The ITV Top 10: 5 – ATV 

3 September 2005

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


This article was written in 2005 to coincide with ITV’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The text has not been revised.

At 5 on our top ten comes the company that was the definitive ITV company in most ways.

In fact, ATV embodied what ITV was about in so many ways that it deserved to come in first. It fell back simply because four other companies were better at television in general – not because they were better ITV companies. Of course, it depends on how you define the ideal ITV company. The definition changed repeatedly over the years.

Parliament had one or two, conflicting, ideas. The ITA had a ‘perfect’ company in mind, a definition it changed sometimes daily. The Post Office had its own idea. Eurovision had yet another. Each company had its own definition. The BBC’s idea was most interesting. The press’s idea was most convoluted and amounted to “anything other than that we’ve got”. The viewers had yet another idea. Presentation enthusiasts had yet another again.


But if you took the idea of television meaning entertainment, ATV had that in the bag. Its nearest competitors for the crown – ABC at first, ABC’s Thames operation later – really didn’t come close for relentless cheap entertainment.

Then there’s the idea of television as education. ATV leaps to the fore, at length, for providing the ITV schools service from 1968 as well as much of the programming and being joint initiator of the Sunday morning adult education system in the 1960s.


For television as information, ATV falls down. It had its thought-provoking output (Death of a Princess) but nothing to rival Granada. It had its documentaries (Days of Lightning) but couldn’t touch Thames (The World at War). It had local news in the midlands, but consistently neglected London in its time there.

Nevertheless, if you want the definition of what ITV was about – popular entertainment, a good balance where necessary, an eye on the future of the channel rather than just the bottom line – then ATV had this in spades.

Its successor, Central, showed their parentage, benefiting from the experience of providing a good mix and the personal touch for the viewers.

Whilst Associated-Rediffusion was the financial axis of the system and Thames the cultural axis, ATV was the relentless, enjoyable, all-sizes-fit-all entertainment axis of ITV.

For that, it comes in fifth on this top ten but first on a notional list of “most missed ITV companies”.

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