ABOUT Easter 1961 Howard Thomas, the Managing Director of ABC Television where I worked, asked if I would help start a new television service in Jersey. Mr Thomas said that his friends, Senator George Troy and Wilfred Krichefski had been awarded the Independent Television Authority contract for the Channel Islands and they had asked if our Company could provide a technical advisory service and bring them on the air.
So my family and I found ourselves residents of the beautiful Island of Jersey in June of that year. My contract was for a three year stay — that was twenty-two years ago!
How to start was the question. The company comprised a board of directors under the Chairman, George Troy and around 300 shareholders who were doubtless impressed by Lord Thomson’s famous statement that an ITV contract was a “licence to print money.”
Alas, they were soon to be disillusioned. It was to be ten years before the company could pay its first dividend and a long trail before it achieved its present financial stability.
As a first step it was essential to establish our earning capacity in order to set a limit to the amount that could be spent. A simple calculation indicated our anticipated advertising revenue (we had no other source of funds as all television licence revenue goes to the BBC). Our population was one fifth of that of the next smallest ITV company (Border TV, at Carlisle) and they were not yet in profit. We were 0.2% of the UK population and our income could be expected to be, in like proportion.
Despite our meagre income, we were required under the ITA contract to establish ourselves as a financially independent unit and to provide a fully balanced programme service including a reasonable proportion of home produced material.
It was obvious that a very cost effective method of producing television programmes would have to evolve if the station were to survive.
The Board of Channel did not waver when faced with these unpleasant facts as under the confident leadership of George Troy there could be no thought other than success.
The Boards’ and shareholders’ patience would be long tried, but the spirit and enthusiasm of those early days continued to fire the company in the years ahead.
It was fortunate that Channel could rely on the support of ABC Television and the Chief Engineer Howard Steel turned his considerable talents and technical resources to our problem.
Together we planned a studio centre that could operate with the minimum of staff and meagre resources. A site was purchased and building work commenced in December of 1961.
The ITA had by this time completed their technical plans and the transmitter building at Fremont Point was well advanced as was the reception and relay centre in Alderney.
The ITA were responsible for the reception and transmission of our signals and our network feed of mainstream ITV programmes. They had to overcome many unique problems concerned with the long distance path over the sea and they should be congratulated on the excellence of their engineering work.
But what about Guernsey? Three of our seven directors were Guernsey residents and Edward Collas, Eric Bodman and Gervaise Peek made sure that the interest of their Bailiwick would not be overlooked.
It was clearly impossible for a studio of the size and complexity of the Jersey Centre to be built as there were insufficient funds and in any event the ITA transmitter was sited in Jersey. In resolving this problem the Board set a pattern that was to last for many years.
Guernsey was to be provided with equal filming facilities to those in Jersey together with a full reporting and technical team. The Guernsey unit would provide up to 50% of all our externally produced output and in programming terms whenever possible equal standards would apply.
This meant for example that at a time of election, every candidate in each Island was to be given an equal opportunity to appear and that the religious advisory panel of six was for this, the smallest ITV station, double that of any other company.
It was an inescapable fact that all film had to be sent to Jersey for processing and transmission, but Guernsey would be served to the very best of the company’s ability in equal terms to the sister Bailiwick of Jersey.
Channel was unique and it was obvious that a new and more flexible approach to staffing would be required.
We could not afford the departmentalisation that was normal in other stations and would need to maintain flexibility at all levels in the company structure. It was decided therefore to recruit and train local people whenever possible.
We were fortunate that my friend and colleague Brian Turner, sadly now deceased, was persuaded to join us from ABC and together with Jim Dale, the only other person who had studio experience we set to the task of recruiting and training a staff of some 60 people towards the day that they would be called on to put their newly gained skills to the test.
At the same time we were building a specially designed studio to the plans of a Belfast Architect Brian Hewitt, who had specialist knowledge of TV station design and it is to the immense credit of CW Construction that it was completed on time, so that Brian Turner and the ABC Television engineers could install our cameras, film projectors and specialized master control equipment.
It says much for the quality of our local youth, both men and girls that so much was achieved by them in such a short time.
The company’s policy of local recruitment and training has continued and we take satisfaction in our achievement of introducing so many local boys and girls to a career in broadcasting.
Many have left to pursue careers in England and abroad with considerable success and we have been well served by those who stayed and are now reaching important managerial and other positions within our own organization.
We believe that we have the most powerful and unified team in the whole of the ITV network and that our community is well served by our talented and highly professional staff.
Evidence of this lies in our unbroken period of service and we can claim a UK record having never been off the air from the day we opened.
Opening day came on September 1st, 1962, and our Chairman, George Troy in the presence of Sir George Erskine, the Lt.-Governor of Jersey; Sir Ian Carmichael, the Deputy Chairman of the ITA; the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey and Sir Robert Fraser, the Director General of the ITA, introduced our very first programme.
Channel Television had arrived. Much had been done in a very short time but none of this would have been possible had it not been for the perseverance and enthusiasm of our board of directors and our original staff.