I.T.V. in the Midlands opened 

22 July 2019 tbs.pm/69257

Ceremony in Birmingham



From the Birmingham Post for Friday 17 February 1956

An audience resplendent in evening dress but shivering with cold watched the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Ald. A. L. Gibson, officially open the first Midlands Independent Television programme in the Birmingham Town Hall last night.

In his opening speech, the Lord Mayor said: “As Lord Mayor of the city of Birmingham, I think it is fitting that the first regional centre of the Independent Television Authority should be in Birmingham, the largest city of the largest city of the provinces, and the hub of the great Industrial Midlands.

“It is also most fitting that this inaugural ceremony should be in Birmingham’s Town Hall, a building more than 100 years old, situated In the heart of the city.

‘Television Highway’

“Though the Town Hall is being used for this opening ceremony, programmes will come from the new studios which have been created out of the old Astoria Cinema.

“This cinema, formerly one of the theatres of the city, is on the road leading to Lichfield, near to which Is the aerial from which this programme is being broadcast.

“It is a coincidence that the recently opened B.B.C. television studios are but half a mile nearer the city centre on the same road. Even more of a coincidence is that the road leads both to Sutton Coldfield, the site of the Sutton Coldfield television aerial and to Lichfield, the site of the Independent Television aerial. Indeed. It occurred to me that should the city want at any time to rename Lichfield Road, Television Highway would be the obvious choice.

‘Foster Culture’

“It is our hope that those responsible for the programmes will foster the culture and skill of the Midlands and that possibly even the advertising time will have bias in favour of the many excellent products of Birmingham and it’s neighbours.”

“I am pleased to-night to be supported by my fellow chief citizens from many Midland cities and towns which the Midland Regional I.T.A. will serve.

Among the civic heads with me here on the platform is the Lord Mayor of Nottingham, who, as Sheriff of that ancient city last year, is featured later this evening in the Robin Hood episode. I do not know whether the Lord Mayor of another ancient city, Coventry, who is also here, proposes to appear on some future programme with Lady Godiva.

‘All Midlanders’

“I am also pleased to be supported by the chairman and members of the Independent Television Authority and the representatives of A.B.C. Television Ltd., and Associated Television Ltd., who will provide the programmes. In their presence I have much pleasure on declaring the Midland Regional Independent Television Service now formally open.

“I wish all of those responsible tor providing the service success in their efforts. I hope the service will bring pleasure and entertainment to all of you now looking in on us and to all who will view the programmes in the future.

“Even though some of us, like myself, emigrated to the Midlands from other parts of the country years ago, we are now all Midlanders. We shall watch the progress of this new service with that critical appreciation for which, in the entertainment world in particular, the Midlands are already renowned.”

‘Reaction Awaited

Tyrone Power arriving at New Street Station for the opening of the Midlands ITV.

Sir Kenneth Clark, chairman of the Independent Television Authority, said before the official opening that the Midland region was the home of independent men and women and it was fitting that Birmingham should be the first city outside London to have independent television.

The reaction of the Midlands to independent television programmes was awaited with the greatest interest. Would the Midlands want more solid fare than the spoiled people of the Metropolis? he asked. That remained to be seen.

It was a region of sturdily independent views. Independent television would not forget that. It depended more than did the B.B.C. on popular good-will, and what was given was generally dependent on the viewers. It could not, however, be an irresponsible medium.

Gift of Orchids

About 500 persons who had been invited to see the official opening found a chilly atmosphere in the Town Hall and many of the women were glad of the furs they had brought with them. As each entered the foyer the was presented with an orchid.

The seals on the ground floor of the hall had been cleared away and television sets stood at many points around the sides.

A reception was held by the Lord Mayor in the Council House before the opening and both were filmed.

On the television screens around the hall “I.T.A. — The Midlands” remained steady for some time. Then there was a brief showing of the tuning signal before the interior of the Town Hall was shown. The picture slowly closed on, first, Sir Kenneth Clark, and then the Lord Mayor. There were a few minutes for the speeches, then came the first advertising film… for a Birmingham firm of chocolate manufacturers

Chill Explained

When I enquired of the attendant who looks after the heating of the Town Hah about the chilly atmosphere he said that he was using the boilers at as high a temperatur as he dared.

The unsual coldness was apparent due to many of the doors in the hall being left open to allow guests to pass to and from the dance hall, bars and buffets.

Russ J Graham writes:

First, before you click the ‘Report an Error’ button: yes, the typesetting of this article descends into more and more typos as the article goes on. It’s not us: there’s a newspaper printers’ strike on and it’s affecting the output of all the presses in the country.

Secondly, the coy mention of “a Birmingham firm of chocolate manufacturers” is just lovely. Who can they possibly be? They’re certainly not getting free advertising out of the Post for their products.

Anyway, on to the meat of the matter. In a little over two months, Independent Television will arrive in the north, to a lukewarm reception from the Liverpool Echo. The Birmingham Post is much happier with the coming competition than the Echo managed, but still doesn’t bother with reviewing the programmes, presentation or style of the new ATV Midlands. Instead it concentrates upon the opening ceremony itself, as with all of these things a dry and dusty affair with interminable speeches from people more used to opening new public lavatories and trunk roads.

The programmes themselves are the typical opening night run through of a mix of things you’ll be seeing if you stay tuned in the days ahead.

ATV Midlands comes on air for the first time at 7.45pm, partially because of the need to get everybody at the Town Hall seated and lubricated, and partially because the ‘toddler’s truce’ still exists and television cannot legally broadcast between 6pm and 7pm. There’s no point coming on air before 6 as they’ll just have to go off again.

The first ‘real’ programme is, as you’d expect from ATV, a variety special. Double act Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin present turns from Barbara Lyons (star of the sitcom Life with the Lyons that was on the BBC Television Service but would soon make the jump to ITV), Richard Hearne (aka Mr Pastry) and movie star Tyrone Power.

ITC’s The Adventures of Robin Hood is next, with the first episode, filmed in 1955 ready for the start of ITV, sold across the world and endlessly repeated for the rest of television’s black-and-white period. That’s followed by boxing as Stepney’s Al Browne (the Post has ‘Al Brown’, a completely different boxer) tries to maim Birmingham’s own Johnny Mann at the Embassy Sportsdrome in the city. Mann won on points after 8 rounds.

ATV wouldn’t be ATV without slipping in Lew Grade’s prized buy from America – I Love Lucy. This isn’t the first episode: ATV Midlands starts with where ATV London has already reached; each ITV company that came on over the next three years would also start with whatever episode ATV London had reached by that point.

A bit more variety – this time locally sourced – sees us up to the Epilogue. This is, oddly, credited to ABC, the not-yet-launched weekend provider in the Midlands. The Epilogue in the Midlands was made at Alpha, the joint-venture studios co-owned by ATV and ABC. But all local ATV Midlands productions were made at Alpha – the offices on Edmund Street had no studio facilities. There was Elstree, of course, but it wasn’t used for such piddling little items like the Epilogue. When the North region opened, ABC would show the Alpha-produced Epilogue in Saturday and Sunday nights, whilst Granada declined to have religion in almost any form appear on their portion of the week. But that’s about 10 weeks away, so even with the mental gymnastics required to make the Epilogue an ABC rather than an Alpha programme, it’s a bit early to be using that as a reason.

A final thing: note how the listings are laid out. The most popular channel – the BBC Light Programme – goes first. The BBC Home Service goes second, with the Midland region predominating and London, North, Welsh and West services – all easily receivable in Birmingham, albeit with indifferent quality depending on atmospherics – following. The BBC Third Programme brings up the rear of the radio services, and we’re on to television.

And here we see the bind that the newspapers found themselves in. Since 1946 (in London) and 1949 (in Birmingham) they’d simply listed the BBC Television Service as “Television”. After all, there’s no need to specify in any greater detail when all of television was just the one channel. With the coming of ITV, it was suddenly necessary to define what was meant by “television”. Virtually all newspapers did the same thing: the BBC remained as just “Television”, whilst the new ITV was called all manner of things depending on the whim of the sub-editor that day. Here, the Post uses “Television” and “Commercial TV”. Others said “Television” and “Commercial”, or “Television” and “Independent”, or “Television” and “CTV”, or, must ludicrously of all “Television” and “Alternative Programmes”.

This would settle down over the course of the 1950s to “BBC Television” and “Independent Television” in areas with a weekday/weekend split, and “BBC Television” and the name of the company in most areas with a 7-day contractor – although there’s a notable reluctance to call TWW by name, with newspapers often saying “Wales and West ITV”.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Richard Jones 22 July 2019 at 12:51 pm

ATV Elstree was, at this point, still a dream, a plan. The ATV London transmission control site on Foley Street and a number of London theatres were the bulk of ATVs electronic operation at this time… Yes, OK, I’ll be on the naughty step…

Joanne Gray 23 July 2019 at 11:04 am

The crediting of the Epilogue to ABC – this might not refer to the weekend station. For the first couple of weeks of transmitting, ATV broadcast as ABC, until a compromise was reached to change their name, thus avoiding confusion with ABC the weekend programme provider.

Russ J Graham 23 July 2019 at 5:37 pm

For the first couple of weeks in London, Joanne (September and October 1955). This is February 1956 and the Midlands. ATV was already only known as ATV by this point, and only ever broadcast in the Midlands as ATV.

Joanne Gray 23 July 2019 at 7:46 pm

Doh! A few hours after posting that comment, I realised how wrong I was. Thanks for correcting my senior moment, lol.

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