Wednesday 4 May 2022

Thameside TV: The Broadcasts of London's First Pirate TV Station

In the last year or so, I've written fairly extensively about Pirate TV in the UK. First, there was my interview with one of the founders of NeTWork 21, next up was my article on the history of Pirate TV in the UK and, finally, there was a brief look at some of the channels in my piece on lesser known TV stations. Footage of these channels is, understandably, scarce - aside from NeTWork 21's content - and this was particularly frustrating when it came to researching them. I was especially irked by the lack of footage from Thameside TV, London's first pirate TV station who took to the illicit airwaves in 1984. But it turns out most of their content was already online.

Despite being rather hidden to some degree - I still can't find it in Google's search results - the website hosts the original footage. Big thanks, of course, go out to my follower on Twitter who pointed me in the direction of this particular holy grail. Two complete broadcasts are available and the 'studio' links for a third, unaired edition are available. Interestingly, despite the general consensus that Thameside TV ended with its 1984 Christmas edition, it turns out the channel continued (just) into 1985. Available over at is a broadcast from January 1985 and the unaired edition which was due to go out on 01/02/1985.

It's revealed that, unfortunately, the February 1985 never made it to the airwaves as... the authorities seized the channel's transmitter. And that was the end of Thameside TV. But, such is its curiosity value, interest in Thameside TV has survived the decades. Pirate TV may have been a regular experience on the continent, but in Britain it only came to fruition on a handful of occasions. And this has only served to strengthen the enigmatic myths around these enterprises. Thankfully, we can now take a closer look at Thameside TV's broadcasts and see what all the fuss was about.

I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow review of the broadcasts, you can go and sample them over at for yourself, but I am interested in looking at what Thameside TV consisted of. Not surprisingly, given that the channel came from the pirates behind Thameside Radio, the broadcasts are very music heavy. In fact, almost all of the content presented - aside from the appearance of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine film as part of the channel's debut evening - is made up of music videos. And it's a charming time capsule of the era, featuring videos by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, Bananarama, ABC, Madness and the relatively little known Roman Holliday.

Music videos are all well and good, but you need something to break these up, and that's where Bob Edwards steps in. From one of the most basic sets you'll ever see - think an in-vision continuity set, but with even less investment - Edwards stands, in the first episode, in front of a band poster and with a lovely top-loader VHS player to his left and a can of Coke to his right. It may be sparse, but for those tuning into the frequency between BBC1 and Channel 4 in London, this new unchartered territory must have been fascinating. The audio quality for those watching was regularly reported as being poor, but Thameside TV attempted to solve this problem by simultaneously running the audio on 90.5 FM.

Little changes, in terms of presentation, over the course of the broadcasts but we do get to see the introduction of some charming presentation graphics. These may look relatively basic, but they're not that different from some of the contemporary graphics seen on the legal channels of the era. Keeping the channel's foot in charming territory, there's also room for viewers' letters to be featured - the more colourful, the better Bob says. Viewers had the chance to get in touch with Thameside TV by writing to 1 Grosvenor Parade, London W5, but I wouldn't bother writing to them in 2022 as it's now a restaurant called The Corner Terrace, slightly less exciting but probably fairly tasty.

It may be a very low-rent affair, but what else would you expect for a DIY channel without the support of a licence fee or advertisers? And, remember, the cost of a TV transmitter at the time was around £10,000 in 1984 money. With that it mind, the aesthetics start making perfect sense. But Thameside TV was about much more than its visual appeal. It was there to take on the establishment and provide an alternative viewing experience. It's also worth pondering how the channel would have evolved if it had evaded the authorities for longer. Would there have been original material? More films? Different presenters?

We'll never know, but this brief, illegal hurrah, despite taking place on the sidelines, was a fascinating exploration of where television could go.

Thanks to for allowing me to use the screenshots in this piece. And make sure you head over there!

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