The franchise affair 

23 October 2020

300 hopefuls and Midlands is the ‘plum’


Cartoon of Lord Hill shuffling a pack of cards with ITV logos on them


Birmingham Post masthead

From the Birmingham Post for 22 March 1967

LORD THOMSON, in a revealing moment of jubilation, once described commercial television as a licence to print money. Like most generalisations, this is not altogether true, and in the early days of the operation a few fingers got badly burned. But nowadays the rewards are rich by any business standards; which is why competition for the 15 new programme contracts to come into operation next summer is such a fascinating struggle for power.

Lushest of the 15 is that for the Midlands, at present split between two contractors — ATV (Monday to Friday) and ABC (Saturday and Sunday) — but in future to be a single, all-the-week enterprise. Estimated net advertising revenue is £9.5m. [£180m in 2020, allowing for inflation]. This is after deduction of the statutory levy (25 per cent after the first £1.5m. [£28m] and 45 per cent after the next £6m [£113m]), but does not include the rental (now about £750,000 [£14m]) which has to be paid to the Independent Television Authority for the use of the authority-owned transmitters.

More than 300 application forms have been requested by prospectors for the 15 areas. The biggest number — 48 — has been for Yorkshire, a new area hived off the present North where Granada now holds the contract for five weekdays and ABC at the weekend. It is here that the bitterest of the battles will be fought.

Application forms already sent out from ITA’s Knightsbridge, London, headquarters break down as follows:- Yorkshire 48, London (weekday) and Central Scotland 29, London (weekend) and Midlands 28, Lancashire, South West and South 23, North East Scotland 22, North East, East of England, Border and Isle of Man and Channel Islands 21, Wales and West and Northern Ireland 20.

So far no completed forms have been returned. The closing date is not until April 15 and, apart from the delicate financial negotiations now taking place as new contenders seek possible alliances and understandings, the actual business of completing the form is extremely intricate, and not to be undertaken precipitately. Filling-up income-tax forms is child’s play by comparison.

What proportion of the forms will find their way back to Brompton Road is a matter for conjecture. In ITA eyes, some inquiries are “light-hearted if not actually frivolous.” But it is certain that all the present contractors will apply for many — and some, perhaps, for all — of the new contracts. This is simply a method of hedging bets, because the authority has made it clear that no applicant will get more than one contract.

Someone with a gift for a telling phrase has remarked that Lord Hill wields more patronage than any Englishman since Henry VIII. He and his colleagues on the ITA will be assigning a total of almost £69m [£1.3bn] to the lucky winners.

A broad hint has been dropped that there will be no rubber-stamping of existing contracts. Even so, it is a fair guess that present tenants will be at an advantage.


How does a contractor qualify? Three basic requirements must be met. A successful applicant must be of known financial strength and viability (a figure of £5m [£94m] assets has been mentioned as a probable minimum). It must command adequate technical expertise. And it must have what are loosely described “regional roots” in the area it serves.

All the present contractors are happily placed regarding the first two provisions. By no means all fulfil the third.

But regional identification is less simple than it sounds. Areas are determined by the signal range of the transmitters and by no means always conform to natural geographical patterns.

For instance, the Midlands, with one vertically polarised transmitter at Lichfield and another, horizontally polarised, at Membury, Wilts., covers a TV area extending from Frome, Somerset, to Aldershot, Hants., and from Flint, N. Wales, to Lincoln. When the new UHF 625-line transmitters come into operation (the programme will be completed by 1971) the situation will be even more complex.

There are bound to be upheavals, whoever wins the Midlands contract. If ATV succeeds it will have to pull out of London; if ABC wins, it will have to forgo its interests in the North. They are the front runners. But Granada, Southern Independent, Anglia and Rediffusion are all probable applicants and also interested is a consortium headed by Aidan Crawley, M P., and backed by the powerful Thorn Electric Industries. This consortium’s main target, however, is undoubtedly Yorkshire, a contract in which at least five other groups, some extremely powerful locally, are interested.

It is known, too, that another consortium, whose principals have not yet revealed themselves, is after the Midland contract. Mr. Philip Dorté, for long the Midlands controller of ATV, now living in retirement in Solihull, will probably be a key technical asset to this venture. But, like everyone else. Mr, Dorté is saying nothing.

The Board of ATV meets tomorrow to discuss plans. ABC directors met last Wednesday and decided to apply for “quite a number of contracts,” but has not settled which ones. There is a general coyness about all operations. Everyone has an ear close to the ground, but no one seems keen to interpret the reverberations. Among the less likely suggestions being canvassed is that ATV and ABC might form joint companies to bid for London, Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire. This cannot be substantiated.


Individually, however, the four aces in the pack of contract contenders – Rediffusion, Granada, ABC and ATV — command, through their parent groups, total assets approaching £150m. [£2.8bn] Most have strong links with other branches of the entertainment industry. In detail their records and finances are as follows:



Rediffusion Television Ltd., based in London, is controlled together with scores of other subsidiary companies, mostly concerned with broadcasting and scattered throughout the world by Rediffusion Ltd. Group assets exceed £71m [£1.3bn]. Chairman of the 10-strong board and managing director is Mr. John Spencer Wills, aged 62. Last year, the group made a net profit before tax of £3.56m [£67m]. Rediffusion TV employs a staff of over 1,300. Main studios are at Wembley Park, Middlesex.



Granada Television Ltd. is a subsidiary of the Granada Group Ltd., whose other interests range from publishing to cinemas, theatres and ten-pin bowls. Granada TV is reckoned to be a trend-setter. Successful programmes include Coronation Street and its longest running weekly feature What the Papers Say. The board of seven is headed by Sidney Bernstein, aged 68. Group assets total £30.4m [£571m]. and last year’s net profit before tax was £4.36m [£82m]. Granada employs 850 and main studios are in Manchester.



ABC Television Ltd. is a unit of the Associated British Picture Corporation complex, which has deep roots in the entertainment industry. Technically very progressive. Chairman is Sir Philip Warter, aged 63, and there are nine other directors. Group assets exceed £25.8m [£485m]. Group profits in 1966 of £1.9m [£36m]. were down by £700,000 [£13m], largely through loss of advertising revenue. ABC has studios in Manchester and Tedington [sic] and jointly owns Alpha Studios, Birmingham, with ATV.



Associated Television Network is the principal television subsidiary of Associated Television Ltd., which owns theatres, Pye Records and film production concerns. It has produced several dollar-earning series including The Saint, Danger Man, and Thunderbirds. Of its Midlands-originated programmes Crossroads is best known. A board of seven directors is headed by London stockbroker Lord Renwick. Several members, among them Lew Grade, deputy chairman and managing director, have close ties with live entertainment. Strong newspaper representation, too. Assets total £17.78m [£334m]. Profits last year were just under £11m [£207m]. ATV Network employs well over 1,000. Studios are at Elstree, London, and (shared with ABC) Birmingham.



Expect few changes. There will, of course, be a new contract in Yorkshire for which the now merged groups headed respectively by The Yorkshire Post and Lord Goodman look the strongest challengers.

Expect a reshuffle in the London contracts, the Midlands and the residual North (Lancashire). Logical reasoning suggests that ATV should get the Midlands — if it wants it. Its capacity as a dollar-earner must surely qualify it far a major prize. It has closer regional identification than ABC. This is partly because its five-day franchise has given it the greater opportunity of developing Midland ties, and partly because it has on its board, a director resident in the Midlands (Sir Eric Clayson, chairman of The Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd.), which is something ABC lacks.

Expect ABC to share the London jackpot with Rediffusion. Who gets which part of it is anyone’s guess, but the chances are that Rediffusion will retain its present lien on the weekday contract. Although half of ABC’s staff is at present employed in Manchester (there is only a handful in Birmingham), the company’s main studios are close to London.

Expect Lancashire to stay Granadaland. Granada’s record of programme quality and general cultural enterprise should secure its tenure.

Expect lesser contracts to stay in the same hands, even Central Scotland, where Lord Thomson’s company has been accused of inadequate regional identification.

Expect, above all, a change of emphasis. All the evidence points to the fact that contractors will, in future, be required to pay far more attention to the local interests of the areas they serve.



Prize-list – and present participants


Area Present Contractor (s) All homes (000’s) ITV homes (000’s) Est. Net Revenue
Midlands ABC/ATV 2,902 2,414 £9.5m
*Lancashire   2,700 2,102 £9.25m
London (w’day) Rediffusion 4,842 3,793 £9.1m
London (w-end) ATV £8.55m
*Yorkshire   2,400 1,593 £6.8m
South Southern Independent TV 1,577 1,116 £5m
Wales & West T W W 1,499 1,104 £4.8m
Central Scotland Scottish TV 1,365 1,090 £4.3m
North East Tyne-Tees TV 912 770 £3.6m
East Anglia Anglia TV 1,634 900 £2.85m
South West Westward TV 549 399 £1.65m
N. Ireland Ulster TV 391 255 £1.45m
N.E. Scotland Grampian TV 394 303 £1.2m
The Borders Border TV 186 153 £0.625m
Channel Channel TV 34 30 £0.150m


* Yorkshire and Lancashire at present comprise the North which is shared by Granada (week days) and ABC (weekends).





Lord Hill of Luton (chairman, £5,000 [£94,000] a year), doctor turned politician, held Ministerial offices in Conservative Governments from 1951-1962; MP for Luton 1950-1963, Parliamentary Secretary to Ministry of Food 1951-1955; Postmaster-General 1955-1957, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1957-1691, Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs 1961-1962. Gained wartime fame as “Radio Doctor.” Aged 63, enjoys golf, walking. Club: Reform. Lives at Winch Hill House, Wandon End, Luton.

Sir Sydney Caine (deputy chairman, £1,500 [£28,000] a year); from tax officer to educationalist with long interval as Civil Servant (Colonial Office and Treasury). Former vice-chancellor, University of Malaya (1952-1956), now director of London School of Economics. Aged 64, likes reading and walking. Clubs: Athenaeum, Reform. He lives at Clements Inn Passage, London, W.C.1.

Mrs. Mary Adams: champion of contentious causes; deputy chairman, Consumers’ Association; chairman of National Association of Mental Health and of Television Viewers’ Council; vice-chairman of National Council for Unmarried Mother and Her Child and of Women’s Group on Public Welfare. Trustee of Research Institute for Consumer Affairs and of Good Food Guide. Producer, BBC Television, 1936-1939. Wartime director of Home Intelligence (1940-1941). Recreation (according to Who’s Who): children; mass observation. Her home: Gloucester Gate, Regent’s Park, London. Mrs. Adams and the rest of her colleagues all receive £1,000 [£19,000] a year.

Baroness Burton of Coventry: world’s fastest woman sprinter (1920), writer, lecturer, broadcaster, public relations consultant and Labour MP for Coventry South (1950-1959); first woman to chair Select Committee on Estimates, chairman of Domestic Coal Consumers’ Council (1962) member of Council of Industrial Design, director of Imperial Domestic Appliances Ltd. Enjoys reading and watching ballet. Aged 63, she lives at Molyneux Street, London, W.1.

Professor Sir Owen Saunders: head of Mechanical Engineering Department, Imperial College, London (since 1946). His Imperial College career started as lecturer in Applied Mathematical Physics (1932). Former president, Institute of Mechanical Engineers; member of Economic Development Committee for the Mechanical Engineering Industry. Has published scientific and technical papers. Aged 62, enjoys music and gold. Club: Athenaeum. Lives at Heath Drive, Sutton, Surrey.

Baroness Sharp: civil servant. Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Local Government since 1955. Started as administrative class civil servant in 1926. Enjoys pottering, lives at Thistle Grove, S.W.10. Aged 63.

Mr. William Macfarlane Gray (represents Scottish interests on the ITA): a Scots accountant with interests in music, the arts and preservation. Provost of Royal Burgh of Stirling (1958-1964); national president of the Association of Certified and Corporate Accountants (1954-1956). Likes golf, aged 56, lives at Snowdon Place, Stirling.

Sir Patrick George Hamilton: industrialist – export expert; chairman of Expanded Metal Company Ltd., Diners’ Club Ltd. (of Great Britain). First managing director, later chairman of Tyresoles Ltd. (1934-1953). Director of Propeller Production, Ministry of Aircraft Production (1943-44). Hobbies: gardening and golf. Club: Carlton. Aged 58, lives at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.

Professor Hugh Hunt: theatrical producer, Manchester University Don (drama) since 1961. Director of Bristol Old Vic (1945-1949), Old Vic Company, London (1949-1953); has written on theatre, also author of several Irish plays. Brother of Everest explorer, Sir John. Club: Garrick. Aged 55, lives at Brook Cottage, Brockenhurst, Hants.

Sir Vincent Tewson: retired trade union official. Part-time member of London Electricity Board (since 1960). Rose from secretary of Organisation Department of TUC (1925-1931) to general secretary (1946-1960). Member of Economic Planning Board (1947-1960). Aged 68, lives at Leecroft Road, Barnet, Herts.

Sir Ben Bowen Thomas (represents Welsh interests on ITA): former civil servant and educationalist. Permanent secretary to the Welsh Department, Ministry of Education (1945-1963). Member of executive board of UNESCO from 1954 to 1962 (chairman 1958-1960). President of National Institute of Adult Education. Has written on Wales and the Welsh. Likes walking, aged 67, lives at Bangor, N. Wales.

Baroness Plummer: keen politico, widow of Sir Leslie Plummer, MP, who died in 1963. She became a JP in 1947. Hobby: politics. Lives at Berwick Hall, Toppesfield, Halstead, Essex. Aged 63.

Mr. David J. T. Gilliland (chairman of ITA’s Northern Ireland Committee): Londonderry solicitor. Farms in Co. Derry and Co. Donegal. Committee member of the International Dendrology Society, an organisation which consists mainly of curators of botanical gardens in England and Wales. Formerly founder-president of Middle Liberties Young Unionist Association. Aged 35, lives at Brook Hall, Co. Londonderry, N. Ireland.



❛❛Kif Bowden-Smith writes: It’s interesting to see an article from right at the beginning of the franchise process: usually we see them from the day before the announcements are made with wild guesses passing as educated deductions or on the day itself with an I-told-you-so narrative that doesn’t mention what was wrongly predicted by the same paper a day earlier.

The Post is in before all of that, on the day the final application forms were sent out. Some of the Independent Television Authority’s plans for the new contracts have already been made clear, like the split of the North region, but most are still in Lord Hill of Luton’s head.

Therefore the Post journalists are free to speculate, based only on previous ITA policy and the 1964 “roll-over” franchise round that, apart from consolidating TWW’s takeover of Teledu Cymru, made very few changes because the ITA was expecting the heavy investment in colour and the coming of ITV-2 in the next 5 years. Additionally, Hill was newly arrived at the ITA and was thrust into the franchise process before he was completely familiar with the existing ITV system.

The ITA itself had seen its power and reputation boil away since 1955, mainly because the Big 4 ITV companies (ABC, ATV, Granada, Rediffusion) were huge, each with large holding companies behind them with lots of money, an international reputation and the ear of the press. Meanwhile, the ITA was 13 of the great and the good in a room.

The big change to the system had already been announced: the insertion of a fifth ‘major’, turning the Big 4 into the Big 5. This was an attempt to dilute the power of the existing Big 4 (and, more specifically, their mighty holding companies) rather than the ITA’s later obsession with regionalism. It happened in the North purely because that was the only major region served by two main transmitters, making the split easy to achieve.

Granada had facilities in Manchester for separate news, continuity and advertising for Winter Hill and Emley Moor, and had tried to pressure the ITA to award it the entire area as a ‘dual region’, as already existed in embryonic form in Southern’s two-transmitter set-up. But this wouldn’t have the effect of introducing a new ‘major’, and would’ve increased rather than decreased Granada’s power.

With that big change, the press could be confident that there would be very little change otherwise: a shuffling of the pack, with the existing Big 4 moving regions or timeslots, but that was about it. Bigger changes were unlikely because of ITV successful ecosystem of the time, which provided a commitment to public service broadcasting (adult education, documentaries, schools programmes and so forth) paid for by very popular peak-time shows. Disrupting that could only lead to less of the ‘good’ stuff and more of the ‘bad’.

The Post says that the Midlands 7-day contract is the plum one. On paper, they’re right. When redividing the main ITV regions, Granada 5-day, previously the biggest region, falls back with just over half the 13.5 million population it had previously served; the loss of Friday evenings in London knocks the capital’s weekday station back financially as well. The result is that the Midlands becomes the largest contract… or will be, if the London weekday contractor doesn’t hike up the rates and aggressively sell advertising space, sucking money out of the rest of the system. Lew Grade would’ve very much liked to have kept the prestige of London, especially expanding ATV London into Friday nights. But, industry gossip at the time says, he was told not to get his hopes up there – Geoffrey Lugg (of ABC and Thames) told us at the time that Grade had been given “a nod and a wink” that the ITA was determined to see him booted out of London, but that 7 days in the Midlands, as the expected richest contract, would be adequate compensation.

For the rest of the reshuffle, everybody knew the Big 4 had built a very balanced network by specialising in style and genre: Granada providing northernism and innovation; ATV with showbusiness and exports; Rediffusion with documentaries and arts; and ABC with cosmopolitanism and zeitgeist dramas. An extra major could add to that quite easily; a disruption to it could only be bad for ITV and bad for viewers.

It was known, after the damning but largely ignored Pilkington Report of 1963, that the ITA would quite like ITV to go a bit upmarket. This Hill could do easiest by using the muscle of contractual provisions rather than rocking – or capsizing – the boat. The press believed that, despite the fifth major, everything else would probably stay the same for this very reason. As long as no startling and unexpected bid came in for one of the Big 5 contracts on offer, knocking all the calculations out, there would be a bit of a shuffle but the deck would remain the same.

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