The ITN Adventure 

1 January 2004

Richard Elen outlines how ITN prepared for the launch of Independent Television.

Independent Television News caption

ITN’s first bulletin begins, on Opening Night, 22 September, 1955 (AN).

ITN began its life in Ingersoll House, an office building across the street from Television House in Kingsway, and the organisation was able to move into its final home in the latter only a short time before Opening Night.

Editor-in-Chief Aidan Crawley had recruited Christopher Chataway and Robin Day as ‘newscasters’ for what promised to be a style of news presentation never before seen on British Television.

Utterly distinct from the BBC’s newsreel style of news bulletin presentation, where it was believed that a newsreader in-vision might compromise the apparent objectivity of the news reportage, Crawley brought his experience of US television to bear, and made the presentation of news into a programme in its own right, with named newscasters on-screen reading the bulletins. In the ‘newscasts’, presenters would bring their personalities into the reporting and impart an element of their own character.

In Ingersoll House, Chataway and Day spent weeks of rehearsals reading dummy bulletins culled from the daily papers, from inside a plywood TV-shaped frame while 16mm film inserts were projected on to an adjacent wall. Film teams ran around London shooting footage for news items that would never air; staff interviewed important people – interviews that would never be seen by the public; and twice a day the whole staff would gather to view the progress, and make comments on the presentation.

News Editor Arthur Clifford assembled his small team of reporters, including Barbara Mandell and Lynne Reid Banks. Clifford devised the ‘vox pop’ approach to reporting that was to become a staple of British television news presentation.

ITN News caption

Finally, ITN made the move to Television House, with just a short time to go before Opening Night. The studio was on the eight floor, but the newsroom was on the second, and the lift between the two was extremely unreliable. As a result, it was apparently only Christopher Chataway’s physical fitness that, on more than one occasion, ensured the news went out on time.

References: Bernard Sendall, Independent Television in Britain.

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