The future of television: Their ideas 

28 December 2021

[PART 1] • [PART 2] • [PART 3] • [PART 4] • [PART 5] • [PART 6] • [PART 7] • [PART 8] • [PART 9] • [PART 10] • [PART 11]


Line drawing by John Farleigh

From the Daily Mirror Spotlight on the Future of Television, published in 1958

“We have given much thought to the question of television.”

— The Labour Party’s evidence to the Beveridge Committee on Broadcasting.

The future of television will almost certainly be decided by a Labour Government.

Sooner or later Labour will have to produce a policy on television.

How will that policy emerge?

There are two possible sources.

  1. The Fabian Society is about to set up a committee which will consider the whole field of broadcasting and television.
  2. Television from time to time figures on the agenda of the public information group of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The Labour Party Executive will wait a long time if it expects the nucleus of television policy to emerge from the public information group. This body approaches television in a spasmodic, casual and desultory manner. Its discussions, when they do occasionally turn to the subject of television, are based on the leisurely assumption that nothing needs to be done for another six years when the Television Act will have run its course. All that has transpired from its deliberations so far is that many members still dream of the complete abolition of commercial television, others want to amend the Television Act so that advertising will be severely restricted, and most want to tighten up the I.T.A.’s control over the commercial companies.

The one positive suggestion that is being evolved in the Parliamentary Labour Party’s public information group comes from Mr. Christopher Mayhew. It is a disastrous one.

Mr. Mayhew’s bold plan is for the complete reorganisation of commercial television into what amounts to a system of state-sponsored television.

Under this system commercial television would be run exclusively by the Independent Television Authority. All advertising would be placed through the I.T.A., and the I.T.A. would receive all the advertising revenue.

The job of the programme contractors would simply be to contract for programmes. In other words, they would get no share of the advertising revenue, but would be paid by the I.T.A. to put on television programmes.

And so television would be run by two public corporations, one living on licence fees and the other on advertising fees.

This idea is simple, imaginative and completely impracticable.

The Independent Television Authority, whose staff is at present numbered in dozens rather than in hundreds, would have to be built up into a colossal bureaucratic organisation. It would be essentially a central authority which would ruin completely I.T.V.’s present concept of regionalised television. If the programme companies refused to become mere producers of programmes — and there is no reason at all to suppose that the programme companies would have anything to do with such a scheme — the I.T.A. would have the job of producing its own programmes. It would become another B.B.C., with all the B.B.C.’s faults and follies. Advertising would drift away. The I.T.A. would become a burden on the state and would finish up either being abandoned or being subsidised out of a licence fee which by that time would have reached astronomical proportions.

If Labour is really thinking on these lines, it would do better to think again.


For ITV’s 20th anniversary, Eamonn Andrews interviews Leslie Mitchell and several others – some of whom (Christopher Mayhew, Hughie Green) are remarkably bad tempered – about the opening night in 1955

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The Fabian Society’s difficulty in forming its broadcasting and television committee is going to be in finding a group that can be expected to reach some kind of agreement on the future of television.

The Society last considered television in 1948, when the question appeared far more clearly-cut than it does now. The research group then appointed came to the conclusion, among other tilings, that the B.B.C. should be split into four corporations — the first for basic broadcasting, the second for regional broadcasting, the third for overseas broadcasting and the fourth for television.

This basic idea has since been developed and brought up to date by Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who is a likely candidate for the new Fabian committee.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn put his ideas forward in Socialist Digest, the official monthly of the Labour Party. Mr. Benn wrote: “The present set-up is quite unstable. The B.B.C. receives all the licence money and commands far less than half the total audience. The I.T.A. which sets out to be popular, is popular, and costs the licence-payer nothing. Sooner or later the demand will grow for some change. What should that change be?” He then put forward the following suggestions :—

  1. The B.B.C.’s radio activities would be spread between two public corporations — the B.B.C. and an Independent Broadcasting Authority.
  2. B.B.C. television would be hived off as the British Television Corporation which would broadcast one or more national programmes.
  3. The I.T.A. would be strengthened and given the right to produce its own programmes.
  4. All four corporations, the I.T.A. included, would receive a share of the licence fee.
  5. “There is no reason why all the TV and sound corporations mentioned above should not be allowed to accept advertising under proper conditions.”
  6. Mr. Wedgwood Benn’s plan, although more realistic than any other plan conceived by a Labour M.P., has many snags to it. Not the least of these is the prospect, a rather terrifying one, of the B.B.C. being split into three corporations. There is no reason to suppose that upon being divided into three camps the administrators of the B.B.C. would alter the attitudes that have brought this present threat upon them. The cost of three British Broadcasting Corporations, each with its many filing cabinets, its establishment officers and its pronunciation units, would be colossal. As for the prospect of the B.B.C. accepting advertisements, the question is rather whether the advertisers would accept the B.B.C.

    On the question of a third television programme Mr. Wedgwood Benn’s plan is vague. There is the suggestion that the new Television Corporation “would broadcast one or more national programmes.”

    Mr. Wedgwood Benn also suggests that coin-in-the-slot television should be considered. Most of the big programme companies are looking into subscription television, but it is a far-off prospect and one that does not affect the question of the third television programme. The lead will probably come from America and there, where “fee-vee” as it is called is being tried out, the whole future of subscription television is at present bogged down in the swamps of legislation and various vested interests.

    Whatever the shortcomings of these ideas Mr. Wedgwood Benn is thinking constructively about television, which is more than can be said for most of his colleagues. His proposals will no doubt be considered by the Fabian Society Committee. But it seems doubtful at present whether the Fabian Society will be able to hand the Labour Party Executive any firm suggestions for a television policy.

    Nor can Labour expect a television policy to fall out of the sky. A Labour Government’s future attitude on television cannot be defined until the prejudice has been ironed out, the lethargy shaken off and the more eccentric ideas discarded. These factors being what they are, the sooner Labour starts on the job the better.


    [PART 1] • [PART 2] • [PART 3] • [PART 4] • [PART 5] • [PART 6] • [PART 7] • [PART 8] • [PART 9] • [PART 10] • [PART 11]


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