Claire Beale profiles Tess Alps as she takes charge of PHD’s TV tie-in
You don’t need a pair of big hairy balls to be a good TV negotiator and
you don’t need to be an air-kissing luvvie to create quality television.
Tess Alps, a partner at Pattison Horswell Durden, is not one for
respecting stereotypes. Eighteen years in the business and she’s proved
she can buy and sell airtime with the worst of the boys. Now, as the
mother of PHD’s first offspring, PHD BigTime, Alps is out to make her
mark in the world between the ads.
BigTime will work with advertisers to develop made-to-measure TV
sponsorship tie-ins, construct co-production deals and even devise
script ideas to meet advertisers’ requirements for a quality programming
environment. And if anyone knows the commercial realities -
opportunities and pitfalls - of TV, it’s Alps.
It’s easy to reel off reasons why Alps (Roseanne without the acid tongue
but with the penchant for smocks) has succeeded in what is still a male-
dominated profession, where corporate hospitality means a piss-up over
the Super Bowl and you can count the number of top female TV
buying/sales directors on one finger.
She’s non-threatening, motherly even (‘I’m a great optimist. I think the
best of people’), although you can’t, perhaps, imagine your mother
confessing that she experienced her first orgasm at a King Crimson
concert - and she wasn’t having sex at the time.
Alps doesn’t flatter the men with flutterings: ‘I’ve seen so many women
who’ve come unstuck by using their looks. Fortunately, I never had that
choice’. But nor does she try to out-lad the lads, preferring home
baking and spending time with her baby to downing pints and talking
footie down the pub. Mind you, this is the woman who found herself
holding up a particularly pissed client outside a Paris nightclub once,
only to be mistaken for a prostitute by a passing Omar Sharif. And,
goddamn it, she’s bloody good at her job as well.
After all, there’s more than one way to skin a TV sales director. ‘Some
TV buyers are muggers. I’m more of a pickpocket,’ she confides. ‘I’m not
overly aggressive. I’m more sneaky, but I get away with the same amount
of money.’ Don’t be fooled by the jolly auntie persona. Alps may seem to
have a ‘come lay your head on my bosom and tell me all about it’ air,
but she has been known to exhibit a ball-breaking, steely resolve.
It’s a no-nonsense toughness which saw Alps through nine years at TSW,
working alongside Martin Bowley (now the managing director of Carlton UK
Sales). Bowley says ‘there’s no doubt that, as a woman, Tess has had to
work harder to get where she is’, and praises her determined but fun
approach. She even manages to successfully combine her opulent lifestyle
with her socialist principles, says Bowley, who once caught Alps paying
off her Gold Amex with a Co-op cheque book.
From TSW Alps moved to Yorkshire Television and oversaw the
establishment of Media and Airtime Sales to handle sales for Yorkshire
and Tyne Tees. There, Alps was instrumental in the sales house’s
controversial move away from selling airtime based on station average
Yet Alps escaped being mired in the pounds 15 million debts which MAS
had amassed by the time it was dissolved in 1993. She had read the red
writing on the wall, and turned poacher in a bid to protect her personal
integrity. PHD was the obvious choice. Alps says it was the company’s
‘open-mindedness, innovation and integrity’ which drew her to PHD’s
door. Fortunately, she was also good mates with Jonathan Durden and
But whichever side of the fence she sits on, Alps is rare among her
peers - she’s always been passionate about TV. She spends all day
working with television, then rushes home to watch it. She’s even gone
on record as a fan of Noel Edmonds. Getting involved in shaping what she
sees on screen is a logical step.
And it’s a development which is even neater when you consider her early
background. Once described as advertising’s Pavarotti, Alps always
wanted to be a performer and studied for a post-grad degree in drama.
But then this diva-in-the-making took a temp job filing for ATV and
never looked back. She’s not proposing a diet of uninterrupted Puccini
for the nation’s couch potatoes, but Alps does have a mission: ‘I really
do believe that BigTime will contribute to the health of British TV,
helping to maintain standards.’
The Alps file
1978 ATV, sales assistant
1980 Westward Television, sales manager
1987 Westward Television, sales controller
1989 Yorkshire Television, sales director
1990 Media and Airtime Sales, sales director
1993 Pattison Horswell Durden, partner
1996 PHD BigTime, managing director