ITV’s Regional Strength 

9 October 2020


TV & Radio 1976

From TV & Radio 1976, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1975

The television service created by the Independent Broadcasting Authority is both plural and regional. Fifteen programme companies are involved in ITV as a whole and make contributions of varying size and character to it. Each of the fifteen companies has a precise responsibility, under the Authority, for everything transmitted in its own particular area of the country. Each company, by its physical presence and its programming, is closely identified with the community it serves and with the people in that community. This structure, complex though it may be, provides a blend of central strength and local responsibility which in the last twenty years has come to be recognised as a valuable way of serving the public interest.

The Authority might have established just a few programme companies, all based on London. It decided, however, that companies were likely to be more responsive to the tastes and aspirations of their audiences if they had a direct responsibility for distinct franchises covering specific populations; and that, since a national television service must rely to a large extent on a supply of networked programmes, these should as far as possible reflect the outlook of the main regions of the country and not that of the metropolis alone. The Authority was also guided by the principle that entry to the system should be open to as many programme companies as possible, within common sense financial and operational limits. It believed that this was socially desirable and in the spirit of Parliament’s decision to bring monopoly in television to an end.

After establishing a basic network of companies in London, the Midlands and the North, the Authority looked, in each area opened up by new transmitters, for companies that would have effective links with their regions and would have local representations in the shareholdings and on the boards. This led to the present system of fourteen separate ITV areas each served by a single company during the whole week, apart from London where the franchise is split between weekday and weekend companies.

Television needs great resources not only of professional talent and skill but of modern and ever-developing equipment, management – and money. So the objective of having a variety of television companies, as close as possible to their own communities, needs to be reconciled with seeing that the system has enough resources to provide, collectively and individually, a comprehensive and high quality service.


Still from the series 'Sam'

Sam. The differences in the companies are not merely regional. They are also differences of approach, of a kind which enhance the vitality of the system as a whole. [Granada]


Only a fair degree of prosperity makes it possible on the one hand to provide national programmes of a quality that will equal, and on occasions surpass, that of the BBC, and on the other hand to support the local vigour and enterprise which will make each company effective, and almost personal, in winning the loyalty of its own region. Achieving these two aims is expensive: and there have been occasions when the Authority was urged to reduce the number of companies in order that more of the income might flow into national programme production. But the Authority still wishes to pursue both aims: it wants to see the whole system financially strong and also to redistribute that strength within the system, in order that the local viewer may receive both the best that the country can produce on television and the particular programmes that only his own region can provide.


Annette Crosbie bends over the deathbed of Edward VII

Edward the Seventh. The main criterion for the presence of any programme on the network must be its ability to give delight and to give interest to a very large audience. [ATV]


Thus it has been a central feature of the Authority’s policy to support smaller regional companies by a form of subsidy, through charging differential rentals and arranging differential prices for the programmes which the companies buy and sell among themselves in their networking arrangements. The Authority’s rentals take account of what each company can afford.

Richard Whiteley in a studio

Calendar People. The substantial production of local interest material in each ITV area attracts strong loyalty and a high measure of audience appreciation. Here Richard Whiteley interviews the Earl and Countess of Harewood. [Yorkshire]

Similarly, the smaller companies cannot be expected to produce more than a limited number of programmes of their own. Their first commitment is to programmes of specific regional interest. Any additional resources can then be used for enterprises of general interest and, while companies vary in their attitude towards such productions, an increasing number of programmes from the regional companies are networked. Much the largest part of the networked output of ITV, however, comes from the five major companies – ATV, Granada, London Weekend, Thames, Yorkshire – whose areas cover the largest populations and who consequently can obtain the highest advertising revenue and afford the facilities for continuous network output. The smaller companies rely on this output for the provision of a continuous, acceptable, and highly professional schedule; and the amounts they pay for it are fixed according to their own advertising income.

The ITV companies’ production of local interest material is on average double that of the BBC regional centres. Moreover, it attracts strong loyalty: research figures show that the ITV audiences for these programmes are greater than those for the BBC – in some regions markedly so – and that the ITV programmes gain higher measures of audience appreciation. The audiences for ITV local interest programmes are indeed often as great as, or greater than, the numbers viewing the national ITN news and the networked current affairs programmes. In terms of the amount of local programming produced and the audience’s response to it, the outcome of the Authority’s policy is therefore encouraging: companies do cater for and stimulate the interest of people in their own specific regions.

A policeman talks to two boys

Police File. Each ITV company plans its schedule to meet local circumstances. Despite certain geographical and technical problems viewers in the Channel Islands are able to view a high proportion of local interest programmes. Sergeant Peter Castle, seen talking with two young viewers in St Peter Port, presents the weekly crime information programme. [Channel]

The ITV service means organisations and individuals that are relatively close at hand. The professionals who appear on the screen, as well as those who work behind the screen, are often widely known in person and treated as friends rather than as remote voices from the metropolis. There are also opportunities such as could not exist within a centralised system for local groups and individuals to appear on the screen; and these often find a particular rapport with their region thanks to the existence of a local ITV company.

Moreover, the existence of a number of independent companies means that the best talent can profit from the opportunity either to progress in a particular organisation or to find employment elsewhere. Before the development of Independent Television there was only one outlet for creative talent and only one employer for anyone wanting to make a career in broadcasting.

Within each company, because its size is relatively small, there can be ready communication between the studio floor and the executives responsible for the budget and overall performance of the company. This does much to ensure that programme producers have a sense of controlling the output which they could not have if all those who worked for ITV belonged to one vast monolithic organisation, and it is reasonable to suggest that there is in consequence a higher degree of satisfaction and of identification with the television service on the part of those who work in it.

Notwithstanding the distinction in function between the network companies and the regional companies, there are a number of opportunities for programmes from regional companies to reach the network. The Network Programme Committee, on which all companies and the Authority itself are represented, provides a means by which regional companies may obtain network showing of programmes made for national (and international) audiences.

The discretionary freedom of a regional company does not consist simply of its ability to make programmes of its own. It consists also of the ability to set up a pattern of ownership and control which differs from that in other regions; to identify with the local public in ways that do not simply appear on the television screen; and to plan a local schedule, including networked or bought-in offerings, that reflects the company’s own assessment of the tastes and preferences of its viewers. To have a variety of decision points may be clumsy at times, but it is worth aiming for, and preserving, in a democratic society.


Three men gather in a schoolroom

Y Gwrthwynebwr. This memorable drama series with Welsh dialogue portrayed historic figures who defied authority in their lifetimes and included a play about the Irish revolutionary Padraig Pearse, and his comrade James Connelly. [HTV Wales]


Despite the regional strength of ITV, the networked programmes are of the highest importance in providing a true alternative service to the BBC. It would be destructive to neglect this through enthusiasm for the diversity and local attachment which the regional system provides. The achievements of ITV in such fields as news, current affairs, drama and documentaries could not come about unless the system had a very marked central strength. This strength derives in part from a central effort where this is appropriate: national and international news, for example, requires a deployment of forces that no one company could provide, and ITN well illustrates the power of combined endeavour, principally through the news company itself covering the events of the day on behalf of the individual companies and also through its use of the offerings that any one company can make to cover the news in its area. But the central strength also derives, in areas other than news and sport, from the fact that a number of different organisations supply the network output. It is true that a single monolithic organisation gains some of the advantages of scale; but it also tends to lose that variety of approach which characterises the itv networked product.



Working at self-supporting regional centres, creative broadcasters have a strong opportunity in ITV to find material and inspiration in their own surroundings and communities. The differences of style in the companies are not merely regional. They are also differences of approach, of a kind which enhance the vitality of the system as a whole. The main criterion for the presence of any programme on the network must be its ability to give delight and to give interest to a very large audience. Its quality is likely to be enhanced by the fact that the makers of programmes work in a number of separate places, have various different approaches, and enjoy a closeness to the decision-makers which would not be possible in a more centralised organisation.



The Pattern of Local Programming

The Independent Broadcasting Authority Act requires that ‘a suitable proportion’ of programmes should appeal specially to the tastes and outlook of viewers in each area. Under the terms of the Authority’s contracts each of the fifteen companies is required to observe this provision. Each company, in consultation with the Authority, must draw up a quarterly schedule of its intended weekly pattern of broadcasts; and the Authority will not approve a schedule until it is satisfied that all its requirements as regards balance, timing and content have been met.


A man shakes hands limply with Derek Batey

Border Television’s Sports Personaility for 1974, Mitch Graham, receiving the award from Derek Batey, Border’s Assistant Controller of Programmes (Production)


Local news and news magazines are important elements in the schedules of all the companies, and represent a large part of the production of the smaller companies. But not all of it. All companies produce from time to time other kinds of material: light entertainment, education, religion, documentary, drama. Each company plans its schedule to meet its particular local circumstances, with specialist advice or consultation in the fields of education and religion, and each company is responsible for the presentation of the programmes to viewers. So the ITV service in any area, though it contains important common network elements, is characteristically different from that in any other area.

To illustrate some of the many varied aspects of regional television a brief look is taken here at just two of ITV’s fourteen areas: Channel Islands and Wales.

Channel Islands

Three children, Oscar and the presenter/puppeteer

Three young visitors meet Channel Television’s announcer Gordon de Ste Croix and station mascot Oscar Puffin.

The Channel Islands are fairly simple to describe as a geographical region – eight inhabited islands and a dozen empty ones. The total population is only half that of Plymouth. But as far as regional broadcasting goes, Channel Television, the smallest of ITV’s programme companies, has more problems than many others. The islands differ, not only in language, traditions, industries and attitudes, but also in government. The four major Channel Islands each have their own legislature.

All this means that news and current affairs programmes have to be balanced, not just according to content, but also according to the island of origin of each item. No British election or Parliamentary broadcasts are transmitted. For the French-speaking population a French newscast, Actualites, is transmitted on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and a French language current affairs programme, Commentaires, is presented every Tuesday evening. And, because of duplication or even triplication of place names, advertisers have to make sure their potential customers know exactly to which island the commercial refers.

Compensation comes from the fact that the end result is that the people of Channel Television are particularly close to the people of the islands. Viewers who want to compliment (or complain) do so not by letter or telephone but by popping in to the Guernsey or Jersey studios to deliver their message personally. And one five year old knows that he can visit station mascot Oscar Puffin every day on his way home from school, and advertisers can and do use CTV at least 30 times a year to find their lost dogs and budgies.

Darlledu yng Nghymru

Yn ystod y flwyddyn bu digwyddiadau hanesyddol ym myd darlledu yng Nghymru. Bu, wrth gwrs, estyniad pellach yn y gwasanaeth UHF, ac fe ddathlodd Swansea Sound ei ben blwydd ar ol blwyddyn gyntaf lwyddiannus, ond heb unrhyw amheuaeth, adroddiad Pwyllgor Crawford oedd y testun trafod pwysicaf.

Fe argymhellodd y Pwyllgor hwn dylai’r bedwaredd sianel gael ei rhyddhau ar unwaith i ateb gofynion arbennig Cymru ac i geisio datrys y broblem o ddarlledu dwyieithog. Disgwylir i’r BBC a Theledu Annibynnol i gydweithio i gynhyrchu rhyw 25 awr o raglenni teledu Cymraeg rhyngddynt bob wythnos. Cafodd y syniad groeso cyffredinol, a chytunodd yr Awdurdod, HTV a’r BBC i gydweithio dan y gyfundrefn newydd. Derbyniwyd yr egwyddor hefyd gan y Llywodraeth ac fe benodwyd gweithgor gan y Swyddfa Gartref i ystyried y problemau ymarferol. Mae’r Arglwydd Harlech, Cadeirydd HTV, ymysg eraill, wedi pwysleisio pwysigrwydd gwcithredu’r cynllun hwn cyn gynted ag sydd bosibl.

Wales and West of England

Three people gather around a chef to try his cooking

Focus. Jan Leeming (right) and Bruce Hockin (left) discuss the merits of meat substitutes in an edition of this current affairs series from the Bristol studios. [HTV West]

A contract area stretching from Anglesey to the borders of Devon and Wiltshire; a population of about four million; three distinctive sets of viewers (English in the West of England, bilingual speakers in Wales, and non-Welsh speakers in Wales); difficult geographical conditions – these are the main elements which present the providers of television in Wales and the West of England with an unusual challenge. They give HTV, the programme company for this area, one of the most varied roles in Independent Television – a role that requires the provision of English and Welsh programmes in different combinations for different services.

HTV provides two basic services, one of which includes Welsh-language programmes, and in addition there are variations to meet the particular needs of the communities served. To meet these requirements and to provide as full a coverage as is practicable in this difficult terrain calls for a very large number of transmitters. Already 53 UHF and 12 VHF transmitters are being used; and the IBA plans to bring a further 18 UHF transmitters on air within the next two years.

More programme hours are produced by HTV for this ‘mini-network’ than by any other regional company – about fifteen hours a week at the Bristol and Cardiff studios. This includes the production of three weekday news and news magazine programmes, one for the West Country (Report West), one for Wales in English (Report Wales), and one in the Welsh language (Y Dydd); and productions in English and Welsh cover all other programme fields.



The ITV Regions


Area Company IBA Transmitters by end 1976 Population Coverage*
The Borders and Isle of Man Border Television 15 4 505
Central Scotland Scottish Television 21 4 3,660
Channel Islands Channel Television 2 1 107†
East of England Anglia Television 6 2 3,100
Lancashire Granada Television 24 1 6,960
London Thames Television/LWT 14 1 11,480
Midlands ATV Network 20 3 8,220
North-East England Tyne Tees Television 13 1 2,475
North-East Scotland Grampian Television 22 5 915
Northern Ireland Ulster Television 6 3 1,325
South of England Southern Television 15 3 4,280
South-West England Westward Television 20 3 1,384
Wales and West of England HTV 62 12 3,730
Yorkshire Yorkshire Television 20 4 5,350


* Individuals of four years of age and over

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1 response to this article

Joanne 16 October 2020 at 7:23 am

46 years later, how times have changed. And, for the worse.

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