Greenwich Cablevision

Paul asks:

I found an intriguing reference last night in a book called “I Never Knew that About London” by Christopher Winn to the fact (apparently) that Greenwich was the subject of the first pay TV channel, Greenwich Cablevision. Apparently it began broadcasting from a studio in Plumstead on 3 July 1972 and its first programme was about everday life in Greenwich at the time. I would love to see the programme. Ever heard of it? Seen it? Any ideas on sourcing it? If not, I may go to Mr Winn’s publishers to ask.

The Phantom is flummoxed.

Blimey – I’d never even heard of it. But it sounds intriguing indeed. Wow – I’d like to see that too.

I would say your best bet for a first-stop would be the Heritage Centre or the Borough Museum at Plumstead – they may have it – though of course it could be on some long-lost tape format and unwatchable now. Your enquiry might prompt them to digitise it while it’s still available (though actually still in copyright so there might be some iffy implications.) Sadly I don’t think there’s a TV equivalent of the British Library – where you have to legally deposit a copy of broadcast material.

Perhaps the BFI could help though?

Do keep me posted on this intriguing Greenwich first…

20 Comments to “Greenwich Cablevision”

  1. Stephen says:

    I worked on it!

    I remember it well. At the time I was working in the University College London AV Centre and volunteered to help.

    The studio was in the basement of the shop in Plumstead and it was HOT!

    Locals had access to airtime and all sorts of programmes were produced. It was black and white of course and we used Link 101 cameras with IVC 1" recorders. These were obviously not up to the quality of quadruplex VTRs but certainly good enough to master and edit on. I can't remember the chief Producer's surname but his first name was Luke.

    One Christmas there was a super musical show produced – faetur9ng many local people but we used the studios of Ravensbourne School of Film and Television in Wharton Road, Bromley, which was broadcast quality. Bob Butler was the guiding light at the College and his Ravensbourne students did a superb job of directing and editing the final show.

    There MAY be a tape of this languishing somewhere in Ravensbourne which, I understand is currently moving from Sidcup to near the Dome in Greenwhich. That would be quite a find if it still exists. I remember a set of the front door of a house and the hall inside which was superb – Carol singers and stage snow!

    Steve Bell.

  2. Nick Moore says:

    Ar I remember it well.
    I was one of Bob Butlers students, the TV show would have been shot around 1971. I lit the section we shot in Wrens chapel at the Royal Navel College. The only tape format at the time the college had was 2″ Quad which wouldn’t have lent it self to a college OB. I belive we shot it on 16mm film and then transfered to tape, using telecine machines back at the college. After editing, I believe as film,it was transfered to Shibaden (not sure of the spelling) which was an early non-broadcast format (1″ tape I think)that I believe Greenwich cable Vision were using. The shop was on a parade of shops, just as you exit Plumstead heading to Abbey Wood and opposite the turn off to Welling.
    As for me I went on to become a Technical Manager at the BBC untill I was made redundent in the 1990′s, then I got into design and consultancy for studios, command centres and secured communications,and with the goverment cutbacks about to be redundent again.

  3. Carrie says:

    There is some footage of this within a Thames Television doco called; TV Eye: Do You Want More Television? 1982.

    They show a clip of Greenwich Cablevision’s studio at work.

  4. Chris Henniker says:

    How many people watched it? Was it a popular service?

  5. Stephen Bell says:

    I can’t remember how many people the cable network served, but the local aspect made it watchable; there was a huge novelty (in those days) of seeing your own high street on the ‘Telly.

    Remember though, this was in the days of 3 TV channels, not even Channel 4 was going at that time, so competition was not what it would be today for a ‘very local’ channel.

    From what I gathered at the time, people would watch if they knew a friend or neighbour or relative was going to be on. However – it was always competing with broadcast TV and many people would end up opting for ‘Z Cars’ in preference to a cookery programme presented – with the best will in the world – by a local amateur.

    (The ‘studio’ got unbearably hot during cookery programmes!)

    Steve Bell.

  6. Stephen Bell says:

    Carrie: You don’t have that clip do you? The BFI says it’s long gone.



    I worked for Greenwich Cablevision as a Production Assistant in the early 1970′s. I had three Directors of Programmes while I was there – Charles Lucas, Barrie Anderson and Terry Molone.

    The BBC Horizons program did a feature on Greenwich Cablevision and perhaps the BBC stil has the tape.

    I think that John Graves or Peter Codnor who worked there may have some videotapes. Have lost contact with them as I now live in Australia.

    It was way ahead of its time with lots of potential but not much money …

    Good memories of my time there.


  8. Annie Wilkinson says:

    Used to hang out at the studio with the guys that worked there Simon Baines, Peter, John and Andy. Loads of laughs always I went to Canada for 30 odd years and have just returned to England Now living back in the same area and wonder where the gang from GC went to!

  9. Kevin Townsend says:

    My father Maurice ran Cablevision, from 307 Plumstaed High St.

    The original studio was in the basement during the experiment period, but moved to 2 garages under a block of flats nearby.

    Terry Malone, a local councillor and member of the Greenwich Theatre group (incl Tramshed) hosted many of the political shows.

    The company moved to a large building adjacent the ferry and a TV and Radio Studio were built, alongside the movie channel equipment.

    Cablevision floated on the Stock Market, but Government attempts to slow the progress and “wiring of Britain” meant many institutional investors dumped large amounts of stocks. These were seized by asset strippers and the company dissolved.

    The 2nd largest cable company was bought by Telewest soon after for ~£60m and the Cable Industry has become what we know today….

    These truly were the pioneering days

  10. Kevin Townsend says:

    Greenwich Meantime became a “cult” show. Irreverent humour a real fore-runner to the satirical comedy we see today.

    I seem to remember Hale & Pace, Jim Davidson etc appearing in the early days.
    David Kossoff, Georgie Fame.

    Lots of IVC 1″ tapes were discarded I’m afraid. I think I still have some Greenwich Sound Radio archive.

  11. Derek Smith says:

    The studio in the basement was not big enough for a control room so the outside broadcast van was plumbed in via temporary cables when programmes were recorded. When the channel proved unsustainable with paid staff it moved from the basement to two converted garages under a block of flats just off Burrage Road. One garage was the studio and the other the control room with a window between the vision desk and the studio. I joined as a volunteer just after the move. Staff then were Bob Blatchford, Chris Hawes, Martin Shankleman, Susie Roberts, Roger Fear, Phil Graham, Tony Watts and Dave Hawker. Mick White (Cablevisions engineer) maintained the equipment and we ran three programmes over each weekend. Meantime on Saturday morning, Sangam on Sunday morning and the Sunday Show on sunday evening. I will look through my notes and try to find some more information, but I hope this is of some use.

  12. The_Highwayman says:

    I Remember Greenwich Cablevision was offered on a cable network system serving Plumstead where I lived as a child, and no doubt other areas in the valley. The Relay Transmitter at Woolwich (actually south of Abbey Wood and Plumstead) was not operating at the time and so you subscribed to the cable service or didn’t receive a very good TV signal, due to hills obscuring the reception. The Greenwich Cablevision TV Channel was available to you as part of the cable ‘package’ – all three channels BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 plus Greenwich Cablevision. In those days, most people had Black and white VHF TV’s, also known as 405 Lines, and could ONLY receive the channel if they upgraded to UHF 625 lines. Whilst this was commonly used to accommodate the newly arriving colour TV service (BBC2 at first) it was also common to receive the service on black and white TVs only. In any case, I remember it was only available on 625 lines and only Black and white. Television and cable was nothing like it is now. The Cable was distributed along the roof eves with occasional ‘under the ground links’ to cross the street for example. I even remember a lightening strike which hit the cable distribution system causing so much damage the district was without TV for weeks until the TV engineer called to fix the Cable systems and the individual TV’s which would have had a circuit board or two blown out! TV’s were very often rented on monthly agreements from a local company called D.E.R. (part of Thorn EMI empire if you research the WEB). I do remember the local Greenwich Cablevision channel. Very pioneering of its time but to be honest somewhat amateur when compared to the other channels.

  13. Martin Barden says:

    Do any of you that worked there recall a programme in July 72 about Marc Bolan/T.Rex? According to a news item in the music press at the time, there was to be a 30-minute feature on T.Rex’s new LP The Slider… It is the stuff of legend amongst T.Rex fans. I have tried many times to trace it, without success.
    As a matter of interest, a feature on the BBC about the nascent cable industry survives in the BFI library, which includes a discussion amongst the founders of Greenwich Cablevision.

  14. [...] an little discussion going on in a very old thread about the first Pay-TV channel,Greenwich Cablevision, a subject about which I knew nothing back in early 2008, and still know very little about. Sadly [...]


    i remember it well too. I was married to Tony Watts and did several spots on the show including ‘know your body’ the book review and whats going on in woolwich market! they really were pioneering times indeed. We were the first people in britain to do a breakfast tv show. I remember a christmas show where had all had a little too much to drink and tried to remove Tonys trousers(well Suzy Roberts did!)all while Tony was live to air and the poor camera man trying to keep the camera still and stifling giggles. Does any one remember our bus that Terry had painted with our logo? good times!!!!

  16. brian manley says:

    I remember Greenwich Cablevision as a kid as both my nans lived in Plumstead. I was fascinated by being able to receive different episodes of the ‘time tunnel’ every time I was round their houses.
    Is there anyone around who might enlighten me to some of the technical aspects of receiving other ITV regions at this time? Where were the receive aerials for example ? thanks Brian

  17. Marion Hilless says:

    They certainly were pioneering days. The first cable TV in Britain, the first breakfast TV, the first political broadcast (from the Woolwich Town Hall Council Meetings), etc. etc. THEY WERE SO WAY AHEAD OF THEIR TIME.

    I worked there circa 1972 as PA and it was an amazing place with so many creative people.

    I do not remember T-Rex. I must have left before that happened. Interesting to note that the BBC may have a tape re. Cablevision.

    They were very demanding but happy days. Little money but,looking back, they were priceless!!!


  18. Brian Manley asks about receiving other ITV regions (this was at a time when they were all fiercely independent, at least to the point at which they showed different movies). Greenwich Cablevision had a mast on top of a block of flats in Plumstead on which it had some complex aerials that picked up Anglia TV from Essex and Southern TV from Kent.
    Maurice Townsend — Kevin’s father, mentioned above — went on to become one of the leading personalities in the cable industry as it developed in the 1980s. I remember him well, as I used to edit one of the industry’s trade papers and then was cable correspondent for Broadcast, the TV industry weekly.

  19. Derek Smith says:

    I remember the Christmas show that Dawn talked about as I was the cameraman! I married Susie Roberts but we are divorced now – not because she tried to remove Tony’s trousers!
    Anyone who worked on the station might like to know that Dave Hawker, the station’s other soundman (with Bob Blatchford) died last year at a very early age. RIP Hawkeye.

  20. Sue says:

    My memory of 307 Plumstead High Street is that of rollers, perm curlers and very red faced old ladies cooking away under huge hairdryers. I lived there from about 1962 as my parents had a hair dressing business and we lived above the shop but I am not sure when they sold the property. The basement was very small and hot as we used to dry all the towels down there, I remember sitting down there as a child on a Saturday with one of those TV dinners that came in a foil tray that you heated up in the oven, and the mouse traps! How interesting that Cablevision set up there, I have no idea how you squeezed in that small space at all, there was no window just some light from a small glass panel in the ceiling of the basement from the path outside. When we lived at the shop it was the time when ladies came in for a wash and set every week, their hair heavily set, glued and back-combed into position having cooked under the hairdryers until definitely crispy and well done! I used to get sixpence for washing the perm curlers and then spend it on Smarties from the shop next door- the good old days eh?