Behind the news 

26 November 2021

ITV Annual 1964 cover

From the ITV Annual for Boys and Girls 1964

WHAT regular ITV programme has been on the air nearly ten thousand times in the last eight years?

Just work it out. Ten thousand programmes in eight years is not just one a week or even one a day. It averages out at just over three programmes every day, including Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Only one programme can claim this particular record — the News from ITN.

Like everything else in television, it takes a great deal of preparation and plenty of professional skill to make each programme look so smooth and effortless.

But it’s work with plenty of excitement. News is unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen next, or when it’s going to be, or where. ITN has to keep on its toes to capture the unexpected event on film and bring it safely to your screen. Often, it can bring news in pictures to your fireside while it is actually happening.

Right up to the last moment, even while the bulletin is actually on the air, ITN manages to squeeze in fresh and up-to-date news. With so little time — often less than a minute — to add these late items, it’s a miracle that everything gets on the air at all.

But this miracle happens three times a day, reaching a climax in the main bulletin at nine o’clock every evening.

ITN’s day, though, begins twelve hours before that, when the first people arrive in the newsroom on the seventh floor of Television House, in the centre of London. At that time in the morning, the evening bulletin seems very remote. All the same, there is a very full day ahead for seventy or eighty people.

This is how a typical daily timetable runs for the people who do many different jobs to bring you the news:


Two men in an office

9.00 a.m. A DOZEN teleprinters bring the world’s news into ITN by direct line from the news agency offices in Fleet Street. A major earthquake in North Africa, a bank raid in North London, a political crisis in the Far East, a fire in Glasgow—the news flows in a never-ending stream. A pile of news stories has grown up during the night, and these have to be checked over carefully.


A man on the phone behind a desk

10.00 a.m. THE duty news editor, Don Horobin, sifts through hundreds of stories every day, looking for the ones worth following up — the ones that can be put on the screen in the form of a film or an interview. By ten o’clock, he’s caught up with the night’s backlog and is already planning the day’s work for the camera men. But he cannot leave his desk unguarded for a moment all day long. A big story could break at any time.


A man holds up a lamp; another works a film camera; a third wears headphones

10.30 a.m. CAMERAMEN are already out on various jobs by now, but there is always one team standing by ready for that unpredictable big story. Often cameramen work alone, shooting silent film. For interviews, they need a sound recordist as well and sometimes a lighting engineer to make it possible to film indoors.


Mrs Kennedy and Alec Douglas Hulme

11.00 a.m. CAMERAMEN and reporters are used to working in front of the small crowd that always stops to watch when a camera is set up in the street. Interviews are always unrehearsed, and it’s often the unexpected remark that makes them so entertaining.


People sit in a semi-circle

12.00 noon BY now, it’s possible to start predicting what the day’s bulletins are going to look like. The Editor of ITN, Geoffrey Cox, holds a conference with the heads of the various sections who will work on the bulletins, and together they decide which items will be used. But this plan could easily be upset later in the day, especially if that big unpredictable story turns up.


A motorcyclist takes a film cartridge

1.00 p.m. ITN has cameramen all over the world and they rush their film to London daily by air. At London Airport, dispatch riders meet the incoming planes, collect the film, and hurry it back to Television House for processing.


A motorcyclist hands a film cartridge to a man in a helicopter

2.00 p.m. ONE cameraman, Cyril Page, has been covering a story by helicopter — traffic jams on roads to the seaside. The only way to get such film is from the air. The cameraman’s nightmare is to be stuck in a traffic jam when he should be rushing back with his pictures.


A man inspects a complicated machine

3.00 p.m. ITN has its own high-speed developing plant which can prepare a film for viewing within half an hour of its arrival in Television House. An endless chain of film is drawn through a series of tanks filled with developer and fixer, and the finished negative emerges at the other end.


Two men stand by a film viewer

4.00 p.m. NOW the film editors are hard at work, pruning the film, taking the best shots, arranging them in an orderly sequence. It takes deft fingers and a good eye for a person to do this, and television news film editors have to work quickly and accurately. A scriptwriter collaborates with the film editor at this stage — he will have to write the commentary that goes on the air with the film.


A man works at a bank of monitors

5.00 p.m. THE early bulletin at 5.55 p.m. is taking an “insert” from Manchester. This is a film shot in the North, taken to the Manchester studios, and transmitted into the bulletin from there — the quickest way of putting it on the screen. For this operation, special lines have to be booked to link London and Manchester, and an engineer tests the line well in advance to make sure that it works properly and that the picture it transmits is of good quality.


Inside the control gallery

6.00 p.m. THE early bulletin is on the air. The producer on duty, Diana Edwards-Jones, has an assistant beside her who times each item with a stop-watch. Everything must be scrupulously timed, to make sure that the separate items fit together properly and the whole bulletin fits into the time allotted to it.


A busy news room

7.00 p.m. THE newsroom is hard at work on the main evening bulletin, now only two hours away. A team of sub-editors works with the newscaster, shaping the news stories. Scriptwriters look after the commentaries that go with the film items. Gradually, the bulletin comes into existence in the form of a growing pile of stories and scripts on the producer’s desk.


A camera points to a map of Africa; other captions are on pegs on a washing line

8.00 p.m. MAPS have to be specially drawn to set the scene for many stories, and these are set up in front of two cameras in a quiet corner of the studio. ITN has staff artists who can draw a map or diagram at a moment’s notice.


The control room

8.30 p.m. REHEARSAL for the Nine O’clock News. This is the first and only chance the producer gets to try out in practice all the plans and ideas for the bulletin which have taken shape on paper. If some idea doesn’t quite work now, it may need a minor adjustment so that it goes smoothly when the programme is on the air.


Two men operate a machine with film draped around the walls

8.45 p.m. A LAST-MINUTE film is rushed to the telecine unit, a combination of film projector and television camera, which makes it possible to put films on the air. A team of projectionists operate the telecine machines with split-second precision, so that each film fits smoothly into its place in the bulletin.


Four people crammed into a small studio

8.50 p.m. THE unseen commentator, whose voice you hear with the films, has a separate studio. He sits surrounded by scriptwriters, each of them responsible for guiding him through the scripts, by tapping him on the shoulder to indicate when to start and stop reading. The scriptwriter’s main headache is to make sure that the words he has written fit the film accurately.


A camera points directly at us

8.55 p.m. A NEWSCASTER’S-EYE view of the studio. As he looks into the camera, he can see clearly the floor manager, wearing headphones through which she receives messages from the producer. Her main task is to pass on instructions to the newscaster, by means of hand signals. Another girl operates a machine which projects the entire script of the bulletin on to a screen, so that the newscaster can read it without looking down at his desk.


A camera points at the newscaster with a man adjusting his script

8.58 p.m. ITN’s Deputy Editor, Denis Thomas, makes final adjustments in the script. Perhaps a word or two have to be changed to make a news story easier to understand; perhaps a few words have to be cut out to save time. The bulletin must not be even a few seconds too long.


Andrew Gardner

9.00 p.m. On the air — and tonight your newscaster is Andrew Gardner. He must be alert now to have changes in the bulletin signalled to him. And even now, while he is on the air, that big unpredictable news story may break. If it does, it will be flashed to him and he will squeeze it into the bulletin, probably by scrapping a less important story to make room for it.


After the Nine O’clock News, ITN’s day is not yet over. There is another brief bulletin — News in Headlines — to go on the air two hours later, but this is a simple job compared with the complex task of the main bulletin.

By midnight, the lights are going out in the ITN newsroom and the last sub-editors are hurrying off to catch their trains and buses home. But those teleprinters do not stop. They clatter on through the night, and already they may be recording events in far corners of the world that will make tomorrow’s headlines.



You Say

1 response to this article

Patrick Dent 27 November 2021 at 9:37 pm

Diana Edwards-Jones whose language was described by Reginald Bosenquet in his book as “legendary” !

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