The next twist in the tail came at the end of 1992. Under a new ‘sealed bids’ round of franchise renewals introduced by Margaret Thatcher, Thames unexpectedly lost its bid along with the by now highly successful TV-am. Conspiracy theorists say that the government wished revenge on Thames for screening the documentary Death on the Rock. We may never know whether there is any truth in this rumour. However, there is little doubt that Mrs Thatcher was horrified at the loss of TV-am, a company that operated in all the ways she held dear.
When GMTV took over the franchise in January 1993 they decided to use studio 5 at LWT’s base on the south bank. ‘Eggcup House’ was therefore left empty but shortly afterwards it was bought by MTV. The main studio was initially used for MTV’s output but later other companies booked it too. For example, the sketches for the 2004 series of The Frank Skinner Show were recorded here and during 2005 the Saturday morning show Top of the Pops Reloaded was based in studio A. Other shows made for various channels included UK Music Hall of Fame, Britain’s Best Home, Ruby, Classic Comeback and The Joan Rivers Position. In March and April 2007 the BBC’s Castaway Exposed series was also based here and Five’s kids’ series Milkshake was booked for a second series.
Although these studios were busy during the 1990s, the next decade saw rather less activity. MTV no longer used them to make shows for themselves – their channels not including studio based programmes or live performances any more. They were still hired out to various production companies but rumours of the imminent closure of the studios began to circulate around the industry in 2007/2008. However, with Capital Studios closing in the summer of 2008, they began to pick up some of the work that might have gone there. For example, The BBC’s Missing Live came from MTV in the spring of 2009 and 2010 and Crimewatch Roadshow was also made here. Angela and Friends – daytime magazine programme for Sky 1 – was based here from November 2009.
Unfortunately, MTV’s management decided that the studios were not part of their core business and it made more sense financially to close their offices in Oxford Street and Rathbone Place and bring the 300 staff here. The building was redeveloped and the studios were turned into offices. The last programme made here was at the end of January 2011.
In May 2014 Viacom bought Channel 5 and decided to move its staff to this building. A new 4-storey block rather optimistically called ‘The Tower’ was built. They also took over adjacent buildings The Lock and the former brewery Elephant House. The latter now houses Channel 5 Productions and has been renamed Elephant House Studios. In the autumn of 2016 a small studio was created here for Channel 5’s long-running kids’ show Milkshake.
One consequence of MTV’s studios perhaps not appreciated by many was their indirect effect in the area of TV lighting. The contract to provide lighting equipment, lighting directors and console operators went to a small business called Aurora Lighting. Several LDs and console ops cut their teeth on the various shows that passed through these studios – not only music but a wide variety of programmes. Once the studios closed, these individuals became freelancers and progressed to work on many well-known music and entertainment shows.
1 Leicester Square…
MTV built this small studio on the first floor of a building in Leicester Square with windows overlooking the square. The studio and its facilities were converted from a nightclub and opened after a planning appeal in the summer of 2004. The reason for opening the studio was because the very popular US version of the channel had a studio overlooking Times Square so it was felt that the UK should have something similar. The studio was only 450 sq ft – the main floor being just over 37ft long but only about 6ft 6in wide (!) and with a mezzanine 56 x 14ft.
1 Leicester Square was originally used for MTV’s Total Request Live show which included performances by live bands. Despite all the effort in getting the studio built for the show, TRL proved not to be a great success in the UK and the show folded in December 2005. From September 2006 to March 2007 the studio became the base for the BBC’s Saturday morning kids’ show TMi. However, the cost of keeping the studio open with so little use led to its being disposed of later in 2007. (The following series of TMi was made in TC9 at TV Centre.)
In 1993 Carlton took over the London weekday franchise but decided not to have its own large studio centre – choosing instead to hire studio space as and when required for each programme. Significantly, this was also the beginning of the period when ITV companies became free to take each other over – so, for example, Central was purchased by Carlton in 1994. The Midlands area thus became ‘Carlton Broadcasting – Central Region’. Carlton therefore found itself owning studio facilities after all. As ITV ownership contracted to two main companies – Carlton and Granada – this consolidation saw many studios around the country deemed to be uneconomic by their new owners. Some were sold off to independent operators, others simply redeveloped. Some of these are briefly covered on the ‘rest of Britain today’ section on this website.