Ward Thomas (television executive)

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Gwyn Edward "Ward" Thomas, CBE, DFC, CdeG (born 1 August 1923) is a British television executive, who was at the forefront of independent television in the UK from the 1960s through to the mid-1990s. He was CEO of Grampian Television (1961-7) and Managing Director & Chairman of Yorkshire Television (1967–76, 1993-7), and Chairman of Trident Television (1976–84).[1]

Early life

Ward Thomas was born in Wimbledon, London, the only child of Constance Thomas (née Daborn) (1900–97) and William Thomas.[2] He was educated at Bloxham School, Oxfordshire (1935-9).[3] He spent a year abroad at the Lycée in Rouen until the German invasion of France in May 1940, when he had to escape on the ferry from St Malo.

Ward Thomas joined RAF Bomber Command in 1941 and trained as a navigator and pilot in South Africa.[4] He joined 100 Squadron as a Lancaster pilot and was later moved to 550 Squadron stationed in Grimbsy. He flew 36 trips over France and Germany over the course of the war, including taking part in the Nuremberg raid of March 1944 during which Bomber Command suffered its heaviest loses.[5] He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his involvement in bombing raids in advance of the Normandy landings in June 1944 and also received the DFC.[2] By the time he left the RAF Ward Thomas had achieved the rank of Flight Lieutenant.[2]

Ward Thomas left the RAF in 1946 and moved to Switzerland in 1947 to fly for Swiss Air.[6]

On his return to the UK in 1951, Ward Thomas was actively involved in motor racing in the UK and Europe. He won the Prix de la Province de Namur (Belgium) in 1952 and the Brands Hatch championship in the UK. As a result of his performances he won membership of the British Racing Drivers' Club.[7]

Career

Grampian Television (1961-7)

After beginning his television career at Granada Television as an air-time salesman, Ward Thomas was part of the consortium bidding for the Grampian Television franchise in North East Scotland. Ward Thomas was initially appointed as Sales Director, but took over from Edward O'Donnell as CEO Shortly after the company opened[8][9] After 6 months of operation Ward Thomas fought a successful battle against the unions who had demanded major changes to the company's structure. In a bold move, Ward Thomas threatened to close the station down if staff backed the union proposal, at which point it was overruled.[10]

Yorkshire Television (1967-71)

Ward Thomas successfully led the bid for the Yorkshire Television (YTV) franchise in 1967. YTV went on the air in 1968 with Ward Thomas as Managing Director.[8] After only a year of being on air, Ward Thomas had to steer the company through the potentially disastrous collapse of its only broadcasting transmitter on Emley Moor. This left the company facing potential losses of £500,000 per month, but a temporary mast was installed after only four days and a mast bought from Sweden became operational just four weeks later. This swift action limited total losses to only £250,000.[9]

Trident Television & Casinos (1971-84)

Trident Television was formed in 1971 as holding company of YTV and Tyne Tees TV (TTTV) with Ward Thomas as Managing Director and Deputy Chairman (becoming chairman in 1976). Anglia Television was also supposed to form part of the group (making up the third spur of the trident) but its inclusion was blocked by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA).[8] During this period, Yorkshire produced some of the UK's most successful TV programmes under the stewardship of Head of Programmes Donald Baverstock (1967–73) and later Paul Fox (1973–86).[11] Among them Emmerdale Farm, Rising Damp and Whicker's World.[9]

At the 1980 round of television franchise renewals, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) forced Trident to devolve its television companies;[8] with the proceeds of the sale of YTV and TTTV, Trident purchased Playboy Casinos from Hugh Hefner's Playboy Enterprises for £14.6m and formed Trident Casinos. The deal included the Playboy Club, the Clermont Club and the Victoria Sporting Club in London as well as the chain of Playboy betting shops (these were later sold off for £6.2m). The Village Club and the Connoisseur Casinos were added to the group in 1982 for £2.6M.[12] In addition to its Casinos, Trident also owned Windsor Safari Park.[13]

Ward Thomas retired from Trident Casinos in 1984 after the company made its highest ever pre-tax profits of £10.3m in 1983.[14] He retired from Trident in 1984, stating that he did not wish to spend the rest of his career in the gaming business.[15]

Return to Yorkshire/Tyne Tees Television (1993-97)

Ward Thomas came out of retirement and returned to the Chairmanship of YTV in November 1993 after the company ran into difficulties under the stewardship of Clive Leach.[16] YTV's difficulties stemmed from overselling air-time to advertisers in 1992-3, this had to be honoured in the following year forcing the company to make provisions of £20.2m to cover the debt.[17] When these resulted in pre-tax losses for the year of £7.9m, Ward Thomas was recalled from retirement to steer the company out of its predicament.[18] Upon his return to Yorkshire Ward Thomas demanded Clive Leach's resignation, proposed that the board waive all management bonuses and embarked on a programme of cost-cutting which returned the broadcaster to profit by the end of 1994.[19] In 1995, Ward Thomas appointed Bruce Gyngell as Managing Director.[20] Having been brought in initially as a temporary measure to stabilise the company, Ward Thomas announced in March 1996 that the board had asked him to continue his time at the helm.[21]

In June 1997, after a long period of corporate courtship, Ward Thomas convinced shareholders to accept a bid of £711m for YTV from Granada plc and the broadcasting franchise was sold.[22] Ward Thomas had always advocated merging the ITV regional franchises into a single entity for efficiency reasons and with the sale of YTV to Granada this was brought one step closer to reality.[23] Having initially been offered the Chairmanship of Granada's Media division, Ward Thomas instead decided to retire at the age of 74.[24]

He is currently Non-Executive Chairman at Irving International, a media consultancy company.[25]

Personal life

Ward Thomas has been married twice. First to Patricia Cornelius with whom he had one daughter Christina Thomas (b. 19 July 1951). His second marriage was to Janice Patricia Topp with whom he has one son, Guy Alexander Ward (b. 10 October 1988). He now lives in Virginia Water in the UK.[2]

References

  1. "John Hanson to step down at Trident". Evening Times. 17 February 1976. p. 21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Who's Who [2006 Edition], p2225
  3. The Bloxhamist, Vol LXII. No. 448, p7
  4. The Bloxhamist, Vol LXII. No. 452, p13
  5. http://www.100squadronassociation.org.uk/history52.html
  6. "Relishing the Battle". Media Week. 13 December 1996. p15
  7. British Racing Drivers Club - Members
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "THE BOSS IS BACK - YORKSHIRE TV". The Guardian. 17 October 1994. p26
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Jeremy Potter. Independent Television in Britain Vol 4 - Companies and Programmes 1968-80. p87
  10. Judi Bevan. The Sunday Telegraph. "Yorkshire's Father Flies to the Rescue". 5 December 1993. p24
  11. "THREE DECADES OF YTV - YORKSHIRE TV - 1968-98 - Yorkshire's rollercoaster ride". Broadcast. 31 July 1998.
  12. "How Trident's Shares Became a Gamble". Financial Times. 15 May 1982. p10
  13. "Trident TV to sell Windsor Safari Park". Financial Times. 12 November 1983. p17
  14. "UK Company News: Casinos hoist Trident TV to £10.3m". Financial Times. 18 January 1984. p14
  15. "Trident TV safari park sale". The Financial Times. 8 December 1983.
  16. Gail Counsell. "Thomas takes over at Yorkshire-Tyne Tees". The Independent. 9 November 1993.
  17. Susan Gilchrist. "YORKSHIRE TV PLUNGES TO LOSS OF £7.9M". The Times. 29 January 1994. P21
  18. Old hand reinstated in the hour of need - Ward Thomas at YTTV. Media Week. 19 November 1993.
  19. Lisa Buckingham. "THE BOSS IS BACK - YORKSHIRE TV". The Guardian. 17 October 1994. p26
  20. "Yorkshire snaps up former TV-AM boss Bruce Gyngell". The Independent. 2 May 1995. p28
  21. Matt Baker. "Ward Thomas stays on for licence fight". Broadcast. 15 March 1996. p3
  22. Cathy Newman. "GRANADA SET TO BUY YORKSHIRE FOR £652M". The Independent. 10 June 1997. p29
  23. Andrew Culf. "Merge or decline, says ITV chief". The Guardian. 2 July 1997. p32
  24. "Thomas bows out at Yorkshire Tyne-Tees". The Independent. 24 October 1997. p17
  25. http://www.irving-international.com/team/index.html