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With the ITA request met, the group, under the name Ulster Television Limited, set out their plans for broadcasting; initially, the station would try to provide 20 minutes of locally sourced programmes per day, and the company arranged with ABC Television to sell advertising time and to maintain their studio premises at a former hemstitching warehouse in Havelock House on the Ormeau Road in Belfast.
Ulster Television went on air at 4pm on Halloween Day 1959, the 12th ITV station to launch. The station's opening was overseen by Lord Wakehurst, then Governor of Northern Ireland, and Sir Laurence Olivier introduced the opening ceremony. The station's first night of programming, introduced by duty announcer Adrienne McGuill, featured networked series such as The Adventures of Robin Hood and 77 Sunset Strip, two news bulletins from ITN and the 1949 feature film Task Force. Sir Laurence Olivier delivered the station's first epilogue, an excerpt from Joseph Addison's "The Spacious Firmament".
The following evening, UTV contributed a play to the Armchair Theatre series, "A Shilling for the Evil Day", produced in association with ABC Television. Earlier in the day, the station broadcast its first unofficial colour production - a film of images from across Northern Ireland was broadcast entitled Ulster Rich and Rare, produced by Lord Wakehurst.
At launch, Ulster Television employed a staff of 100 people including six presenters: Ivor Mills and Anne Gregg were chosen as the presenters of local magazine programme Roundabout, Adrienne McGuill, James Greene and Brian Durkin were the first continuity announcers, and former rugby union international Ernest Strathdee was recruited as the station's sports presenter.
Initially, Ulster Television's programmes would only be available to viewers located within range of the Black Mountain transmitter near Belfast. On the station's first night of programmes however, it was reported that some residents of Dublin, located over 100 miles away, had called the station to report poor picture reception. Coverage of UTV spread to Western areas of Northern Ireland when the Strabane transmitter opened in February 1963.
Ulster Television's UHFPAL colour service was launched with the opening of the UHF transmitter Divis in September 1970. This was followed by two additional transmitters at Limavady (opened in 1975) and Brougher Mountain (in 1978). In the early 1980s it broadcast reduced hours when no schools programmes were being broadcast coming on air at 12 noon during the week, and closing down every evening at 23:30 - this remained in place until 1982. In October 1988, the station began 24-hour broadcasting - the last station in the ITV network to do so. UTV was originally scheduled to take a service provided by Central in Birmingham, but a late minute decision to switch to Granada Television's sustaining feed, Night Time, led to a month-long delay.
At the company's annual general meeting in Belfast on 26 May 2006, the registered company name was changed from 'Ulster Television plc' to 'UTV plc'. The company believed that the existing name no longer reflected the full scope of the company's business. In a further change in October 2007, UTV underwent a corporate reorganisation which saw UTV shareholders swap their shares for shares in a new holding company, UTV Media plc, which took over UTV plc's shareholdings in the new media and radio subsidiaries. UTV Ltd. - the original Ulster Television Limited, now a wholly owned subsidiary of UTV Media - returned to being solely the operating company for the ITV franchise.
Sale to ITV
On 19 October 2015, UTV Media announced that it would sell its ITV franchise and the UTV brand to ITV plc for £100 million, subject to regulatory approval. ITV plc CEO Adam Crozier welcomed the news by saying:
UTV Television's strategic objectives are closely aligned with our own and we are very pleased that they are joining the ITV family.
The acquisition was finalised the following February.
ITV plans to retain the UTV brand in Northern Ireland, and not re-brand it under a standardised name (such as "ITV Northern Ireland"). On 11 July 2016, ITV plc announced that it would sell the UTV Ireland service to Virgin Media Ireland (which had bought Ireland's TV3 in 2015).
Since 1959, Ulster Television/UTV have used different logos, or idents on-screen:
1959 - The station's first on-screen logo was an oscilloscope pattern made up of seven dots joined together by six lines. The logo animated to a jingle based on the local folk tune The Mountains of Mourne. According to UTV's website, the original logo was designed as part of a competition, and the winner among over 450 entrants was Mr Roy Irwin of Ballycarry.
1970 - With the imminent launch of UHF colour broadcasts, Ulster Television redesigned its first logo. - the oscilloscope pattern was retained; but the dots were removed, and the lines were encased in a television-screen shape. Monochrome and colour versions of this ident were produced, the colour using a yellow logo and text on a blue background, which were adopted as the station's colour scheme. UTV's ident at this time did not animate and was not accompanied by a jingle. The logo type introduced on this ident was retained until 1993.
1980 - To celebrate their 21st anniversary, UTV commissioned a new ident featuring a model of the station logo embedded on four faces of a cube, coated in silver with a pole skewering the top and bottom of the cube. This model was then filmed on video with a black cloth background as it revolved on a turntable. When it appeared on screen, it was accompanied by a synthesised jingle, and the words "Ulster Television" wiped on screen in yellow text. This ident made its on-screen debut on Halloween Day 1980, and it was used until New Year's Eve 1988.
1987 - On 7 September 1987, to coincide with the launch of the stations's new evening magazine programme, Six Tonight, a new ident was used to introduce the programme, featuring a computer animated silver station logo on a blue/green backdrop. After five seconds, the logo faded into the background as the titles of Six Tonight began. This ident, UTV's first attempt at a CGI ident, was later adapted as a temporary station ident in the last few months of 1988, with a video freeze used as the logo sank into the background.
1989 - On New Year's Day 1989 a revised computer animation was introduced and the last to feature the oscilloscope logo and the "Ulster Television" name. The ident began with a panning shot over a huge plate with texture to make it look like frost or ice (possibly a white and gray cloudy texture), against a light blue background. Then, an oscilloscope rises out from the plate, and the lines of the oscilloscope pattern are formed with a wipe. In this ident, the lines of the oscilloscope are yellow, with the rest of the logo (the television screen shape) in blue. When the lines are formed, the logo turns and reveals on screen, as a grey banner flies in underneath bearing the words "Ulster Television" and settles underneath the station logo, waving like a flag. This ident was accompanied by a new jingle, and was used until 4 June 1993.
UTV's logo used from 4 June 1993 to 10 December 2000.
1993 - At 6pm on 4 June 1993, UTV officially unveiled a new logo. This consisted of an italicised Times Roman capital U forming on screen from different component parts, settling on a blue and yellow plate with "TV" written in italicised red Agency FB Font text. A new jingle was also introduced with a distinct Celtic sound. Since the start of 1993, continuity announcements and trailers referred increasingly to "UTV", and the station's news service was rebranded as UTV Live. With the new logo, the use of "Ulster Television" to identify the station was consigned to history. It also dropped ITV network promotions and introduced locally produced trails.
1996 - UTV introduced a new series of idents on 11 November 1996, which showcased scenic locations in Northern Ireland. These include the Giant's Causeway, a waterfall at Glenarriff, and Portaferry harbour. These are supplemented on 12 January 1998 with a set of idents featuring people playing the UTV jingle on various musical instruments. Some of the idents featured UTV personalities. It also dropped live daytime continuity.
UTV's previous logo used from 11 December 2000 to 16 October 2016.
2000 - On 1 July 2000, the day when programme presentation and commercials shown on the four main UK television channels switched from the 4:3 aspect ratio to 14:9 on analogue broadcasts and 16:9 on digital broadcasts, UTV refused to adopt the 1999 ITV Hearts look and introduced a new set of idents inspired by the 1989 ITV generic ident featuring a stripe on a black background using footage from the 1996 "landscape" idents, the break filler films used on its short-lived sister channel TV You, and a UTV corporate advertisement where a shoal of fish grouped together to form the 1993 logo. This collection of idents were the first to be created and transmitted in 16:9 aspect ratio, on digital terrestrial and digital cable providers. This was the last set of idents which used the 1993 logo, and they were phased out shortly before Christmas 2000, when a new logo was introduced.
2001 - The 1993 logo was later replaced with a similar flatter and wider logo. The "U" is rendered in yellow on a blue oblong, with the "TV" in red on a yellow oblong contained inside the blue oblong. This remains the present station logo. Its first use was in UTV's 2000 Christmas ident, replacing the previous set. On 6 January 2001, a new series of idents shot at various locations across Northern Ireland, including the Silent Valley Reservoir in County Down, Great Victoria Street in Belfast and the Hands Across the Divide sculpture at the Craigavon Bridge, Derry. This was complemented by further idents in 2002 featuring people walking towards the camera and touching the screen with their fingers to make the UTV logo appear.
2002 - On 28 October 2002, most of the regional ITV companies adopted a common look with the ITV1 brand replacing the various station logos. This was marked with a series of idents showing actors, presenters and newsreaders associated with ITV appearing in idents. At the same time, UTV decided to adopt these idents, but replaced the ITV logo with their own station logo. The soundtrack used on these idents was identical to those heard on the ITV network versions. This is the nearest that UTV have come to using identical idents to the rest of the ITV network. Around Christmas 2002, UTV broadcast a similar collection of idents showcasing their own presenting talent, shown in addition to the national idents. By early 2003, the network and local celebrity idents were phased out, and a generic ident showing the UTV logo on an animated blue background was used in all junctions.
2003 - UTV replaces its network-inspired graphics on 20 November 2003 with a series landscape films of Northern Ireland in their idents, in the form of a panorama shot as the camera revolved around a location. Among the scenes used in this series of UTV idents included the Mourne Mountains, Enniskillen and Lurgan Park. These idents primarily used one of the ident jingles until 3 November 2005, when UTV reprised its 1993-2002 station jingle.
2006 - To coincide with the introduction of a new identity across ITV plc stations on Monday 16 January 2006, UTV replaced its 2003 idents with a brand new set. The new idents featured newly recorded films shot across Northern Ireland, again in the form of panoramas. The landscape films used in these idents were updated in July 2007 and October 2008, with the background of each ident changing from black to white in December 2008. Special variations of the UTV idents were used to promote the 2006 North West 200 event, 2006 Special Olympics, the 2007 Rugby World Cup and the UTV Rewind series.
2016 - On 17 October 2016, a brand new look, aligning the UTV brand more closely with that of the ITV network was unveiled. The station idents, based on those used by ITV since a major rebrand in January 2013, include the UTV logo changing colour as it blends in on a live-action scene - a process known as "colour picking".
2020 - Since 2 April 2020, UTV has taken full ITV branding and presentation from London including network announcements, idents, promos and end credit sequences. This was initially announced as a temporary measure due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on staff at the Belfast studios. Local continuity was officially abandoned in November 2020 with the departures of the announcing team.
Until April 2020, UTV was one of two stations in the ITV network to retain local continuity announcers.
UTV was also the last company in the network to retain in-vision continuity links, where the duty announcer appeared on-camera to introduce the evening's programmes. In later years, local continuity was generally restricted to evenings with in-vision links presented at weekends by senior announcer Julian Simmons. In 2009, the practice was restored to weekday evenings and presented by the entire announcing team.
Following the sale of UTV, ITV plc transferred most of the station's presentation operations from the Havelock House studios in Belfast to Ericsson's transmission centre in Chiswick, which provides playout services for most of ITV's channels.
The last live in-vision announcement was made by Simmons at 11.15 pm on Sunday 16 October 2016, marking the end of 57 years of local transmission.
Two of UTV's longest-serving announcers, Julian Simmons and Gillian Porter, were retained to pre-record out-of-vision continuity - with Aidan Browne providing relief cover - until 2 April 2020, when the channel began taking ITV-branded network presentation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In November 2020, it was reported the announcing team had left UTV following a decision to switch permanently to network continuity. The last known announcement, voiced by Porter, aired at 5.59 am on Thursday 2 April 2020.
Station theme tunes
In common with the rest of the ITV Network, the station aired specially composed signature tunes as part of its daily start-up routine. From launch until 1971, the opening theme was Seamus by the American musician, composer and bandleader Van Phillips, who had earlier written the theme tune of the popular 1950s BBC radio science fiction drama Journey into Space. UTV's best known theme was The Antrim Road, a classical symphony composed by Wayne Hill and Earl Ward, which was used between 1971 and 1983. It originally featured on The British Isles, an LP of orchestral arrangements of traditional and characteristic national tunes of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The album was released on the De Wolf label in 1971.
UTV HD, a simulcast of UTV in high-definition, was launched on Virgin Media on 5 October 2010. On 5 March 2012, UTV Media announced it had signed new network arrangements for the provision of Channel 3 programmes and services with ITV plc. Included in the agreement is a deal which ensured the distribution of UTV HD on Freeview when the digital switchover took place on 24 October 2012 and on Sky and Freesat on 4 November 2013.
Originally UTV's acquisition and presentation infrastructure was SD only; all HD content was line-fed to UTV in Belfast from Technicolor Network Services' transmission facility at Chiswick Park, with UTV's presentation and local content being upscaled and switched into the transmission chain for UTV HD using a simple A/B switcher.
In May 2011, the presentation infrastructure was upgraded to become fully HD-capable in readiness for the digital switchover in 2012.
On 4 January 2011, Freeview announced details for the launch of ITV1+1, together with the possibility that both STV and UTV will launch their own timeshift services, STV +1 and UTV +1 in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. UTV later confirmed that it would launch UTV +1 at 8 pm on 11 January 2011. The channel is available to Freeview viewers on channel 34 and Virgin Media. UTV +1 launched on Sky and Freesat on 21 May 2018 for viewers in Northern Ireland.
UTV Ireland was a sister station to UTV's Northern Ireland service, broadcasting to the Republic of Ireland. The new channel launched on New Year's Day 2015, following approval by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. UTV Ireland was broadcast from the company's Dublin base at Macken House and carried a large amount of ITV's networked programming (including Emmerdale and Coronation Street, previously broadcast by TV3) alongside some bespoke programming, including Ireland Live, a twice nightly national news programme airing at 5.30 pm and 10 pm. In July 2016, the channel was sold to TV3 Group (now known as Virgin Media Television) and was rebranded as "be3" on 9 January 2017. It was renamed again in August 2018, as "Virgin Media Three" - part of a major rebrand, and now forms part of a line-up of three channels run by the company and focuses on children's and female-orientated programming.