Media: The last rites for 'First Tuesday': Does the decision to drop its highly regarded documentary series mean the death of serious journalism at ITV? Sue Summers investigates

HOW WOULD you reward a campaigning documentary series whose meticulous investigations have led, among other things, to the release of the Guildford Four; that has exposed a range of social scandals, from ill-treatment in Britain's old people's homes to the continuing use of Thalidomide in the Third World; that in the past 10 years has won most of the major television awards and is agreed, both within the business and outside it, to represent the highest standards and ideals of television journalism?

The answer, alas, is all too predictable in the modern climate of ITV. You cancel it.

While ITN has so far fought off the efforts to displace News at Ten, Yorkshire Television's First Tuesday is due to disappear in November, down the plughole that the new ITV structure seems to have created for programmes which perform a useful but non-commercial function. A network that in the old days supported numerous different factual programmes now has only one weekly slot for documentaries, as distinct from current affairs.

It is the mysterious thought processes of the network's new head of factual programmes, Stuart Prebble, that in order to make ITV's documentary output more audience-friendly, it must be 'branded' under a single name - undecided as yet, but likely to be something stunningly original such as The ITV Documentary.

Though the name First Tuesday obviously cannot possibly survive, its 40-

strong team - the largest in ITV - is being kept on, in the expectation of being commissioned to provide material for the new slot. Mr Prebble has, however, refused to guarantee them future work, saying this would be against the spirit of free and open competition that now operates in ITV. Many on First Tuesday fear that when their name and separate identity have gone, they will quickly follow.

'I'm afraid it's the death sentence,' says one First Tuesday veteran. 'There have already been large-scale redundancies at Yorkshire. It's hard to see how they can justify keeping on a large department under contract if we haven't got a guarantee of network slots. It's obvious we're just a white elephant which doesn't really belong in the new world of ITV.'

Ironically, Mr Prebble claims to have the highest possible opinion of First Tuesday, viewing it as 'an ITV asset which I'd like to see maintained, if at all possible'. Indeed, he claims that, had it been feasible, the name First Tuesday could have been the brand name for the new ITV documentary slot, in the same way as the South Bank Show will be that of all ITV arts programmes.

'I started the campaign for quality television,' he says, somewhat plaintively, from his desk at the new ITV network centre. 'Why would I take this job if ITV intended to abandon all the principles that I stood for?'

Nor is the general despondency shared by Grant McKee, Yorkshire's new programme controller, a former head of features and documentaries who was himself responsible for the three First Tuesday programmes that helped secure the release of the Guildford Four.

'We're sad to see the end of the series,' he says. 'But we have a lot of work for Channel 4, too, and, with a team like the one we've built up, I'm confident that we will go on getting both enough commissions from ITV and the sort of work which is best suited to our strengths.'

The team would like to believe him. 'It's hard to believe our jobs are safe when you look around the office and see people sitting there with nothing to do,' says one. The work that has come their way recently bears out a widespread suspicion that the new-style ITV is no longer interested in hard-edged serious journalism about unpalatable truths such as injustice and cruelty but only in the soft, the lightweight and the entertaining. One of the most recent commissions from Yorkshire's documentary department was 3D, an early evening miscellany of short reports on subjects from stomach stapling to a Sloane Ranger who married a Sudanese warlord. In one programme, it managed to fit malnutrition into eight minutes. Despite its brief to be popular, ratings have been low, but Mr Prebble has already commissioned a new series for next winter.

'There is nothing wrong with short, popular documentaries,' says a member of the First Tuesday team. 'But they call for different skills - ones that are not our strength, frankly. You don't need very highly qualified, highly paid producers to make something like 3D.' First Tuesday itself has not always stuck to hard-edged subjects. One of its most moving recent programmes was about Siamese twins.

Mr Prebble's intentions towards the documentary are already the subject of speculation in the television world. Called upon recently by Rod Caird, the former head of Granada's factual programmes, to spell out his views publicly - in the Daily Telegraph - Mr Prebble replied at length but left documentary makers none the wiser about the kind of films he intends to support. While he insists that he will not abandon the serious documentary, his first two major commissions have not engendered much confidence. They are a three-part series on Hollywood women from Carlton and four films on the Royal Family - albeit produced by Phillip Whitehead, who was responsible for ITV's highly praised The Kennedys.

The First Tuesday team has already put forward about 20 ideas for next year, but so far Mr Prebble has commissioned only four. These were all chosen from the softer subjects on offer, including one on supermodels. To many of those who work on the programme, this looks like the writing on the wall.

'Stuart Prebble obviously thought it was time for a change, which is fair enough,' says one. 'What worries us is not that First Tuesday is disappearing, but that decent serious investigations are going down the pan, too. If we're not careful, the skills and traditions of First Tuesday are going to die along with the name.'

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Financial Accountant / Bookkeeper- Drinks Brand / FMCG

£30000 - £34000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A new and dynamic drinks and FMC...

Application Support Engineer / Graduate Software Support Engineer

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Application Support Engineer / Graduate Soft...

Account Director

£45-50k + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Director / AD with a st...

Digital Account Director

£Competitive + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Account Direct...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style