The birth of a channel 

2 August 2021


Television & Radio 1983 cover

From Television & Radio 1983, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority in December 1982

November 1982 marked an exciting and important milestone in British broadcasting when Channel 4 and its corresponding service in Wales, Sianel 4 Cymru (S4C), began transmitting programmes in all the ITV regions: the first new and distinctive television service in the United Kingdom for nearly twenty years.

The Act establishing the new service received the Royal Assent in November 1980. The Channel Four Television Company Ltd was established as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the IBA and incorporated as a private company limited by shares on 10th December 1980; and it came into operation on 1st January 1981.

The company had to prepare for the launching and subsequent running of a service of about 60 hours of television a week, available throughout the UK from the outset. The small staff of Channel Four was accommodated at the London headquarters of the IBA until early 1982 when the company occupied its own premises at 62 Charlotte Street, London WC1. The work of conversion and subsequently of the installation of technical equipment needed to operate the network went rapidly ahead.

Around the UK, in less than two years available to them, the IBA’s engineering staff installed new transmitters at 31 of the main stations and at more than 80 relay stations. This remarkable achievement ensured that about 87% of the population were able to receive the new service from the commencement of its transmission – more than 90% in Wales – and it is quickly expanding to reach the remainder.



The long-awaited additional television service was intended by Parliament to present a new look in British broadcasting, and the schedule of programmes is required to be complementary to those of ITV, providing a range of choice between the two services for the viewers of Independent Television.


People sit around a large rectangle made up for pushed together desks

Members of the Board, senior staff and commissioning editors of Channel 4 at an early meeting to discuss the shape and nature of the new service.


Three men with electronic equipment

Two new 40kW transmitters arrive for installation at the IBA’s Crystal Palace station to carry the new Channel 4 service to viewers in the London region.

Channel 4 commissions and acquires programmes; it does not make them. Material is obtained from a wide variety of sources, independent producers as well as ITV companies. Channel 4 is providing an outlet for the untried and experimental, and for special interests and concerns for which sufficient time has not been available on the single ITV channel.

There are three programme areas in which the IBA has laid down specific requirements for Channel 4: news, education and religion. The Authority expected ITN to make a major contribution to the new service and, following agreement between the Channel Four Company and ITN regarding the supply of news on weeknights, there is an hour-long early evening news programme on four nights, and on Fridays a shorter news programme is followed by a look at the news from the perspectives of various groups. This latter part of the Friday evening programme is provided by an independent company, Diverse Production. The Authority requires 15% of programme time to be given to educational programmes and at the start this provision amounts to about an hour a day. Religious output is required to amount to an hour a week. Channel 4, like BBC2, looks for outlets for its religious programmes outside the traditional Sunday evening Closed Period currently occupied by ITV and BBC1.


Once a proposal is recommended by the appropriate Commissioning Editor and approved, the business aspects are dealt with by channel 4’s Head of Programme Acquisition, Colin Leventhal. Jeremy Isaacs, the Chief Executive, Paul Bonner, the Channel Controller, and Justin Dukes, the Managing Director, are variously responsible for the management of the company and the implementation of policy agreed by the Board of Directors under the Chairmanship of The Rt. Hon. Edmund Dell.

The financing of the Fourth Channel services, both nationally and in Wales, is coming wholly from the Independent Television companies (which will receive the income from the sale of advertising on the new channel) by way of an additional charge, termed the subscription, payable to the IBA from January 1982.

For the period from January 1981 to March 1983 the IBA has made provision for an operating budget of £104 million for the Channel Four Television Company (and £20 million for the S4C service of the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority).



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