ITN – Wells St and Gray’s Inn Road

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ITN Wells St
image thanks to Mike Emery

When Television House closed in 1969 it wasn’t only Thames who had to find a new home.  ITN were based there too and they took the opportunity to build a purpose designed centre at 48 Wells St W1.  The building was a smart block with the studios on the ground floor.  They moved here in August 1969 and stayed until August 1990.

ITN constructed two studios – Studio 1 was about 2,000 sq ft and the other about 700 sq ft.  The main studio was somewhat larger than those of BBC News and this enabled News at 10 to have a bigger set and to look more impressive on screen.  Also, ITN used real cameramen, not remotely controlled cameras operated by engineers so the shots were often better composed.  (OK – maybe a biased opinion but I was once a cameraman.)

The studios were equipped with 4 x EMI 2001 cameras in studio 1 – and 2 x 2001s and (surprisingly) an EMI 2005 in studio 2.  In the mid ’70s there was also a 2-camera OB unit with Bosch KCR-40 cameras – in their case not noted for their image quality but nevertheless the first workable lightweight video cameras.

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studio 1 in 1975 during a special covering the link-up of a Soviet and US spacecraft.  Note the EMI 2001s.
thanks to Mike Emery
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studio 1 in 1983 – the general election.  A huge platform has been built with the presenters on the top level and the researchers seen below.  Very impressive – but then ITN had to compete visually with the BBC’s election coverage which came from the 10,000 sq ft TC1.
thanks to Mike Emery

 

Roger Pittman has kindly written to me.  He informs me that studio 1 was permanently rigged with News at 10 and was also used for other bulletins.  Studio 2 meanwhile was booked for pop videos, commercials and whoever else was prepared to hire it out for the day.  For example, The Shadows recorded something at ITN in 1976 and a promo was directed here by Mike Mansfield for the punk rock group ‘London’ in 1977.  No, me neither.  Alan Gowdy (ITN vision mixer) has informed me that he recalls the occasion when Mike Mansfield dressed the entire wall of monitors in the control room with silver foil for some long-forgotten music video.  Another regular user was Alan Perry – ex Gerry Anderson’s company, who made cheap and cheerful commercials in studio 2.

Peter Christy has sent me some more info on all this.  The studio 2 bookings included promos by ELO and Blondie.  This extra work was known in ITN as ‘Hire of Service.’  ITN had a lot of expensive kit lying around doing nothing between news bulletins so they marketed their facilities – not only studio 2 but their editing and other facilities.  They undercut other Soho-based companies on the understanding that if an important story broke, they would have to cancel the booking at very short notice.  This seldom happened so people were happy to take that chance.  This all came to an end when ITN won the contract for Channel 4 News.  They needed all the facilities they had so the people in the Hire of Service dept were given the choice of either staying with ITN or leaving.  Some did leave and with their very good pay-off they formed the post production company Evolutions, with ITN’s blessing.  That company is still going strong in 2021 so they probably made a very good decision there!

The studios were also booked by regional ITV companies for interviews and by some overseas companies – ITN had links with CBS and ABC.  The studios were both switchable between PAL and NTSC.

ITN’s standards converter was used by other ITV companies – at first the huge analogue Rank converter (think Bletchley Park ‘Colossus’) and later the digital DICE which had been developed by the IBA.  The BBC’s analogue converter was so bad that they had to use ITN’s DICE converter to sell some of their programmes to the USA.

 

ITN also occasionally recorded programmes for LWT and in return, used LWT’s videodisc recorder which was the only way to produce slo-mo pictures or still frames back in those grim old analogue days.  Ah yes, I remember them well!

The main studio was used for ITV’s general election programmes, specials on the moon landings, and ITV’s Olympic coverage was linked from here.

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News at Ten being made at Wells St
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ITN Gray’s Inn Road.  The building is actually two main blocks with an atrium between them

 

 

 

To jump ahead in our ITV history slightly – In 1990  ITN  moved to a new HQ designed by Foster + Partners in Gray’s Inn Road.  The building was a partnership between ITN and Stanhope – the company that now owns Television Centre.  The site was previously the home of The Times, which had its printing presses in the basement.  Lord Foster’s design used this space for the two main studios and created an atrium within the building, bringing light into the newsrooms and also forming an interesting background that would be exploited in a number of programmes – most notably Channel 4 News.

The Gray’s Inn Road building opened with three studios: Studios 1 and 2 in the basement are 53 x 46ft wall to wall.  At first studio 1 was the home of Channel 4 News.  Studio 3 – overlooking the atrium – housed most other ITV news programmes.  In 1994 News at Ten moved to the basement to share studio 1 with Channel 4 News.

Studio 3 was renamed studio 4 around 2000.  The reason for this is lost in the mists of time but it was around the time the ITV News channel was launched.  It was then used by London Tonight from 2005 and closed in 2012.

Before 1999, studio 2 was sometimes the home of The Time, The Place.  This was a live topical discussion show presented initially by Mike Scott and then John Stapleton.  It toured the country but also often came from this studio in London.  It was broadcast from 1987 – 1998 and was a direct competitor to the BBC’s Kilroy programme.

The cameras first used were Thomson TTV-1647s.  These were replaced with Philips LDK200s.

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studio 2 some time in the 1990s.

 

In 2004, ITV News moved from studio 1 to studio 2.  2004 was also the year that the local news ceased to be the responsibility of London News Network and was handed over to ITN.  London Tonight initially shared studio 2 with ITV News until moving into its own studio in 2005.  LNN had broadcast their show from a purpose-built studio in ITV’s HQ on the South Bank which had a striking view of the Thames through the studio windows.  At first ITN simply used a greenscreen background fed with a camera bolted to the side of the ITV building to produce a broadly similar effect, hoping that the viewers wouldn’t notice the difference.

Studio 1 became a VR studio in 2004.  This was used for elections and other productions where virtual sets were required.  In 2013 ITV News moved back to studio 1, with a virtual set.  This was updated in 2016 to a very attractive and convincing design by Lightwell which I am sure fools the vast majority of viewers.  Only the desk is real and although a huge newsroom full of TV monitors is seen behind the newsreaders, there is not a single person in sight.

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The original studio 3 at Gray’s Inn Road. 
Photo thanks to Mike Emery

 

Studio 5 was added for 5 News – made here between 1997 and 2004.  It then became the home of Setanta Sports News.  It is now closed.  5 News went to Sky and returned to ITN in 2012 – briefly taking up residence in studio 1 before moving to the Northern and Shell building.  The show returned in 2016, occupying studio 2.  Jeremy Vine’s programme, also on Channel 5, has shared the studio since 2018.

Studio 6 opened for Channel 4 News with its distinctive set overlooking the atrium in 1999.  It was created in the area formerly occupied by the ITN canteen.  I suppose they just had to go down the pub for lunch instead.  Lighting Director Hugh French won a well-deserved Knight of Illumination Award in the ‘small studio’ category for Channel 4 News  in 2014.

 

So – Gray’s Inn Road currently contains three studios.  The company provides news services to ITV London, Channel 4 and Channel 5 as well as the national ITV channel.  They also provide facilities to many corporate clients and overseas news companies.  I understand that at present (May 2020) the studios are as follows:  studio 1 – ITV News and London Tonight;  studio 2 – 5 News and Jeremy Vine’s daily show;  studio 6 – Channel 4 News.  Studios 3, 4 and 5 no longer exist.

 

Thanks to Robert Cunningham and Mike Emery for much of this info.