Sense of injustice remains as TV-am signs off: Maggie Brown was the only outside journalist allowed in for the last show

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The Independent Online
TV-AM shut down at 9.25am on Thursday with a mixture of cheerfulness, bravado and pathos. Much effort had gone into devising ways of easing the final pain and the evident feeling of injustice. But afterwards, as staff stared at a blank screen realising this really was the end there was a sudden, sad stillness. Tears sprang to many eyes.

In its dying moments the channel flashed photos of everyone who worked there, to the strains of Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best'. It was the idea of Bruce Gyngell, TV-am chairman. He was determined people should leave with heads held high.

The reel of photos led into the final, dignified sign-off from presenter Mike Morris, one of the original team from 1983, who remained cool throughout the last show, yet is one of the few without a new job: 'Now sadly, we have to say it. Thank you and goodbye. That's it.' Then the cameras panned over waving stars and contributors, many in tears.

From 7am onwards former staff and guests started to congregate at TV-am's egg-cup decorated headquarters at Camden Lock, north London. Bobby Davro turned up in drag (pink knickers and skirt) to plug his pantomime and do a spoof weather forecast. Gamely the programme director, Bill Ludford, said: 'We wish GMTV well. They have taken lots of our staff.'

Beneath the make-up and cosy-looking pink and red jackets of the screen stars, there was a sense of waste, of an extended family being thrown to the winds. To an outsider this seemed to have been a station where people actually liked each other.

Mr Gyngell, the 63-year-old Australian whose intuitive leadership moulded the station's maverick approach, paid tribute: 'They're a great group of professionals. Many people in the TV industry never gave us credit.'

Timmy Mallett, the Wacaday star, thanked TV-am for letting him travel the world for his children's travel shows. 'Go out there and be the best you can, it's a philosophy which stems right from Bruce,' he said.

Claire Rayner, the station's agony aunt, said her costly problem letter answering service was finished without TV-am's backing.

Dr Hilary Jones, the station's screen doctor, brought along his one-year-old twins, Rupert and Samantha. They whizzed around in baby walkers. On screen, kitsch to the end, TV-am showed a compilation of all the staff's weddings. Several female correspondents then told viewers they were expecting babies.

Paul Gambaccini, who presented the breakfast show's film spot, live and without autocue, from the start, said: 'It's been the complete TV experience from bust to boom. I don't think we'll see its like again, a whole building dedicated to one show, all generated on the premises. Its been like having a unique family.'

The most cheerful person was the newly-knighted Sir David Frost, the only founder to survive the dark days of the disastrous launch thanks to his nimble wits and entertainer's charm. He told the cameras: 'When one chapter ends, another begins.'

In a sense he was right: in the foyer there stood a big board with a scrawled message: 'All staff cheques and P45s, from 08.00-09.45.' But as David Davidovitz, the manager responsible for TV-am's infamous 1987-88 lock-out of unionised technical staff, said one reason so many of his staff had already got new jobs (only 40 out of 368 are still looking) was that they were multi-skilled and non-union.

Some staff said they had taken 20 per cent pay cuts in order to land secure jobs with the new franchise holders, others that they had opted for jobs in the new regional station Meridian in order to work normal hours, rather than overnight.

Meanwhile at GMTV, where the anxious new staff were watching TV-am's last rites, a cheer went up every time they recognised a face from the final roll-call tape. Lis Howell, its programme director, said at least one-third were now working for her. She now hopes a larger proportion of TV-am's housewife-viewers will transfer to her as well.

(Photograph omitted)