ABC Weekend Television was faced with a dilemma in the fifties and sixties. They were on the air for two days a week, spread over two regions, the Midlands and the North (at the time when ‘North’ was a unified region, with no separate Yorkshire), while their ‘opposite numbers’, Granada in the North and ATV in the Midlands, had five days to impress their identity on their region.
How was ABC to respond, in such a way as to make its presence felt? How to find a way not to be overwhelmed by the Granada or ATV identity?
The answer was to be as different as possible from their opposite numbers. With Granada being Northern, dour and serious, ABC always felt lighter, with a more cosmopolitan touch. Against ATV in the Midlands, itself a lighter station, ABC went in the opposite direction, and became more heavyweight, emphasising its Adult Education and Sunday Arts programmes in extensive trailers.
This odd dichotomy of identity worked well in both cases, though seemed slightly more successful in the North. The Midland output suffered from sharing studios with ATV, and having to work hard to look different. In the North, separate studios seemed to facilitate a quite different weekend ‘feel’ to the station. This policy was successful with advertisers and ABC was always fully booked, and its rate card was more expensive than the Granada or ATV equivalents.
How did this affect the viewer?
As an ABC viewer in the early sixties, I was always impressed by the ‘balanced weekend package’ that ABC worked to provide. There was something for everyone – arts, variety, music, nostalgia, drama, ABPC’s films, children’s programmes, news and adult education, not to mention those weekend staples of sport, religion, and the Avengers.
Specialist programming abounded in the daytime slots, weekend programming generally starting before lunchtime, while weekday programmes started at teatime. Typically, in the early sixties daytimes, ABC had cookery, music, gardening, farming, and a highbrow cultural programme early on Sundays, with a magazine programme at teatime. These quality programmes balanced the more glitzy evening fare of films, drama and variety.
The weekday programming, hemmed in as it was between fixed points like news, Coronation Street and regional programming, was hard to vary and became predictable. With ABC at weekends, there was always something different, something special, or something unexpected. It could be “Teach Yourself Russian” from Tyne Tees on Saturday lunchtimes, “The Grammar of Cookery” on Sunday mornings or a joint production of “The Struggle for Peace”, with America’s Westinghouse for US education stations, on Sunday afternoons.
ABC offered a package of delights that made the weekend distinctive, and the weekdays with Granada or ATV predictable.
With a team of regular and friendly ‘in vision’ announcers, known on air as ‘station hosts’, and led by John Benson, John Edmunds, David Hamilton and Sheila Kennedy, ABC were never patronising, and always interesting. The contrast with the weekday companies was stark and very evident.
ABC succeeded in presenting a station personality that was quite unique in the television of the fifties and sixties.