On 28 December 1980 TSW was awarded the contract to serve the South West England from the night of 31 December 1981 at 12 midnight for a 10-year period, succeeding incumbent Westward Television which had served the area since 1961.
TSW promised greater investment in the area including the introduction of Electronic News Gathering facilities at a number of sites in the region (a process already started by Westward) and a stronger emphasis on local programming (an area in which Westward had been particularly successful).
However TSW's success in winning the contract may have been helped by boardroom friction within Westward which had blighted the company for several years and incurred criticism from the Independent Broadcasting Authority. During negotiations to purchase Westward's facilities at Derry's Cross, Plymouth the management of TSW bought the whole company for £2.38million and thus went on-air four months early on 11 August 1981, although they transmitted under the Westward name until the end of the year.
TSW was seen as slightly more ambitious than both its predecessor Westward Television and its successor Westcountry Television and its presentation, although still homelier than much seen on ITV and not dissimilar to that of Westward, was considered more professional than its forebear.
TSW was one of the last ITV companies to start broadcasting 24-hours in daily which it did so on 2 September 1988, on the same day as Border Television, Tyne Tees Television and Grampian Television. It was also one of the first ITV companies to start broadcasting in Nicam Digital Stereo, which it started doing in summer 1990.
Shortly, right after Roger Shaw delivered the closing announcement on Westward's closing night, TSW began with a short video clip of a champagne bottle being opened accompanied by the short audio version of the station ident "That's Soul, Write". Shaw then re-appeared wearing a modern suit (no longer in a dinner jacket), and now in a modern chair, surrounded by staff wearing TSW T-shirts and holding 2" videotapes. This was clearly to remind viewers of a new modern era. Shaw made the first announcement on TSW:
This was followed by the full version of TSW's ident. The comedy programme was followed by further continuity, an epilogue, weather & shipping forecast and closedown - all with TSW branding. However, when the screen finally faded to black at approximately 12:40am on 1 January 1982, Shaw made a final out-of-vision courtesy announcement and managed to mention the now-defunct Westward one last time, saying 'from all the staff here at Westward - good night'.
On 16 October 1991, following changes to the way ITV contracts were issued (now via a blind auction rather than a bid on merits and potential) it was announced that TSW had lost its franchise because of an 'unrealistic business plan' related to its bid, which was viewed by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) as being far too high. This triggered TSW to apply for a judicial review against the ITC, on the grounds that its bid had been unfairly dismissed. TSW believed that it was a casualty of the ITC's wish not to renew TVS's franchise, despite theirs being the highest bid, while renewing Granada's when they had been outbid. The case went right to the House of Lords, but was rejected in February 1992. The implications of the court case did change the behaviour of the ITC into being more open with regards to its business.
Westcountry Television were the South West region franchise winners and took over from TSW at midnight on 1 January 1993. On 31 December 1992, TSW marked its final day of transmission with a number of special programmes and continuity links. Continuity announcers Sally Meen and Tristram Payne shared the daytime announcing/newsreading shift with Ian Stirling and Ruth Langsford taking over for the last few evening shifts. The day's schedule included the final edition of Gus Honeybun's Magic Birthdays, a repeat of the award-winning documentary, A Day in the Life of...Beryl Cook and a one-hour TSW Today special featuring the last regional news bulletin and an expansive lookback at TSW's programming.
The final sign-off announcement was made by Ian Stirling and Ruth Langsford at 11.55pm – after which, TSW handed over to ITN for the news headlines and midnight chimes of the Big Ben in a brief news bulletin entitled Into the New Year. At the end of the bulletin, the transmission was switched to Westcountry, which began with an introduction video.
After the franchise loss, TSW undertook a reverse takeover with the White Ward Group, makers of safety footwear and associated articles. The name of the company was changed to UK Safety Ltd, and traded for a number of years, before entering administrative receivership.
Upon losing the franchise, the directors of TSW established a public film and television archive, based around the back catalogue of Westward and TSW programmes they owned. They created the TSW Film and Television Archive, one of the first and largest of what has now become a network of regional film archives. The archive is a charitable trust, existing to preserve the region's moving image heritage. It is open to the public and holds film and television recordings from a wide variety of sources, including donations from the general public.
The archive, renamed the South West Film and Television Archive (SWFTA) in 2003, holds the entire surviving back catalogue of Westward and TSW programmes, and several tens of thousands of other items (which all have a connection to the south-west of England) donated by members of the general public.
The SWFTA aims to preserve moving image material as a resource for future generations. The archive is managed by a qualified Archivist who is supported by a team of employed staff and volunteers, most of whom came from TSW. They regularly supply material for a wide variety of educational and other uses. They provide community film shows, and help anyone with an interest in using or viewing the material they hold.
When TSW won the franchise, the company purchased Westward's studio facilities at Derry's Cross, Plymouth along with all the staff. The studios, which had suffered from a lack of investment under Westward, were completely refurbished with a £4 million investment programme which saw the introduction of new production equipment and an additional studio being constructed. The refurbishment was completed two years later.
When TSW lost their franchise, their successors, Westcountry, chose not to purchase the studios, preferring new facilities just outside Plymouth, at Langage Science Park, Plympton instead. Transmission control of the new station would not be handled in Plymouth as previously, but in Cardiff at HTV Wales headquarters, ending 31 years of broadcasting from Derry's Cross Studios. The old TSW studios were then stripped with the equipment being auctioned, and the building itself was converted into office space. A solicitors practice called Foot Anstey (formerly Foot & Bowden) were then based there until 16 March 2009 The studios were demolished just before Christmas 2009 to make way for an adjacent retail, residential and hotel development.
In addition to the Plymouth base, TSW also operated a newsroom and remote controlled studio in Yeovil, as well as local offices in Barnstaple and Exeter.
TSW's symbol was an abstract design representing palm trees, rolling hills and water; features typical of the region.
The music accompanying the original ident was a section of the station theme, That's Soul, Write, written and composed by Will Malone, which was also aired regularly at closedown until 1985.
In September 1989, when the ITV network introduced a new corporate logo and national on-air identity, TSW was one of the five regions that didn't use the generic idents that were designed for the region, preferring to stay with their local idents instead.
Like its predecessor, TSW produced few programmes for the ITV network. Exceptions to this included the game shows, That's My Dog and Sounds Like Music and children's cartoon Tube Mice, about mice who lived beneath the London Underground. It also produced The Cut Price Comedy Show, a short-lived production broadcast in the early days of Channel 4. Locally, TSW continued to utilise the Westward star Gus Honeybun, a rabbit puppet that (along with the station's continuity announcers) read out birthday dedications on-air to children from the area, who had sent in their cards to him.
TSW also specialised in making relatively highbrow programmes for the region; in the arts world, it produced documentaries showcasing amongst others, leading concert pianist Moura Lympany, potter Bernard Leach, and sculptor Barbara Hepworth.
TSW was a notably regional company, declaring itself as a channel in its own right, rather than just being part of the ITV network. It had a reputation for scheduling to suit its own requirements, and would often broadcast particular shows at different times to the other ITV regions or even opt out of network activity completely. Such notable scheduling changes included:Series two of Blockbusters was not broadcast in full. Around 50 editions of the 1984/5 series were shown 8 months later, during summer holiday mornings: 1 July – 24 August 1985.
Weekday editions of Gus Honeybun's Magic Birthdays often replaced the first & last Children's ITV live in-vision continuity links of the day, from 1987 – 1990.
The Australian soap, Home and Away was moved from its 5:10pm teatime repeat slot to a much earlier time-slot of 3:27pm on 20 September 1989. It stayed in this afternoon time-slot for 3 years until September 1992.
The networked sitcom, The Piglet Files, starring Nicholas Lyndhurst, was not shown on TSW until a few months after its original run in all other ITV regions. Another networked sitcom, The Nineteenth Hole, starring Eric Sykes, was dropped mid-run after complaints from viewers regarding its politically incorrect humour.
The ITV Chart Show was dropped on occasions (mostly for special programmes) so that TSW could show its weekly news review for the deaf, The South West Week.
Additionally, Channel Television, the ITV contractor for the Channel Islands required a network feed from another nearby ITV region on the mainland, which was provided by Westward Television for many years, until they lost their franchise in 1981. TSW took over the requirement from 1982, until 1986, when Channel switched to TVS for the feed instead. After TVS lost their franchise in the 1991 ITV auction round, Meridian Broadcasting provided the network feed from 1993 onwards.