Since, its first transmission in the autumn of 1982, The Maidstone Studios have produced thousands of hours of programming.
Current owners, Maidstone Studios Ltd., who purchased the site in 2002, envisage “a self-sustaining studio and media production centre, supporting creative development with local, national and worldwide potential in the new millennium and digital era”.
The origins of the studio, however, stretch back to 1980 when the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) advertised all fifteen ITV contracts.
Then holders of the original ITV contract for the south and southeast of England, Southampton-based Southern Independent Television, knew that to secure a new franchise and continue broadcasting, they needed to offer the south-east a more comprehensive service.
In the company’s application, Southern planned to close their Dover site and open state-of-the-art facilities in Maidstone.
On December, 28th 1980, the IBA made their decision.
In a shock announcement, Southern Television lost everything and a new company TVS had beaten their rivals and won outright. The staff at Southern Television’s Dover studios wave goodbye on 31 December, 1981.
The first incarnation of the TVS logo used from the company’s launch. The team that made up TVS, was led by celebrated producer and director, James Gatward.
The TVS Television Centre was built from scratch in record time. Over ten acres of land was purchased at Vinters Park in Maidstone, and plans were drawn up for a major television centre for regional and network productions.
The studios, which would soon be considered as the most up-to-date in Europe, cost £17 million to complete and would create approximately 200 new jobs.
The IBA arrive in Vinters Park for the official sod turning ceremony. When in April of 1981 the IBA came to Maidstone to welcome TVS they saw that building was progressing well although it would take some time to complete and TVS spent most of 1982 operating from the old Southern studios in Dover.
Vyvyan Mackeson and Mike Fuller present Coast to Coast from the Dover studios. However, in late 1982, the big day came, and transmission began.
The Maidstone Television Centre of TVS goes on air from studio 1 on 25th October 1982. It was an edition of the nightly news magazine Coast to Coast.
A few months’ later, studio 2 went live with one of the most famous productions to come from these studios, the Saturday morning children’s programme, No. 73.
By 1984, the studios were in running at full capacity, producing a wealth of regional and networked programming with TVS fast becoming an established and well-respected company, attracting the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher to perform the opening ceremony on January 6th 1984.
The Prime Minister was given a guided tour of the Maidstone Studios and was suitably impressed with its facilities, ambience and talented staff.
Over the next decade TVS made thousands of programmes across the genres of drama, documentary, news, current affairs, children’s and light entertainment and as a result were soon recognised as a major player within ITV.
The audience loved the shows and the ITV network were taking more programmes; it seemed that TVS could do no wrong.
The deregulation of broadcasting in the UK, passed in the 1990 Broadcasting Act marked the end of TVS and left the future of the studios uncertain.
TVS’s Franchise application was made once again in 1990. The south and southeast contract was advertised and TVS’s Management, just like Southern’s, were confident that the new franchise would be theirs.
Liz Wickham announces the franchise loss on 16th October 1991.When told, however that they had just a year of their franchise left, the team at TVS couldn’t believe it.
Meridian, their successors, were a much smaller operation than TVS and did not purchase the Maidstone Studios.
However, they did use the former “Coast to Coast” newsroom for the first few months of their contract.
It wasn’t long before all traces of TVS were being removed from the studios to make way for the next chapter in its life.
The new owners were International Family Entertainment, an American company who ran studios as an independent production facility and the UK base for The Family Channel in 1993.
During this period, many former TVS children’s programmes continued to be made here, at the studios including: Art Attack, How2, What’s Up Doc? and Finders Keepers. The studios continued to be the home of live Saturday morning television, a tradition dating back to 1983.
Many former TVS employees set up their own independent production companies, and as a result firms like The Media Merchants, The Foundation and Peter Williams Television took up residence.
A Polish company, AT Entertainment also set up a substantial operation, transmitting a wealth of programmes to Poland on a daily basis.
Alongside this, multinational organisations like Reg Grundy Productions produced a raft of programmes in Maidstone during this era realising that the studios and its facilities were a real alternative to those in London.
In 1996, the studios were subject to another takeover, this time by Flextech Television.
Flextech, who later merged with Telewest, were responsible for some of the earliest known satellite TV channels.
This included Challenge TV, which became synonymous with the building and many hours of live programming was transmitted nightly from studio 3.
Since 2002 when the studios was purchased by its current owners, the Maidstone Studios has been growing and developing into a self-sustaining studio and media production centre.
In 2005, the Maidstone studios built studio 1 which is one of the biggest floor spaces available in the UK. Home to the popular ITV Take Me Out entertainment show and BBC’s Later with Jools Holland music show.
Of course the studios will always be home to the popular children’s shows including Ministry of Mayhem, Mister Maker and Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown.
Navigate to The Maidstone Studios, Vinters park, Maidstone, Kent, ME14 5NZ. We’re just off the M20, Junction 7 sign-posted Maidstone. Find us on Google maps.
London Gatwick: 40 mins
London Heathrow: 60 mins
Folkestone/Dover: 35 mins
The nearest train station is Maidstone East (there are two train stations in Maidstone). Trains depart from London Victoria and London Bridge. From London St Pancras it’s 19 minutes to Ebbsfleet International station where we can organise for Production staff and crew a mini bus or car to pick up or drop off. A small charge applies and will need to be pre-booked.
London Bridge : 45 mins
London Victoria : 55 mins
St Pancras to Ebbs Fleet: 19 mins, plus 20 mins by road.
Ashford Int: 20 mins