Pilkington: Dramatis Personæ 

29 August 2016 tbs.pm/9335

Viewsonic-crtThe effect of the Pilkington Committee on shifting the whole course of the development of the UK broadcasting landscape was great, even if many of the headline eye-catching (and denounced) aspects, such as a recasting of independent television into a state-franchised monopoly and the ITA into a publisher-broadcaster were quietly put to one side. Left to its own devices under Sir Robert Fraser the ITA would probably have continued drawing on the ‘competitive’ aspects of the Broadcasting Act that brought it into existence and keeping the more sweeping powers that the Act permitted it for day-to-day control firmly in the background as a last resort. Those that had conferred the potential constraints on commerciality had to this time been disappointed at the generally light touch of the Authority but had been thwarted by the Postmaster General sticking fast to the view that it was ultimately the Authority that determined the degree of control it wished to exercise within the law.

That some decisions needed to be made of a technical nature, such as the how the development of UHF and colour services were to take place were undeniable since the BBC and ITA would find it difficult to agree with each other, and could not represent the UK individually in international negotiations. The very existence though of each organisation was time-bound, and in theory if nothing were done, they would both cease to exist in 1962 and 1964 respectively. Today such decisions would probably be made by the Government of the day directly, with maybe a consultative exercise. Back then with an air of achieving some kind of overall ‘consensus’ a specially constituted committee with its recommendations answered to by government was more common.

The committee though can hardly be genuinely independent since its members were appointed by the Government as a whole, with individual members often sponsored by specific Ministries with their own mind-set. Although the same party was in power that had brought the ITA into existence, the balance within the Conservative Party had shifted somewhat away since 1954 from the free marketeers towards the paternalistic. This emphasis can be seen in those appointed who stayed the course:

  • Harry Pilkington (1905-1983): Industrialist in the glass industry and President of the Federation of British Industries. As chairman insisted a single consensus report was to be produced, mindful perhaps of the previous Broadcasting Committee of Beveridge where the single dissenter Selwyn Lloyd produced his own report that was implemented and remembered more than the main Committee’s.
  • Harold Collison (1909-1995): General Secretary of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. Later to become a peer and Chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
  • Elwyn Davies (1908-1986): Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Department of the Library of Wales. Later Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Department of the Ministry of Education.
  • Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979): Comedienne, actress, entertainer and former radio critic.
  • Richard Hoggart (1918-2014): Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Leicester. Later Professor of English at Birmingham University, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO and Warden of Goldsmiths, University of London.
  • Edmund Hudson (1903-1978): President of the Fertilisers Manufacturers’ Association.
  • Francis Newark (1907-1976): Professor of Jurisprudence at The Queen’s University of Belfast.
  • John Shields: Retired grammar school headmaster (Peter Symonds School Winchester)
  • Reggie Smith-Rose: Director of the Radio Research Organisation and former acting head of the National Physical Laboratory.
  • Betty Whitley (1915-2010): Journalist and social worker. Wife of the Very Reverend Dr Harry Whitley, minister of Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral.
  • Billy Wright (1924-1994): Recently retired footballer, at the time manager of England’s youth team. Later to manage Arsenal and then became a television pundit and Head of Sport for ATV and Central Television.

Appointed originally were Sir Jock Campbell (1912-1994), Peter Hall (born 1930) and John Megaw (1909-1997) but all three resigned early on in the operation of the Committee largely because the operation proved too time consuming combined with their main work.


The composition of the committee was not as academically skewed as sometimes painted; clearly was balanced across the constituent countries of the UK plus rural interests but no one specifically urban; the industrialists are from traditional sectors and not communications and the individuals personally not entrepreneurial in outlook; absence of any direct media interests such as newspapers, and a relative lack of those from the creative arts or the under forties. Both of the last two could have rectified by Peter Hall and the committee would have been more balanced if he could have stayed. Only one member had any kind of relevant technical background.

Such a collection of people could have been convened to study any matter; indeed a number of them would sit on a series of government advisory committees in their career. Although all would contribute in some manner, as is usual in committees the report writing was carried out by relatively few in addition to the civil servants managing the committee. Although the details of the report may not have been known beforehand, the kind of people assembled were likely to steer the report into the desired direction even if the actual detail were in some areas somewhat of a surprise.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Nigel Stapley 29 August 2016 at 8:09 pm

Cynical of me I know, but I had to laugh when I read what Edmund Hudson’s day job was. If he had hung around another twenty years or so, he might have been well satisfied with what ITV turned into!

garry robin simpson 30 August 2016 at 9:48 pm

Yes very true Nigel. If we hang around for a further 20 years I.T.V. P.L.C. might be bought out by N.B.C. Universal. Still at least if that happens,there might be a decent Regional News Service between 4.30am and 7.00am before a British version of TODAY. That would be very appropriate in Farage”s post-Brexit he”s got his country back world wouldn”t it!

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