'How it all Began...'
SWFTA exists today as the largest regional film archive in the UK and as the official moving image archive for the SW. The collections comprise of the combined production and programme libraries of Westward Television and TSW (Television South West). All rights to the collection are owned by SWFTA, which is unique for an archive repository which traditionally exists as a custodian for other people's material. The reason for this is revealed when exploring the history of the archive and its connection to its collections.
Westward went on air on 29th April 1961 and was the first regional ITV station in the South West. In those days there were only two channels - the BBC and ITV. In our multi-channel age this now seems hard to believe.
But for the people of the South West , 1961 was the advent of not only being able to see what was going on in their area, but also to be entertained by programmes focusing on the South West, be it sport, current affairs or documentaries.
One of the very important programmes that both Westward and TSW made was a weekly ‘Farming News’ half hour. Being a rural area, it was hugely significant to the local farmers.
The flagship was the daily evening half hour news magazine programme, Westward Diary. This was fronted by the charismatic Kenneth MacLeod with his deep brown voice.
The reporters on the show became local “film stars”, namely Angela Rippon, John Doyle, Del Cooper, Lawrie Quayle , Clive Gunnell , Ted Tuckerman , David Young, weatherman Graham Danton and many more. And these presenters didn’t just work on The Diary, as it was affectionately known, but on programmes of their own too.
Clive Gunnell made his Walking Westward series, exploring the South West Coast Path and talking to local people on his way. Ted Tuckerman presented a fishing programme called Tight Lines. David Young, who was a trained architect, travelled the region visiting and explaining historical buildings. Graham Danton presented a weekly programme called Date With Danton.
The people of the West Country often saw these presenters out and about in the region opening fêtes, making public appearances and generally mixing with viewers, who could pass on their opinions of the variety of programmes that were broadcast. At the purpose-built Derry’s Cross studio in Plymouth, the Reception Desk kept a supply of autographed photographs of all the “stars” and thousands were passed out.
The most popular face of Westward and TSW was Gus Honeybun, the friendly rabbit, who appeared with continuity announcers including Stuart Hutchison, Judi Spiers, Roger Shaw, Ruth Langsford, David Rodgers, Ian Stirling and David Fitzgerald. Gus was meant to be for the children -the announcer would read out birthday greetings along with requests for Gus to “bunny hop”, wink and press the magic button - but he was just as popular with adults! He has since reappeared in 2017 and 2018 in live Facebook events with Plymouth Herald and The Box Plymouth.
As Westward Television evolved into TSW (Television South West) in 1982 Westward Diary was replaced by Today South West and the variety of programmes increased. Judi Spiers presented the infamous Mr TSW and David Rodgers Miss TSW. These were ‘beauty’ contests aired live on a Saturday night at 7.30.
There were also networked programmes such as the children’s series Freeze Frame and Harry Secombe’s religious half hour, Highway.
TSW’s last transmission was on 31st December 1992 and the new broadcaster ITV Westcountry took over at midnight on New Year’s Day 1993. On losing their franchise, the directors of TSW decided to establish a public film and television archive based around the back catalogue of Westward and TSW programmes and created the TSW Film and Television Archive TSWFTA, one of the first and largest of what has now become a network of regional and national film archives. The archive is a charitable trust, existing to preserve the region's moving image heritage. It is open to the public and holds film and television recordings from a wide variety of sources including donations from the general public dating back to the early 1900s. It is an invaluable source of rare footage reflecting the region's cultural heritage.
TSWFTA was renamed the SWFTA in 2003 and aims to preserve moving image material as a resource for future generations.
Westward and TSW prided themselves on being there for the people of the South West – one TSW slogan was ‘We Bring It All Home To You’.
The South West Film and Television Archive has taken up that mantle and strives to nurture and maintain the thousands of films and tapes in its library, whether they are news items, sports coverage, documentaries or TV series and will be making them more accessible through The Box Plymouth.
Jill Husband former Features Editor Westward Television and TSW