Choice to-day of commercial TV companies 

9 December 2020

The Sutton Coldfield Transmissions

By Our Political Correspondent




From the Birmingham Post for 2 November 1954

One, and possibly two, additional programmes companies to operate commercial television in its opening phase from September next year will be selected to-day by the Independent Television Authority, meeting in London.

M.P.s believe that it is intended at present that the Granada Theatres Company (Mr. Bernstein’s organisation) should have the main, and possibly all, of the transmissions from Sutton Coldfield for the Midland area, but this may be altered after consideration of the claims of other enrolled programme companies.


Former Granada cinema

The Granada Theatre, Acton (1937-1972), photographed in 2010 by Ewan Munro on Flickr, CC-BY-SA 2.0


The next contract will probably be offered to the Associated Broadcasting Development Co., of which Mr. Norman Collins (formerly TV controller of the B.B.C.) is a director. The claims of another company which has applied – the Independent Television Programme Co., of which Mr. Prince Littler is chairman and Mr. Val Parnell managing director – are also expected to be considered to-day.

Sharing Out Time

The Authority announced last Tuesday the choice of the first three companies – Granada Theatres, Broadcast Relay Services and Associated Newspapers, and the Kemsley-Winnick group.

Transmission times on the first three stations (Birmingham, London and Manchester) is being divided into weekdays (Monday to Friday) and week-ends (Saturdays and Sundays). This provides six transmission periods and, theoretically, room for six programmes companies to share time on the three stations.

At present the Authority is inclined to limit the first appointments of programme companies to five. There may possibly not be any further appointments until the Scottish commercial station is provided in a year’s time.



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.

A game of ‘Chinese whispers’ (US: ‘telephone’) is being played here. A nameless MP has heard from someone who has heard from someone at the ITA and has reported the words in a noisy bar to the Post‘s political correspondent. The result is a completely garbled news story that contradicts itself a couple of times in just six short paragraphs and gets the hook of the piece startlingly wrong.

Granada had done a lot of research into where their ITV company would serve. It needed to be wet, it needed to be outside of London, it needed to be far from the bulk of their cinema estate. Manchester was the obvious – and only – choice. And that’s what they applied for.

Would they have taken the Midlands? Oh yes, if offered, they probably would rather than miss out on the commercial television bonanza entirely. But they were never offered it, so the point is moot.

The political correspondent, or his sub-editor, is vaguely aware of the system as proposed by the ITA, and after the line about Granada getting 7 days in the Midlands, then goes on to talk about the weekday/weekend split for all the main regions that had already been announced.

They’ve noticed that five companies are being talked about – Granada, BRS/Associated, KW, ABPC and ITPC – for three regions, and have thus guessed that one more company is needed to provide the six that will fill the splits. But they’ve ignored, or didn’t know about, the plan for the companies to be as even as possible income to prevent any one of them becoming dominant in the system.



Six companies in three regions would leave the London weekday contractor with all the spoils, the rest to be shared out in ever-smaller amounts down to the unlucky company that got Saturdays and Sundays in the Midlands. That company, if it stood alone, would certainly be considered a ‘minor’ company in the ITV that ultimately developed, with a presence on a par with Tyne Tees or Southern.

All the signs were that four companies were going to be appointed in the three regions, in whatever manner that divided up the income best but certain that one would have two regions simultaneously and one would have weekends somewhere large and weekdays somewhere smaller. Throwing these pieces into the air and seeing where they land is a very unlikely thing for the ITA to do. Much more likely that they’d follow the logical pattern of having Midlands and North united at weekends, and the Midlands or North weekday contractors also given London weekends.

Why five companies at this point? Well, ABDC had the will to be a contractor, whilst ITPC had the money to become one. ABDC not getting a contract would be a slap in the face to Norman Collins, who had been campaigning for commercial television for years. But he had no money. ITPC was rolling in money and had the talent all sewn up too. But for that latter reason, the ITA was wary of handing them a slice of the new ITV.

Instead, they considered asking ITPC to be a ‘contractor at large’, having no region but making programmes for the others to buy. The number of things that could go wrong were large, not least being that, once ITPC was established as a non-region contractor, firing it would be impossible: the ITV companies could simply continue to individually buy the programmes that the ITA didn’t like.

In the end, they decided to combine ABDC’s drive with ITPC’s talent (and, eventually, Pye’s money) into what would become ATV. This worked, but not for Norman Collins. The ITA made him deputy chairman of the new combine, a post with neither power nor authority. He who pays the piper calls the tune: Lew Grade and Prince Littler had control of the money; Collins was squeezed out.

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