Southern Television was the first company to have the ITV franchise for the south and south-east of England and they launched in August 1958. Their first ident consisted of a compass with the south point much longer than the others to emphasise exactly their location and this was used for their first few years on air.
After a while this was changed to a much more simplified version of the symbol that now more resembled a star. A new nine-note piece of music was introduced and occasionally the slogan “The Station That Serves The South” appeared on screen. When colour was introduced the ident was changed to white on blue, and that was about it for the evolution of their presentation really.
Southern did produce some networked programming, with some of their children’s shows in the 70s and early-80s going on to be successful, including the original version of How with Fred Dinenage, the game show Runaround, and the mighty Worzel Gummidge, all programmes which are still fondly thought of by viewers today.
Southern also had in-vision continuity, featuring several announcers including Brian Nissen, and their local news programme was Day By Day. Of the clips of Southern that I have seen online, one aspect of their output that has intrigued me the most was their late night news update Southern News Extra, which was introduced with the most bizarre out-of-place funky music, and was usually hosted by announcer Christopher Robbie who always had his glasses ready.
Southern was also involved in one of the most bizarre incidents in British TV history. One evening in November 1977, their transmission was interrupted by a mysterious audio message from an alien-type figure that supposedly gave viewers something of a fright. It was a rare case of pirate television in this country and the people behind it were never tracked down.
Southern were a very proud company and in 1979 they celebrated their 21st anniversary, and were beginning to look forward to the future with their inevitable franchise renewal in 1980. Only that didn’t happen. They lost to newcomers TVS and would leave the air at the end of 1981. They arguably win the award for being the company who were the most bitter at losing.
The end of Southern is a rather remarkable experience. On their final day the continuity studio featured a big sign in the background that said “Southern Television 1958-1981” and they completely refused to acknowledge their successor TVS, with anything that would be shown from New Year’s Day onwards on the new franchise simply being referred by the announcers as being “on ITV”.
This led to their final programme And It’s Goodbye From Us…, a remarkable 150-minute long self-congratulatory sombre piece that aimed to put into viewers’ minds if they hadn’t realised already that their leaving the screen was a massive injustice. When the programme ended, there was no mention of TVS, and not even a closedown, the Southern star just span round and into the sky, and that was it, away it went forever, as if there was going to be no more in TV in the region. Presenter Christopher Robbie hosted the show wearing a big bowtie and his closing thank you speech concluded “I’m sure you won’t forget us…”
…and yet about a day later he turned up as if nothing had happened as an announcer on TVS and worked there for the next five years. If Southern thought that TVS were not worthy of the franchise they would be wrong, as their 11 years on air would definitely be lively and an interesting period in the history of ITV.