A personal view by John Henwood
I suppose it was an inauspicious start. Senator George Troy, Channel’s Chairman, said all the right things, thanked all the right people and expressed all the hopes that the shareholders and staff silently held.
George Troy said all these things on September 1st in Channel’s Jersey studio during the Station’s first local programme; he ended by handing the audience over to “the tender care of Robin Hood”. This was the cue to start Channel’s second programme which was on film.
The only trouble was that George Troy said what he had to say in a considerably shorter space of time than anyone expected. Programme one on day one had underrun by about five minutes and confusion reigned.
For me that first day was a blur of excitement and anticipation, tension verging on panic, errors, problems then more mistakes and finally exhaustion. I remember thinking that if every future day was going to be like the first we were all going to get old very quickly. Indeed the early weeks and months were fraught with problems and the station was well into 1963 before things really settled down into some sort of logical pattern.
In those stumbling starting weeks local programmes tried to do little more than broadcast a news bulletin and weather forecast once a day at around six o’clock for a duration of about nine minutes.
Some bulletins, but by no means all, were illustrated with clips of film, black and white of course, and in most cases silent. With hindsight it was not a terribly ambitious start, but Channel’s first Head of News and Features, Ward Rutherford, had a tiny staff who really could not be expected to do very much more.
The contribution may have been small, but it was highly significant as it was the first time for very many years that the existing newspapers in Jersey and Guernsey had had to face up to competition. Not only that, but Channel was also setting out to provide a news and information service which covered all the Channel Islands.
Apart from news and the occasional individual programme, usually musical, Channel also broadcast a type of programme in those early days which has long since disappeared from British Television screens — the advertising magazine.
This was like a very long commercial break masquerading as a programme in which the presenters extolled the virtues of local products and services. In the United Kingdom some of these ad. mags, as they were known became quite popular with viewers, and their presenters like Jimmy Hanley, became stars.
Channel’s ad. mag. was called Island Shop and practically every edition was a production disaster.
In fairness to the News & Features team it must be said that Island Shop was written, produced and directed by the Sales Department, who were all jolly nice people, but who also knew very little about making television programmes.
Ward Rutherford’s news team, which included Brian Le Feuvre, the journalist who was to become head of the department when Ward left Channel to concentrate on a career as a novelist, soon established itself as a viable alternative source of local news to the newspapers and a new vehicle was sought in which longer items could be broadcast.
The twin programmes Studio Tuesday and Studio Friday were created for this purpose and were the forerunners of the present day’s nightly news magazine Channel Report. Always presented live, the studio programmes included filmed interviews from Guernsey and silent illustrative film from both Bailiwicks.
Tried in both early and late evening slots this basic formula went through a number of detail changes including the show’s title (do you remember Newsweek?) with varying degrees of success.
Occasionally “knocked” as being amateur in presentation and approach Channel’s early programmes were nevertheless watched by large numbers of islanders and if perhaps they did lack some of the polish of the network shows their foundations were firm enough to build upon.
Under Brian Le Feuvre local programmes became more ambitious. New types of shows were introduced and whilst some are best forgotten others were excellent. Brian himself became Channel’s answer to John Freeman when he introduced Frankly Speaking and persuaded local and visiting personalities to open their hearts to him and to the public.
A pop music programme, Now Look Hear, was launched and each week the studio was filled the gyrating teenagers as the latest chart-toppers were played. It was this series that introduced the man who was eventually to succeed Brian Le Feuvre and become Channel’s third Head of News and Features, John Rothwell.
Brian Le Feuvre also pioneered documentary production at Channel. Some of his shorter items were real gems which stand close comparison with features produced anywhere today.
I particularly remember a mini-documentary on the old island pastime of low-water fishing: a couple of years ago I came across this piece again when researching an Encore programme and marvelled at the way he had documented an aspect of a Jersey that is no longer to be found.
Another landmark was The Lonely Man, a film about Alphonse Le Gastelois, the hermit of Les Ecrehous. Brian Le Feuvre’s greatest contribution though was the way in which he built and developed Channel’s news gathering and dissemination service, a service which, when he left television to edit his own newspaper, John Rothwell was to inherit.
John Rothwell was (and probably still is) by nature a keen investigator and during his tenure as Head of News and Features his staff turned lots of stones which had lain for years covering up unpleasant or in some cases illegal goings on.
Also in an investigative vein a consumer protection watchdog group was established in Channel’s busy newsroom and hundreds of complaints were investigated and the findings aired on local programmes often to the chagrin of the offending firms and businesses.
John could also claim to have introduced access programmes to Channel when he launched Speak Out. Audiences were invited to the studio to participate in live programmes in which their views were sought on the topic of the day. Subjects ranged from the very serious like death and spiritualism to lightweight matters like hair or humour.
Through the sixties the process of development in local programmes continued, but the technology available to programme makers did not change much. Film cameras were replaced by better more up to date models and film processing machines got faster and more efficient.
Still there was no videotape and still we were in black and white. The seventies ushered in colour, first in the big network companies serving huge populations like in London and Birmingham, then in some of the regional stations, but not in the Channel Islands where Channel Television could not afford to colourise the station.
Despite this the local programme department decided to make a major documentary in colour for the U.K. network. The subject was the Occupation of the Islands during the Second World War, an obvious choice in 1970 when locals would celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Liberation.
Eventually titled The Bitter Years the programme was expensive to make and only a partial success in that it did not achieve full networking throughout the United Kingdom. Smarting slightly from the rebuff Channel was to wait a very long time before offering a production to the network again.
On the other hand purely local documentaries thrived. The Two Arms of the Law, for example examined Jersey’s unique dual police system and was one of several fine single programmes.
The seventies did eventually bring colour to Channel with the conversion phased over two financial years and being completed in the summer of 1976.
When John Rothwell parted company with Channel in 1977 and began what was to be a highly successful political career, local programmes became my responsibility. The station had been on the air for fifteen years during which time many local programme formulae had been tried and it was reasonably easy to learn from earlier mistakes as to what types of programmes would be popular and appreciated by the local audience, but still I on location would soon be available in Europe.
A new type of portable videotape recording equipment was already taking the place of film cameras in the United States where the new phrases Electronic Journalism and Electronic News Gathering had been coined. ENG made sense.
The picture quality was better than film, the videotape on which the image was recorded did not require post production processing and, most important for a small and not very wealthy station like Channel, the tape was cheap and could be used many times.
Despite some fears and many worries, in 1979 Channel closed down its film facility managed to make errors none of my predecessors had thought of.
The nature of programming for an audience as small as forty four thousand homes is different from anywhere else in as much as our entire potential audience is no larger than another region’s minority group. Thus Channel cannot afford to provide permanent programmes for Channel Island minorities.
Nevertheless it is important that minority interests are served so in recent years we have developed the technique of devoting a short season of programmes to a number of different areas, or in some cases provided just a single offering on a specific subject.
Technology helped us enormously to move towards this style of service. During 1978 it became obvious that new methods of recording pictures and became the first all electronic television station in Britain.
Since that time new ways of applying the new technology have been divined and the station’s programme makers are able to provide viewers with much better, more immediate coverage of local events.
Now, three times every weekday bang up to the minute illustrated news bulletins are broadcast. Events happening just minutes before are included, in some cases having been flashed electronically from one Bailiwick to the other. About a dozen documentaries a year are produced and new ideas in programme concepts are constantly being examined and tried.
It’s all a very far cry from the way things started out exactly twenty one years ago and with the world on the brink of a massive explosion in communications technology through cable, satellite and inter-active television, who would be brave enough to predict with any confidence the ways in which Channel, still Britain’s smallest broadcast television organisation, will develop in the next twenty one years?
What I am sure about though is the feeling that if George Troy were able to see Channel’s local programmes today he would be a very proud man indeed.