A dissenter 

1 February 2003 tbs.pm/1890

When Independent Television arrived in 1955, breaking the BBCtv monopoly for the first time, the first contractors Associated-Rediffusion and Associated TeleVision keenly copied the BBC habit of playing the National Anthem at closedown.

This was still a universal practice in cinemas of course, where the National Anthem would be played after the final evening performance. This was an era when most of the audience naturally stayed to see film end credits – it being thought disrespectful to the producers not to do so. In the 1950s, leaving a Cinema before the national anthem was played was universally considered very bad manners and disrespectful to the Queen. The loud ‘tut-tutting’ that accompanied any attempts at premature escape being something that no one who has ever witnessed it could forget.

The fifties, as we have discussed elsewhere was a very different era and in the aftermath of both the Second World War and the Coronation of a new Queen, Britain was a patriotic country in a way that today’s younger generation can barely imagine.

There was not a totally unanimous acclaim for these attitudes however and an interesting situation arose with the Bernstein brothers, founders of Granada Television. When ITV started, Granada was awarded the Monday to Friday contract in the North of England. This covered both sides of the Pennines – there being no separate Yorkshire contractor until the late sixties.

The Bernsteins were from Jewish immigrant roots and had built a successful South of England Cinema chain in the so-called “Granada Theatres group”. Their east-end background gave them mildly progressive left of centre views and although called “champagne socialists” by their detractors, they saw no contradiction in becoming wealthy entrepreneurs while espousing gently progressive attitudes.

This very much manifested itself in the ‘socially responsible’ programming in which Granada specialised, and in the fact that the company eschewed making variety and theatrical programming, though they were happy to network such horrors from others. This made a considerable contrast to the output of both ATV and ABC, who had no problems with being seen as part of “show business”.

Granada’s serious and paternalistic side meant that it was soon in happy allegiance with Associated-Rediffusion, a company of similar attitudes – and indeed programme networking arrangements in the early years effectively lead to a form of ‘cartel’ between the two companies from which ATV and ABC were effectively excluded.

The one philosophical difference between A-R and Granada however was in political undercurrent. For the purposes of programming all was neutral of course – but the underlying signs were unmistakable.

Associated-Rediffusion had directors who were Conservative in both senses of the word. At Granada membership of the Labour Party would not have been a bar to membership of the board – as it almost certainly would have been at A-R.

Of course it is not axiomatic that progressive attitudes indicate republican sympathies – and the Bernstein brothers remained opaque on the detail of their company’s political stance – but when they instructed that the nightly closedown of the Granada service, from Monday to Friday in the North, should not use the National Anthem as the BBC did – there was national uproar.

Granada went on the air some eight months after Associated-Rediffusion and ATV and had had time to reflect on their London brothers’ first months on air. They did not feel bound by London precedents.

Letters to the Times, shocked boycotts by a small minority of viewers (only a minority, the programmes were too tempting) and most amazingly of all the withdrawal of some advertisers from contracts with Granada – made this a decision with historical reverberations. Another mould was broken.

It is uncommon for food manufacturers planning adverts on ITV to take political stances on such matters today but in 1956 matters regarding the monarchy were not considered political. The status quo in the country was a given, and he who questioned it was usually treated as mad, quite literally. The conformity of the nation was strong and the attitudes engendered by the country fighting for its’ very survival only a decade earlier had not abated.

The specially commissioned “Granada March” had a slow regal sounding last verse and the Bernsteins decreed that this should close the station each night accompanied by the Granada company symbol “The Inverted Dipole”.

Viewers became used to this in time but a hard core would wait patiently for Saturday and Sunday nights – when they could stand in their living rooms, for the National Anthem on ABC.

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