Robert Hampton

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19th January 2011

Local TV for Local People
Posted by at 9.50pm | 1 response | Television

Obnoxious Tory-boy Jeremy Hunt has outlined proposals for new local TV stations which would serve cities and conurbations rather than the larger areas covered by the current BBC and ITV regions.

Hunt was supposedly inspired by America, where city-based TV stations are the norm. But the idea isn’t new: for a brief period in the late 90s, Liverpool was blessed with not one, but two local channels available on cable. This seemed to be a reaction to the perceived Manchester bias of BBC North West and Granada Television, with the Scouse chip-on-shoulder exploited to maximum effect.

The first effort, Channel One Liverpool, was a joint venture between the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo and Daily Mail & General Trust. Channel One was already established in London and Bristol, and the Liverpool service was operated as an “opt-out” from the London channel. Typically, a 30-minute Liverpool news bulletin (produced from a small studio in the Echo’s Old Hall Street building) would be broadcast on the hour, followed by a feature programme from Channel One London.

The news bulletins were typical local news fare: petty crime, bins not being emptied, cats stuck up trees. Even then, they often struggled to fill 30 minutes. On one occasion they showed about eight minutes of a bad VHS recording of the previous night’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire, purely because the contestant was from Liverpool and did quite well. I also have a vague memory of a very enthusiastic five minute package about a car boot sale in Anfield.

Although it seems to have been largely forgotten now, there is some evidence of Channel One on YouTube. This clip is from August 2001, and apparently it was 20 degrees outside. It’s not much, but it does at least show a bit of the news studio.

Excellently, when Channel One London closed in 1998, the Liverpool outlet decided to go it alone. With the loss of the London-based features, the output now consisted almost entirely of the 30-minute news bulletins which were prerecorded and repeated on a loop, using a playout system which seemed very unreliable. It was not uncommon to tune in late at night (when the channel was left running unsupervised) and see a blank screen because the computer had crashed. There was also a sheepish apology one evening on the main 6pm news after the previous night’s programme was transmitted in a totally random order.

Occasionally the news would be interrupted for Billy & Wally’s Night Out, a variety show featuring the Plum-tastic duo sitting in a dingy pub, introducing cabaret acts. This clip gives some idea of the lavish production values:-

The other outfit was L!VE TV. Yes, that one – the cheap-as-chips channel (run by the human vomit-stain Kelvin MacKenzie) and home of Topless Darts et al. For a brief period a local variant of the channel (Liverpool L!VE) existed. Again, this was an opt-out from the main L!VE TV service, and I wonder what red-blooded males tuning in for Strip Masterbrain thought when they got News 18 Liverpool instead.

The news output was incongruously a rather sober affair, read from a bunny-free studio by a woman who kept her clothes on throughout. The one gimmick was the travel bulletin, typically read by a startled-looking bus driver who’d been ambushed by a camera crew while parked up on Water Street waiting for his next run.

There is absolutely nothing of Liverpool L!VE on YouTube, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it did exist, honest.

Neither of these ventures lasted long. Liverpool L!VE disappeared along with its parent channel in 1999, while Channel One soldiered on into the new Millennium, finally folding in 2002. Probably its biggest legacy to the world of TV was star reporter Andy Bonner, now working at Granada Reports.

Where was I? Oh yes, the new local TV proposals. I’m not sure that TV channels will work in these days of fragmented viewerships and whatnot. For one thing, it’s going to be difficult to convince audiences to switch over from the main channels. There’s also no way that a local operation can fill 24 hours a day, even if it repeats its programming ad nauseam as Channel One did.

Luckily, Hunt has the answer to these problems: a new national TV network with defined local programming slots:

Hunt hopes the new UK-wide channel will act as a “spine”, probably with national programming mixed with local content from around the country to make it attractive to advertisers and therefore commercially viable.

A national network supporting strong local broadcasters with a unique connection to their local area? It’ll never work.

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One Response
  1. Comment by Ian Jones
    23rd January 2011 at 10:19 am

    I’ve a particularly strong memory of Pete Price on Channel One, doing a radio phone-in… but in vision. That was the gimmick. The entire thing consisted of a camera staring at Price and him staring back, while callers’ voices were played in to the tiny studio. It was rubbish. If I recall, he mostly ignored the points raised by the callers, instead airing his own obsessions and alternately slagging off/praising the “Liverpool spirit”.

    Meanwhile, is it wrong to admit I chuckled at the “it’s for me mam!” gag in the Billy & Wally title sequence?