Sunday, September 17, 2023


Recent history can still turn to dust without anyone noticing, and if that history reflected your local area, that stings further.

Television South (TVS) provided ITV programmes for the south and south east of England from 1982 and 1992, back when Southampton, and TVS’s second base in Maidstone, was as major a producer of television shows as Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham or Newcastle, places reduced to outposts for regional news as ITV merged itself into a national company based primarily in London and Manchester. Travelling into Southampton took my family past the TVS (formerly Southern, later Meridian) studios, and it commanded my attention every time.

TVS sold its news output to Meridian when it took over the southern ITV franchise, but the rest of its programme library is currently missing, believed lost or destroyed, creating an eleven-year gap covering children’s programmes like “No. 73”, “Motormouth”, “How 2”, “Tugs” and “Mr Majeika”, dramas like “C.A.T.S. Eyes” and “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries”, game shows “Catch Phrase” and “All Clued Up”, comedy shows by Bobby Davro, “Summertime Special”, the sitcom “That’s Love”, international co-productions including the UK segments of “Fraggle Rock” and a 1987 film about Nelson Mandela starring Danny Glover, along with a large number of documentaries and local public affairs programmes that could have visited my local town.

This is, once again, a case of “lost media” meaning an archive is lost, and not just unavailable online. Many off-air recordings of TVS programmes have been put online by members of the public, but finding them is difficult, as searching the straightforwardly named “tvs” or “television south” is often counterproductive.

TVS is the only ITV company whose output is unavailable, with other former franchise holders having their programmes taken over by the companies succeeding them, or by local archives and businesses. However, the owner of the TVS library, wherever it is, has been The Walt Disney Company since 2001, after a long process of company takeovers that involved evangelical Christian preacher Pat Robertson and “Power Rangers” producer Saban Entertainment. This process appears to have shed the paperwork associated with the library, crucial to making the programmes available to view on home video or online, the last such incidence being the release of “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries” on VHS cassette in 2000. 

Later enquiries made by people to Disney about the location of the tapes themselves has led to the unsatisfactory conclusion that they are unavailable or lost. It is not likely that the tapes were “wiped” because the price of broadcast-quality cassettes had declined enough by the 1980s to avoid a practice of reusing them, and because the potential of revenue from home video necessitated retaining them, just as when Pat Robertson launched a UK version of The Family Channel using TVS repeats. 

It is not known if these tapes have been mislaid, or simply thrown away, and the perceived worth of the archive to The Walt Disney Company is also unknown – I cannot imagine they had much use for a daytime magazine show titled “Not for Women Only”, but someone may do, if only for research purposes.

This could be an argument for needing an audio-visual equivalent of the British Library – the British Film Institute has a vast archive, which includes some TVS programmes they have received over the years, but they do not act in that sort of capacity. When a programme’s worth cannot be foreseen, being unable to make that decision because it has already been lost is difficult to take – even if is a Bobby Davro sketch show so “of its time” that the cultural references make no sense, it would be useful to see why.

This situation required a campaign to find parts of a major international show made in my lifetime, “Fraggle Rock” – the UK wraparound segments filmed by TVS starred Fulton McKay and later John Gordon Sinclair as a lighthouse keeper. Only twelve episodes were known to exist in broadcast quality, later raised to twenty-nine after the search – the remaining sixty-five episodes exist as off-air recordings made by members of the public.

I only got rid of my VHS cassettes because I knew I did not own anything that didn’t otherwise exist. This cannot be confidently said for anyone owning a recording of a TVS programme.

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