Having faith in colour 

26 January 2015 tbs.pm/6002

19691117 Daily Telegraph

Innovation comes in many forms. For ATV it was the use of film to ensure that programmes could be easily exported. For ABC it was early tests of colour television in order to make video more exportable to North America.

For Granada, it was all about programme formats. They innovated with Coronation Street, the first gritty true-to-life soap opera; World in Action, the first gritty long-form regular documentary series; Seven Up!, the first gritty fly on the wall reality series; University Challenge, the first quiz show for brainy people (that one wasn’t gritty, although I dare say they tried); What the Papers Say, the first programme to discuss how papers were reporting the news rather than just what; and ‘Granada in the North’, the first attempt in the UK at a US-style presentation of programmes majoring on local news between each entertainment show.

Granada did have some technical innovations – the Travelling Eye outside broadcast fleet and the first video recorder in a UK studio spring to mind – but their focus was always on the programmes, not the technology behind the programmes. That investment in programming innovation showed on screen and made Granada’s reputation as a solid, powerful, all-round broadcaster of note.

Here we see Sidney Bernstein arguing against colour television. He was right on the basic facts: the expense of switching to colour was huge for everyone involved – new cameras, control desks and even studios were required by broadcasters; new transmitters and transmission equipment was required by the ITA and BBC Engineering; new, expensive colour sets with new, expensive UHF aerials were needed by the viewing public. And the economy was indeed sluggish – although in no way as bad as it would get through the lost decade of the 1970s.

The main, unspoken, worry that Bernstein had was that only the BBC would profit from colour television. A colour licence was almost double the price of a black and white licence – £11 (£166 in today’s money) compared to £6 (£91 allowing for inflation). Every household that switched to colour doubled the BBC’s income from them. Meanwhile, it had been decided that ITV would not charge extra for colour commercials, in order to encourage advertisers to switch, so ITV’s income remained static, while the (hated) levy on ITV turnover (not profits) made investment in colour equipment more expensive than for the BBC.

Nevertheless, the transition had to be made and was made, whether Granada or Bernstein wanted it or not – a situation paralleled 20 years later when Granada was reluctantly dragged into 24-hour broadcasting by the IBA with the implied threat of a national midnight-6am franchise being advertised if they didn’t.

The Telegraph’s L Marsland Gander can’t resist ending his piece with a dig at Granada’s Coronation Street – loathed by a certain type of London intellectual for its popularity more than its gritty comedic nature – and The Dustbinmen, a Jack Rosenthal sitcom of real quality, wit and verve, now well respected and regarded as a television classic. It’s a shame that Gander lets his snobbery undermine his main point – that technical innovation, the 1960s White Heat of Technology, was something to be embraced and encouraged.

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