The 1982 ITV franchise renewal also saw the creation of a new ‘breakfast’ category. After a very hotly contested competition, TV-am won. When they were setting the company up, at one point they considered using Ewarts Studios in Wandsworth but in the end they constructed a studio centre in Hawley Crescent, Camden unimaginatively called the Breakfast Television Centre which quickly became known as ‘Eggcup House’ due to the rather eccentric architectural adornments along its roofline. Terry Farrell, who would shortly go on to carry out a similar job adapting a warehouse in Docklands into Limehouse Studios, converted the building at a cost of £7m from a 1930s Henley’s garage.
The building itself was arguably London’s first post-modern design. Its exterior was completely transformed from the original garage and the interior too was highly distinctive.
The centre had three studios; A was 60 x 50 metric feet within firelanes and B was 34 x 22 metric feet. There was also a small presentation studio – C – which was about 16ft x 12ft. The studios were originally equipped with Marconi Mk IXB cameras. Studio A contained the main set with its famous sofa and B was used mostly for news. However, there was also enough space in A to house Timmy Mallett’s Wide Awake Club (’84-’89) and Wackaday (’85-’92)
(MTV’s use of these studios is covered on the next page of this section.)
A very short history of what became the most successful breakfast TV company in the world…
TV-am began as a news-based service and had several well-known presenters of the day who fronted it. However, the BBC decided they had to offer a show too so they began broadcasting Breakfast Time from Lime Grove on 17th January 1983. TV-am did not begin until a fortnight later, on 1st February. Unfortunately for them the BBC show, fronted by Frank Bough and Selina Scott, proved much more popular and TV-am entered a crisis. The public did not just want news with their breakfast but something a little lighter too. The high profile presenters who had started the company all left and were replaced with Anne Diamond, Nick Owen and famously Roland Rat. Audiences began to recover but the company was still making a loss.
In 1984, Bruce Gyngell – an Australian with a no nonsense approach to business – took over as chief executive following the early period of deepening financial crisis. His approach included reducing technical crews to a minimum in order to save costs. This put him at odds with the unions and a 24 hour strike was called. The management locked out the strikers – who were never to return. After a long period of waiting on the picket lines they were sacked.
The Marconi cameras mentioned above proved vital in the fortunes or otherwise of the company. The Mk IX was very advanced and had an automatic line-up procedure. This meant that only a very basic technical knowledge was required to enable the camera to produce acceptable pictures. Without this facility it is doubtful that the studio could have continued for more than a few days with nobody in the building able to carry out a full camera line-up. Secretaries operated the cameras and later, non-union cameramen were brought in – most from overseas.
The shambolic results proved popular at first for all the wrong reasons but the viewers stayed and increasing advertising revenue turned the fortunes of the company around. By doing away with many technical staff and traditional working practices, TV-am became the most profitable television company in the world in turns of turnover. Bruce Gyngell became a great friend of Margaret Thatcher – which made the result of the franchise renewal all the more ironic.