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A History of Nottingham on Television 1953-2014

22 May 14 words: Harry Wilding
It’s been just over ten years since Carlton Studios on Lenton Lane was shut down, with more than 350 jobs going to the wall with it. Since then, we’ve had our Central news broadcast to us from Birmingham, which as anyone with a vague sense of direction and geography can tell you, is not near enough to us to be called local. The launch of Notts TV is full of hope and promise - a bit like Notts County and Forest fans at the start of every season, but with less naivety. Could it mark a return to the glory days of us having local telly that actually means something to the people of this city? Let’s press the rewind button on our HD ready flatscreens and look dreamily into the distance as the screen goes all wibbly and we flashback to watch Nottingham’s role in local and national TV through the years…

The BBC show Robin Hood is the legend’s first representation on television. It stars Patrick Troughton as the man in tights and runs for six episodes. There will be much more of our outlaw on the box over the next sixty years, and not just from the UK - the likes of Germany, France, USA, Japan, and Russia all have a crack at the legend in their own various, often wacky, ways.

Following the creation of Independent Television (ITV) in 1954, Associated Television (ATV) - after messing about providing London with telly for a year - are awarded the franchise to provide the weekday independent television service for the Midlands, which began on 17 February. This was all beamed to TV viewers from Birmingham.

Pioneer of gay rights and self-proclaimed anarchist, Ray Gosling has his first TV documentary, Two Town Mad, shown on the BBC. The film is a comparison between Leicester - where he attended uni - and Nottingham – where he moved in the early sixties and stayed. He would go on to make over a hundred documentaries up until his death in 2013, including an Inside Out in 2004 in which he revisited the same Leicester and Notts people and places he had filmed over forty years earlier.

ATV extend their Midlands service to seven days a week. So, yeah, now covering, like, 100% of time.

Cult children’s TV series Rainbow gets its first airing on the ITV network. The voice of George, and later Zippy, are both done by Nottingham-born actor and voiceover artist Roy Skelton. His previous work was mainly on Doctor Who, voicing villains such as Daleks, Cybermen and Krotons. Born in Nottingham in 1925, actor Ivor Roberts - after a lot of theatre work - starts his TV acting career in his mid-forties with several episodes of Coronation Street. He would go on to star in episodes of The Sweeney, Doctor Who, Porridge, Z Cars, Crossroads, Two Up Two Down, You Rang, M’Lord?… the list goes on. His most recurring role was as Arnold, an engine driver, in Oh Doctor Beeching, from 1995 to 1997.

Brian Clough makes TV history by carping on about how much he dislikes Leeds and Don Revie in a very candid interview with David Frost. This comes days after his forty four day stint as manager at Leeds United, just prior to him joining Nottingham Forest for a trophy-ridden eighteen years.

Alan Sillitoe makes his TV writing debut with an adaptation of his 1972 short story Pit Strike, written in response to the 1972 miners’ strikes. It is shown as a part of BBC2’s Premiere, a series of standalone dramas, and stars a young Bernard Hill. Ilkeston-born Robert Lindsay becomes the archetypal ragtag radical in a three-year run of the BBC comedy series Citizen Smith.

A year after making her telleh debut in Two Up, Two Down, the fictional English holiday camp Maplins opens its doors to Su Pollard, and us, with its friendly greeting, Hi-de-Hi! The sitcom, and Su’s part in it, lasts for nine series and firmly installs her and her character of Peggy into the hearts of Nottingham and the whole bleddy country.

ATV Midlands are renamed Central Independent Television. Viewers, and even City Councils, in the North and East Midlands want better coverage of their areas and finally rebel against the fact that anywhere twenty miles outside of Birmingham doesn’t get a look in. Thus, a separation of the East and West Midlands coverage was called for and, thankfully, heard.

Lenton Lane in Nottingham becomes the location for Central East Midlands. In March 1984, the seventeen acre site is officially opened by Prince Philip, who was somewhat slow off the mark as Central had begun operations the previous September.

The Lenton Lane workforce consisted of ex-Elstree Studio workers, who were forced to choose between a job in Nottingham or no job at all when Elstree shut down - a bit of a no brainer; ex-Birmingham staff who mostly just wanted a change of scenery; and, no doubt the happiest of the lot, Notts residents who applied for jobs when the studios arrived on their patch.

The studios at Central West Midlands in Birmingham were, logically, numbered one to four, so Nottingham got the continuity of five to nine (and later ten in the nineties). Studio Five was used for local news bulletins (not the main news programme) and in-vision continuity when that still existed (for those who grew up after the eighties: smartly dressed, well-spoken presenters used to pop up on your TV screen to introduce the next programme or promote ones that were coming soon - only UTV in Northern Ireland persevere with it to this day. Studio Six was a medium-sized studio with an audience capacity of 100, which was mainly known for accommodating Blockbusters; Studio Seven and Eight were the two biggest studios, each with an audience capacity of 500, and they were used for game shows such as The Price is Right, Family Fortunes, Supermarket Sweep, and as well as the likes of sitcom The Upper Hand and the debate show Thursday Night Live; and Studio Nine was used for Central News East.

It was early in Central’s life that the Junior Television Workshop was started by Sue Knott. It gives many young actors their first TV experience, with such shows as Woof!, The Bretts, Peak Practice, Boon, and The Upper Hand. Many now well-known actors began at the workshop and they continue to pump them out to this day - Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell, Ace Bhatti, Georgia Groome, Joe Dempsie, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Lauren and Michael Socha, Pui Fan Lee, Rosamund Hanson, Oscar Kennedy, Aisling Loftus, Jack O’Connell, to name but a mere few.

The great Auf Wiedersehen Pet, starring Tim Healy, Timothy Spall, and Jimmy Nail hits the country’s TV screens. Although sold as the adventures of a gang of Geordie workmen in Germany, the show was actually the adventures of a gang of Geordie workmen in Notts. Apparently Nottinghamshire looks just like Newcastle and Dusseldorf.

Nottingham-born Cherie Lunghi becomes a national sex symbol in the title role of Channel 4’s The Manageress, a drama about a woman managing a professional football team. She follows this up with a series of adverts for Kenco where she bats off a string of potential lovers with dismissive one-liners as she just wants to drink coffee, okay?

Hands Up Puppets is set up in Nottingham by Marcus Clarke and Helena Smee. Marcus had previously worked with legendary Muppet creator Jim Henson, who encouraged him to create puppet characters for the telly. That is certainly what happened, and continues to this day, with Hands Up having designed and made over seventy TV puppet characters, as well as being the puppeteers and writers on many. They have won BAFTA Children's Awards for Bookaboo (about a puppy drummer who demands a story a day to continue to play) and Helena has recently worked on Muppets Most Wanted.

Samantha Morton makes her TV debut, starring in four episodes of Soldier Soldier at the age of fourteen. A few years later she becomes a national celebrity due to her portrayal of a young prostitute in Band of Gold.

BBC East Midlands, following a shift around of the channel’s regions, is created in Nottingham and based at York House on Mansfield Road. Central Elstree exiles often thought of Lenton Lane’s output as not the proper telly they has previously made dahn south and staff that had stayed at Central Birmingham expected everything to come back to them eventually. What actually happened was the opposite, when Central transferred the majority of the work, and staff, to us heathens in the East.

Housewife’s favourite Dale Winton, after a stint on Radio Trent in the eighties, returns to Nottingham to present the hit game show Supermarket Sweep. Students and dossers around the country tuned in every morning to watch contestants go “wild in the aisles” with a trolley as they frantically swept goods off shelves.

The nation goes completely sex mad as a TV adaptation of DH Lawrence’s classic Lady Chatterley’s Lover hits the screen. Joely Richardson and Sean Bean are cast to be controversial with each other.

Common as Muck, a drama about binmen (better than it sounds), starring Neil Dudgeon, Edward Woodward, and Kathy Burke, is written by Notts County fan Billy Ivory. He wants to set the programme in Nottingham, but the powers that be do not let him; so Oldham it is.

Central is taken over by Carlton Communications and the studios are rebranded as Carlton Studios, before eventually being renamed Carlton in 1999. Things changed for the worse when Carlton took over, with fewer shows being made in the studios and more being bought from outsiders, as Lenton Lane started being dictated to by London much more.

Pui Fan Lee, a student of Television Workshop, dons a red suit that is equally as cute as it is terrifying, to become one of the four Teletubbies, Po. The show courts controversy with allegations of teaching the youth of the day about homosexuality, communism and big pimping. Uh-oh!

Bernard’s Watch, a kids’ show about a boy that could stop time with a pocket watch, was initially filmed for CITV at South Wilford CofE Primary School.

New, swanky, state-of-the-art headquarters for BBC East Midlands are built on London Road, containing the newsroom for East Midlands Today, a small studio for use by regional news, and even accommodation for Radio Nottingham.

The original series of the soap opera, Crossroads, set in a Birmingham motel, ran from 1964 to 1988 and had been filmed at Birmingham’s Broad Street studios. It is decided that its revival will be filmed at Lenton Lane. MistaJam makes his name by playing Minty for two years, as reactions to the comeback, after the initial surprise, are favourable at first even though hat-wearing fan favourite Benny was no longer part of the cast. Four cast members from the original series returned, to then quickly leave; Doris, played by Kathy Staff, left citing that it was no longer the family show as she knew it with too much sex in the storylines. A new producer in 2002 tried to take it in a new direction further by aiming it towards the gay market. No-one seemed to be enjoying it, though, whatever their sexual orientation, and the show died, seemingly dragging the studio down with it.

The Lenton Lane complex is sold to Nottingham University and, among other things, is now home to the Media Archive for Central England (MACE), where most of ATV’s and Central’s programmes are archived.

West Bridgford lad, Joe Dempsie, bags a main part in the original Skins series, as Chris. It spawns six more series, with three changes of cast, an American remake, and no doubt far too many Skins inspired parties from real teenagers. Parents all over the country despair and blame the telleh for their wrecked houses.

Samantha Morton makes her writing and directing debut with the TV movie, The Unloved, a semiautobiographical film about an eleven-year-old girl who is placed in a children’s home. She chooses to film it here in Nottingham with local talent.

After periodically popping up on our telly screens since 1984, Ace Bhatti makes his Eastenders debut as the mischievous Dr Yusef Khan. Following the success of his 2006 This Is England film, Shane Meadows revisits the characters again, setting the mini-TV series’ action in 1986. It proved to be one of the most powerful TV shows for years. His follow up with This Is England ‘88 - ‘90 is currently in the works.

“I killed someone once. He’d been my lover and he got aids. I picked up the pillow and smothered him until he was dead. No regrets.” These were the words of Ray Gosling on an Inside Out about death shown on BBC East Midlands. The police promptly arrested him, but upon further investigation realised that Ray had made the story up - he wasn’t even in the UK at the time of his supposed victim’s death.

Ace Bhatti’s right bad-un Dr Khan is killed off in a suitably spectacular fashion on Boxing Day, having had a decent stint on a popular show, while not lingering around long enough to become majorly type-cast.

The Old Market Square is taken over by a film crew, a large truck, and a naked Stephen Tompkinson. A few months later, Billy Ivory’s Truckers airs on the BBC, set and shot a few miles south of Oldham (you know; ‘ere in Notts, innit, duck).

While certainly not her first telly role - having been working steadily since she was ten years old when she appeared in Peak Practice in 2000 - Aisling Loftus gets a major role in ITV’s Mr Selfridge, as the well cockney Agnus Towler, guv’ner.

Nottingham’s bid for its own TV channel is won along with eighteen other UK cities and towns - including Birmingham.

Notts TV launches on Channel 8. Hoorah!

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