MEDIA: HEADLINER; PHD BigTime offers TV addict the perfect place to perform

Claire Beale profiles Tess Alps as she takes charge of PHD’s TV tie-in venture

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

David Pattison.

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

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