This is Independent Television 

15 January 2018

From the TVTimes Midlands edition for 16-22 November 1958

Three tremendous years of Independent Television are reflected in the recent report of the Independent Television Authority. Three years in which this lusty infant has marched into millions of British homes — and been adopted as a favourite. The facts and figures of this growth given here are taken from the annual report of the ITA for 1957-58. They constitute a vigorous reply to early critics of Independent Television.

The criticism

One of the most-heard criticisms against Independent Television was that it would have only a popular “mass” appeal and would lead to a lowering in standards of taste.

The facts

Before Independent Television went on the air there were only a dozen or so serious TV programmes broadcast by the BBC each week. In March last, after two-and-a-half years of ITV, there were some 40 such programmes on both services together. Independent Television has been responsible through the past year for an increasing output of high quality drama — not only by classic dramatists but by contemporary masters such as Fry, Anouilh, Arthur Miller, Sartre, and Eugene O’Neill. As a matter of deliberate policy, the programme companies have given opportunity to young writers of promise, and hitherto unknown writers have had their work televised. Social problems of importance to the nation have been brought pungently to viewers’ notice in such excellent programmes as This Week, We Want an Answer, Under Fire and People in Trouble. Ten million people had their first glimpse of life in Russia from USSR Now. ITV pioneered regular programmes on the sciences, arts and learning.

In ‘This Week’ studio… Cyril Bennett, interviewer Kenneth Harris and Prime Minister Mr. Harold Macmillan

The criticism

Opponents alleged that there would be a flood of American programmes swamping the air and drowning British talent.

The facts

Foreign recorded programme matter is restricted to 14 per cent in each three-month period. On average, a week’s programmes contain 10 filmed programmes made in Britain mostly under Anglo-American auspices and exported to the US to earn the dollars needed for American material used. Of the producers and directors making these filmed series, nine out of 10 are British; writers number six out of 10; and camera crews, technicians and craftsmen are entirely British. Cost of non-British elements employed has amounted only to between five and 10 per cent.

The criticism

Regional interests will be killed, it was said, local activities will die out under the impact of regimented entertainment transmitted from London.

The facts

As more and more regional television stations come into operation local and regional interests get an increasing spur. Public taste is not easy to gauge, but experiments in widening the televising of local affairs — and news bulletins — are becoming of great significance in the social life of Britain. The Authority believes that the quality and balance of Independent Television can be greatly enhanced by supplementing the main network programmes with others having a genuine regional flavour.

The ITV transmitters in 1963

Other achievements

In addition to its broader activities, Independent Television has developed and fostered regular and increasing interest in


The Independent Television Authority regards the development of schools’ broadcasting as a remarkable achievement. Close attention is being paid by all the companies to the whole aspect of children’s programmes which, besides their entertainment value, are being used to awaken children’s interest in the world around them and to supplement their schooling. Continuing attention is paid to the balance between the adventure-type programmes and those drawn from real life. There is intensive research into fresh creative fields to avoid excessive repetition of established formulae.


A panel of religious consultants and the ITA welcomed the companies’ proposals to televise Sunday morning services as a supplement to the Sunday evening religious programmes designed to appeal to a large “uncommitted” audience. Approximately 100,000 homes watch these services. Since it was introduced in March, The Sunday Break has been shown with mounting success on all the Authority’s stations on three Sundays out of four.

‘The Sunday Break’ features the Freedom from Hunger campaign


Early this year ITV was regularly televising 10 political and current affairs programmes. Experience of televising by-elections was gained at Rochdale, and the ITA is consulting with the programme companies and the BBC about joint proposals for coverage of the General Election.

The future

More hours on the air — and more and more homes looking in. That is the picture as Independent Television goes into its fourth vigorous year. The ITA believes that television should — as is sound radio — be free from restriction on the number of broadcasting hours allowed. These restrictions prevent the companies from embarking on numerous programmes of both general and specialised appeal — programmes for women, for younger children, experimental programmes and programmes for developing local and regional interests. That is why the Postmaster-General has been asked to increase permitted viewing time by 20 hours a week.

More stations, too. will help expand the viewing public. Already in the year 1957-8 Scottish Television, Television Wales and the West, and Southern Television have joined the network. Coming along fast are stations in North-East England, East Anglia, South-East England, Northern Ireland. By the end of next year it is hoped that Independent Television will be reaching at least 93 per cent of the population. And plans are now being considered to extend even that tremendous figure by opening more stations — in North-East Scotland, South West England and in the Carlisle area.

Already, the potential audience for television has risen to more than 21,000,000 in 6,250.000 homes; and in these homes roughly three-quarters of the viewing time is spent watching Independent Television programmes. The average audiences for these programmes are on many days as large, if not larger, than the corresponding audiences throughout the whole country for BBC programmes.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Joanne Gray 15 January 2018 at 10:39 pm

And over 60 years on, ITV is now the dumbed down, cheap and nastily produced, regional identity destroying monster that the critics feared. And the BBC isn’t much better.

Harold Ramsbottom 17 January 2018 at 8:52 pm

@Joanne Gray: You are absolute correct in your assertion.

And viewers should never forget the persistent and repeated lies told by Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports whose Communications Bill shoveled the final dirt on to the coffin of the once public broadcasting content based on regional production for the Independent Television Service.

“There has been speculation that ITV companies, on a course as they are for ever-more consolidation, will move away from their regional identities and their regional commitments,” she told industry chiefs in a speech at the Social Market Foundation Seminar on Public Service Broadcasting yesterday. “Let me take this opportunity to stress how inaccurate those views are. Owners of Channel 3 Licences knew what their regional commitments were when they took the licences on. Any future buyer will know what they will be required to do. Regional character matters, and we will look to Ofcom to defend it with vigour.”

Tessa Jowell, June 2002

Whereas the reality achieved reflected in

EDM 235 of December 2004 “Ofcom AND ITV REGIONAL PROGRAMMING”

“That this House [of Commons] views with dismay proposals by Ofcom to reduce the public service obligation of ITV regional companies to produce high quality regional programming in the regions for viewers in those regions; believes that ITV has a strong tradition for producing regional political, current affairs, sport and documentary programmes specifically for each region; notes that the Ofcom review acknowledges that these regional programmes gain higher audiences on a slot-by-slot basis than general ITV output; expresses surprise that Ofcom is not linking discussion about reductions in ITV’s licence payments with the maintenance of regional public service obligations at least until digital switchover; and calls on Ofcom to rethink its strategy.”

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