TV Times is a UK television listings magazine. First published on 20th September 1955 in the London area only to coincide with the launch of ITV, it was for many years the “official” magazine of the network.
During that period, TV Times and its BBC counterpart Radio Times (first published in 1923) were the only television listings magazines in the UK as the profits they generated meant that the companies involved continued to hold strict copyright on the listings of their programmes. They had embargo times close enough to transmission to ensure publicity from daily newspapers but not far enough away from transmission to mean that they lost their guaranteed monopoly on the first publication of forthcoming programmes. This situation generated huge sales with the Christmas 1988 edition of Radio Times achieving 11,220,666 copies - a record for magazine sales in the UK and recognised as such by the Guinness Book of Records. Increasingly, the BBC and ITV faced legal action to force them to remove the copyright and provide details upon request. The 1990 Broadcasting Act removed this monopoly and from 1st March 1991 newspapers were allowed to print billings in advance and other independent magazines - usually aimed at the cheaper end of the market - were also launched. Commensurate with that change both Radio Times and TV Times went “multi-channel”, a situation with exists to this day, although each has a subtle preference for its original station loyalty, with arguably Radio Times demonstrating this to more effect than its long-standing rival.
Inevitably the change in 1991 meant that sales were heavily reduced for both magazines. Today Radio Times sells just under one million copies a week of its non-Christmas issue (down from a peak of almost nine million in 1955) while TV Times has a circulation of just under 300,000 issues, down from ten times that figure in the early 1970s.
Since 1989, TV Times has been published by Time Inc (formerly IPC Media) under licence from the ITV group of companies.
TV Times in the regions
In 1955, the magazine was originally published by Associated Rediffusion Ltd who held the weekday London franchise although ATV who broadcast at the weekend chose to use it also as their listing magazine. As each new ITV station launched across the country, there was no compulsion for them to avail themselves of using TV Times and several chose to issue their own publication. The following listings magazines, aside from TV Times, were therefore in circulation in the 1950s and 1960s:
- Scottish Television - TV Guide (until May 1962, then The Viewer until September 1965 then TV Times)
- Ulster Television - TV Post
- Tyne Tees Television - The Viewer
- Westward Television - Look Westward
- Harlech Television - Television Weekly
- Channel Television - Channel Viewer
In September 1964 ATV in the Midlands also chose to issue their own magazine and viewers in that area purchased TV World instead of TV Times for the next four years.
This situation all but ceased in August 1968 when the Independent Television Authority held its franchise renewal and insisted that each of the successful stations joined in with TV Times in creating a single journal for almost the entire network. The exception was in the Channel Islands where Channel Viewer (later CTV Times) provided much-needed income for the small broadcaster there and it was agreed that they alone could continue to publish their own magazine. This situation changed again in October 1991 when the end of the listings monopoly meant that that magazine was no longer commercially viable and it ceased publication for good.
Prior to the 1968 change, TV Times was published in seven regional editions - London, Scottish, Border, Grampian, Southern, Anglia and Northern, the latter covering Granada Television (weekday contractor until 1968) and ABC Television (weekend contractor until the 1968 loss of franchise).
A few weeks after the change in the regions, the magazine underwent the biggest make-over in its history with dramatic changes in its style and printing techniques. The old-style cheaper paper was dispensed with and a larger magazine, both in terms of page numbers and page size, hit the newsstands. Its content was more serious than it had been to date with some in-depth articles on such subjects as a speculative essay on the first Briton in space. This tone lasted for a few years but before long the old faithfuls of recipes, fashion and photo features on celebrity homes started to creep back and became an integral part of the publication in 1976 with the launch of their own section ("a magazine within a magazine" entitled "Family Scene").
A second big change to the magazine came on 2nd November 1982 when Channel 4 was launched in the UK and, as a subsidiary of the IBA, its programmes were automatically included alongside those of ITV, making the publication multi-channel for the first time. Further changes were afoot though as there were moves to abolish the copyright monopoly that both the BBC and ITV claimed for their programme details. As early as 1972 a joint television guide had been considered but by 1974 the idea had been abandoned. Other organisations and publishers were not placated though and TV Choice was launched as a competitor to the two magazines in 1982 but ceased publication after court action. In 1988 an MEP asked the European Parliament to investigate the situation and they concluded that the BBC and ITV were creating an unfair advantage for themselves. In November of that year a "TV Listings Campaign", made up of other publishers were scented that money was to be made and stepped up the pressure which resulted in a section of the 1990 Broadcasting Act which removed the right of the BBC and ITV to claim their copyright and forced them to share their billing schedules. Several new magazines, all aimed at the cheaper end of the market, sprang up, newspapers launched their own guides, and both TV Times and Radio Times went multi-channel. The first edition of TV Times to carry BBC billings was that dated 23rd February to 1st March 1991 and, in what seemed a strange situation back then, Radio Times carried an in-depth interview with Thelma Barlow.
The move decimated the circulation of the magazine though the situation was helped as the years wore on by the regional variations within the ITV schedules being eradicated as Granada Television and Carlton Television bought up most of the rest of the network. Nevertheless multi-million circulations are a thing of the past and unlikely ever to return for any television publication.
TV Times and Coronation Street
TV Times is therefore the only listings magazine to have an uninterrupted run of coverage of Coronation Street from the programme’s launch until the present day. Although published centrally from London, regions had their own correspondents and the magazine came under great pressure from the various contractors to favour coverage of its own programmes in the regions where the magazine was sold and Granada Television went so far as to insist that its company credit at the base of a billing of a programme they had made was in the company’s recognised font rather than the generic type used for the other contractors (see examples on this page). This pressure meant that coverage of Coronation Street in its early days was noticeably stronger in the Northern edition than elsewhere and, for this reason, this article concentrates on publicity in that edition rather than the larger-selling London issue.
Coronation Street was given minimal publicity on its launch, even in the Northern edition. A small billing for the programme gave no cast details and the one page feature concentrated on Tony Warren and his research for his scripts. It even referred to Ena Sharples as a “kindly pensioner”! The following week introduced cast billings although these were not comprehensive for the first few weeks of the show. Episode synopsis or "blurbs" only began proper in September 1961 and ceased entirely between June 1967 and March 1968.
The billing for the third episode carried the first-ever uncredited illustration of what the full street looked like although strangely it concentrated on the side of the thoroughfare on which the Mission of Glad Tidings and Elliston's Raincoat Factory stood rather than the terraced side. The first cast pictures - of William Roache and Noel Dyson - appeared the week after.
The first major feature on the programme was in the issue of 1st to 7th January 1961 when a double-page spread presented all of the major characters and cast over a schematic plan of the street showing where each person lived. For this reason Minnie Caldwell/Margot Bryant and Martha Longhurst/Lynne Carol were omitted. Ages were given for most of the characters (some slightly inaccurately) as well as the actors playing them and perhaps the article is most memorable for stating that Doris Speed was 43 years of age whereas in reality the actress was a month short of her 62nd birthday at the time.
The following week, the first letter about the programme appeared when Mr MacDonald Davidson of Bromley Crescent, Ashton-under-Lyne said:
- "What an excellent and controversial serial Coronation Street has turned out to be. One national newspaper critic questions the authenticity of Tony Warren's writing by citing what to him is an original situation – "Someone mending a bicycle puncture in front of the living-room fire."
- Who is out of touch?
- From personal experience, I would say certainly not Tony Warren. That lad's got his facts reet!”
…and one week later A. Atkins of Roxburg Avenue, Higher Tranmere, Birkenhead echoed this praise stating:
- My thanks and admiration for the serial Coronation Street. I really enjoyed it. It's real down-to-earth and good acting.
A note of criticism came the next week when Mrs E Slater of Norbury Street, Hyde said that although she enjoyed the programme, "because it is so true to life" Ena Sharples "makes my blood boil" because she, "is a spiteful gossip and a busybody" who was not at all like the people in the mission hall that she had belonged to for twenty-five years.
The week after that, the first major cast interview appeared. Violet Carson, already starting to be recognised as playing the most compulsive character on the programme was pictured under the heading, "I'm no dragon, says the terror of Coronation Street” and spoke of how she was already recognised on her daily train ride from Blackpool to Manchester and that she had been surrounded in a shop in Manchester a few days before by curious viewers.
As the year wore on and the programme gained larger audiences, it generated a steady stream of publicity and had its first cover with the issue of 23rd to 29th April 1961 with Violet Carson and Patricia Phoenix pictured in a composite photograph made to look as though Ena was lecturing a fed-up Elsie Tanner in the Rovers as Martha looked on (this cover featured in all regions that used TV Times for its billings except Anglia who chose to publicise an edition of their award-winning natural history show Survival instead). A noticeable interview took place in the issue dated 24th to 30th September with Anne Reid and Eileen Derbyshire, the latter being one of few such occurrences to date.
Bv the end of the year, the programme was solidly at the top of the ratings and this was reflected by the publication of special eight-page pullout on the programme which was issued in two parts in the Christmas and New Year editions. Coverage of the programme and its cast remained high throughout 1962, particularly in the section entitled Looking Around by John Gough which featured a small snippet on the programme most weeks (The column was briefly renamed Looking Ahead with John Gough in July 1965, then just John Gough in September 1965. The column then continued until March 1966 when it was dropped from the magazine). In September 1963, the magazine underwent a small revamp and as part of this now featured a weekly column by Patricia Phoenix (although undoubtedly ghost-written) entitled Tanner's Worth! which was announced as promising "the actresses own lively comments on people, places and everyday things." In the event, the contents were somewhat more constrained than might have been expected with, for instance, the first column in the issue of 15th to 21st September covering such subjects as "Why not have left luggage offices for things you don’t want to carry around town?", perishable fruit, the uses of quilted plastic in the home and being pinched when signing autographs! Nevertheless the column did achieve some good works such as the Christmas 1964 toy appeal for the NSPCC which saw 22,082 toys donated as well as money in the sum of £66, 16s, 7d. The column ran for two years until it last appeared in the issue dated 18th to 24th September, dropped to coincide with a format change to the magazine to coincide with its tenth anniversary.
For Christmas 1962, rival publications The Viewer and Look Westward had managed to produce issues with their covers and some of their inside pages in full colour. They were not the first listings magazine in the UK to achieve this as Radio Times had frequently featured colour on its covers from 1923 to 1938 before World War II had constrained supplies of paper, ink and printing equipment but they were the first to take the step in the post-war world. TV Times had to follow suit and tentative steps were taken in 1963 with, for example, an advert for cigarettes in the issue for 8th to 14th September. That Christmas, the first-ever colour cover for the magazine appeared together with some internal pages given over to portraits of the stars including one of Patricia Phoenix sat on the bar of the Rovers, showing plenty of leg and holding up a sherry in a toast to the readers, the first time the programme had featured in colour in the journal. The following year, the issue for 19th to 25th April featured singer Ella Fitzgerald in colour as an experiment and finally, with the issue for 26th September to 2nd October, the magazine turned over to full colour covers and editorial pages. This was well ahead of the BBC where Radio Times managed sporadic covers in colour from September 1964 onwards but only managed to turn over to regular colour covers with its issue of 30th September to 6th October 1967 - ironically a few months after the launch of a restricted colour television service on BBC2!
Coronation Street's coverage in the magazine remained strong throughout the 1960s and the early 1970s but saw a noticeable drop around 1974 as the magazine once again adopted a more serious tone with shorter articles. However, two years before this, ITV had started regular daytime programming and with increased hours of transmission in the evening it could be argued that Coronation Street was competing with far more productions for space in the magazine.
TV Times also published four “specials” exclusively devoted to the programme as follows:
- Coronation Street Wedding Souvenir in 1967 for Elsie Tanner’s wedding to Steve Tanner.
- 1000th Episode Souvenir in 1970 to mark that milestone for the programme.
- There’s a Wedding in the Street to mark the 1977 wedding of Len Fairclough and Rita Littlewood
- Coronation Street 2000 in 1980 to mark the passing of that episodic hurdle.
In addition, for many years the magazine published Christmas specials which sometimes contained Coronation Street content. Issues so far identified which fell into this category are:
- 1961 - The character's preparations for Christmas
- 1963 - Once around the houses - a board game
- 1965 - The cast pictured as characters from Alice in Wonderland
- 1971 - Fiction: Wedding Bells for Ena Sharples by Brian Finch
The following links give information on the coverage in the magazine in more detail. Not every mention of the programme in letters is given. The feature writers who themselves later contributed to the programme as writers are credited where known, in the main Brian Finch, James Bryant and Tim Aspinall.