Tonight’s Rediffusion London… in 1965 

27 July 2015

This is the almost definitive Rediffusion evening in the mid-sixties. The contractor was well thought of and fairly highly regarded by critics and viewers at that time, with a long running policy of lighter entertainment before 9pm and more heavyweight programming after 9pm – well demonstrated here, with what they would rightly claim was “a balanced evening” of something for all tastes. With three channels in London and the Midlands, and only two elsewhere, an effort has been made to cater for all tastes. With many people still not having converted or replaced their sets for BBC2, it was seen as incumbent on the flagship ITV contractor (London weekdays) to set a standard for the whole network to follow.

It is fair to note, however, that not all Rediffusion’s output was fully networked. Granada often followed them, but ATV Midlands opted out of much of the later evening fare for lighter entertainment. Rediffusion developed a strong reputation as a heavyweight contractor and a programmer of some substance – the BBC with adverts, as they once described themselves.

The day begins at 2.15 with, inevitably, horse racing. Outside broadcasts, mainly of sport but also other large public events, were provided within a special quota of 300 hours per year, divided 5/7ths to the weekday contractors and 2/7ths to the weekend companies, in the three regions where the split-week licences for ITV contractors were specified by the ITA. These 300 hours were separate from the 50 hours per week of non-educational and non-religious programming that the standard broadcasting hours specified. Testcard reigned for much of the day, when schools programmes were not in session, but horse racing, cheap to produce and easy to sell cheap advertising for, was a standard for a few dozen afternoons per year.

The output provided by and for the individual ITV companies was up to 2.5 hours per weekday afternoon, with break points for companies to opt into or out of the coverage, thus tailoring their own local participation to the ration of their 300 hours per year that they wished to use at that point in the season. The break points were a fascination to television enthusiasts watching – “At this point, we welcome viewers to Anglia Television who have just joined us here at Redcar and we now say goodbye to viewers in Wales and the West, who leave us for their own programme at this point”. This gave a real federal flavour to the network, which the regular viewers understood well, and underlined the bespoke local nature of much of the regional ITV output. Rediffusion (on weekdays) as the “sustaining national feed” was the glue that held the ‘ITV Nation’ together.

Some Rediffusion company directors had interests in horse racing and the shareholding Spencer-Wills family owned stables, so it was a natural thing that Rediffusion should show a large amount of horse racing during the year, often venturing outside their own region to provide the coverage for the network. In this example, using Tyne Tees cameras at Redcar for ease of access, the network version of the output was still topped and tailed by the long standing Rediffusion horse racing commentator team of Tony Cooke, Ken Butler, Peter Moor and John Rickman. This group of experts fronted the ITV racing coverage for almost thirty years.

Rediffusion were experimenting with a new placement of the part-networked Crossroads serial at 4.20 in order to liberate the normal 6.35 slot for higher rated American imports – (the execrable Mr Ed the talking horse in this case). It is often forgotten now that in the mid-sixties, when BBCtv might still be showing the testcard at 4pm, the main competitor to ITV was the BBC Light Programme. “Nothing on TV? Well, put the radio on” was a common pattern of broadcasting consumption at that time. Offshore stations had unexpectedly increased the amount and popularity of radio listening during a recent era of managed decline for “the wireless”. There was quite a (London-based) rumpus amongst ‘housewives’ when Rediffusion started to run Crossroads at 4.20 as it now clashed with the long-running Mrs Dale’s Diary (latterly renamed The Dales) which aired daily from 4.15 to 4.30 on the Light. Rediffusion quickly amended their timings, moving Crossroads to 4.35, so that the clash would be averted. Small Time moved forward to 4.20, and all was well again with housewives and mums in the London area.

Some of the Small Time infants’ programmes were commissioned by Rediffusion from outside sources, and are thus credited here as “A Rediffusion Presentation” rather than “A Rediffusion Production”, an important distinction at the time, as the quota system imposed by the ITA for diversity of programme types often counted externally-commissioned productions as a different animal to “in-house” fare.

Stubby’s Silver Star Show at 5 was the successor to the long lived Five O’Clock Club and made continuing use of Rediffusion staff announcer Muriel Young as foil to American star Stubby Kaye, over here fresh from his triumphant performance in the smash hit American musical Guys & Dolls. He was quite a big star and a catch for this time slot. It was a talent show but really more of a vehicle to make use of Kaye while he was in the UK. All Rediffusion children’s programmes were specially labelled “Children’s Television” in the TV Times – the only region to do this so boldly. The reason was never clear but the policy lasted for many years.

Stage One at 5.25 was another typical Rediffusion programme, flavoured, as so much of their output was, with a useful educational undertow which had always impressed the ITA. It was Rediffusion, in its earlier pre-1964 guise as Associated-Rediffusion, that had brought schools television to the UK, somewhat in advance of a BBC scheme. The ethos of these programmes suffused almost everything Rediffusion did for children, and it was another example of how Rediffusion, as the “flagship” station of the network, gave ITV as a whole more substance and gravitas than its ‘anti-commercial’ detractors at the time cared to admit. Stage One was a nuts-and-bolts exposition on how to put on a play, present drama and learn the skills required to entertain. It was commended by the ITA and won various awards.

The Rediffusion weather at 6.06, produced in-house by their own weather department, was something of a pleasant irony as Television House in Kingsway, London WC1, where the Rediffusion operation was based, had been the Air Ministry during the war. For many years, the radio weather forecast had included the hallowed phrase “the temperature on the Air Ministry roof…” as the London standard. Now, in the TV era, Rediffusion was presenting its own forecasts from there, with Commander Laurie West (RN Ret’d) – ex-forces like so many other Rediffusion staff – giving out the information in iconic and declamatory fashion. He was considered to be one of the great “characters” of London ITV.

Three After Six was an unusual type of daily local topical programme. Rediffusion had in common with the BBC a view that “local or regional news” either was not an appropriate concept for the capital city or perhaps didn’t exist as such. Rather like ABC Weekend in the North & Midlands, whose ABC at Large programme concentrated on cultural events and unusual issues, the Rediffusion local ‘opt out’ consisted of several reporters, pundits and members of the “commentariat” delivering short pieces to camera and occasional filmed reports. It was a television version of radio’s From our own Correspondent but most of the comment was from and about the culture and issues of the southeast. It was popular with the viewers but oddly, not with the ITA, who saw it as a bit of an evasion of “regional responsibility”. Rediffusion did not – they could not see themselves as regional in the first place. British broadcasting at that time had not resolved the question as to whether the London area was a “region” at all, or, as the BBC Home Service saw it on radio, a capital-based “sustaining service” for the true regions to dip and and out of.

From 6.30 to 9pm ran a good sequence of entertainment programmes with American comedy, a British quiz show (general knowledge, family-focussed, vaguely educational), a long running and popular hospital soap opera (in which someone died almost every week, as a dramatic staple – ‘keep the viewers in tears’ was the motif), and two more half hours of American imports, one a ‘serious’ western (Branded) and one a popular comedy (Gilligan’s Island) the latter of which some regions of ITV showed as children’s television.

From 9pm onwards the famous Rediffusion policy of heavier programming set in, with an hour long adult drama from ATV Midlands, then Granada’s World In Action, much praised by critics and ITA alike (most of the time!), produced at a time when Granada TV was at the very top of its sixties game and greatly admired. Division at the curiously timed 10.37 was a solid half hour of Westminster and Whitehall politics, in an era before News at Ten was invented and absorbed such subject matter into a main bulletin. News was in shorter chunks in that era, and presenting politics as a separate subject was surprisingly popular with viewers who were mainly interested in the human interest stories. The programme won awards and provided a launching ground for the TV career of a young Alastair Burnet. Next we go to the more earthy wrestling at 11.07, credited as an “Independent Television Presentation” – usually a match pre-recorded by ABC Weekend the previous Saturday, with the eternal Kent Walton. For some obscure reason, ABC never got a TVTimes credit for weekday work – but it was indeed their cameras that Rediffusion paid for.

With a further current affairs production (Dateline) at 11.40, more “non-bulletin” stories were handled – thus securing Rediffusion’s reputation as the most heavyweight of all ITV companies at the time (though Granada ran them a close second) – a remarkably intense three hours of solid programming rounded off with a short religious discussion in the Epilogue slot.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Arthur Nibble 27 July 2015 at 4:27 pm

Apologies for asking a question which I’m sure was answered elsewhere not long ago, but why does “Three After Six” start at eight after six? While I’m at it, The Hollywood Hour’s a bit on the short side, but The Hollywood 55 Minutes Including Adverts wouldn’t have been as catchy.

Russ J Graham 27 July 2015 at 4:38 pm

Three After Six was originally on at 6:03pm; when it moved to 6:08pm with the ITN bulletin going from 8 minutes to 11 minutes, Rediffusion started to claim it was three people after six o’clock (it had three presenters). Codswallop.

Les 8 October 2015 at 11:06 am

Crossroads started at 4.20 on rediffusion (and also southern). They did move it to 6.35 a few times .. And thames dumped it in 1968, then brought it back later. For several years, london was a few months behind the rest of the country. Thames ran it at 4.30 for some time.

I used to see “3 after 6”, but as a 10 year old found it pretty dull (probably waiting for “batman” at 6.30). I don’t recall any film reports. I remember it as 3 people talking about stuff in the papers.

Also enjoyed the hollywood hour at 8, particularly “gilligan”, which is still being repeated in the usa.

The rediffusion branding at the time was “this is rediffusion, london’s television”.

Mark Jeffries 18 May 2016 at 1:31 am

“Criss Cross Quiz” was based on the American series “Tic Tac Dough,” which had gone off the air in the States in the undertow of the quiz scandals (and it was discovered that the weekly prime time version was rigged). Obviously, Granada played the programme honest and it enjoyed a healthy run past the U.S. run. However, Jack Barry and Dan Enright, the programme’s U.S. producers, having been exonerated for their sins (which include the notorious “Twenty-One”), brought it back in 1979 and it enjoyed a seven-year run. A 1990 revival (distributed by the Lew Grade-less ITC) was less successful and the format’s current owners, NBCUniversal, have not revived it since.

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