News Column

The pioneers of regioo onal TV news ; NOSTALG GGIAGRAHAM YOUNG looks at a brave new era when ATV began broadcasting news from Birmingham nearly 60... [Birmingham Mail (UK)]

July 13, 2013


The pioneers of regioo onal TV news ; NOSTALG GGIAGRAHAM YOUNG looks at a brave new era when ATV began broadcasting news from Birmingham nearly 60 years ago

MARY Hopkins summed up an era when she sang: "Those were the days my friend, I thought they'd never end".

But if you watch a DVD called From Headlines to 'Tight-Lines' - The Story of ATV Today you'll see just how much television really has changed since the mid-1950s.

The award-winning two-disc set begins by illustrating how ATV pioneered television news in the region and is a potent reminder of how hard it has always been - and surely always will be - to get any programme made.

A former cinema in Aston was used to house the new service and ATV Midlands News began broadcasting on May 7, 1956.

Local firm Birmingham Commercial Film Ltd was then given a contract to supply footage.

Yet its outside broadcast cameras would only record 30 seconds of material at once.

After covering a fire, original cameraman Gary Hughes recalls how it took six people to hold up 19ft of film in a loop while it was processed through a stills' dark room.

With no proper processing machines, a squeegee device was used to dry the film.

Recalling those early days, Gary adds: "We only had one sound camera and six mute cameras.

"The early sound cameras were huge and were powered by a car battery.

"It was known to take the battery out of the car for the camera.

"But the camera would only run for 10 minutes and needed 10 minutes to reload."

Pat Cox was the presenter of the first regional news programme in the country, described by production assistant Barbara Bradbury as "an absolute stickler".

"Before you went on air she wanted to know which story was her 'minute cue', and if you didn't get that right she would complain bitterly.

"But she was a very, very good newsreader.

Very professional."

Bob Gillman was the first ''fully-fledged journalist'' on the programme, and he later gave Bob Warman his first job in TV.

Warman says: "He had a certain style of talking and everybody used to take him off. But he was a lovely man. Absolute old school. He'd worked on the East African Standard."

Senior reporter Reg Harcourt recalls how people had lunch breaks in those "lackadaisical times". "We would end up in Rackhams as it was then called," he says.

While mostly male reporters were looking after the hard news stories, Jenny Martin was presenting feature reports for a sister programme called Midland Montage.

After eight years, it was then announced that a new 20-minute daily magazine programme called ATV Today would combine news and features from October 5, 1964.

An official memo said: "There will be four, full-time reporters.

"They will be David Lloyd, who has been the presenter of the successful Midlands Sports News Programme; Lionel Hampden, regularly seen on Midland Montage, Jennifer Gay, former introducer of BBC Children's programmes, and Kenneth Hill, writer of the controversial programme Second City.

"Each day the magazine will contain topical items on a wide variety of subjects and from time to time specialists will take part and report on such matters as motoring, aviation, industry, cinema, theatre, crime, farming, politics, in fact every subject which affects our every day life.

"The programme will be produced by Raymond Joss, Dan Douglas will be chief programme assistant and Tony Parker and David Scott will direct."

Bob Gillman passed away at his Kings Heath home in 2005, having outlived senior colleagues including Tony Flanagan, executive director, and Billy Wright, the ex-Wolves and England captain who became head of sport and outside broadcasts.

Central's former head of sport Gary Newbon said at the time: "He ran a very happy ship and it was like a family type thing."

Former news editor Mike Warman died in 2004, aged 65.

He worked behind the scenes to turn a fledgling regional service into a 6pm flagship, with brother Bob Warman, nine years his junior, later becoming the on-screen anchorman star after joining in 1973.

Next week: How the new ATV Today changed the face of TV reporting again In tomorrow's Sunday Mercury read about the day a young reporter called John Swallow was sent to interview Morecambe & Wise.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OLD FILM REELS? FROM Headlines to 'Tight-Lines' - The Story of ATV Today has won a FOCAL International Award for Best Use of Footage in a Home Entertainment Release.

Made by enthusiasts at, it can be bought online at MACE's Webshop at as well as via other online sources. Card payments can be made by phoning MACE on 01522 837750.

Based at the University of Lincoln, MACE is an independent non- profit making company and a registered charity.

It provides opportunities for everyone to connect with the culture and history of the Midlands through a 70,000-strong collection of film, tape and digital material from 1898 onwards, which includes news and documentaries produced by Associated Television (ATV) and Central Television, as well as other professional collections and a wealth of amateur material. MACE accept deposits of film and tape from members of the public and organisations if they have a significance to the Midlands.

If you have found some old tapes in your loft, contact Richard Shenton on 01522 837752 or email to discuss further. And don't forget to mention the Birmingham Mail.

'"The early sound cameras were huge and were powered by a car battery. But the camera would only run for 10 minutes and needed 10 minutes to reload CAMERAMAN GARY HUGHES

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