One in the Eye for ITV 

9 March 2015


Private Eye (issue 144, dated 23 June 1967) revealed what everyone in the industry knew: in the 1967 franchise round, the major sacrifice, to show the Independent Television Authority (ITA) flexing its muscles and keep the other companies on their toes, was to be Scottish Television.

Lord Hill, chairman of the ITA, had long personally disliked STV’s output. Their presentation was poor, their programming cheap, their offerings to the network rarely worth showing. If the consortium headed by Jo Grimond had actually managed a single good idea of their own, then STV would’ve been out on its ear. But they misread the audience – possibly, as the Eye suggests, because they’d only heard pro-STV things coming from Macfarlane Grey, the ITA’s man-on-the-ground in Scotland. Grimond and colleague Ludovic Kennedy told Hill that they liked STV, didn’t plan to change much, wanted to carry on in the tradition STV had started. There was, therefore, no cover for Hill to send STV packing – a decision to replace like-for-like would be impossible to defend and awkward to explain.

Hill clearly cast about for a different sacrifice. It wasn’t easy. Grampian, Border, TTT, Channel, Westward, Anglia and Southern were all solid – boring at times, but solid. Granada was exactly what the ITA wanted a major company to be like. ATV made piles of dollars from exports, much to the government’s pleasure. Ulster was not a minefield Hill cared to tread into.

ABC would go to London weekends, Rediffusion… well, maybe they could be for it, the arrogance of the company executives having repeatedly riled Hill. But London weekdays was the backbone of the network. Get that wrong and ITV itself could fail.

That left Television Wales and West. A company managed from London. A company with plenty of other irons in the fire. A company that was challenged by Lord Harlech with a dazzling wide array of famous Welsh faces including Richard Burton and his beautiful American movie star wife Elizabeth Taylor. And if Hill was anything, he was very easily star-struck. Goodbye TWW.


Of course, the London Television Consortium – later London Weekend Television – threw a spanner in the works when it came to London. The ABC at weekends/Rediffusion at weekdays idea fell. LTC wanted only the weekends, they would not be moved. And anyway, with so many Rediffusion managers in the consortium, merging LTC with Rediffusion would be a recipe for some very public fallings out. That left merging ABC and Rediffusion to form a new weekday contractor. A company with ABC’s flair but given Rediffusion’s bones to pick over to take on the talent and experience ABC lacked in education, news and current affairs. That new company would have Rediffusion’s deep pockets and ABC’s talent, easing Hill’s worries about undermining London weekdays. That new company would become Thames.


You Say

2 responses to this article

Ken Griffin 13 March 2015 at 10:28 pm

Regarding Ulster, it couldn’t have been deposed because there was no competition for its franchise in 1967.

Jason James 28 June 2021 at 11:38 pm

I don’t think TTT was all that solid in the late 60s, was it? It was already starting to decline, making cost savings everywhere and didn’t have the finest reputation for quality, much like STV. Viewers liked it, critics did not. I understand they were unopposed though and for good reason. Only three years later they were telling the ITA that the region wasn’t viable any more and had become very much the sick region of the network – committed to one of the higher regional minutages in the network but lacking the resources to make a decent stab of it.

They would have been the sacrifice had any other serious bidder been in the least bit interested. It took over a decade to get over the “troubled years”, as the IBA put it.

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