The ITV Top 10: 8 – London Weekend 

3 September 2005

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ALBUM London Weekend

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

At 8 in our Top Ten is London Weekend Television, the contractor that did what it said on the tin – and the applicant that both killed ATV London and created Thames.

London Weekend’s application for a contract was a surprise to most people. Made up of the great and the good, from the Controller of BBC-1 to the personality of David Frost, LWT promised to revolutionise ITV.

Of course, that revolution failed to take account of the wants and needs of the viewers (it took great account of the wants and needs of the board of LWT and of the ITA, but in itself that does not great television make) and LWT responded to the challenge by collapsing dramatically and coming close to bankruptcy.

This must have been much to the amusement of both Lew Grade of ATV and Howard Thomas of ABC, both displaced from the contract they most wanted and forced into odd, second-best options.

LWT eventually recovered from the early mistakes, but did so partially by bringing Rupert Murdoch into the world of television. The IBA arranged for his ejection from the company: 20 years later, this slight would be repaid when the IBA was sacrificed on the alter of his Sky TV venture.

After this calamity of errors, why on earth should LWT end up at number 8 on our top 10?

Well, LWT’s eventual rating would have been much higher were it not for the errors of judgment and sins of omission and commission listed above. But it rates an entry into the top ten on the basis of what it managed when it sorted itself out.

When it discovered, partially through Rupert Murdoch’s advice, that it needed to play the ITV game and specialise, LWT’s fortunes took off.

It switched away from deathly dull peaktime arts and social programming and concentrated instead on producing the type of programming people wanted of a weekend: drama, comedy and light entertainment.

In doing so, it simply learnt the lessons of the weekend companies it displaced, ATV and ABC. But LWT had an ace up its sleeve – the conviction that television on a weekend could be better than ATV London led them to produce ATV London’s output… but with real money and talent behind it.


The ATV London cash machine never really applied to LWT – it had to work a lot harder than ATV had in order to get better results and that cost money – but when it finally managed it, LWT produced some 3 decades of classic weekend entertainment.

It’s odd to think that the formula LWT finally stumbled upon, after so many hard years of getting it wrong, was what ABC had promised for its London weekends contract that LWT stole from underneath it.

And if a company can get the phrase “eventually got as good as ABC London would have been” attached to it, then it certainly deserves a place in our top 10.

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