Birmingham on TV: Why city has a proud tradition of programme-making and broadcasting

Posted on 15 July 2013

From Broad Street studios to Pebble Mill and then the Mailbox and the Drama Village, and the ATV Centre/Central House, the city has a long history of TV

Birmingham has a long and proud tradition of TV programme-making and broadcasting.

In 1922, Birmingham became the first UK city outside London to have a BBC radio service. The studios moved from Witton to New Street in 1923 and then on to Broad Street in 1926.

It was in 1949 that Birmingham also became the first UK city outside London to have a BBC television service, also based at the Broad Street studios.

The service expanded and the BBC decided to establish regional production centres creating TV and radio for the areas they covered, so a new Birmingham base was required. Building work started on Pebble Mill Studios in Edgbaston in 1967 and Princess Anne opened the seven-storey, nine-acre site in 1971.

Eventually, changes in TV production requirements, along with spiralling building maintenance costs, led to BBC Birmingham shifting production to brand new studios at The Mailbox in 2004. A year later, Pebble Mill was demolished.

But space limitations at The Mailbox meant a second base was needed and in 2004 the BBC Drama Village was officially opened in five buildings on the University of Birmingham’s Selly Oak campus and three units on the Stirchley Trading Estate in Hazelwell Road.

ITV also has strong connections to the city. The new Independent Television (ITV) network was launched in the UK in 1955, with Associated Television (ATV) winning the contract to serve the Birmingham region.

At first, ATV broadcast on weekdays and ABC Weekend TV stepped in at weekends, with both operating their Birmingham services from studios at Aston. In 1968 ATV took over the entire contract for all seven days and, as the colour television era arrived, it built new studios in Broad Street – the ATV Centre at Alpha Tower.

Following criticism that ATV’s Midlands output was too focused on Birmingham, broadcasting watchdogs demanded separate services for the East Midlands and West Midlands.

As a result, ATV stopped broadcasting in January 1982 and rebranded itself as Central Independent Television with a Birmingham studio (Central House at the former ATV Centre) making West Midlands content and a Nottingham site serving the East Midlands. A third centre, at Abingdon, near Oxford, opened in 1989.

Carlton bought out Central in 1994 and moved the Birmingham operation from Central House to new digital studios in Gas Street.

Network programming from the Gas Street site ceased in 2005, leaving only ITV News Central to be broadcast from the studios. The rest of the building was sold to a property developer to be leased as office space.

BBC at The Mailbox in Birmingham