Ultra-modern studio complex tailored for
the colour era
by MICHAEL HENFIELD
PRINCESS ALEXANDRA will
today see one of the world's most up-to-date
television studio complexes when she formally
opens Birmingham's ATV Centre.
The new Centre - part of a
£15m entertainments project on the site
of a former cinema and car park off Broad
Street - marks a new phase in the development
of the Midlands commercial company which first
went on the air on February 17, 1956.
It represents too, something
of a new era in the history of Britih
television - for the Centre has been
purpose-built for colour.
The cost of equipping for
colour has been around £3m - half the
total cost of the Centre.
The first transmission from
ATV Centre last September marked the end of two
years of planning, building work and
The first "live" programme
went on the air the following month. It was an
eight-minute news bulletin followed by ATV
Today, the half-hour news and current affairs
The Centre has three main
studios providing a total of 11,000 sq. ft. of
studio space. This compares with 4,500 sq. ft.
at the company's old Alpha Studios in Aston,
which were converted from a former cinema.
With the studios are all the
ancillary departments needed for modern
The film library houses
3,500 commercials, 20,000 cans of film and
2,000 items of film stock material.
The wardrobe department has
a wide variety of costumes, from period dresses
to the latest "mod" gear.
In the make-up department is
a trained staff skilled in the specialised art
of making-up necessary for the critical eye of
the colour cameras.
The new Centre is the
operations headquarters for the whole ATV
network. Previously the master control room was
in London and most programmes were directed
Now all televised material
goes through the ATV Centre. Even "canned"
material like the Tom Jones and Englebert
Humperdinck spectaculars are brought up the M1
from ATV's studios at Elstree, Herts., before
they go on the air.
The two great assets of the
Centre are production space and colour
ATV is received by an
estimated 2,580,000 homes in the Midlands. And
the number of colour sets, though small at
present, is rising at a significant rate.
The extra space may mean
extra Midlands production. ATV's general
manager in the Midlands, Mr. Leonard Mathews,
has said he would like to see an expansion,
particularly in the field of light
Already two light
entertainment series have been produced at the
Centre - starring Dave King and Mike
The new TV Centre was first
priority for the planners of this multi-million
pound project. The deadline had to be before
the switch-over to colour on ITV and BBC1
625-line transmission in 1969.
The Queen's Award for Industry
In the plans were, besides
the three main studios, a small presentation
studio (the studio where the ATV announcer
sits), viewing and dubbing facilities,
rehearsal and dressing rooms, a base for
outside broadcast units, wardrobe scenery
design and construction areas and a modern
Through the ITV network,
Eurovision and satellite links, important
programmes in colour would be available through
this Centre to and from the world.
Birmingham City Council
offered the central site and co-operated with
Bentray Investments Ltd., the property company
within the ATV group which is responsible for
Planning for the new Centre
began before the TV contracts were awarded by
the ITA in 1968.
The directors of ATV had
decided that a new, larger TV headquarters was
needed for a seven-day contract in view of the
limited facilities at Aston; and the ITA wanted
to see the programme contractor in a new home
to give the best possible service.
Building work was carried
out quickly. In October, 1968, the new Centre
was still a hole in the ground; in
October,1969, many of the staff had moved in
and live programmes were going out.
The move from Alpha Studios
and the ATV offices in Edmund Street,
Birmingham, took some time and the arrangements
were made by a specially set up co-ordinating
At this time the name of the
new headquarters was Paradise Centre, named
after Paradise Circus, the site of the
But the company's managing
director, Sir Lew Grade, decided that a new
name was needed. He launched a competition,
with a £250 prize and entries poured
The winner was a public
relations officer at ATV, who was the only
person to suggest the simplest name of all -
The move to the new Centre
is still not complete. It will be a further 18
months before administrative staff take over
new offices and leave Edmund Street.
But already Birmingham can
boast an ultra-modern TV centre right in the
heart of the city.