In 1954 Television
Act became law. This Act enabled the way for the start of a commercial
television service in the UK, creating the Independent Television
Authority (ITA). The ITA was responsible to regulate this new service,
making sure it did not go the way of the American television networks
(which were considered to be tasteless by some ). For instance, it was
made obligatory that commercials be clearly distinguishable from
At the time, American shows were normally sponsored by a single company, so it was not uncommon for a game show host to step away from his stage after a round to sell cars, or a sitcom to segue into an ad for cigarettes with no perceived change from show to advert. For example 'The Beverly Hillbillies ' was used to incorporate separate scenes with 'Winston Cigarettes'. The "Independent Television" service, named because of its independence from the BBC (the state broadcaster of the UK), was to be made up of regions, with each one run by different companies. The three largest areas (London, the Midlands and the North of England) had a weekday and weekend services, with a different company responsible for each. Advertising shown during and between programmes was always sold on a region-by-region basis by each ITV company, and not on a national basis throughout the United Kingdom.
'Just for Openers'
A special pro gramme to mark 30 years of ITV
The reason for this seemingly over-complicated arrangement was to fulfill the 1954 Act's requirement for competition within the ITV system (as well as against the BBC) and also to help prevent any individual company obtaining a monopoly on commercial broadcasting.
Theses new companies were required, by the terms of their license from the ITA, to provide a regional television service for their particular area, including a daily local news bulletin and regular local programming. However, national news bulletins, covering events in the UK and the rest of the world, were (and still are) produced by Independent Television News (ITN). In 1990, ITN became part of the ITV companies.
Every company produced programmes that would be shown across the network (although when or if to show each programme remained with the individual contractor), with the four largest franchise operators (known as the "Big Four" —Associated Rediffusion (London weekday), ATV (Midlands weekday and London weekend), Granada (North of England weekday) and ABC (North of England and Midlands weekend) producing the bulk of this output. Each regional service had its own on-screen identity to distinguish it from other regions, since there was often a sizeable overlap in reception capability within each region.
The first ITV contractor to start broadcasting was the London Weekday contractor Associated-Rediffusion, on 22nd September 1955, beginning at 19.15hrs local time. On the first night of transmission, the BBC, who had held the monopoly on broadcasting in Britain, aired a sensational episode of their popular soap opera 'The Archers' on the Radio. In this episode, core character Grace Archer was fatally injured in a fire, and it was seen as a maneuver to keep loyal viewers and listeners away from watching the new station. The first full day of transmissions was the 23rd September 1955 which saw the debut of Britain's first female newsreader Barbara Mandell.
The weekend London contractor, ATV London (initially known as "ABC" until the Midlands' and North's weekend contractor, Associated British Corporation complained), began two days later.
What the ITV Year Book for 1968 said about the ITV Audience
Here is a mid 60's programme, produced by the sales department of Westward Television, promoting the ITV station. Presented by announcer Roger Shaw, it features an early appearance by sports presenter David Vine, as well as clips from it's own output and ITV's output of the time
the ITV regions initially broadcast using 405-lines on VHF. During the
1960s, some commercial companies proposed the introduction of a colour
405-line system, but the General Post Office (GPO) insisted that colour
should wait until the higher-definition 625-line UHF system became
standard. ITV eventually introduced the German PAL(Phase Alternate Line)
colour system from 15th November 1969, simultaneous with BBC1 and two
years after BBC2. This did not, however, spread immediately across the
UK; some areas had a few more years delay before colour was available.
Colour was available to nearly 100% of the UK from 1976, with the
Channel Islands being the last region to be converted. The 405-line
system was phased out between 1982 and 1985.
The entry for 'Rediffusion Television' in the 1968 ITV Year book
More often than not it took a few years, after their launch, before the regional companies went into profit; the largest regions especially so. Roy Thomson, the Canadian founding Chairman of Scottish Television, eminently described the possession of an ITV franchise as 'a licence to print money'. However, this was not the case with Wales (West and North) Television (WWN). Difficulty with the construction of their transmitter network, as well as tough provisions in their contract to produce a large amount of Welsh-language programming meant that WWN lost a lot of money. Although WWN did receive some help from other ITV contractors, it was not enough; and the company declared itself bankrupt in 1964—the only ITV company to have ever done so. The name "Teledu Cymru" and studio facilities were taken over by TWW, who continued to broadcast in North and West Wales using that name until 1968.
Here's a short film showing the building and opening of the Duel broadcast facility for TWW and Teledu Cymru in Pontcanna in 1965.
Contracts to run an ITV region were temperate. The ITA renewed Contracts every few years, but it was not guaranteed that the incumbent contractor would win an extension; a new company could take over instead.
The ITA's new chairman, former Postmaster General Lord Hill of Luton, undertook a licence review in September 1963 before the legal limit of 10 years for an ITV contract has passed. The purpose of this review was to look at the ITV system in the light of the Pilkington Report into broadcasting in the UK, which had roundly and, it was felt, unfairly, criticised ITV; the review also took into account the promised ITV2 UHF channel, due to be launched if the Conservative Party won the 1964 General Election.
The review also had the effect of showing the Authority's power in the face of the Broadcasters perceived arrogance.
However, no company lost its position as the local ITV contractor for their region and all licences were extended for another three years (starting July 1964), although several of the major companies were advised to strengthen their regional on- screen emphasis.
Unlike the 'roll-over' of contracts in 1963, the 1967 review (for contracts running from the end of July 1968) was to create noticeable changes to the structure of the ITV network. The reason for this review was to ensure the ITV system was ready for the start of colour broadcasting in 1969, and also to again allow for the provision of ITV2, should the Conservatives win any election held after 1970
Furthermore, Lord Hill of Luton had been unsuccessful to temper the 'arrogance' of the incumbents when he made no changes between 1963 and 1964. Indeed, it was felt by many inside the ITA that the arrogance of the companies had grown — in particular Rediffusion London, whose department managers also popped up in similar roles for rival applicants, and TWW, who reapplied for their contract under both their own name and that of WWN/Teledu Cymru for Tax reasons.
Lord Hill had made it clear in 1966 that 'all bets were off' on the next franchise round and that the regions themselves would be likely to change. Therefore, in the period between the interviews of each applicant and the announcement of the changes, the media speculated wildly about the possible changes; suggestions were made of Scottish Television exiting the system, Rediffusion moving to replace Southern and various other wild ideas (although it seems clear that Scottish would indeed have exited, had TWW not been the sacrificial company chosen). In the end, the ITA made the following changes to the ITV region map,
Any split weekday/weekend licences were removed in all regions, except London.
The London split was moved from Friday/Saturday to Friday at 7pm.
The North of England region was divided into the North West and Yorkshire.
There were also changes to the companies running each region.
Granada, the existing weekday contractor for the North of England region, was given a seven-day licence for the new North West region.
Lord Thomson of Fleet was required to divest himself of most of his shares in Scottish Television.
A new company, Telefusion Yorkshire, later renamed Yorkshire Television, was given the licence to broadcast in the new Yorkshire region.
ATV won the new seven-day Midlands licence, replacing ABC at the weekend.
ABC and Rediffusion, London were asked to form a joint company to take the London weekday franchise previously held by Rediffusion alone; the result, Thames Television, was 51% controlled by ABC.
The London Television Consortium, put together by Journalist and Writer David Frost, won the London weekend contract, which now included Friday evenings from 7pm. They went on air initially using the name London Weekend Television but then adopted the name London Weekend before reverting to London Weekend Television (often abridged to LWT) in 1978. LWT replaced ATV in London.
Most controversially, TWW lost its franchise for Wales and the West of England to Harlech Television, which became known as HTV on the arrival of 625 lines, UHF.
Finally, the local programme guides produced in each region (except the Channel Islands) were replaced by and a new company, Independent Television Publications, taking over the London TV Times magazine and producing it as national magazine with regional editions.
Before the changes were put into place, Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister, made the surprise move of sending Lord Hill to the chairmanship of the BBC Board of Governors and replaced him with Herbert Bowden, the Secretary of State for the Commonwealth Office, who was given a peerage under the title Lord Aylestone. He reviewed the changes Hill had made, but agreed to them.
The implementation of the ITV changes led to industrial unrest in the companies. Although there were no job losses in the system - this was an ITA stipulation - people were forced to move from Manchester to Leeds, from London to Cardiff and, perhaps less troublesome, from one part of London to another. Many staff stayed in the same jobs in the same locations, but now had a different employer.
Since this meant that staff were being made redundant (albeit with a guaranteed job to go to), the unions required redundancy payments. However, these payments led to problems in staff not receiving them, who were changing company (for instance, from Rediffusion to Thames) but not location. The unions asked for payments to also be made in those cases; the companies responded by drawing the line, and wildcat strikes broke out in the weeks before and after the changes came into effect.
A few days later the changes, a mixture of strike action and management lock-outs had taken ITV off the air, and for most of August 1968 the regional network was replaced with an ITV Emergency National Service run by management. By September 1968, with both sides claiming victory, all workers had returned to work. However, the strike left a legacy of acrimoniousness across the ITV system that would return over many years to come.
The ITV regions had minor change in contracts in 1974,much like 1964, and very much unlike 1968, the review of contracts in 1974 produced a 'roll-over' making little difference.
The ITA was replaced by the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority), it was accountable for regulating the new commercial "Independent Local Radio" (ILR) stations under the Sound Broadcasting Act 1972 - it took the opportunity of reassigning the Belmont transmitter in Lincolnshire from Anglia to Yorkshire Television, almost doubling the area served by the smallest of the 'Big Five' companies; YTV's non-overlap region had been eroded to just West and South Yorkshire, when the new Bilsdale UHF transmitter was assigned to Tyne Tees Television. The IBA simplified the system (for instance joint, advertising sales operations). One of these, Trident Management, which handled sales for Tyne Tees Television and Yorkshire Television, was allowed to perform a reverse takeover on the two companies, creating a new entity, Trident Television. Both YTV and TTTV, however, retained their own identities, boards and local management.
The new teletext service called ORACLE was fully launched in 1974—one of the first of its kind (along with the BBC's CEEFAX).
Possibly one of the most notable events for ITV during this period was a 10-week industrial dispute in 1979, which led to the subsequent shutdown of almost all ITV broadcasts and productions. Union action first started at London's Thames Television when electricians refused to accept what they considered a derisory pay increase. Management attempted to operate a normal service but other transmission staff refused to co-operate. When Thames' management ordered the striking staff to 'return or else' the broadcasting union the Association of Cinema and Television Technicians, instructed members at 13 other ITV stations to walk out in support. (However, the smallest ITV Company Channel Television was allowed to continue as the union’s realised action there could make the station bankrupt.) A blank television screen was broadcast on the morning of 10th August 1979, and viewers were left without regular programmes, most importantly the highly-rated British soap opera Coronation Street as well as various sporting events. The strike ended with victory for the unions in a dispute estimated to have cost the companies £100 million in lost revenue. Programming resumed at 5.38pm on 24th October 1979. Returning viewers were greeted with a new jingle, "Welcome home to ITV", sung by the Mike Sammes Singers, which can be regularly heard on 'Radio Sounds Familiar'
The first night was a national network with Thames TV playing out the programmes, you can see from this clip the Station clock is the original Thame's clock with a hastily 'ITV' badge placed over the top.
the strike ended, ITV had the uphill struggle to lure back viewers from
BBC. This proved difficult as original programming production had
stopped and wouldn't start up again for several months; ITV therefore
suffered in the ratings at the hands of the BBC. Two and a half months
after ITV began broadcasting again, they were finally ready to air
additional original programming and viewers began switching back. This
strike was to be the last major strike for ITV as the power of the
broadcasting unions began to diminish, even though minor disputes
plagued the television industry throughout the 1980s. To date, this
dispute was the longest in the history of British television.
the end of 1980 the IBA reviewed the ITV broadcasting licences again,
for contracts beginning on 1st January 1982. As a result, the following
was re-awarded their contract but was considered by the IBA to have not
focused on their region enough. As a result changes were ordered,
including a reduction of existing shareholdings and greater production
facilities in the contract area; to emphasise these actions the company
was told to rebrand. The newly-named Central Independent Television took
over from ATV on 1st January 1982.
Southern Television lost their licence for the South of England, in favour of Television South (TVS).
Westward Television also lost their license (for South West England), being replaced by Television South West (TSW).
Here are Highlights from the last hour of Southern Television, December 31st 1981
Originally posted on the GLFVIDEO channel on You Tube
new nation-wide breakfast television service was awarded to TV-am, with
a provisional start date of May 1983... The breakfast franchise
broadcast between the hours of 6am and 9.25am every morning. The
somewhat obscure 9.25 close time came about in order to allow time to
switch transmitters from the breakfast broadcaster over to the regional
ITV stations; today this transition is seamless, though the anomaly
remains. Trident Television was ordered to sell the majority of its
holdings in Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, and the two companies became
independent of each other again. Along with the new franchises, the
IBA introduced new 'dual regions' where one region would be divided into
two for different news coverage, as was already the practice with HTV
in the "Wales" and "West" regions. The Midlands would be divided into
Central West and Central East, and the south of England into TVS South
and TVS South East. The Bluebell Hill transmitter was also handed over
from Thames Television and London Weekend Television to the new TVS
South-East region. Other dual regions would later follow.
November 1982 saw the launch of Channel 4, for many years it was the
anticipated ITV 2, many Television Sets manufactured even had an ITV2
button in readiness for its arrival. The Existing ITV network would fund
the fledgling network. The ITV companies sold Channel 4's airtime until
31st December 1992, after which an agreement was made whereby ITV
companies would subsidise Channel 4 if it fell into losses. However, it
never did, and the funding formula was withdrawn in 1998. During the
period 1982-98, Channel 4 and ITV would cross-promote each other's
programming, free of charge. Whilst this was clearly in everyone's
interest prior to 1993, after this date the two channels were
effectively competing, and as part of the funding formula they were
required to cross-promote a number of programmes each day.