Thames faces end of an era: Maggie Brown found sadness and bitter disbelief at Euston Road

IN THE foyer, Jane Critcher, a Thames receptionist, talks blankly about losing her job at the ITV company she regards as a family: she has worked there since its inception, 24 years ago. Rob Kirk, editor of Thames News, looks out over a depleted staff of eight and an empty studio. 'It's no picnic here,' he sadly says as he prepares to sign off for the last time tonight.

Jonathan Shier, director of sales and marketing, says all but 10 of his 120 staff selling commercial airtime will be made redundant: in-comer Carlton Television could have taken over its knowledgeable team - it has secured an increased pounds 260m of revenue this year - but preferred to build from scratch.

'I'm amazed how we've kept morale up. It's the wonderful nature of the Brits, when things gets tough,' Australian-born Mr Shier, who will be redundant from next month, said. Yet all speak with astonishment about the second slap in the face administered on Friday 18 December, when the Independent Television Commission rejected Thames's application to set up the new Channel 5, its last route back to broadcasting.

Thames Television has been running promotions all week pointing to its distinguished contribution to British television: the last 70 minutes of its airtime tonight will be a compilation of its finest programmes, from Benny Hill and Take Your Pick to This Week, Rumpole and Mr Bean.

'Our deeds are on the screen,' said Richard Dunn, chief executive, who may well see out his annus horribilis by appearing briefly, in the dying seconds of the franchise before midnight arrives, to say goodbye. 'It's a big thank you to our audience.' His executive suite, like much of the building is eerily silent.

There were 1,600 staff at Thames before the 1991 franchise auction, making programmes from worthy social action and educational programmes (catering for children was a Thames speciality) to popular drama (The Bill). Now there are 500. By February there will be 140. 'The sense of waste is palpable,' Mr Dunn said.

Thames's imposing headquarters on Euston Road, central London, has been put up for sale: it was to have housed Channel 5.

The slimline Thames, shorn of its advertising revenue lifeblood, will set up shop at its Teddington studios as a lowly independent programme producer and operator of the hit satellite repeats channel, UK Gold. It has sold pounds 30m of its best-loved programmes to the new ITV for 1993.

What particularly rankles is that the ITC took no account of Thames's track record in supplying shows the audience watched, when weighing up its application against the promises of Carlton, which is employing a quarter of Thames's staff, and is committed to buying in programmes. Mr Dunn is gloomy about what will happen next: bids have to be paid for, and shareholders and advertisers now come before viewers, he says. 'The nightmare is that the foxes are in the hen coop.'

The final factor feeding his bitterness is that Carlton has taken on so few Thames staff, at its lightly-manned headquarters in St Martin's Lane, on the fringes of Soho and Covent Garden. 'It's because we're no good,' Mr Dunn said with a grim smile.

Improved regional coverage was one of the key war cries of the successful franchise holders, in Carlton's case it will be London Tonight. The show, starting on Monday, will run for an hour between 6pm and 7pm every weekday, compared with Thames's half an hour on four days. But it will dislodge the soap Home and Away (audiences around 13 million), which moves to 5.10pm.

The interesting aspect of the new service is that Carlton and London Weekend Television have jointly set up the London News Network, which produces the show, on an annual budget of pounds 10m. This is recognised, even by Thames, as sensible.

Clive Jones, managing director of LNN, also runs a new pounds 4.5m transmission suite within the South Bank tower block. This nerve centre, staffed by 18 people, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and puts out the programmes of Carlton, LWT and Good Morning TV (GMTV), the new breakfast franchise (also run from the same building) on new equipment. This is one of the most graphic illustrations of the new economics governing ITV it is possible to find. Until now there have been three separate transmission areas, at Thames, LWT and TV-am. Watching a pilot of London Tonight this week proved disconcerting. The programme, structured after audience research, turns the usual news agenda on its head by demoting traditional fare - such as politics - to a later segment.

The programme I saw opened with the night's strongest human interest item - a security guard stabbed by a junkie's needle - plus 'teasers' about the people- oriented stories coming up lower down - screened to the thrumming beat of the theme tune.

The programme hardens up around 6.40pm when managing director Clive Jones, an old pro from TV-am and TVS, judges that the commuter starts viewing and wants stronger meat.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all