The Great TV War 

4 January 2021

ITV versus BBC . . . ITV versus BBC . . . ITV versus BBC . . . ITV versus BBC . . . ITV versus BBC . . .



Daily Herald masthead

From the Daily Herald for 15 December 1958

STEP on my Time Machine. Come with me into the 1960’s for a few moments.

We are in West London. The BBC’s £9million [£220m today, allowing for inflation] Television City is finished and occupied. It lies before us: a breathtaking building shaped like a question-mark, covering an area nearly twice that of St. Paul’s. It’s the greatest TV centre in Europe … built with your money.

Hundreds work inside it. From one of its great studios a super-spectacular show is being televised. This star-spangled, magnificent production is costing £20,000 [£490,000].

But only a handful of people throughout Britain are watching it.

The rest — millions and millions more — are tuned in to ITV. For the latest quiz game “Watta Racket!” is on at the same time.

It’s smashing. Little money is required for production — only a slick compere’s fee, a few hundred pounds for prizes and a few competitors eager to make national asses of themselves….

Thank you. Hop off the Time Machine now. We are back in December, 1958.

I believe that tf the BBC continues to go on as it’s going on now and ITV does the same, this is a glimpse of our television future.


Impressionistic TV sets with the faces of Matt Dillion, Dan Matthews, Cpl. Springer, Anne Shelton and Hughie Green



I go further. I believe that the BBC TV service is already slowly dying. And as it dies, ITV becomes stronger and stronger.

An exaggeration?

• At this moment, out of every 100 hours spent looking at TV by viewers with a choice only 33 hours are devoted to the BBC, while 67 go to ITV.

And that’s according to the BBC.

ITV says the proportion is 26 hours for BBC, 74 for them.

• In October, the BBC put on Arthur Benjamin’s opera “Tale of Two Cities.” It was the Corporation’s most lavish TV production to date. Cost: around £20,000.

But in most areas which have ITV stations, comparatively few people watched the opera.

In one area, the measuring apparatus used by two well-known audience-estimating organisations didn’t even register!

The only time in recent month that the BBC had a programme in the “Top Ten” — and only in one area — was when ITV “did a BBC” and put on an Ibsen play starring Britain’s leading actor, Sir Laurence Olivier.

There are many homes in Britain where BBC TV is NEVER even switched on.

If an ITV programme is not liked, it is either kept on with the sound turned down until a better one comes on, or the set is switched off.


Switch over to BBC? They never think of it!

When ITV sets out to smash a BBC programme, it has so far always succeeded. It look on the BBC’s most successful programme “6.5 Special” and strangled it with “Oh Boy!”

ITV’s “This Week” has a bigger audience among viewers with a choice than the BBC’s “Panorama.”

The BBC laughs at the idea that it can be exterminated by ITV.

But many BBC bosses laughed at the idea of ITV from the start, and prophesied its doom.


Impressionistic TV sets with the faces of Jack Warner, Vera Lynn, Richard Dimbleby, the Beverley Sisters, and Eamonn Andrews



They trot out figures today showing that millions still watch their programmes. But these millions are mainly in areas not yet reached by ITV.

They keep quiet when asked about their viewing figures in ITV areas.

And by the end of next year, ITV will cover all the densely populated areas of Britain.

ITV gets nothing from viewers to sustain it. Its income comes from advertisers. And it’s making so much money, it hardly knows what to do with it.

Viewers run the BBC with their licence fees.


In round figures, the BBC gets from us £25¼million a year [£615m]. The fearfully expensive TV service which now costs £3,468 [£85,000] an hour to run gets £13¼mllllon [£325m] of the money, while home radio, which only costs £589 [£15,000] an hour, gets almost as much — £12million [£300m].

The BBC is just about breaking even.

If the BBC does just maintain life in its body in the 1960’s with a million or two regular viewers, while ITV has between 15-20 million, Parliament may want to know why the Corporation should be given £25millon of our money yearly.

But if the BBC becomes virtually ineffective, it will be a tragedy.

We shall have exchanged a BBC monopoly for an ITV one. This could be most perilous for us all.

I have often “knocked” the BBC. It has deserved it. But for programme quality, ITV cannot yet approach it.

At this moment, the BBC is putting out some superb TV programmes. Its animal and travel features are gentle and civilised: “Tonight” is outstanding.

From such features as “Panorama,” “Monitor,” and Aidan Crawley’s current “The Inheritors,” I have acquired more knowledge than from any book read in my adult years.

Its variety shows are pretty awful. So are ITV’s.

But we viewers are not INTERESTED in quality programmes.

Top ten

We want “Sunday Palladium,” “Wagon Train,” “Dotto,” “Spot the Tune,” “Twenty-One,” “Take Your Pick” and “Double Your Money.”

These are the programmes in the latest “Top Ten.” They are all ITV shows.

Who is murdering BBC television? Can wc save it? I will give you my answers to these questions tomorrow.

The following section is commentary from Transdiffusion's expert writers

Russ J Graham writes: Philip Phillips ties himself in the usual knots when attempting to criticise the BBC. The stuff they make is too highbrow and too little watched, they should be more like ITV. ITV is too lowbrow and too much watched, they should be more like the BBC. When ITV ‘does a BBC’, nobody watches. When the BBC do an ITV, it’s spending too much money on trivial things. Nobody wins here.

The BBC has the awful job of trying to be all things to all people and does an awful job at it, even to today. In the late 1950s, it simply couldn’t get down as low as ITV, for reasons of class (the BBC management was largely upper class, ITV’s middle class), age (the BBC people had been in post since the 1930s and 40s; the ITV people were younger and newer in the industry), and temperament (the BBC had to please everybody, ITV had to please advertisers).

But generational change would sweep a lot of this away. Into the 1960s, the BBC management retired and were replaced by younger faces. The ‘temperament’ would be dealt with by the arrival of BBC-2 in 1964, letting the main channel skim off much of the highbrow and niche programming onto its new UHF brother.

The BBC revitalised in the 1960s in a way Phillips hasn’t predicted here. Mid-decade, it invented probably the best Saturday line-up a channel has ever had. ITV still trounced it most of the time, but the BBC had began a fight back that would give them a run for their money and produce some brilliant TV on both sides.

We’ll find out if Philip Phillips had the same idea tomorrow.

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