The ITV Top 10: 7 – Central 

3 September 2005

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ALBUM Central

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

At 7 in our Top Ten is something that only happened once: a company that was designed by the IBA to retain the things they liked best about its predecessor and jettison the things they had spent 25 years hating.

Enter Central Independent Television, in all ways ATV Midlands but without Lew Grade.

The ITA had never really wanted Lew Grade in the system. The company he effectively controlled, ITC, was excluded from the first set of contractors. Not be undone, ITC merged with the successful ABDC, to form ABC (hurriedly changed to ATV after a few weeks on air).

From that moment onwards, the ITA had to deal with Lew Grade and his particular views on how commercial television should be organised and run. So larger than life, and with a family that in effect controlled showbusiness in the UK, once in he couldn’t be ejected.

The ITA tried several times to bring Lew to heel. They imposed conditions on the composition of his board, took away his beloved London contract and exiled him to the Midlands, argued, cajoled and threatened.

But ATV had a trick up its sleeve – repeated Queen’s Award for Export citations for exporting television programmes when the UK desperately needed foreign currency and especially US dollars. The ITA, later the IBA, couldn’t touch ATV when they were fulfilling the needs of a string of governments from Macmillan onward.

By late 1980, when the decisions were to be made, this horrible restriction was gone – the country no longer needed the foreign currency and ATV was no longer such a big earner. Lew Grade himself had somewhat lost interest and had moved into film production, Raising the Titanic (or Draining the Atlantic, a cheaper proposition in the end) amongst many other ventures.

Additionally, Lew had mistakenly allowed Robert Holmes a Court to become his deputy and largest investor. As the IBA struck, so did Holmes a Court, selling most of ATV’s interest in the new Central and depriving Lew of any say in the new company.

The resulting company, retaining the ATV staff but ordered to ditch Elstree as soon as practicable and soon floated on the stock market, was named Central Independent Television (Central Television having been previously registered by another chancer).

The resulting company, as all new companies do, stumbled horrifically from disaster to disaster at first. But when Central hit its stride, the result was a new golden age for ITV.

With presentation of the first order, innovation in every programme, a good mix of popular, money-spinning, rubbish (The Price is Right) and the cutting-edge (Spitting Image), Central was the ideal ITV company of the 1980s.

For its presentation alone it deserves a high position on out top 10. For its programming too it deserves to come in. And for the painful, drawn-out and insulting manner of its demise at the hands of Carlton, it certainly deserves its place out of sympathy.

It is placed seventh out of ten. Well, without Lew, 7 out of 10 is all any company is ever likely to get.

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