60 years of Anglia TV: the TV station that grew out of a haunted house
PUBLISHED: 17:00 25 October 2019
In Norwich on October 27 1959 at 4.15pm Topsie swung into action and those fortunate enough to have a television set sat down to watch the arrival of Anglia TV but the unsung heroes were down the road in Suffolk.
They were the Spidermen building what was then the tallest man-made structure of any kind in the country so we could enjoy the new programmes Anglia had to offer - and of course those advertisements.
While all the celebrations were going on spare a thought for the likes of Dan Macmillan and Colin Casson, both from Lowestoft, two men with a head for heights swaying about in the wind at the top of the ITV mast at Mendlesham.
Not just a little swing. This mast, 1,000ft tall and weighing 140 tons, could move up to 7ft at the top.
We asked at the time: "Is anything capable of shaking the iron nerves of such men, one wonders?
"Mendlesham happens to be an official R.A.F. low-flying area and it is probable than Dan and Collin were more amused than anything else to see aircraft on exercise flights some 600 feet below them."
Up the road at Norwich Sir Ivone, chairman of the Independent Television Authority, was doing the honours at Anglia's smart new headquarters at the old Agricultural Hall on Prince of Wales Road.
The hall had been transformed into a high-tech television studio where Anglia's own robot masterpiece, Topsie, named after the Tape Operated Programme Switching and Indicating Equipment, went to work.
The brain-child of Anglia's chief engineer, Tom Marshall, the electronic brain carried a range of services previously done by technicians pushing buttons. It heralded the start of things to come but at the time was described as a "magic box."
It was at the tail-end of the 1950s that the famous old Agricultural Hall - said to be haunted - was transformed into a high-tech television studio and HQ for the new Anglia service.
The landmark, built in 1882 and opened by the Prince of Wales, harked back in general mock Gothic style to the 18th century.
Norfolk brick and ornamental sandstone from Cumberland was used to build it and it had been at the heart of city and county life, sitting beside the big open-air market. It also staged shows, circuses, fairs, exhibitions and other events - and of course agricultural events such as cattle shows.
The huge project to transformthe building into a television studio was undertaken by one of the most famous and highly respected Norfolk builders of all time - R. G, Carter.
It was, we reported at the time, a remarkable example of how construction ingenuity can serve the expanding marvel of television and its complex nerve-centre.
There were three well equipped studios and a smaller one for news readers along with offices, dressing rooms and the very trendy air-conditioning. More than 100 people were employed
This was a large operation broadcasting programmes to a regional population of around 2m people across the region.
Anyway...what about the programmes? That was what the viewing public were interested in.
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As we said at the time: "Many viewers will complain if peak viewing hours are devoted too much to 'highbrow' features...and a number will complain at a diet of cowboys and murders.
"The company is doing everything possible to ensure that all viewers are satisfied most of the time. Well-known features such as Wagon Train, Emergency Ward 10 and Sunday Night at the London Palladium will be taken from the national network but much of the quota originated in the Norwich studios will be strongly local in appeal."
And so it was.
There was a Town and Gown programme from Cambridge and Farming Diary was a bit hit across the region with well known Suffolk farmer, Sir Peter Greenwell, a consultant. Dear old Dick Joice was the man in the hot seat and he became one of Anglia's best known and loved personalities.
Above all Anglia was determined to be "our" ITV station and that is just what it became. There was the Midday show with promoted local talent and members of the public were invited into the studios.
The station also produced some of the best drama and plays to be seen on British television thanks to the likes of John Woolf. The play on the opening night was The Violent Years with Laurence Harvey and Hildegarde Neff. This was top-drawer drama with huge stars.
The team picked programmes from around the country which were popular and added their own winners....a great combination.
Many of us, of a certain age and lucky enough to have a TV, probably rented, remember the birth of Anglia. I still remember the first advert I saw - for Bird's Eye at Lowestoft.
The first programme was Introducing Anglia with chairman, leading Norfolk farmer Lord Townshend, introducing Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick to perform a simple opening ceremony.
Viewers were taken on a helicopter ride around the region. That was followed by a show for the children, the news, and a documentary about a ceremony in Germany a few days earlier when the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the Suffolk Regiment merged to form the first East Anglian Regiment.
At 9.35 an Anglia production reached the whole country for the first time with The Violent Years.
The second day brought the first edition of The Midday Show with the likes of Susan Hampshire. The first studio guests came from Haverhill.
A friend of mine, popular Norfolk singer Larry Pye, appeared on one of the first shows and was asked to belt out Rawhide. "I couldn't believe I had appeared on live television," he told me. "Trouble was hardly any of my friends or family had TVs."
And so Anglia TV was born. And TVs were selling, or being rented, like hot cakes.
The proud knight, the company's symbol, and the music which accompanied it - part of Handel's Water Music arranged for the company by Sir Malcolm Sargent - became known far beyond the region.
At first the directors had thought of using Britannia as a symbol but then Lord Townshend saw the knight in Asprey's in New Bond Street.
It had been modelled on a statue of Richard Coeur de Lion outside the Houses of Parliament, though it represented the Black Prince.
It had been commissioned from a London firm of silversmiths by the King of the Netherlands in 1850 as a trophy for a sporting contest but was won by an Englishman who brought it home where it remained in the possession of his family until Anglia acquired it.
Happy birthday Anglia.
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