The story so far:
Our hero has had a childhood fixated by theme music and television graphic symbols, among other things. . . . He has collected a number of friends and allies, formed a tape recording club, set up "correspondents" in a number of other schools, in other regions, and is slowly organising the collection of an archive of regional opening routines and Idents for the British Independent Television regional companies, the B.B.C., and Pirate Radio Ships.
Now certifiably mad, our hero is 14, and due to transfer to be a day boy at a boarding school in Cheshire. Will the club survive? Now read on.....
As my last year at Prep School shot past, in a romantic haze of happy, old boy sentiment, the new Pirate Radio Ships were at the height of their popularity. For youngsters, 1965 and 1966 were the years of great excitement in U.K. broadcasting. At 14, I was a prefect, with the authority to organise others...
For the first time, part of the broadcast spectrum in the U.K. was not in the hands of the 'establishment'. We all modelled ourselves on 'Dee Jays' , a new American word (previously it was always 'announcers'); and there can hardly have been a boy in the land who was not running a 'pretend' radio station in his bedroom, often broadcasting down a wire to long suffering parents, or even besotted grannies. The story was the same in every home.
Tape recorders allowed jingles to be 'nicked' off Radios London or Caroline, re-cut, and re-used, to remind Grannie just who she was (compulsorily) "tuned in to". "Home Broadcasting" had become the fashionable activity of the younger teenager throughout the country. Records were borrowed, exchanged, or just taped off the BBC Light Programme, the pirates, or Radio Luxembourg.
We all thought we were very clever and sophisticated. What we didn't know, was that we were accidentally building a contemporary archive of radio and TV clips of the time.......even the sound tracks of TV adverts could be relentlessly re-cut, and re-used. Whether Grannie was a C2 or D class socio economic purchaser we didn't know, only sounding realistic mattered.
The audiences' purchasing power was firmly re-directed to a shopping list of blank tape, vinyl singles, and chocolate bars! I doubt if the British record industry sales body realised that their figures were inflated nationally, by an army of Grannies, under pressure from their grandsons, up and down the length of the country!
Pretty soon, with the shining example of "how ITV worked" , the tape "networking"possibilities began to occur to us all. Throughout the land , hundreds, possibly thousands, of children, mainly boys it seems, were running "one house" radio stations, re-using ITV ads, and taping their output for archive or repeat use (poor Gran). Taking the federal structure of the ITV network as a guiding light, the idea occurred to some of us that a national postal exchange of these tapes would allow as many participants as wanted to join, to form a network, expand our audience, and introduce station idents! Not an opportunity to miss, for the ident possibilities alone! In an Internet free era, classified adverts were placed....
A national"postal diffusion"of the tapes would replicate those elements of ITV that so inspired us, in a radio setting. As for our new name, well, we could even take a leaf, out of the book of a certain London Week-Day television contractor.....we all did Latin at school anyway...
In the Spring of 1966, "TRANSDIFFUSION" was born.........
By the autumn of 1966 "The TRANSDIFFUSION Broadcasting System" had a national network of over 200 correspondents, submitting short tapes to the centre for editing, approval and copy onto 6 hour master tapes, which were compiled using the contributions as programme material, and with a full tranche of presentation material inserted before, between and after, [Darren please note!], the programmes, by TRANSDIFFUSION "Action-Central" H.Q., situated in an amateur radio shack in Wirral. (Yes, We also cringe in retrospect! ).
Head office, run like a fascist dictatorship by Kif and his friends, ensured that every programme was topped and tailed with plenty of idents, trailers, and continuity announcements. Each (regular) contributing club or organisation had its' own ident (we called them musical callsigns then), and the central continuity had its' own station identity, ruthlessly imposed on the total output. 200 families had their own national broadcasting network!
The 'federal association' of contributors was grouped into "Associated-Transdiffusion", while H.Q.s own programmes were made under the name of "Transdiffusion Liverpool". (Now I wonder what inspired that choice of names...?) Strict rules were imposed from the centre.....
The compilations or "Radiotapes" were re-diffused (!) back to the contributing stations ; we all heard each other's output. A small fee covered postage, and fresh blank tape was solicited as a "contribution", as Grannie was now fast approaching personal bankruptcy....
Our opening sequence had an "authority" announcement, modelled on something we had heard elsewhere:
Two hundred families, gave about five hundred listeners. Looking back on some of the taped output, more than 30 years later, one is struck by two facts :
1. Non of the announcers voices had broken.
2. There is so much presentation material, that the programmes were rather rushed, with view to reaching the next "networking junction" . More effort appeared to go into the breaks than the productions!
It was clearly the presentation that mattered to us all , rather than the programmes! [mhp-ers will understand that, I suspect!].
As time went by, the quality of the efforts improved, and our so called "Re-transmission stations" (the contributors and re-broadcasters) began to submit more ambitious material. We were soon doing amateur dramatics, writing our own plays (much science fiction), topical items, and many rudimentary documentary programmes. ("Is Paul McCartney an alien?").
Partly as a side effect of all this activity, and partly on purpose, our off air archive of contemporary broadcasting recordings was growing steadily. We were selective however, concentrating on signature tunes, opening routines, TV and radio idents, test card music in abundance, pirate radio station recordings, TV adverts, Radio Luxembourg clips, and trailers. We recorded very few whole programmes from main broadcasters.
Our big break came in the Spring of 1967, when a number of hospital radio stations seemed receptive to our idea of providing them with syndicated material to pad out their meagre programmes and budgets.
The "National Radiotape Network" was born, as a "Transdiffusion" subsidiary. It was time for proper organisation, committee control, and a shot of something called "democracy". We had trepidations as our first committee of control was elected. What price our dictatorship now?
In February 1967, the Independent Television Authority had announced its' intention to re-advertise the ITV contract renewals with a modified area structure, as an opportunity for new companies to enter the industry, which had been avoided for various reasons in 1964. The winners and losers were to be revealed in the June of 1967, for broadcast launch a year later in July 1968.
As we sat with our tape recorders, ready to record the ITN special bulletin in June 1967, announcing the changes, we little knew that those British television companies, symbols , and names that had so inspired us all, were about to be flung into the cement mixer of history.....
The story so far:
Kif, a bespectacled daydreaming child of the sixties, has gathered around him half a dozen like minded boys. Their tape recording club has been in full swing for about 4 years, making and exchanging radio style programmes on tape for an audience of 500 families and several small hospital radio stations. The tapes are compiled from listeners contributions, by post, and much presentation material added at the centre. All is copied onto 6 hour mastertapes, mailed back to each family, quarterly, and each hospital, monthly. A club archive is being built, which includes TV and Radio presentation of the time, taped off air. As we reach June of 1967 , Kif is 15. He gathers the committee round him, for an emergency meeting.......
One Saturday afternoon, in June 1967, I sat the committee down and tried to remind them of the enormity of what was going to happen next day. Although our archive activities had always come second to our production work, (to say nothing of the school work, God help us); it was obvious that one of those great historical moments was imminent , which, given our devotion to the subject, would turn our hobby lives inside out.
The I.T.A.was due to announce the new television franchise winners, for the next licence period, to begin 14 months later, in late July of 1968. As 1967 progressed, we got more excited about the historical implications. From the new "area" proposals, announced in the February, to the contract awards in June, we discussed little else. We drew up maps, and debated options. Anyone would have thought that we were the members of the Alternative Independent Television Authority!
It was pretty clear what was going to happen. Rediffusion were bound to be renewed, for London weekdays, as they had been in 1964. They deserved nothing less for their opening routine alone. Dad said that their programmes aren't bad either ; but that was of little interest to us.
Too young to judge the adult programmes, and too old to admit watching much kids stuff, we were, at 15, the perfect age to set our own specialised yardsticks for Lord Hill to follow. Yes, Rediffusion was safe ; if not , there would be such WIDESPREAD repercussions, that it didn't bear thinking about....
As for the weekends in London. Well, it was obvious that our own beloved A.B.C. were going to get that. It was their number one choice (of 3 applications!) and although we would dearly miss them, at Weekends in the North...they were a weekend outfit at heart, and deserved the bright lights of London after playing second fiddle to ATV for so long. They deserved great reward for "The Avengers" alone, probably the greatest adventure series in British TV History. It would be heartbreaking seeing the end of old "Perpetuum" in the North, but they would be going on to bigger things. Yes, that was a racing certainty.
"Lew" would have to be accommodated somewhere, we conceded. Anyone who can make Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds, can't be all bad! The arrival of the superb "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons" that year, wrapped it up. ATV must be saved. Give the man the Midlands. They have the SOUND, they have the VISION!
Granada were a non negotiable part of British Broadcasting. So they get 7 days in the new North West region. Pity they lose their eastern empire, but you can't have everything. We used to "put up with" Granada's dour presentation, in anticipation of the stunning weekend A.B.C.fare. It was asking a lot for us to put up with them 7 days a week in Wirral, but we had a soft spot for them , and they had bought Lew's Gerry Anderson shows from ATV! Good old Granada. Anyway, we can always watch TWW if need be!
Ah! TWW. What a crowd! Heroes of the WWN crash. You can take or leave the programmes, but WWN had started a fine tradition, presentationwise, that TWW had not altered. They had even let them keep the same trademark!! ("The Manky Tom Cat") ; Yes the Dragon symbol that so impressed us!
As for the new Yorkshire area, well "Trans-York TV" sounds very nice, as does "Telefusion Yorkshire". This "Yorkshire Independent Television Group" are a a mouthful. I mean, Y.I.T. Not much scope there. Judging by the doodles on our excercise books,
- "Smith. What is this bizarre motif on the cover of your maths book? "
- "A prospective symbol for Trans-York Television Sir"
- "Looks like a pair of legs to me Smith"
- "w..well, yes sir, ........ it is based on wider concepts...."
- "Take 100 lines boy"
In our alternative universe, with it's unique set of values, and I.D. priorities, based mainly on the level of mental "buzz" created by different openings,idents, symbols, and presentation standards, we were making a series of judgements against quite different templates to Lord Hill. We judged applicants by their presentation record alone. New consortia were judged by the "sound of their name" and the opening theme and I.D.possibilities that were conjured up!
It was clear then, what our "alternative ITA" would be offering. ABC and Rediffusion to prosper, ATV to survive, wings clipped (No Lew in London : snigger), Granada forever part of the firmament. New blood over the pennines, and if it all got too much, we can watch TWW!
As for the chop, well Scottish are said to be poor (that pres. tape from our Glasgow correspondent Eddie, would seem to confirm it), and Southern seem to have a profit margin greater than Rediffusion's! Some wing clipping needed there perhaps.
Yes, we smartie pants, knew it all.
On Sunday evening, in our respective homes, we tuned in to the special extended ITN news bulletin at 6.02.pm. It was clear that a raft of old and new symbols would be shown by ITN to illustrate the report. Tape recorders at the ready, box cameras pointed to screen, breath held, fingers crossed, kneeling in front of our sofas. I would not have blamed our parents for having consulted each other by phone about our group mental health.. We were ready to phone each other afterwards...
I looked round at the ashen faces. Roger, Dave, Sean, Peter, Colin, Malcolm, Me and Charlie. It was hard to know what to say. Pete, who was as devoted to Rediffusion as any lad could be to a TV station, for God's sake, had obviously been crying. Roger's project, a tape documentary "The ABC TV story" lay in ruins. David, from North Wales had a stunned vacant look. It really was hard to know where to begin.
I was vulnerable to criticism. I had spent four years turning the whole thing into a cult . These 7 lads, and me. We had succeeded in brain washing ourselves, and each other, into a devoted obsession. Two hundred miles away, 12 members of a government quango had, at one fell swoop, brought us down to earth, with a bump I will remember all my life.
Nothing lasts forever...
The newspapers were dramatic. We bought then all. I have them today.
No company had ever been replaced by the ITA before. The lay man never expected such upheaval. I had (psychologically) brainwashed my pals into this absurd devotion. They now looked to me for a morale booster. I was going to give them one. The power of positive thought was needed.
As I looked at seven very sad faces. I knew we had a task ahead.
We had 14 months to photograph, tape record, photo copy, write in, ask for letterheads, booklets, discs and old tapes. We would set about creating a small archive, so that these icons of our youth, could remain with us, always.
A.B.C., Rediffusion,TWW, & ATV London would live on in our memory.
People could share a small taste of them in future decades. Well, we did. And they did. And soon you can .
Kif's Story is copyright © 1998 Chris Bowden-Smith and is an MHP Presentation
Last Updated 06 Apr 2000