Regional ITV anniversaries: to celebrate or not to celebrate

Anniversaries are a funny time for media organisations. On the one hand, they can be an opportunity to celebrate genuine achievements or indulge in some harmless nostalgia. On the other, no forward-looking organisation wants to be seen as living in the past or relying on past glories.

That’s particularly true just now for traditional broadcasters wary of younger people who are more attracted to Netflix or niche brands. So a few recent anniversaries have proved interesting.

Last week ITV Channel produced a terrific piece on the 40th anniversary of the 1979 ITV strike. The story of how a tiny company kept going through the dispute was well worth documenting properly. It was genuine history – not nostalgia.

Meanwhile in Norwich, it was the 60th anniversary of Anglia. The champagne corks were popping at Anglia House but inevitably such occasions can prove a little difficult.

EXTERNAL LINK: Anglia at 60.

Anglia, of course, now only produces a regional news service. Marking the anniversary inevitably meant acknowledging the wide range of regional programmes Anglia once made. And, of course, Anglia often punched above its weight contributing popular and sometimes distinguished programmes to the network.

Away from the bonhomie, it would be hard not to feel Anglia’s best days are long gone – and that is said with no disrespect to their news team.

So will the 60th anniversary of UTV on 31st October merit much more than a casual remark or an item on UTV Live? Certainly there are no special programmes scheduled but that is perhaps unsurprising. UTV did an extensive two-part series last year marking its move from Havelock House. Inevitably a similar programme now could prove repetitive. The station also makes much use of its archive in regional output. From the lighthearted Rewind with Julian to serious programmes on the legacy of The Troubles.

Arguably the station is guilty of looking back a little too often – even if clips shows are harmless in isolation and it is hard for anyone outside Northern Ireland to truly grasp whether it is better to reflect on The Troubles or attempt to put them in the past and attempt to move on. There are legitimate arguments both ways.

But it will be interesting to see if the birthday gets much acknowledgment. If it doesn’t, it will certainly add to the circumstantial evidence that ITV is doing nothing to develop the UTV brand.

But here is the nub – when a regional ITV anniversary comes up, exactly what should the celebration focus on? Is it the individual company, its regional output and contribution to the network? Or is it about all the programmes transmitted by that station including the network output?

It has been a bit tricky, to say the least, for ITV nationally to mark its 50th and 60th anniversaries without fully acknowledging the distinguished, and at points remarkable, contribution made by Thames between 1968 and 1992. And a celebration of 25 years of ITV News Meridian must have been wasted on many viewers – especially when some of its staff also worked for Southern or TVS.

So looking back or looking forward? Well perhaps the best phrase was ushered by the legendary announcer Roger Shaw when Westward became TSW. To loosely paraphrase: “All that is familiar was once new and all that is new becomes familiar.”

Acknowledgements

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Posted by Andrew Nairn

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