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Anglia Television

Broadcaster, Production Company

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The expansion of the Independent Television Authority (ITA) transmitter network into the East of England in the late 1950s proved technically difficult, largely for topological reasons. The proximity to mainland Europe required a minimal signal output to the south east, while Chillerton Down used the same channel (11) and also had to be avoided. At the same time, the signal had to reach the coastal areas of Suffolk and Essex. The site chosen, therefore, was a disused airfield at Mendlesham, to the south-east of the region, and a directional transmitting antenna was to be employed to radiate high power to the west and north, covering East (and West) Anglia and into Lincolnshire. Due to the flat nature of the terrain in the area - and the region as a whole - a 1,000ft mast was commissioned, then the tallest television mast in Europe. It was the first of six similar ITA masts across the country, one of which was the ill-fated original mast at Emley Moor.

Applications were invited for the franchise in early April 1958, and no less than eight were received, one from each of the 'big four' (Associated-Rediffusion, Granada, ABC and ATV) and four new consortia - with the Norwich Union insurance company a partner in three of them. The contract was awarded to the new consortium headed by Lord Townshend, the Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk, and including the Manchester Guardian newspaper, with instructions that the group should incorporate one of the other bidders. The group promised strong local programming and had good financial backing. The name was chosen almost immediately - Anglia Television - and the station went on the air from Mendlesham, late due to problems with the directional antenna, but at least before Christmas, on 27 October 1959.

Topology reared its head again almost at once. Perceiving in the projected Dover transmitter a potential threat to its service area - as it would be receivable in parts of Suffolk - Anglia protested to the ITA, which pointed out that the transmitter would also overlap the London and southern areas, and there was, in any case, no guarantee of exclusivity. All the broadcasters affected applied to broadcast from Dover, but as the ITA considered the London stations big enough already, the choice was between Southern and Anglia, and the former won.

Despite this, Anglia did well from the beginning, and early on began providing significant programming to the network. A deal with Associated-Rediffusion gave it guaranteed access to the network, but even so the company was disappointed not to be included in the powerful Network Planning Committee, which decided overall network strategy. As a result Anglia agreed with other regional companies to join together on expensive acquisitions such as film rights, and founded what became known as the British Regional Television Association.

Like most ITV companies, Anglia survived the 1964 franchise round, despite having two opponents, and even extended its reach through the addition of the Belmont transmitter in East Lincolnshire, and Sandy Heath, which covered Bedford and Peterborough, where the Mendlesham signal was problematic. In the 1967 round, the company was unopposed.

At the turn of the 1970s, the nature of the terrain caused the company further problems following the advent of UHF, which required more transmitters, each serving a smaller area. Belmont became a powerful UHF site radiating up into Yorkshire, and Yorkshire Television complained, while at the same time facing similar problems of its own at its boundary with Tyne-Tees. Anglia was threatened with a significant loss of coverage. A plan was drawn up to merge Anglia, Yorkshire and Tyne-Tees, but the newly constituted Independent Broadcasting Authority was not as easily convinced of the benefits of consolidation as a modern light-handed 'regulator', and allowed only the two northern stations to join forces, under the Trident Television banner. Anglia ended up leasing Belmont to the group, and as a result some viewers in Norfolk suddenly found themselves watching Yorkshire Television, while Southern Lincolnshire viewers pointed their antennas at the Midlands to receive ATV. It took ten years for additional low-power relays to only partially solve this problem, and even today houses as far south as Cambridgeshire can be seen with two antennas, one pointing at Sandy and the other - usually - at Belmont.

Although one of the smaller ITV companies and thus less likely, and less able, to contribute shows to the network, Anglia made a name for itself in several programme areas, although it tends to be remembered as the producer of rural and farming shows. One memorable example was the 30-minute drama series Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88), each episode of which consisted of a self-contained suspense story, largely written by Roald Dahl, who, for a couple of series, introduced the plays from an armchair. The series was sold to 70 countries. The game show Sale of the Century (1971-84) was well known throughout the country, with its introduction, "And now, from Norwich, it's the quiz of the week", from compere Nicholas Parsons.

The alliance with Associated-Rediffusion in the early days generated some of the first archaeology series on UK television, such as Who Were the British? (1965) and The Lost Centuries (1968). The first covered the history and impact of the Romans in Britain and marked a significant step for the coverage of archaeology on television, while the latter covered post-Roman Europe up to the Renaissance. Both took advantage of archaeological expert Dr Brian Hope: through these and other programmes, Anglia led in the development and approach of archaeology programming in the UK.

The company also produced a remarkable series of multiple award-winning nature/environment programmes extending over four decades under the Survival and Survival Anglia banners - initially as regular series but ultimately limited to specials. In 2001, Survival moved to Bristol to become part of United Wildlife, ultimately to become Granada Wild under executive producer Brian Leith.

Anglia also produced the mysterious Alternative 3 spoof documentary - originally intended to go out on 1 April 1977 but in fact broadcast some time later (on 20/6/1977) as a result of industrial action - which claimed that the US and Soviet Union knew the Earth was doomed and had colonised Mars with hand-picked humans.

The programme Bygones, and its much-loved presenter, the late Dick Joice, had a tremendous impact in the region, despite being little known outside. In two particularly memorable programmes (Horsemen and The Harvest), Joice assembled teams of men - some in their eighties - to demonstrate their now-lost skills with horses and in the fields. Each edition explored local East Anglian history and traditional crafts and featured mystery objects, about which Joice asked viewers, "Does anyone know what this was used for?"

Other shows produced by Anglia included Gambit (1980-?), a TV version of the card game pontoon for couples, hosted initially by Fred Dinenage; Enterprise (1977-84), one of the first business shows on ITV, which ultimately transferred to Channel 4; Match of the Week, which covered local soccer matches; an antiques programme called Bygones; and a number of P.D. James adaptations.

One of the company's most characteristic original features was the Anglia Knight that acted as ident and logo for many years. Originally modelled on the statue of Richard Coeur de Lion outside Parliament, it was made to represent the Black Prince, and was commissioned by the King of the Netherlands from a London silversmith in 1850. The King was so certain that he would win a falconry contest that he had the statuette made before the contest - but it was won by an Englishman who brought it back to the UK. It remained in the victor's family for a century until it was bought by Anglia, who had certain modifications made, such as the addition of a pennant with the station name at the top of the lance. Anglia's initial black and white ident was a masterpiece of lighting and film work, with different aspects of the model highlighted as a specially-recorded excerpt of Handel's 'Water Music' played. The move to colour resulted in a more mundane approach, in which the Knight was simply seen rotating continuously on a turntable, and rather lost the magic.

The franchise auction in 1992 saw some competition in the form of two consortia, one centred around EMAP, while the other was a by this time somewhat familiar combination of Virgin, Charterhouse and David Frost, which also not for the only time failed to meet the quality threshold. Winning with the higher bid, Anglia went on to purchase cartoon production company Cosgrove-Hall when it was divested by franchise loser Thames, but was itself subsequently bought by the majority shareholder in Meridian Television. Soon after, MAI joined forces with United Newspapers to create United News and Media. Anglia was then annexed by Granada and finally brought into the ITV plc group on 2 February 2004.

Richard G. Elen

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)

Ironic stories of menace and the macabre with a sting in the tail

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