The big change that happened in 1981 was that ATV had to fight hard to hang on to its Midlands franchise. In their proposal to the IBA, ATV suggested moving their base to new studios in the region but continuing to operate Elstree as a separate production centre under the name ‘Elstree Television Centre Limited.’ They stated the following in their application document…
‘We have discussed with other major ITV companies the possibility of using Elstree studios, which are an important asset to ITV as a whole, as a collective production centre for the additional programming likely to be required for the Fourth Channel. Should this prove to be a practicable proposition the studios might be leased to a jointly owned operating company. Elstree Television Centre can be expected to seek to widen the basis of its business by attracting overseas producers, advertising agencies and other potential users of television studios. It should also be capable of providing many, if not all, of the production facilities being sought by independent producers in connection with the Fourth Channel.’
However, the IBA were having none of it. Under pressure that they had ‘neglected’ the east Midlands ATV had to completely dispose of Elstree, move their main production base up to the region and sell 49% of their shares to local interests. There was also a name change – to Central. Central stayed at Elstree for a couple of years until their new studios in Nottingham were built. Those studios provided replacement facilities for Elstree as well as some expansion at the Birmingham studio centre.
When Central left Elstree they took everything of any value with them to Nottingham. The future of the studios was very much in doubt but fortunately they were bought by the BBC in January 1984 ‘for a song’. This unplanned new facility enabled the BBC to create a new soap – EastEnders.