Alumni gather to mourn death of 'This Week': Michael Leapman reports on last night's wake for Thames Television's long-running current affairs programme, which bows out on Thursday

IT WAS BILLED as a wake, the invitations edged in black. About 250 people packed the Museum of the Moving Image on London's South Bank last night to mourn what was viewed as a sombre landmark in the history of commercial television.

Nearly all had worked on Thames Television's current affairs programme This Week, which will fade from the screen on Thursday with a compilation of highlights since its birth in 1956.

This Week is a casualty of last year's ITV franchise auction. Thames was outbid for the London weekday franchise by Carlton, which takes over on New Year's Day. This Week therefore lost its 8.30pm slot on Thursdays, although it will be replaced by short runs of current affairs programmes from other suppliers, going out an hour earlier.

The new programmes are not, however, expected to continue the trail-blazing style of This Week, which dealt with serious political issues at home and abroad. This is probably a too costly and insufficiently popular agenda for an ITV system saddled with high payments for its franchises.

The new programmes are likely to be more people-oriented and deal mainly with consumer and domestic issues, 'tabloid TV' aimed at higher ratings.

'We considered holding the party in the dinosaur room of the Natural History Museum,' Paul Woolwich, This Week's editor, said. 'We've been told that our kind of prime-time current affairs is as extinct as the dinosaur . . . But the Museum of the Moving Image was cheaper.'

David Elstein, director of programmes for Thames, said: 'What will replace This Week may or may not be current affairs. Life has moved on.' He described the programme's demise as 'the neutering of journalism on TV'.

The guest list included former This Week luminaries: Desmond Wilcox and Jonathan Dimbleby. Labour's Bryan Gould once worked on it, as did the former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, who sent his regrets. Other absent alumni included Jeremy Isaacs, Sir Robin Day, Ludovic Kennedy and Sir Alastair Burnet.

The programme originated with Associated Rediffusion, the first holder of the London weekday franchise. Thames took the programme on in 1970, though it suffered an eight-year hiatus after being replace by TV Eye in 1978.

Guests were shown a selection of historical highlights to be included in Thursday's programme. Among them are Jonathan Dimbleby's moving 1973 report on the Ethiopian famine; an interview with Stephen Ward, who committed suicide in the wake of the 1963 Profumo scandal; and several reports on Northern Ireland.

One of the most recent of these was Death on the Rock, the 1988 investigation into the shooting of three IRA terrorists by the SAS on Gibraltar, which so angered the Government that some believe it was a prime motive behind the 1990 Broadcasting Act and its destabilisation of the ITV franchise-holders.