How can they get out of the MESS? 

18 December 2020

Tonight is THE NIGHT

Why LABOUR is censuring the TORY television mess



Daily Mirror masthead

From the Daily Mirror for 23 November 1954

THE Labour Party is on the warpath.

Tonight in the House of Commons it will challenge the Tory Government in what amounts to a vote of censure on commercial television.

Labour’s challenge will be this:


The Tories are in a mess — and they know it.

To begin with, what was INTENDED to be competitive television has suddenly been transformed into ToryVision. The first “independent” TV stations have been handed to programme contractors who are, in the main, dominated by Tory interests.

The Lamentable Plan

HERE is the lamentable plan as it stands at present:


1 — The Daily Mail group will run the London station on weekdays

The Daily Mail, Britain’s most Tory newspaper, will be associated with Mr. Harold Drayton, a City financier and chairman of 25 companies.

2 — The Norman Collins group will run the London station at week-ends and the Birmingham station on week days. Among Mr. Collins’s backers is Sir Robert Renwick, a Tory stalwart who readily answers the Conservative Party’s appeals for funds.

3 — The Kemsley group will operate in Birmingham and Manchester. Lord Kemsley is a Tory Press lord with tremendous influence in the provinces. He will be associated with Mr. Maurice Winnick, the panel game king, and Mr. Isaac Wolfson, chairman of Great Universal Stores and many other companies.

4 — Mr Sidney Bernstein will operate in Manchester. Mr. Bernstein runs a chain of luxury cinemas and is a member of the Labour Party.


Putative logo for Kemsley-Winnick, based on the Kemsley Newspapers symbol


The Labour Party denounces the choice of mainly Tory groups as politically dangerous. And the “Daily Mirror” agrees with the Labour Party.

How will the Tories answer this charge?

How will they answer this second charge —



Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill (pictured in 1941), prime minister 1940-5, 1951-5

THE Tories will largely control the commercial screens at the next General Election.

How will the Tories explain that tonight in the Commons? Surely not even a Tory Government will claim credit for foisting ToryVision on the public!

The Tories may claim that commercial television is controlled by the Independent Television Authority — and that what has happened has nothing to do with the Government.

But the members of the Television Authority were appointed by the Government. How can the Government hide behind its own nominees after they have committed such colossal blunders?

TV Domination

THE Tories may say that it is the Authority’s business to keep political partiality out of commercial TV. But how can the people whose blunders have given TV domination to the Tories be relied on to keep politics out?


They must face one big question right away. It is this: Should newspapers be allowed into commercial TV at all?

Some people say NO. Other people ask WHY NOT? But no sane person would say that only Tory papers should have a finger in the pie.

Yet that is what is happening. The two Tory newspaper groups involved — Kemsley and the Daily Mail — both represent great chains of newspapers. The Royal Commission on the Press stated:

“We should deplore any tendency on the part of the larger chains to expand.”

Are these chains now to expand with the blessings of a Tory Government?


In the Commons

TWO other points will certainly be raised by Labour in the House of Commons:


1The Case of Mr. C. O. Stanley. The Television Act specifically disqualified advertising agents or directors from becoming programme contractors.

What about the able, energetic Mr. C. O. Stanley? He is a director of the Norman Collins group, which is to run London TV at week-ends.

He is also listed in “The Directory of Directors. 1954.” as a director of Arks Publicity, Ltd — an advertising agency.

Has Mr. Stanley resigned from advertising? If not, what is he doing in commercial television ?

2The Case of Miss Dilys Powell. Miss Powell is a member of the Independent Television Authority, which has given a programme contract to the Kemsley-Winnick group.

Miss Powell is also the film critic of the “Sunday Times,” and it therefore an employee of Kemsley Newspapers.

When Labour asked the Government whether Miss Powell would be dismissed from the Authority on the ground that her employment with Kemsley Newspapers banned her from such office, the Tory reply was NO.



TONIGHT’S debate promises fireworks and drama. Labour has a first-class case in censuring the Government.

But the Labour Party must also state what it will do about commercial television when it returns to power.





Daily Mirror

First edition of the front page of the Daily Mirror for 23 November 1954. Note that the headline was changed for later editions, from which this article draws.

WHEN the Television Authority, appointed by the Tory Government, announced their selection of mainly Tory-dominated programme producers there was immediate criticism.

The only defence that could be offered on behalf of the Television Authority was that no Left Wing newspaper interests had applied for a licence.



Without delay the “Daily Mirror” offered the Authority — and the Government — a chance to extricate themselves from a political mess which is intolerable in a democracy.

We issued a challenge.

We repeat the challenge today:

The “Mirror,” an independent newspaper of the Left, is prepared to make a joint application for a licence with any organisation with the competence and resources to produce first-class programmes. . . .

PROVIDED that such an organisation receives the same amount of time on stations of the same importance as those offered to the Tory newspaper interests.



Correction from the Daily Mirror

From the Daily Mirror for 26 November 1954, page 4:


The Daily Mirror is informed that Mr. C. O. Stanley resigned his directorship of Arks Publicity, Limited, in July last and is now in no way connected with any advertising agency. He is not disqualified from acting as a director of a commercial television programme contracting company.



Excerpts from the 23 November 1954 debate in the House of Commons on the Television Act (Operations)


“That this House expresses its alarm at the manner in which the Television Act is operating; and requests Her Majesty’s Government to bring forward legislation to amend or repeal the Act.”

Mr Herbert Morrison (Labour, Lewisham South; Deputy Leader of the Labour Party)

In moving on behalf of the Members of the official Opposition this Motion about the operation of the Television Act, 1954, I recall the main criticisms of the Measure and the fact that the Government in those debates took a line which we submit is not working out in practice as the operation of the Act develops and as the administration of the Independent Television Authority proceeds.

It was argued that this was a way to break a monopoly, but now we see monopoly spreading in commercial television. It was argued that there would be a better service for nothing, but it is clear that the aggregate cost of both the B.B.C. and commercial television will increase. It was argued that there would be an alternative programme, balanced and carefully planned, but it looks as if the programme will be unbalanced and not carefully planned; and the whole thing is dominated by the commercial element.

It is clear that, owing to the rush methods of the Government and their ​ limited band of really hot supporters on this matter, the Authority has been rushed in its administration and rushed into action without time to prepare its plans, and without the Government themselves having any real ideas as to how the Act should work. As a result of the rush methods we are getting all sorts of imperfections…

Herbert Morrison

Herbert Morrison, photographed in 1947 by Karsh of Ottawa. Nationaal Archief, Netherlands, CC-BY-SA 3.0 (NL)

…Incidentally, I want to raise a point with regard to Miss Dilys Powell, who is a regular contributor to one of Lord Kemsley’s Sunday newspapers. May I make it quite clear at once that I am making no personal attack on Miss Powell? She is an able journalist and writes with ability on subjects within her province. Indeed, I myself, when Lord President of the Council, recommended her name to the Prime Minister for appointment as a member of the British Film Institute, so that it is quite clear that I have no personal prejudice against her, and I think that is true of my hon. Friends.

But Miss Powell is employed by the Kemsley Press; and the Act provides in Section 1 (7) that no member shall have any financial or other interest in this class of business; that is to say, the class of business of commercial television. Paragraph 5 of the First Schedule contains a provision against a direct or indirect interest in contracts, and there is in Section 1 (4) a power to remove any member of the Authority. We have to face the fact that these are the provisions of the Act, and that that is the law.

The question therefore arises, first, whether Miss Powell should remain a member of the Authority. The question also arises whether, when the contract in which Lord Kemsley or his firm are interested was discussed, she disclosed her interest, and whether she participated in any way in the decision. Was she, in fact, present at the meeting of the I.T.A.? Was there, in short, a disclosure and non-participation? Further, was this recorded in the minutes of the I.T.A., as required in the Act of Parliament?…

…Our objections to newspapers coming into this business are based… on opposition to the further concentration, in the hands of a few men, of power in the formation of opinion and of public taste. Newspapers vary in their tastes, as do the tastes of readers. It is a free Press, and newspapers can do substantially what they like, short of committing libel and actionable indecency. They vary. I do not think that some of the newspapers concerned are to be trusted in the exercise of fair judgment on public taste in commercial television…

…Already this “Daily Mail” group, a group that has to be so impartial, so high-minded on commercial television and which must not concern itself with party politics, has delivered a sharp and unfair attack upon Her Majesty’s Opposition because we have dared to put down this Motion today. Already, therefore, the “Daily Mail” is beginning to champion the interests of the television programme company with which it is associated. It is a contractor and a participant in one of the companies which are floating programmes.

David Gammans (Conservative, Hornsey, Assistant Postmaster-General)

…Less than four months have passed since the Act became law. The I.T.A.’s programmes have not yet gone on the air, the contracts with the potential programme contractors have not yet been settled or signed, nor have the arrangements for the production of news yet been decided. I am afraid that I cannot agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has just said—that the whole show has broken down. At this stage, I cannot see how it is possible for the House to come to a considered judgment which would justify the type of action which the Opposition recommends this House to take.

It is very interesting to know that the first complaint that the I.T.A. had introduced the element of politics came from the “Daily Express.” That newspaper objected to the appointment of Sir Robert Fraser as director-general on the grounds that he was of the Left—that he had been a Socialist candidate. I gathered from the right hon. Gentleman, however, that the main complaint in the Motion now before the House is that the I.T.A. has unduly favoured the Right. The Motion expresses alarm at the way in which the Television Act is operating, and suggests that the I.T.A. has failed in its duty because it has included some programme contractors who are newspaper owners.

…I do not suppose I have succeeded in dispelling the alarm which the Opposition apparently feels in this Motion of censure. At least. I have tried to explain that there is not the slightest justification for it. I suggest that this is nothing more than an attempt to fight the battle of the Television Act over again—and that Act was voted on line by line four months ago.

George Darling (Labour Cooperative, Sheffield Hillsborough)

It was guillotined.


Courtesy of British Pathé. Note: these are rushes with no sound


Sir Beverley Baxter (Conservative, Wood Green)

…When making this charge of conspiracy, the right hon. Gentleman [Morrison] ought to consider that Lord Beaverbrook did not apply, and it is very significant if he did not, and Lord Rothermere did not apply. In fact, the Authority had to go out and beg the newspaper proprietors to come in, so that does away with the idea of conspiracy.

There was nothing to stop that very highly capitalistic combine Odhams Press taking sides on television. I think that they were perhaps embarrassed, because this highly capitalistic combine publishes the “Daily Herald,” and it is a little awkward when one’s mind is in one camp and one’s soul in another. When the Socialist Party was opposing this Bill, no doubt Odhams suffered from split mind and decided not to apply…

Charles Rider Hobson (Labour, Keighley)

…My condemnation of this commercial television arrangement is that it is not in conformity with British standards of public life. The way in which the wavelengths have been made available, as the result of the presence of Mr. Stanley on the Advisory Committee, and the past association of Mr. Stanley with A.B.D.C. and the fact that Mr. Collins is now on one of the production companies, seem entirely wrong.

I made an almost identical speech when the second White Paper was before the House, when I pressed the then Home Secretary on this question. I am particularly concerned about clean Government in this country, and we ought to watch this matter very carefully indeed. I do not wish to go over the ground already covered with regard to the monopoly of the Press, but who was the person who decided that it was necessary to have a capital of £3 million in order to become a production company? On what basis was that sum decided, because such a figure automatically rules out the small person? How can it be really competitive television when a capital sum of £3 million is demanded? In point of fact, it is only the large monopolies who can take advantage of that. We are entitled to know the basis on which that sum was arrived at…

Division: Ayes 268, Noes 300. Government majority of 32.



❛❛Russ J Graham writes: This is all very overblown sounding, isn’t it? And yet it seemed very important at the time.

When elected in 1945, the Labour Party had completely rewritten British society. Out went the old laissez-faire economics of private monopolies, and in came public ownership of most natural monopolies – trains, gas supply, electricity generation and so forth. So powerful a change was this that the Conservatives, upon returning to power, did little to undo it. The principle had been established; nationalisation of monopolies remained popular with voters; the Tories were not going to undo it.

Except for two elements. Iron and steel’s nationalisation was incomplete; the companies were returned to their previous owners (those that wanted them back – a large slice of the industry remained in state hands). And television.

The BBC’s monopoly on television had been restored when the service resumed in 1946. It was prioritised by the then-government because television programmes encouraged the purchase of television sets, which caused the mass-manufacture of those sets, which then supported an export drive for the surplus production at a time when Britain was technically bankrupt and needed foreign exchange.


Courtesy of British Pathé


But whilst the Conservatives were comfortable with the BBC having a monopoly of radio, they were less keen on that monopoly extending to television. Nevertheless, a cross-party parliamentary report in 1949 into television had agreed that it was best left in the hands of the single BBC channel. One member, Selwyn Lloyd, dissented and produced a counter proposal. This was taken up by the new Conservative government when it returned to power in 1951 (not incidentally on a vote that went 48.8% to Labour and just 47.9% to the Conservatives, producing a majority of around 8 and proving to the Tories that they would be very unwise to unpick the 1945-1951 changes).


Courtesy of British Pathé


The resulting Television Act was not a priority for the new government, mainly on the basis that commercial television was not something Winston Churchill was particularly concerned about, so discussion didn’t begin until 1953. From there it crawled very slowly through parliament, with both sides, Labour and Conservative, expressing worries over it; Labour over the very idea, the Conservatives over just how crass and distracting it might be. Eventually, to get it through, the government used the guillotine, a method of stopping all debate and forcing a vote. The vote passed, and commercial television was now a reality.

Except that the Labour party simply would not accept this and vowed that it would do everything in its power to stymie the development of ITV pending its abolition upon their return to power (which, if it were to happen, would be done by firing the contractors and handing everything over to the BBC, not by closing down the new channel).

This is one of the attempts to stop commercial television happening, by effectively overturning the guillotine and putting the Television Act back under the microscope. A government majority of 32 at the end of the debate makes it sound like this was a cry in the dark from Labour; but with such a usual majority of about 8 in the House for the Conservatives, it must have seemed worth a shot by Herbert Morrison. With both the Labour papers, the Daily Herald and the Daily Mirror, shouting about it, the Mirror so very very loudly, it certainly seemed like a vote-winner for Labour in the election due in the next 18 months or so… as long as they stopped ITV launching. Once launched, proposing its abandonment was very much a vote-loser.


Courtesy of BBC News


This is due to a strange dichotomy in how politics works in the UK. From the launch of ITV, the vast majority who tuned in were Labour voters, whilst the Labour party’s official policy was to end commercial broadcasting. Meanwhile, ITV was supported by the Conservatives, while their voters by and large preferred the BBC and thought ITV a bit ‘common’.

That, in the end, would be what meant that ITV was just as able as the BBC to keep to the political neutrality that the Mirror, and Morrison, were fearful was about to be destroyed: ITV may have mostly been run by Conservatives, but their Labour viewers would not stand for a bias to the right, just as the BBC had the support of Labour but dare not offend its Conservative consumers.



❛❛Jeremy Rogers adds: The Daily Mirror in the mid-1950s, whilst not quite at the pinnacle of its circulation success, was certainly in an extremely healthy financial position having been re-orientated from the mid-1930s away from being a struggling conservative stablemate of the Daily Mail into a left wing one aimed especially at the younger working class and particularly critical of politicians and the establishment. It usually was a supporter of official Labour Party policy although not always liked much by its leaders, especially as it happens Herbert Morrison.

Its article notes that ‘no Left Wing newspaper interests had applied for a licence’ and this very point had vexed the ITA during the short period to assess the expressions of interest enough to contact a number of these to ascertain why, although the Daily Mirror notably doesn’t inform its readers here why it didn’t. Hindsight is not required to determine that the others were not able to spare management time or money in new diversified businesses. Odhams Press was the majority shareholder in the Daily Herald but this was a title in long term decline, younger people not being attracted by its fusty dull but worthy content, leaving it with an ageing male dominated low-earning readership unattractive to advertisers. The TUC as minority shareholder also made it difficult to go against Labour policy. The News Chronicle was equally ailing as a liberal title although it would be two years before it committed circulation suicide by opposing the government over Suez. The Manchester Guardian had different issues to face as it was in the process of consolidating its transformation from a regional to a national title planning future investment in London and Glasgow editions.

That left the Daily Mirror but there had been no need for the ITA to contact them. Cecil Harmsworth King who, if not the owner of the Mirror was effectively its controller, regularly expressed his intention to buy-in to independent television ‘at the second bankruptcy’, considering that the early years would be tough financially. He foresaw over-optimistic campaigning enthusiasts with low business acumen going broke enabling him to pick up the pieces cheaply. Maybe the financial and business strength of some of the selected contractors incorporating competing newspaper interests had already made him reassess whether his strategy had been the best one and that he needed somehow to be able to reopen the application process to participate, even though this would bring into question once more whether any newspapers should be allowed to participate.

The ITA had issued no detailed application specification to those interested in what were termed ‘programme contractors’, just requiring an ‘outline of plans’, although these were to include a broad description of types of programmes they would provide, proposals for local and networked broadcasting, the length of desired contract, and available financial resources, not to be less than £3M (roughly £80M in present day terms). As to what type of organisation might reply there was no restriction, and, although the prospect of newspapers being involved had been controversial in the passing of the Television Act, the ITA had not attempted to exclude them. Indeed, they thought a good successful popular newspaper was as likely as any other company to be able to bring the sought after qualities of providing ‘information, enlightenment, and entertainment’ and that the requirements of the Television Act and themselves as regulators would maintain impartiality, whatever the views of the title and for that matter its owners might be.

In late 1954 the ITA certainly were not interested at reopening the competition to opportunists who had not volunteered up front, although they were also not above re-approaching rebuffed organisations that had initially not been selected to bolster or replace those that had. However, Cecil King could be said to have charted a good business strategy as, if he didn’t quite buy into independent television after a bankruptcy, he did acquire a 26% stake in a reconstituted ATV eight months after it had started broadcasting and haemorrhaging money just as the tide turned, displacing two cousins, Stuart McClean and Esmond Harmsworth of the Daily Mail, in the process. Family rivalry and business risk assessment rather ideology was maybe more the decider in the end.

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