The Story of Independent TV 

22 September 2021

What does it all mean? Where do ITA, ABC and AR-TV come in? Who pays for what? How? When? Where? Why? ‘Picture Post’ answers the questions you have been asking about Independent Television.



Picture Post masthead

From the Picture Post issue dated 24 September 1955

Editor’s note: References to ‘ABC’ in this article should be read as being about what we would call, from October 1955, Associated TeleVision – ATV. At the time this article was written, the Associated British Cinemas chain had not signed a contract with the Independent Television Authority; when they did, they sued Associated Broadcasting Company for the right to use the initials ABC and the ABC referred to in this article was renamed ATV.


The Minister of State (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd): Is it really a terrible evil that there should be advertisements on the television screen?

Mr. C. R. Hobson, MP (Labour, Keighley): It is disgusting.

Hansard, December 15, 1953.


ALL through the summer, autumn and winter of 1953 it was impossible to open a paper or magazine without seeing a page, neatly ruled down the middle, on which two writers strained to find words to describe (a) the glories, and (b) the horrors of television with advertising.

The subject inflamed the minds of men, women and children, white-collar workers and factory-hands, housewives and club bores, university graduates and TV viewers. But most of all it inflamed MPs. Hon. Members argued in the House until the early hours of the morning; they sponsored pamphlets and spoke in their constituencies. And the Press made hay under the sun of controversy. Yet, for all the spent eloquence, the outcome of the argument was a foregone conclusion. “With TV sweeping on like a tidal wave,” as Sir Robert Fraser, of the ITA has pointed out, “it was obvious that you couldn’t get away with a single programme for ever.” In any case, the Conservative Government had already announced that it favoured commercial television. It produced two White Papers on the subject.

Today, barely two years after all the initial thunder, Commercial Television, Independent Television, Free Television, call it what you will, has become a fact.

How did it happen and who made it happen? Most people have gathered by now that, if they live in or near London, they will be able to switch off the BBC (on their converted set) and obtain an alternative TV service, if they want it. But many a layman has found himself befuddled by the technical jargon, political rhetoric, semiofficial announcements, and tantalising sprinkling of mysterious Capital Letters that have grown around Independent Television. Let us try to extract the main facts from this confusion.


A flowchart showing the regulatory structure of ITV


All theoretical arguments about the merits of Commercial TV ceased to have any real effect when the House of Commons passed the Television Act on the thirtieth of July, 1954. The next step was the creation of the Independent Television Authority (composed of a Chairman, Sir Kenneth Clark, and eight members) by the Postmaster-General. The functions of the ITA cannot be compared with those of the BBC. It has set itself the following tasks:

  1. To plan the grand design of the institution of Independent Television in this country.
  2. To assure the widest possible access to the new medium. In other words, to prevent the rise of another monopoly like the BBC.
  3. To select programme contractors; i.e., organisations set up to provide the programmes for the new TV stations.
  4. To execute the engineering chores of Independent Television in this country. Under the TV Act, all transmitting stations remain the property of the ITA. It is the ITA which designs, builds and runs the stations which transmit the new programmes to your screen.
  5. To supervise the standards and ethics of programmes put out by the programme contractors.


Putting the new Television Act into practice


Two mean peer down from an indoor balcony, a bright ceiling window behind them

THE WATCHDOG of Independent Television is the Indendent Television Authority. Sir Robert Fraser, its Director General (left) and Sir Kenneth Clark (Chairman) will contemplate the work of the programme contractors from heights of impartiality.

The ITA took over a nucleus of civil servants from the Post Office to carry on its initial work until it could appoint its own staff. Following the appointment of Sir Robert Fraser as Director-General, the ITA set about putting the theories of the TV Act into practice. It achieved this in the remarkable period of twelve months.

Of all the tasks of the ITA, the selection of programme contractors was the most important. There was no natural choice, for no firm in England (except the BBC) had what advertisements would call ‘the necessary experience’. The ITA had to start from scratch. It had to choose organisations that could prove themselves capable of producing an acceptable programme service, and were in a position to muster enough capital to make their plans work. From the many applicants, the IT A chose the following:

  1. The Associated Broadcasting Company (a partnership of show business experts like Val Parnell, Harry Alan Towers, Prince Littler and Norman Collins). ABC will be responsible for providing Independent-TV week-end programmes from London (and later weekday programmes from Birmingham).
  2. Associated-Rediffusion (a partnership of Associated Newspapers, [Daily Mail, Evening News, etc.] and Broadcast Relay Services, in turn one of the many associated companies of the British Electric Traction Co., Ltd.). AR-TV will operate from London on weekdays.
  3. Granada TV, Ltd. (the firm of film producers and exhibitors) to provide programmes from the Northern Station on weekdays.

The fourth programme contractor (to handle week-end programmes from the North and Birmingham) has only just been announced by the ITA.

Only ABC and AR-TV begin operations on September 22.

The job of these contractors is to produce new television programme services in different areas and at different times of the week. They will be the new competitors of the BBC. In simple terms of analogy they will do the jobs of the editors of the newspapers and magazines you read.

But no newspaper could stay alive without revenue. And this is where the advertising — the ‘commercial’ — comes in. Just as advertisers buy space in the pages of your newspapers, so advertisers will now be able to buy time on Independent Television. But the ITA has laid down certain rules. Advertisers will not be able to ‘sponsor’ programmes, as they do in America.

They will have no say whatever in the actual programmes. They will be allowed time (not exceeding six minutes in sixty minutes of programme time) at the beginning and end of a programme and during ‘natural breaks’. Your programmes, therefore, will be produced by the programme contractors, and only ‘interrupted’ by the advertiser. The advertisement will have no connection whatever with the programme preceding, or following it.


Five men pose around a desk covered in paperwork

THE MEN IN CHARGE of ABC (responsible for London weekend programmes) hold a management conference. Left to right, Harry Alan Towers, Norman Collins, Richard L. Meyer, Val Parnell and Lew Grade.


The comparison with newspapers can be carried further. Advertisements in newspapers are not devised by the newspapers in which they appear, but are designed by advertising agents employed by the advertiser. In the same way the commercials, which will ‘punctuate’ your entertainment, will be produced not by the programme contractors but by advertising agents, usually in the form of thirty-second or one-minute films. The money paid by advertisers for ‘time’ on Independent TV will be the only revenue available to programme contractors. Indirectly, these advertisements will pay for the cost of bringing Norman Wisdom, Sir John Barbirolli, Godfrey Winn and a host of others to your TV screen.

The ITA itself may borrow money from the government for the erection of transmitters, but this will have to be repaid in full during the next ten years. Your licence fees will continue to be available to the BBC only.



From these facts, the pattern of competitive TV emerges. If the programmes are good, and draw a large viewing audience, the advertiser will consider it worth his while to ‘buy time’. If the programmes are bad, and there is no demand from viewers, the advertiser will not be so keen on buying time, which, during peak hours of viewing, may cost as much as one thousand pounds a minute. [£30,000 today, allowing for inflation]

Obviously only a limited number of advertisers can buy time before or after the most popular programmes. The sceptics have pointed out that this will lead programme contractors to manufacture ‘popular’ programmes of low artistic standards, but of wide popular appeal, to ‘tempt’ advertisers.


A man stands in the middle of a building site

ROLAND GILLETT, Controller of Programmes for AR-TV (London, weekdays) surveys the new studios going up at Television House, London.


Safeguards against unsuitable programmes


This is not likely to happen for several reasons. The business law of supply and demand applies also to the business of commercial TV; and at the moment, the demand of advertisers to use the new medium far outstrips the ‘time’ programme contractors have at their disposal. Moreover, as the ITA has, so to speak, ‘licensed’ the programme contractors to provide a good all-round service, they are empowered under the TV Act to ‘supervise’ programme quality, and withdraw the licence if a contractor proves to be irresponsible.

Finally, while certain advertisers (e.g., soap manufacturers) certainly require a mass audience for their product, other advertisers (makers of cars, luxury goods, etc.) will be quite content to appeal to a minority audience, and will gladly buy time on programmes with a ‘class’ appeal, such as symphony concerts.


Four men stand on a deserted theatre stage

ABC Television Theatre is the new name of the Wood Green Empire, which has been transformed into the most up-to-date TV Theatre in Britain. Harry Allan Towers (centre) confers with T. MacNamara (Chief Engineer), Keith Rogers (Outside Broadcasts) and Bill Ward (Producer in charge of Light Entertainment). In the dress circle, a big glass-fronted viewing room is being provided for important visitors.


Giving the news

Another danger, that of political partiality in the presentation of news on Independent Television, has been averted by the creation of Independent Television News, an agency which will feed programmes to all the programme contractors, all of whom hold equal shares in ITN. ITN, in fact, is the Television counterpart of the Press Association and Reuter, which are owned by the newspapers using those news services.

It is important to remember that, both for viewers and advertisers, what is happening on September 22 is only a beginning. As from that date, viewers in an area centred on London and stretching roughly from Hitchin in the north to Horsham in the south, and from Wallingford in the west to Burnham-on-Crouch in the east, will be able to switch to an alternative to the BBC. Later this year, viewers in Birmingham, and early next year viewers in the North, will get their first taste of Independent TV. But even then large areas in Britain will still be served by the BBC only.

In America there are at present nearly five hundred stations. Eventually, the British Isles will be able to call on a network of twenty-five television stations, covering the country from Land’s End to John o’Groats. The giant of Independent Television will not merely stretch himself to touch every home of the British Isles. It will multiply.


Cast and crew on a sound stage

FILMS. At Elstree Studios (formerly British National) Marius Goring is starring in the ITP serial, ‘The Adventures of the Scarlett Pimpernel.’ This will be transmitted every second Wednesday, at 8 o’clock (AR-TV). Two studios have been busy for months, filming for ITV.


It may expand

For the ITA doesn’t intend to restrict competitive TV to one alternative to the BBC service. As long as advertisers continue to believe in the medium of television (and the phenomenal rise of American TV leads one to believe that they will) there is no reason why there should not be at least two commercial stations for each area in Britain, competing with the BBC and each other. In some areas in America, you now have a choice of eight services, each filled with programmes supplied by the advertisers. But this will never happen here. As new stations are opened here, the ITA will appoint new contractors to provide programmes. And it will remain the programme contractors’ responsibility to devise programmes, and to find the advertisers to pay for them indirectly through the buying of ‘time’. And this will go on unless the law of diminishing returns begins to operate, unless advertisers exhaust their appropriations unless — in fact — stations find themselves unable to pay their way.

And now it’s up to you. For you are the boss. The best laid plans of advertisers and programme contractors will gang a-gley if you still prefer the BBC.







September 22 ‘The Hole in the Wall’ —a play adapted for television by Philip Mackie, from a story by Arthur Morrison. Set in the East End of London.
Ascot Autumn Meeting — the main races from the September Meeting will also be covered on Friday and Saturday. Commentator, Peter O’Sullivan.
Children of the Commonwealth — introduced by a native of each country included in the series. The first programme deals with West Indian children, and the introduction is given by Ulric Cross. Producer: Peter Newington.
The Donald Duck Story — it begins in 1932, when Donald Duck first appeared in Orphan’s Picnic.


Guildhall — arrival of guests to Banquet. Music by Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra.
Variety — compare Jack Jackson.
Drama — three specially filmed excerpts: The Importance of Being Earnest, with Sir John Gielgud, Dame Edith Evans and Margaret Leighton; The Baker’s Dozen, with Alec Guinness and Pamela Brown; Private Lives, with John Clements and Kay Hammond.
Boxing — Murphy v. Lazar. Contest for Southern Area Middleweight Championship.
News and Newsreel.
Mayfair Hotel — cabaret.
Telecine — showing forthcoming attractions.



September 23 Meet Jeanne Heal — for fifteen minutes every fortnight. The producer, Michael Barsley, has sub-titled the programme What does Jeanne Heal think about it? Topics will be controversial, lighthearted or serious.
The Midland Show — from the KRadio Exhibition, at Nottingham. With Brian Reece, Petula Clark.
ClubnightInventors’ Club is the first in this new series. Demonstrators are Geoffrey Boumphrey and John Gilbert.


A man in a very undersized trilby

Reg Dixon

Friday’s Man — introducing the ’man of the moment’.
Colonel Crock — for children. Motor car puppet show.
Friday’s Girl — Sheila Matthews.
Dragnet — crime series, starring Jack Webb.
Confidentially — Reg Dixon, in his own series of comedy sketches of the long-suffering family man.
Round the World with Orson Welles.
Visitor of the Day — introduced by Leslie Mitchell.



September 24 The Appleyards — returning for the seventh edition of a new fortnightly series.
The Charlie Chester Show — in which Cheerful Charlie will visit the regions. This is an audience participation show.
‘For Art’s Sake’ — the third play in the As I Was Saying crime series. Leonard Sachs and Robert Rietty are in the cast.


People are Funny — presented, by Derek Roy. First time on TV.
Michaela and Armand Denis — films from their recent African tour.
Saturday Sports Results.
Saturday Showtime — variety with Harry Secombe.
Television PlayhouseMid-Level with Michael Gough.
The Jack Jackson Show.



September 25 ‘Mr. Maypole’ — this play is Henry Sherek’s. choice. A Tavistock Repertory prize winner, it was written by R. J. Atkins. Robert Urquhart, George Colouris, Sam Kydd and Jean Harvey’ take part.
This Is Your Life — the American idea which caused so much fuss the first time, gets its first all-British airing. Eamonn Andrews, compare, surprises a celebrity’ with his own past life.


Sunday Afternoon — based on the theme that nothing interests people so much as people.
Stage OneJust What the Doctor Ordered, with Joanne Dru and Scott Brady.
Adventures of Robin Hood — starring Richard Greene.
Sunday Night at the Palladium — with Gracie Fields and Guy Mitchell.
Theatre Royal — Donald Wolfit in Bardell v. Pickwick.



A smiling woman holds up an aardvark

Michaela Denis

September 26 Off The Record — this edition features Jack Parnell, Johnny Brandon, Ronnie Hilton, Lita Roza and the Beverley Sisters.
Judge for Yourself — devised by D. Gideon Thomas, written by Ernest Dudley and produced by Barry Lupino. It reconstructs an actual court case for the benefit of viewers.


Double Your Money — Hughie Green offers a quiz, in which candidates can win one thousand pounds.
The Granville Melodrama.
Four Star Theatre — presenting Charles Boyer, in Backstage.
We Climbed the Volcano — an exciting documentary.



September 27 Songs for the Asking — people who have written in about their choices, come to the studio, tell their story about the song, and hear it played by Rae Jenkins and the BBC Welsh Orchestra.
‘Zoo Quest’ — third in the David Attenborough series.
The Cheshire Homes — Grp. Cpt. Cheshire, VC, visits one of his homes for incurables, in Hampshire.


Night River — the first children’s play appearing on Tuesday’s programme, Elizabethan Fanfare. It has an Australian setting, and is written by Bill Wellings.
International Theatre — starting off with Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, with John Clements, Margaret Leighton and Laurence Harvey. Director, Robert Hamer.
Downbeat — Rhythm and jazz, by Ted Heath and his Band.


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