’s idea is a nice one, but is based on a rose-tinted view rather than the reality we Scots have to live with just now. It is true that something needs to change in order for ITV to survive. But the solution to that is surely obvious when you think about it — they should bring back Blockbusters.

Last week Ofcom gave ITV the go-ahead to cut regional output by 50%. Today ITV have duly gone and cut 1,000 jobs, almost half of which will come from regional news. ITV plc looks set to reduce the number of its regional news areas from 17 to nine.

It does make you wonder about the future of regional television, if it even exists. I have personally never been a fan of regional television, and I say that even having lived all my life in a very distinctive part of the UK. I might be the wrong person to ask though. I’m no fan of the “idiot box”. Next year, when F1 finally goes back to the BBC where it belongs, I will probably be able to say that I do not watch commercial television at all.

But regional television, it is fair to say, is not exactly pain-free viewing. More often that not, you can tell the programmes were made on a minuscule budget, and they are generally pretty naff.

Of course, back in the day, most ITV programmes were “regional” in the sense that they were made by one of the ITV franchisees. But the best programmes went out on the network and were therefore aimed at a national audience, with UK-sized aspirations and UK-sized budgets. As such, programmes that were aimed to serve a particular area were, almost by definition, sub-standard. I do wonder quite what the point of such programmes is.

It is slightly different for regional news. I can understand the appeal of having a separate bulletin dedicated to the news in a particular area. But the thing is that the regions are always too big for the bulletins to have a truly ‘local’ feel.

The ITV region I live in, STV Central, stretches from approximately where I live to Fort William while encompassing the massive populations of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde. Watching the bulletin, you would get the impression that hardly anything ever happens outside of Glasgow apart from the politics stuff which happens in Edinburgh. Even many of the political programmes, both on STV and BBC Scotland, are made in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh. If you live anywhere else, it can feel pretty alienating.

The BBC has never even attempted to split Scotland up into regions and Reporting Scotland essentially aspires to be a national news bulletin. The problem with even this is that there either isn’t enough news to report or there isn’t enough budget. Even Scotland, with its large area and separate institutions — most importantly, the Parliament — apparently doesn’t have enough going on to properly justify taking up 30 minutes of the schedule.

Whenever I watch Reporting Scotland, they seem to spend about five minutes per programme trailing what’s coming up later in the programme. Around five minutes into the programme, they are already talking about sport. And then they are normally only talking about football. Jimmy McPhee is in the airport today ready to depart for his meaningless match. Big whoop!

Another problem with regional news — especially on ITV — is the fact that the regions do not seem to be very logical. I’ve already talked about the huge area covered by STV Central. At some arbitrary point in Glenrothes, probably depending on how far behind the hill you are, you stop receiving STV Central and start receiving STV North / the old Grampian. Why is that then? Is Glenrothes more relevant to Aberdeen than to Glasgow? That’s not clear to me. Bearing in mind the fact that much of the population of Glenrothes is or was Glasgow overspill, it doesn’t seem quite right.

Of course, that is nothing compared to the abominable “Border” region which straddles England and Scotland and takes in the Isle of Man for good measure. That is an anachronism if ever there was one. You can tell the ITV regions were originally drawn up about sixty years ago because that would never wash today. I am no nationalist, though I am a little bit of a conspiracy theorist, and one has to wonder if it was a deliberate choice to have one ITV region that took in these three political entities — a 1960s equivalent of saying “North Britain”.

It is probably wrong for me speak for residents of the ITV Border region when I don’t live there, and I can well believe that there are many people who, having grown up with Lookaround, feel very attached to it. But for me, if I lived in the south of Scotland, with legislation affecting my life being made in Edinburgh, I think I would prefer to get my news from a Scottish city rather than Carlisle.

Of course, as Cllr Fraser Macpherson points out, that situation will be even worse under ITV’s new proposals. If ITV get their way, the Border and Tyne Tees regions will be merged. So Scots living in the Borders will not be getting their news from Carlisle — they’ll be getting their news from Gateshead.

The problems of the ITV Border region are recognised, with the existence of a ‘Border Scotland’ opt-out. From what I gather, this incorporates a news segment dedicated to Scotland and editions of Scotsport. What a faff that is though. Would it not just be more sensible to go the whole hog and recognise Scotland as a distinct entity? Every so often SMG express an interest in buying the Scottish bit of the ITV Border franchise. I kind of think they ought to get on with it, particularly if it’s only going to merge with Tyne Tees otherwise.

There are two big reasons why the situation is such a mess. One is geography. I am sure there are bureaucrats somewhere or other whose dream is for the ITV regions to be transformed so that they match the government office regions of the UK. At least that would be neater, and at least that way Scotland would have its own ITV region.

The problem is, those pesky hills get in the way. There is a clever map of the ITV regions on Wikipedia, and as you can see you can’t actually draw many meaningful borders between regions. The map looks like a mess.

The big reason, though, is of course money. Maybe back in the 1960s and 1970s owning an ITV franchise was a license to print money. Today, ITV leaks money like a sieve. Richard Havers traces the change back to the introduction of satellite television. This sucked advertising revenue away from ITV and spread it thinly across hundreds of smaller channels.

Since then, the ITV companies have merged and merged and merged until they became CarltonAndGranada before becoming the ITV plc we all love to hate. Scotland was not immune either as Scottish Television swallowed up Grampian to become SMG (now STV Group) and subsequently almost merged with UTV.

It now no longer makes financial sense for ITV companies to pour money into making news programmes. Economies of scale dictate that the regions will become fewer and bigger until they cease to be regional at all (and as I argue above, perhaps that has already happened).

I think it is time to give up on the idea of regional news programmes, at least on ITV (though Scotland can probably sustain it thanks to its status as a nation, relatively large population and separate political system). But if regional news must stay on television, perhaps it would be better to think of it as a public service that the BBC alone should carry out. I know that ITV is a PSB too, but they are considering giving that up because they think it costs them too much now. The writing is on the wall.

Besides, if I want to know the local news, where do I go? I certainly don’t watch Scotland Today if I want to find out what’s going on locally. I would buy The Fife Free Press or just visit a local news website. These options are probably far more cost-effective way to get local news.

Apart from that, dare I say that local news might be one arena where people turn more and more towards citizen journalists?

Don’t ask me why, but recently I’ve been thinking about Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade. For anybody who doesn’t know, Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade was a popular television programme shown on Sunday afternoons on STV. Many generations will have memories of the programme — it lasted from 1966 until 1992.

Those who are aware of my age (20) might be surprised that I can remember Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade. Having found out that it finished in 1992, so am I! But not only that, I also have memories of a time when it was still called ‘Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade’.

I have a distinct memory of my auntie grumbling about the amount of cartoons on the programme: “They should call it just ‘Glen Michael’s Cavalcade’.” Later on it was re-named Glen Michael’s Cavalcade. This must mean that I can remember at least two series of it. Or maybe my memory is just playing tricks.

On Sundays my brother and I were always used to be carted around Glenrothes to visit relatives. I think Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade was just about the only thing that made these visits bearable, which is why I have such memories of it when none of my peers do. I’ve asked my brother if he remembers it. I’ve asked friends who are the same age as me if they remember it. Nobody does, apart from people who are much older than me.

Having said that, my memories of it are vague at best. The only cartoon I can ever remember from it featured a very short-sighted man. As I recall, the cartoon was a bit of a one-note joke. As far as I can remember, the man basically spent his whole time wandering around narrowing his eyes and bumping into things. I’ve never seen a frame of it since Cartoon Cavalcade ended.

But Glen Michael’s (Cartoon) Cavalcade was famously short on actual cartoons. Much of the programme was spent watching Glen Michael fooling around. I quite strongly remember him playing a Scotland Today newsreader where everything in the bulletin went disastrously wrong.

Glen Michael was also joined by some creepy characters that were not so much puppets as inanimate objects. One of them was an oil lamp called Paladin who didn’t move a muscle, but did light up and speak. Scary stuff.

The only thing I remember about Paladin is actually quite a strong memory of him / her / it being confused about anti-litter week. Paladin thought it was about somebody called Auntie Litter coming to visit. Paladin had to be reminded several times in between cartoons that there was no such thing as Auntie Litter. I bet you if I get Alzheimer’s disease, this will be the early memory that I always go back to.

Clearly, Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade was an intensely local thing. If you ask anybody in the central belt who was born before the mid-1980s, probably everybody would know Glen Michael. But ask anybody south of Penicuik and you’ll probably get a blank look.

Even on the internet, information about Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade seems pretty thin on the ground (anything that doesn’t have a video on YouTube is obviously neglected). What is there is conflicting. For instance, the entry on Answers.com says that the programme lasted from 1975–1985, although this is clearly not true as there is no chance I would be able to remember a programme that ended before I was born.

Wikipedia actually has a reasonably in-depth article which seems to be more reliable. It says Cartoon Cavalcade lasted for 26 years from 1966, which seems about right.

There are also a few blog posts out there — including this from those Consolevania chappies — by people from central Scotland reminiscing about the programme and collecting their threadbare memories. Best of all is this fine MetaFilter thread. If this programme was networked it would undoubtedly be hailed as a cult classic, the sort of programme that would be featured in an I ♥ the 1970s programme.

But there even seems to be confusion as to whether or not the programme even went out on Grampian. If it didn’t go out on Grampian, that would make Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade central Scotland’s best-kept secret. Although maybe it was just the rest of the country being a whole lot wiser than us.

But I have also discovered that, amazingly, there is a Cartoon Cavalcade videoyou can buy it via Amazon! I probably won’t buy it unless it has footage of Glen Michael doing a swear word.

Even more amazingly, I discovered that Glen Michael is actually still alive! It’s difficult to imagine how such a legendary figure can disappear off the face of the planet without actually dying. It pleases me greatly to learn that, unbeknownst to the rest of us, he is still broadcasting to senior citizens via a regular slot that is as much as a secret to under-90s as Cartoon Cavalcade was to anybody outside the central belt. The programme is on Saga FM in Glasgow, a station which I didn’t even know existed. Despite being 80, Glen Michael looks a bit like a sober Terry Wogan in that photograph.

And not only is he still alive, but he is also still touring Glen Michael’s Cavalcade around primary schools! What a legend.

Today viewers were given a preview of Scottish and Grampian’s brand new uber-identity, STV — er sorry, I mean stv — which launches next Tuesday.

STV ident The idents are a bit strange. We’re treated to a variety of gormless people goofing about, sometimes in recognisable locations, with a plastic ‘S’ which resembles the old British Steel logo. I think it’s meant to look like they’re all passing the ‘S’ to each other, but the editing is pretty awful so it looks nothing like that. At one point we see a couple of women chatting to each other over a coffee, and this big blue ‘S’ just gets shoved into her hands! Bizarre.

You can see the idents on the video clip attatched to this story on the Scotland Today website. It contains an interview with STV’s big wig Bobby Hain who makes a strange comment about how the two shades of blue in the logo are about people connecting the top to the bottom, or something like that? Where have I seen two shades of blue in a logo before? doctorvee logo

The new logo is nothing though. Here is the press release about it.

stv’s new website, stv.tv , will be launched later this summer and will feature an exciting new range of entertainment, lifestyle, news and sports services.

Hang on a minute, stv.tv? Just in case you weren’t aware that STV is a television channel, they have put ‘tv’ in the URL twice. This new website sounds rubbish anyway. There are already a million generic websites claiming to offer an “exciting range of entertainment, lifestyle, news and sports services.” They need to get with the times. Don’t they realise that the coolest thing for broadcasters to do these days is to buy social network websites? They can’t all have been taken already?!

There will also be an exciting new gaming section designed to satisfy Scotland’s evergreen love of bingo and quiz-show based games.

Translation: $$$!

This bit is interesting though.

Some of the first services available in the coming months on stv.tv will include a minute-by-minute comprehensive news service which will be boosted by users posting their own stories, sound bites and video clips…

So is this STV getting into citizen journalism? It could be interesting… But then again, it could just be a bunch of illiterate neds yapping about fitbaw.

The biggest question, though, is what does the ‘S’ stand for? Surely the answer is obvious: Scottish, surely? Well I heard that STV are eager to downplay the idea that the ‘S’ stands for Scottish or Scotland in case it alienates people in the Grampian region! So apparently the ‘S’ can mean anything you want. That’s what S-Club always used to say, so I assumed it just stood for ‘shite’…

Well that’s another blog milestone notched up. One of my posts has been linked on Wikipedia — an article on Nighttime TV.

Substub which appears to refer to a broadcasting error, the only other reference to which appears to be here. Not notable unless a lot more information emerges.

(Emphasis mine.)

Just as well STV and Grampian are rebranding then…

Do you think it’s worth editing the article? I’m not sure if Nighttime TV is very notable either!

I completely missed this news yesterday. The first time I heard about it, it was buried in a newspaper review on Radio Scotland this morning. SMG have finally decided to stop pretending that they are running two television stations and just be upfront about it. Grampian Television will be gone forever, and the two SMG regions will now be called good old ‘STV’.

Thing is, they’ve actually taken quite a brave decision. Well, kind of. A real brave decision would have involved making good programmes. But by ditching the Grampian name they are opening themselves up to accusations of Glasbolisation and general central belt centredness. People will start to think that SMG are doing things on the cheap by ending regional programmes.

Some sign trouble at Cowcaddens
Sign trouble at Cowcaddens

When I told my dad about this he said, “So are they not going to have regional programmes any more?” Then I pointed out to him that both Scottish and Grampian have been showing almost exactly the same output on both stations (apart from regional news) for years already. In fact, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that it is actually in their Ofcom licenses that Grampian programmes must be shown on Scottish and vice-versa.

This sort of thing can mean so much to a lot of people. Some MPs are up in arms about it of course. My gran lived in Glenrothes, and when she moved to a different house a few blocks away all of a sudden she found herself in a different ITV region! She said was upset because she’d miss Shereen! Not that that would matter any more anyway…

I guess SMG thought that with the planned sub-regions for the news (two each in Scottish and Grampian) they decided it would be as easy just to have four sub-regions under the one brand. It’s all a bit odd. Launch sub-regional bulletins then sack all the staff! It will probably be painful viewing…

As I say, though, despite the heritage and all that stuff, I am glad they are ditching the regions idea (symbolically at least). Regional television is a relic, a hangover from the 1950s. Does anybody actually like regional television? But local television programmes are usually unduly parochial, made on the cheap and generally don’t make for pleasent viewing. I think the exception is Newsnight Scotland (I know a lot of people dislike it, but it is so much better than the London-based section of Newsnight which is like watching The Day Today; at least they seem to get somewhere on Newsnight Scotland), and that’s more national than regional / local anyway. Local radio and newspapers can be good, but it just doesn’t work on television. It’s also pretty silly for a television station to have over a dozen different names anyway, when the third channel is usually referred to as ‘ITV’.

Most of the ‘regional’ programmes are nothing to do with the region anyway. I could kind of understand it when they did a programme about fishing or something. But that shoestring budget copycat version of Ready Steady Cook, or that programme about films, and that holiday programme? Let’s not forget those repeats of repeats of repeats of repeats of twenty-year-old editions of Weir’s Way. Cheap or what?

It was also plain embarassing watching Scottish / Grampian Television because of how they tried to escape ever mentioning either of the brands for fear of alienating half of the viewers. More often they would just call it This Channel (‘This Channel?’ which one is that then?), and the logo would consist of four generic blue squares. After midnight the channel actually appeared to be called ‘Nighttime TV’, which fooled nobody. This mess is finally being cleared up, with a much tidier ‘STV’.