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YTV 40 years old - A voice for Yorkshire

As Yorkshire TV celebrates its 40th anniversary Neil Hudson looks back over four decades of news, drama and ground-breaking entertainment, beginning with 1968-78

Yorkshire Television has been responsible for some of the best known programmes in the world – programmes like A Touch of Frost, The New Statesman, Heartbeat, Rising Damp and documentary series Jimmy's.

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YTV gave a voice to Yorkshire folk and helped counter the influence of Granada TV, based across the Pennines in Manchester. It put Yorkshire well and truly on the map, gave the county its first proper drama Emmerdale Farm, and it even tempted Alan Whicker away from the BBC.

It was heady stuff for the late 1960s, and 40 years on its legacy is alive and kicking.

The first decade of YTV was an era which ushered in the likes of Rigsby, the downtrodden, miserable landlord from hit comedy Rising Damp and the religiously-themed Stars on Sunday, whose worthy host Jess Yates was ignominiously driven away from the Kirkstall Road studios in the boot of a car in order to avoid waiting press after it was revealed he had been having an affair with a model 30 years his junior.

Then there was quiz show Joker's Wild, hosted by Barry Cryer, pictured left, who chain-smoked throughout.

All were shows produced by Yorkshire TV and they were the first of many to make their mark not just in the UK but internationally.

When YTV opened in July 1968, it kick-started a new era in broadcasting, both in terms of drama and news.

Calendar was the daily news bulletin for Yorkshire and despite teething problems – leading to it earning the affectionate nickname 'Colander' – it gave the BBC some competition. It also launched the careers of several people, among them Austin Mitchell MP and the late Richard Whiteley, who went on to host Countdown for more than 20 years.

But in the early days there were setbacks: strikes led to black-outs just a week after the launch and when Emley Moor mast collapsed on March 19, 1969, it nearly led to the channel's collapse.

Despite the fact staff were very much feeling their way in terms of finding and making programmes, the early days were productive.

Hadleigh was one the earliest iconic hits to come from the Yorkshire studios – its lead character, James Hadleigh was the suave,

sophisticated country squire of Melford Park, who always championed the underdog and drove a classy white Monteverdi 3.75l.

Many people will remember with affection Follyfoot, the drama set at a rest home for horses and filmed on the Harewood estate, Leeds. It was first broadcast in 1971 and repeated in the 1980s.

There was controversy too: in January 1974, the play The Break, starring Robert Shaw, produced for ABC America by David Frost, ran into censorial problems after objections were raised about a scene in which Mr Shaw appeared in a vest and underpants. When it was screened in the UK, it drew dozens of complaints, this time for its portrayal of violence.

The documentary Too Long A Winter, aired in 1973, sparked one of the biggest responses in the young channel's history as people wrote in to applaud the efforts of North Yorkshire farmer Hannah Hauxwell, who farmed her 80 acres single-handedly and would go weeks without seeing anyone. She had no running water, electricity and lived on 280 a year.

Another memorable documentary produced by Barry Cockroft in 1973 was Children of Eskdale and Kitty: Return to Auschwitz.

Viewers will remember the channel's logo – a chevron, which was used up

until 2004, together with the identification theme, played before all its programmes until 1987, which was based on the traditional Yorkshire song On Ilkley Moor Baht 'at.

The first sit-com to be filmed for YTV was Inside George Wobley in 1969, starring That Was The Week That Was star Roy Kinnear, who was filmed on Leeds City Station Platform 4 for part of the series. Roy Kinnear played a bank clerk called George.

Calendar was there from the very beginning – the first face on the new channel was Eton-educated Jonathan Aitken, who later became an MP but was eventually jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice following a libel trial.

And of course there was Whicker's World, which helped launch the station and represented something of a coup for executives, who had lured the suave presenter away from the BBC. His shows continued on YTV until 1992.

'The programme with the holes'

Austin Mitchell was one of the first people to be employed on the fledgling channel. He was hired as a presenter on Calendar at the end of the company's first week.

"It was an exciting time, perhaps the most exciting time I have ever had.

"In some ways we were living on a precipice, because things could go wrong. And they did. It was live and it was in Yorkshire.

"We went on air in July 1968 and for the first six months, we all worked in a disused trouser factory directly opposite.

"You might be presenting a particular news item which had some video and you would introduce it but then it wouldn't come up on the screen and you would just be sat there looking silly.

"At one time, it was known as 'Colander', the programme with the holes. I remember someone once brought an elephant into the studios and it got loose and was wandering around and no-one knew what to do about it.

Then it began to pee all over the place with a sound like Niagara Falls.

"The test was whether you could recover from moments like that."

"But we were making programmes in places which had never been shown on TV before – I used to have a running joke that Heckmondwike was the centre of our universe."

Events in history

1968: Work started on the construction of the M62 and continued until 1975, Richard Nixon was voted in as US President; and the last public service steam train ran in Britain.

1969: The first man walked on the moon; British troops were sent to Northern Ireland to restore peace; and John Lennon, just married to Yoko Ono, uttered the immortal line: "Make love, not war".

1970: Tory Edward Heath was elected to Number 10 Downing Street; Monty Python's Flying Circus was moved to BBC1 as a ratings winner; The Beatles split.

1971: Astronauts went back to the moon, this time with a buggy; Rolls Royce went bankrupt; mini-skirts and hot-pants were all the rage.

1972: Work began on the Humber Bridge, which was completed in 1981; the MG was launched; the US used napalm in Vietnam.

1973: 11 miners lost their lives in the Lofthouse Colliery disaster after a seam they were working on flooded. Rescue teams worked for six days to reach them but it was too late.

1974: A chemical factory exploded at Flixborough, Humberside, killing 28; Nixon was forced to resign as US President.

1975: Margaret Thatcher became the new Tory leader; One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, starring Jack Nicholson, was released.

1976: The Montreal Olympics; Rocky, written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, was released.

1977: The Space Shuttle made its maiden voyage; Star Wars was released; Virginia Wade became Wimbledon Champion.

 
 
 

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