His dream became a TV miracle! 

16 March 2016 tbs.pm/8756

Tyne Tees Television’s listing magazine The Viewer launched with the station in January 1959. The first edition contained several features explaining the very nature of commercial television to the new viewers in the north east of England, including this one about Norman Collins, one of the driving forces behind the campaign for a second television service.

TTT-45Just over five years ago, in a small, unpretentious office overlooking London’s Covent Garden vegetable market, a tall silvery-haired man with bright, piercing eyes sat working steadily at the sheets of paper in front of him.

His name was Norman Collins,[1] and in his mind was a dream – a dream he has since seen grow into the wonderful reality of Britain’s vast Independent Television network.

Collins is that rare being, an idealist with a strong practical streak. A one-time Head of BBC Television, he became convinced that the television monopoly held by the BBC was wrong.

Without more ado he threw up his position and settled down in the humble Covent Garden office to convince the politicians that a change was needed.

It was a tough job, but the huge success of ITV bears witness to his patience and determination. And now, as vice-chairman of Associated TeleVision (ATV), one of the biggest ITV programme companies, he holds a position in commercial television worthy of the unique part he played in making it possible.

From the little office in Covent Garden, the scene shifts to a larger room, hurriedly hired for the occasion It is only a year after Collins worked and planned in his office, but already times have changed.

The first part of the battle has been won. Independent television has become an Act of Parliament.

Now the second, and even more difficult, part is due to begin – the conversion of a few thousand words in the Statute Book into the living reality of studios, cameras and trained staff.

And a tough fight it must have seemed to the dozen people who collected in that room in the summer of 1954. For these people were members of the Independent Television Authority, appointed by the Government to set up the new service and select the companies who would provide the programmes.

Under the ITA’s supervision, the race against time began. The service was due to open in the autumn of 1955, one year ahead – not long to attend to the thousand and one problems of setting up a new type of television service from scratch.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t only time which the ITV pioneers had to fight. “ITV,” reported one well-known critic, “is being born amid a chorus of cheers, jeers, applause and yells of horror.”

It’s strange, looking back, to read the queer arguments that were put forward at the time of ITV’s birth.

“Well on its way to becoming a spectacle of muddle, ineptitude and failure,” claimed one indignant newspaper letter-writer. And a Member of Parliament, whose dislike of ITV seemed to outweigh his technical knowledge, declared that the whole thing was a waste of time anyway, as the type of transmitter being used would have a range of only seven miles!

But in spite of everything, the miracle was achieved. At 7.15 on September 22, 1955, the voice of Leslie Mitchell rang out over London’s Channel 9 with the words: “THIS IS LONDON. Here is the opening programme of the Independent Television Authority…”[2]

That night – when Norman Collins’ dream came true at last – was one of tremendous tension and first-night nerves. But as the final programme drew to a close, the celebrations began.

At the May Fair Hotel,[3] where a cabaret show had been televised earlier in the evening, 870 guests worked their way through a full 800 bottles of champagne!

Today, ITV is being received in more than six millions homes, and is available to almost forty million people!

It was an auspicious beginning to a new era in entertainment. Once under way, ITV grew with incredible speed.

At the end of the first six months, the number of viewers jumped from 600,000 to nearly three million.[4]
At the end of the first year, sets were being converted at the rate of ONE EVERY TEN SECONDS.[5]

New stations seemed to pop up like mushrooms.[6] Five months after the London opening, the Midlands station opened and by November 1956, the vast army of North Country viewers “signed on”.

Since then, stations serving Scotland, Wales and the West, and the South of England have opened with enormous success.

And so to the present – just three years, three months and three weeks after the first commercial programme went out over the air.

Today, ITV is being received in more than six millions homes, and is available to almost forty million people![7]


  1. Norman Collins (3 October 1907 – 6 September 1982)
  2. A recording of the opening night exists. Mitchell did not use these words
  3. [sic]
  4. 600,000 was a crying disappointment for the London stations and sent them into a financial crisis. Three million was better, but includes viewers in reach of the Lichfield transmitter and a third contractor (ABC), which did not reduce ITV’s costs or stop the haemorrhaging of money
  5. This unsourced figure is dubious to say the least
  6. If mushrooms grow painfully slowly. The transmitters opened: Croydon 22/09/55; Lichfield 17/02/56; Winter Hill 03/05/56; Emley Moor 03/11/56; Black Hill 31/08/57; St Hilary 14/01/58; Chillerton Down 30/08/58; Burnhope 15/01/59
  7. The disparity in these figures – just 6 million homes, a potential audience of around 24 million people, watching ITV out of 40 million people who could receive the service if they chose to – remained a worry of shareholders in the various ITV companies. However, by 1959 the system was not only profitable, it was mega-profitable, so it didn’t matter to them that much

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