Tonight’s ABC North… in 1966 

26 March 2019

1966 was a very good year for Independent Television, mainly because the ITV companies were pulling out all the stops ahead of the forthcoming contract reallocation competition in 1967. The best way to look good in front of the Independent Television Authority was, after all, to have the best Independent Television programmes.

  • Adult education programmes had been a big hit for ITV. Initially they were shoved very much off-peak – Ulster Television’s Midnight Oil slot was well named – but the subjects were of sufficient interest to both the casual viewer keen to improve him or herself and those formally studying in technical colleges and night school that they started to creep into more active slots. On Sundays, the programmes had been squeezed into 45 minutes before the Morning Service; they soon broke out into the two hours after – by popular request – and then spread into Saturdays as well, with an hour’s worth before the sport.
  • The adult education slots were advertless, but the spaces where the adverts should’ve been were still valuable – they could be shifted into the peak, where they were worth a fortune. Such programmes were inexpensive to make, so they more than earned their costs back. And getting people to turn on the set and tune it to Band-III meant that ITV was liable to keep that audience when the TV was switched on “properly” for the evening – it was more trouble than it was worth to get up and turn the knob if the programmes weren’t terrible – no remote controls here!
  • The programmes were made without a middle slot for adverts, but presentation practice, in an era of lacing up videotape or setting telecine equipment running, left the same space between each programme’s end and the start of the next one as if adverts were to go there. This space was filled by the duty announcer at each company, who would spend 30 seconds plugging the accompanying pamphlet, booklet or book for each programme and inviting viewers to send a postal order – for anything from a shilling for a pamphlet to a pound for a book (sorry, there was money to be made here) – to get the appropriate supporting or study materials. Send your postal order to, say, Television House, Mount Street, Manchester 1 (for ABC) or City Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (for Tyne Tees).

  • The rest of the time was filled with trailers, which were almost always the duty announcer over a slide: the audience was sufficiently small to make it not worthwhile lacing up the video to run an unedited 30-second clip from tonight’s episode of The Avengers. The announcer would have to sell the show in excited tones without the help of any moving visuals.
  • We’re on air this morning first with Say it in Russian from TTT. There are reasons for both teaching Russian and for this long-running series coming from Tyne Tees. This is the height of the Cold War, but efforts always continued to make merchant sailors (not armed navy sailors) comfortable in the places that they had to berth on long voyages or when trading, sometimes for weeks at a time. It was in the interests of both sides, nevertheless, to silently restrict the movements of these sailors – after all, a considerable number were obviously going to be under the pay of the KGB or MI6 and reporting back what they saw. By having just a few ports that were “properly equipped” to deal with cross-Iron Curtain trade, it was easier to keep an eye on what the sailors were doing. For the UK, Newcastle-upon-Tyne was that main port (with Hull used as an overspill). Therefore there were a lot of Soviet sailors hanging about: having English people – landladies, shopkeepers, police, prostitutes – that could conduct at least a basic conversation with them was a welcoming gesture.
  • A Plain Man’s Guide to his Money – note the sexist title – was wildly popular for a piece of adult education and the series was consequently oft repeated. Alastair Burnet is a natural choice for main presenter, being a well-known face for ITN and Rediffusion’s This Week but mostly because of his long association with The Economist (he’s the editor of the magazine as of this transmission, but was probably associate editor and leader writer at the time of recording). The programme is produced for ABC by Ted Childs, who would go on to found Thames Television‘s Euston Films subsidiary before becoming Controller of Drama at Central when they were all-but dominating the genre on ITV in the 1980s.
  • All these programmes come before Saturday’s mini-peak with World of Sport. This programme is deliberately timed for 1pm, as 50- and 45-hour weeks were still the norm at the time: working class people often worked Saturday mornings in addition to the five weekdays. The sport is timed to allow them to get home, have dinner, and settle down in front of the TV.

  • This programme was often credited in the Northern TVTimes and the Midlands’ TVWorld as ABC’s World of Sport. Not this week, sadly.
  • ATV‘s Lew Grade didn’t see the point of sport – hence ABC producing World of Sport from Teddington rather than ATV London from Elstree. He had tried to replace ITV’s coverage of it with light entertainment, and had even managed to get general interest material inserted into Let’s Go!, one of World of Sport‘s predecessor programmes. But the viewing figures told an obvious truth: those watching sport on a Saturday afternoon wanted to watch sport. Cutting away to a circus or a beauty contest or to something other than sport didn’t suit people who wanted to watch sport. They would tune away to Grandstand over on the BBC and could easily be lost for the rest of the night. World of Sport was designed to keep that audience in place, and the economics of ITV basically meant that ATV had to pay for a third of it. This payment was made with ill-grace; and ATV wasn’t willing to risk the sport costing more than the adverts would bring in. Thus while ABC’s contributions are all billed as being ABC productions, ATV’s offerings are merely ATV presentations – the actual work having been farmed out to other ITV contractors – principally Rediffusion who are off-air anyway – with ATV only providing the producer-director.
  • Hours of broadcasting – on both television and radio, BBC and ITV – were highly regulated by the government at this time. At weekends, there were 15 hours available for general entertainment on television across both days. Any other broadcasting had to either be exempt (adult education and religion) from these rules or subject to its own quota (sport and outside broadcasts). General entertainment begins at 5.15pm on both BBC-1 and ABC/ITV to maximise the amount of popular programmes in the peak.
  • 5.15pm on Saturdays, of course, belonged to Doctor Who over on BBC-1. Tonight is the finale of what’s now known as ‘The Ark’, a four-part serial with William Hartnell’s Doctor being accompanied by Steven and, for the first time, the ill-fated Dodo. ABC doesn’t even try to compete. Mad Movies is a cheap filler, provided by Mitchell Monkhouse Associates (and thus an ABC presentation rather than an ABC production) and making use of Bob Monkhouse’s huge archive of classic film; and it’s a repeat at that. Score one for the BBC there.

  • Brian Matthew has moved on from Thank Your Lucky Stars (5.50pm) to build his radio career. In his place comes Jim Dale – yes, that Sir James Dale of Carry On… fame, who had had a mildly successful career as a pop singer in the late 1950s (and was still releasing albums into the 1970s).

  • The 1954 Ealing Studios drama film (yes, they made drama too) The Rainbow Jacket is at 6.35pm. It has quite the cast – Robert Morley, Wilfred Hyde-White, Bill Owen, Sid James, Honor Blackman, Sam Kydd – most with the bulk of their fame still ahead of them at the time the movie was made. Fella Edmonds is introduced with a grand ‘also starring’ – the 14-year-old was a promising child star, but like most child stars saw his career peter out before he was 17.
  • The Arthur Haynes Show (8.20pm) was an ATV sketch comedy with a strong musical element. The writer was Johnny Speight, whose next work directly after this would be for the BBC – the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, which premiered in the June. One of the musical acts is the group The Fortunes, who were at number 16 in the charts this week with The Golden Ring, but were perhaps most famous for their song Caroline, which had been adopted by the off-shore radio station of the same name. This being an ATV production, the linking and backing tunes are provided inevitably by their Head of Music, Jack Parnell.

  • The General Election is on Thursday. This leads to a problem over party political broadcasts, which were the product of a written agreement between the Postmaster General, the BBC, the ITA and the main political parties and were simulcast on all three television channels. Traditionally, they’re only on weekdays and are spread through the year. However, for a general election, they all bunch up. The government of the day – Harold Wilson’s Labour party – gets the final one before polling day. Since polling day is Thursday, this will be on Tuesday – the night before the polls open isn’t allowed. HM Loyal Opposition – Ted Heath’s Conservatives – the next biggest party, gets the day before that, the Monday. That should give the third party – Jo Grimond’s Liberals – the antepenultimate broadcast on Sunday, but PPBs weren’t allowed on Sunday. That pushes them back to today, a Saturday. Of course, Friday was available, but that’s a long time before polling day. So Saturday it is. However, the Liberals always felt very disadvantaged by this. Less so this year, perhaps, where, at least in the North and Midlands, the viewers are all tuning in early for The Avengers, boosting the figures for Grimond’s piece to camera.

  • Wilson had called this election because his majority – 4 – was unworkable, especially as he had a core of about 5 MPs who were implacably opposed to nationalisation whilst he planned to take the iron and steel industries back into public hands. We won’t give away the result of the election, just in case you haven’t seen them yet, but next year’s Iron and Steel Act would create the British Steel Corporation on 28 July.
  • The Avengers tonight is ‘Honey for the Prince’, the last ever episode of the series to be made in black and white and the last ever new primetime programme in monochrome to be broadcast on the ABC Network in the US. This fact was even subject to a publicity campaign by both ABCs, at the UK company’s suggestion to overcome the US network’s reluctance to go back into black and white. The next series of The Avengers, bolstered by the money made selling this one to the US ABC Network, would be entirely in colour.

  • At 10.20pm it’s ABC Armchair Theatre. This – now sadly lost – edition keeps up the strand’s tradition of taking subjects from strange angles. In this case, some very strange angles – not least comedian Charlie Drake, who here is playing a ‘straight’ tragic role with no comedy of his own… in a comedy-drama. This is not an unusual thing: comedic actors often do brilliantly as tragic figures – both Frankie Howerd and Benny Hill excelled as ‘Bottom’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the stage and on television respectively. With Drake providing the tragedy, the comedy is largely left up to Patrick Troughton, who is playing a talking flea called Pete in Drake’s flea circus.

  • Drake brings his favourite director, Shaun O’Riordan, with him from his ATV series The Worker. Ever versatile, O’Riordan will be back behind the cameras at ATV in the next programme.
  • Things are about to get complicated. 11.20pm sees the half-hour weekly topical show On the Braden Beat from ATV London. This needs to ride in on the coattails of Armchair Theatre, because political stuff is seen as audience poison by Lew Grade. But ITN has also got to get a look in with its live Election ’66 news roundup. However, being live, if it goes on after midnight, the technicians at Rediffusion London, who are making the show for ITN – we told you it was complicated – will want their unsociable hours payments increasing. This will double – if not triple – the cost of the programme. With Sir Lew unwilling to move Braden and ITN unwilling to pay the huge costs of a programme that crosses the midnight threshold, the compromise is for Braden to run for 15 minutes, ITN to have its 20 minutes, and then Braden to resume afterwards. The result is an extremely strange schedule, even by the standards of the time.

  • The above clip is one of our favourites, featuring as it does the voice of Mrs Bella Waterworth, Kif Bowden-Smith’s late grandmother, who bankrolled the early days of Transdiffusion. She’s been asked, nicely, to stop talking so TBS can record the music, and she has no intention of complying with such an impertinent request.
  • We’re closing the day at about 12.15am with a short religious talk. This was pretty standard across the ITV network, with the notable exception of Granada, who avoided both religion and playing the national anthem at closedown, to much pearl-clutching in 1956 (the ‘scandal’ of this had died away by this point… if not by 1957). This means that the North gets an epilogue on Saturdays and Sundays only, whilst the neighbouring Midlands gets one every day of the week. To facilitate this, the programme was usually made by Alpha Television, the joint ABC-ATV studios in Aston, Birmingham. Not tonight, however. ABC has brought in a speaker from Liverpool Cathedral and will be doing this via the North region, so this will have been badged as an ABC Production. The question is, did ABC put Canon Naylor on a train to Didsbury, or did they shove him in their tiny, one-man news studioette created especially for the show ABC of the North on the top floor of the ABC Forum cinema on Lime Street in Liverpool?
  • A side-effect of the split epilogue was the occasional vicar doing a series of talks and forgetting that three fifths of his audience hadn’t seen his previous ones or wouldn’t see his later ones. Starting a talk with “As I was saying yesterday…” or finishing with “Tomorrow evening I’ll tell you…” happened rarely, but often enough to suggest that the staff at Alpha were forgetting this too.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Alan Keeling 26 March 2019 at 3:39 pm

Being a fan of old silent film comedies, I would certainly love to see Mad Movies repeated again, preferably on the Talking Pictures channel. Those old slapstick clips wonderfully narrated by the late, great Bob Monkhouse would be great to see again after all this time.

steve brown 26 March 2019 at 9:21 pm

On Thank Your Lucky stars,Cliff was singing his latest release,Blue Turns To Grey,written by Jagger and Richards,Dave Dee and his mob were singing Hold Tight and Dusty premiered the song that was to be by April 30 her only #1,You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me

Steve Gray 27 March 2019 at 6:55 pm

Nice to see the content of our recent chats has found its way into the articles! This one is jam-packed – a real showcase for what you do at Transdiffusion.

Good questions and an occasional dash of conjecture (or vice versa) from readers brings the best out of the research and can bring the past alive, so I’m happy to oblige with more of that. Stay tuned.

Arthur Nibble 29 March 2019 at 11:23 pm

Haven’t seen one of these TV schedule reviews for months, and I’ve missed them. Some absolute nuggets of information here – ATV’s hate of sport and farming out their productions, Rediffusion’s unknown weekend contribution, and the hitherto unheard legend of Bella.

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