Opening day for Channel Nine 

31 October 2019

From the Belfast Telegraph for 31 October 1959


Alternative TV services for 100,000 homes

“Belfast Telegraph” Reporter


THE OPENING TO-DAY by the Governor, Lord Wakehurst, of Ulster’s independent television service was bringing a still wider world of armchair entertainment into more than 100,000 homes in the Province.

UTV will give most viewers here choice of alternative programmes for the first time. More than 82 per cent. of the population is within the service area of the new Black Mountain transmitter.

The live transmission of the “big switch on” was coming from the television centre at Havelock House, Belfast, with Sir Laurence Olivier, who is a director of UTV, introducing the Governor.

Sir Laurence rehearses: Getting ready for his part in to-day’s opening of the UTV service is Sir Laurence Olivier, international star of stage and screen. Sir Laurence is a director of Ulster Television.

To-day also saw the culmination of round the clock working for TV engineers adapting sets to receive the new service and fitting new sets.

And at Havelock House UTV’s own staff of technicians and production team completed last minute arrangements this morning.

Going on the air in a surprise appearance were two well-known Ulster stage personalities – J. G. Devlin and Elizabeth Begley.

For them it was a break in rehearsals of “Shilling for the Evil Day” – which will be the first Ulster play to be seen.

They were appearing in the “Greetings to Ulster” feature compered by Macdonald Hobley [sic – McDonald Hobley] and featuring greetings from other Independent Television Studios.



Also in Belfast to-day for the opening of the service were Miss Beatrice Lille, Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, chairman of the I.T.A.; Mr. Norman Collins, chairman of the Independent Television Companies Association and Mr. Roy Thompson, chairman of Scottish Television.

Earlier to-day the Independent Television Authority held a meeting in Belfast and later the members visited the Black Mountain transmitter and the studio.


Sir Laurence ‘majestic’


TELEVISION critics in New York to-day gave “rave” notices on Sir Laurence Olivier’s U.S. television debut last night, describing his performance as “majestic,” and “the closest thing to dramatic perfection ever known on TV.”

Mr. Jack Gould, television editor of the “New York Times,” wrote on his performance in Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence”: “…a work of towering accomplishment.”



In Belfast street scene

While playing in the street six Belfast children became “stars” for to-day’s UTV switch-on.

Havelock House, pictured in the 1960s

The children, all from the neighbourhood of Havelock House, were picked from the street at random and taken before the cameras in a Hallowe’en party scene.

“Their parents are unaware that they will be on television,” a UTV spokesman said: “We wanted them to appear informally. The last thing we wanted was for them to be prepared for the scene.”





THE GOVERNOR, Lord Wakehurst, opens “Ulster Television” at 4-45. Yana is the guest star in the Jewel and Warriss Show (UTV, 8-0). “Sealed Cargo” is an exciting wartime story of espionage on the high seas (BBC, 8-35). Joseph Tomelty’s play, “A Shilling for the Evil Day” can be seen tomorrow at 9-5 p.m. (ITV).

To-night’s radio play is about a well-known crime reporter who find the dead body of another equally well-known crime reporter (Home, 9-15). To-morrow’s church service at 9-45 a.m. is conducted by Rev. Eric S. Barber, vicar of the Church of St. Philip and St. James, Holywood (Home).



5-55, Sport in Northern Ireland, 6-0. “Laramie.” 6-48, Your Sunday Weather. 6-50, Juke Box Jury. 7-15 Dixon of Dock Green. 7-45, Billy Cotton. 8-30, News Summary. 8-35, “Sealed Cargo.” 10-0, Sports Special. 10-30, The Water of Irwell. 11-0, News Summary. 11-5, “Frontier.” 11-30, The Weather and Close.


4-45, Opening of Ulster Television by the Governor of Northern Ireland, Lord Wakehurst. 5-10, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Richard Greene in “The Coming of Robin Hood.” 5-40, Independent Television News and Sports Results.

6-00, African Patrol. John Bentley in “The Baboon Laughed.” 6-30, Boy Meets Girls. Marty Wilde introduces Cherry Wainer with Don Storer, The Vernons Girls, Red Price, Jack Good’s Firing Squad and guest stars. 7-0, 77 Sunset Strip. “Lovely Lady, Pity Me.” 8-0 Saturday Spectacular. “The Jewel and Warriss Show.” 8-55, Independent Television News. 9-0, Wrestling. From the Empire Sports Stadium, York. 9-30, Great Movies of Our Time: “Task Force.” 11-30, The Florian Zabach Show. Music, songs and dancing for late night entertainment. 11-50, Close.



9-30, Service. 12-40, Weather and Farming. 1-30, Croeso. 2-0, Ask me Another. 2-25, “Lucky Partners”. 4-0, Phil Silvers. 4-25, News from the Zoos. 4-50, “Lenny’s Den”

5-0, “Redgauntlet”. 5-30 All Your Own. 5-55, Sunday Special. 6-0, News Summary and Weather. 7-0, Meeting Point. 7-25, News Summary. 7-30, Appeal. 7-35, Showtime. 8-20, “What’s My Line?” 8-50, “Pineapple Poll”. 9-35, News Summary. 9-40, “Windmill Near a Frontier”. 11-10, Epilogue, Weather and Close.


1-15, Motor-cycle Scramble from Farnley, Yorks. 1-55, Visit to a Hatchery. 2-20, Rich and Rare – Film of Ulster Life made by Lord Wakehurst. 2-45, Film: “Black Rider”, 4-1, Five-a-side Football. 4-30, Mantovani.

5-0, Adventures of a Jungle Boy. 5-30, Tomahawk. 6-0, Weather. 6-5, I.T.N. 6-15, Sunday Club for Teenagers. 7-0, Baptist attitude to Christening and Baptism. 7-25, I.T.N. 7-30, The Flying Doctor. 8-0, London Palladium. 9-10, I.T.N. 9-5, Armchair Theatre: “A Shilling for the Evil Day” – by Joseph Tomelty. 10-5, Cheyenne. 11-5, Musical Memories. 11-35, Close.


ITV a ‘confidence vote’ in Ulster

Premier speaks at luncheon


THE PRIME MINISTER, Lord Brookeborough, said this afternoon that the establishment of commercial television services in Northern Ireland was a vote of confidence in the stability and in the future of this country.

Lord Brookeborough was responding to the toast to the Government which was proposed by Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, chairman of the Independent Television Authority, at a luncheon in the Grand Central Hotel to mark the opening of the U.T.V. station.

ITA transmission map from the TVTimes

“The extension of commercial services is an important milestone,” the Premier continued. “As well as providing another channel of entertainment and instruction it will also give our local industry and commerce an additional advertising medium of proved worth.

“We welcome it as we welcome all progressive institutions and we wish it every success.

“U.T.V. is more, however, than just another medium of entertainment, education and advertising. It provides another valuable link in the chain of communications between Ulster and the mainland of Britain, and it can make its own contribution to the cementing of our common citizenship and heritage.”

Lord Brookeborough said that with sputniks bleeping their way through outer space and the moon “turning the other cheek” it was no small wonder that occasionally we appeared to take for granted the marvel of television.

No one, he thought, could really under-estimate its power and influence. It had broadened all our horizons, made neighbours of distant states and peoples, and it had altered the whole pattern of our lives.

The Prime Minister said that there were now 120,000 television licence holders in Ulster, which meant that our programmes would be available to one out of every thre [sic] families in the country.


Watch from 5 minutes into this Channel 4 programme from 22 September 1985 as Laurence Olivier opens UTV.


He wished success in this enterprise and hoped that its power and influence would be used to the general benefit of Northern Ireland.


Alderman Robin Kinahan, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, responding to the toast to the City and County Borough of Belfast, paid tribute to the B.B.C. Now there was competition, but we should remember that the B.B.C. had served us excellently down through the years. It had brought local talent to the fore.

This toast was proposed by Colonel A. O’N. Chichester, a member of the Independent Television Authority.

Proposing the toast to Ulster Television, Mr. B. Sendall, Deputy Director-General of the I.T.A. said that four years ago not very many more than 200,000 homes were looking at I.T.V. to-night there could be be about four and a quarter million.

In homes which were able to choose between the two television services, I.T.V.’s share of the total time was rarely less than 70 per cent.

Mr. Sendall was deputising for Sir Robert Frazer, Director General, I.T.V., [sic] who is indisposed.

The Earl of Antrim, who is chairman of Ulster Television Limited, responded to this toast.

The toast to the Governor of Northern Ireland was proposed by Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick.


Russ J Graham writes: Gosh, how interminable does that luncheon sound? Basil Brooke, Viscount Brookeborough, had been prime minister of Northern Ireland since 1943, and would continue to serve as such until 1963. His speech contains the usual political point-scoring from Unionists (if he had been a Nationalist, there would’ve been just as much point-scoring; some things never change). I’d take issue with him saying nobody could under-estimate the power and influence of television. It’s very easy to underestimate it, but quite hard to overestimate it, which is probably what he meant.

For the rest of the opening day, by 2019 standards the selection of a group of children playing in the street, dragging them into the studio and not telling their parents seems downright creepy, not to say illegal. So somethings do change.

The programmes on BBCtv and the new UTV this opening weekend show how the BBC is still very much providing a safe, middle-class 1950s television service, whilst ITV are firmly heading into their 1960s golden age. That said, the proper first programme on UTV is, of course, the ATV/ITC series The Adventures of Robin Hood, which UTV are running from the start.


With thanks to Colm O’Rourke, Richard Logue, Con Logue and Damien Cahill.

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