The ITA so far 

22 September 2022 tbs.pm/75676

 

TV Mirror Annual 1956 cover

From the TV Mirror Annual 1956

1. How it all began

 

AS TELEVISION HAS A GREAT and increasing power in influencing men’s minds, the Government believes that its control should not remain in the hands of a single authority, however excellent it may be…”

Thus read the White Paper issued in November of 1953 explaining the Government’s decision to provide commercial TV. It took pains to point out that no criticism of the BBC was implied. But at the same time it suggested that they had held a monopoly for too long — that want of opposition could only make them stagnant. A second programme from the BBC would only go half-way towards meeting the problem. The shot in the arm that was needed could only be given by competition.

Few people denied that competition in TV would be a good thing. But commercial! Why, at one time it almost seemed like a naughty word.

“It is utterly wrong,” said Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, MP, “that what we see in our homes should depend on the desire of advertisers to make profits.”

That was the issue on which the Television Bill was fought. Looking back, it is difficult to remember what a stormy passage it had. Its critics saw it as a mass seduction of the innocents by the unscrupulous. They fought it fiercely — in the universities and the working men’s clubs, the church social halls and the Houses of Parliament. And they very nearly suppressed it. At one stage the Government came within six votes of defeat.

Assistant Postmaster-General L. D. Gammans put the case for the Bill: “If we can trust the people of this country to go on a jury, to give them freedom to buy a newspaper, or the right to vote and decide the destiny of their country, then I think they can be trusted to look at a little picture on their television screens.”

Arguing against the Bill, Mr. Ness Edwards said: “Does the Government really think that the serious side of television will get a chance if it has to depend on what is paid for the frivolous side? Do they really think that education, religion and subjects of social importance will be supported by beer, pools and pills?”

Countered Earl de la Warr: “Must we assume that the best appeal to the people is through salacious indecency or horror?”

A row that was already sizeable rose to mammoth proportions when TV licences were raised by £1 [about £30 now, allowing for inflation – Ed], partly to help launch the new venture.

“Why should I,” stormed Mr. Herbert Morrison from the Opposition benches, “as an ordinary citizen who does not want commercial television, be forced to contribute to the subsidising of it?”

By the time the Bill reached its committee stage 137 amendments were tabled. Even some Government supporters expected the whole plan to be scrapped.

Undaunted by previous reversals, Mr. Morrison launched the first attack. He said the Bill was such a muddled affair that it had obviously been thought up by twenty or thirty Government back-benchers, who had rattled a weak-kneed Government into accepting it. He had his own version of the Government’s surrender. He pictured them as saying “The boys want a bill. Let’s cough up a bill.”

But his amendment was rejected, as were the other 136. After three months of delays, late-night sessions in the House, and argument that grew progressively less even-tempered, the Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords.

On July 30th, 1954, it received Royal Assent and became law.

 

Evolution of ITV advertising: Fairy Liquid

 

 

2. WHAT IS ITA?

 

MR. CHRISTOPHER MAYHEW, one of ITA’s most vehement critics, once defined the set-up as a top-heavy organisation consisting of:

A. The advertisers, who provide the money;
B. The contractors, who provide the programmes;
C. The Independent Television Authority, who provide the respectability.

This description is not so harsh as it may seem. The ITA, basically, is nothing more than a supervisor, censor and general watchdog.

If you think of the Authority as a landlord you will get a fair idea of its position. It can let a house (or studio) to a tenant (or contractor), and so long as that tenant behaves himself he has nothing to worry about. But if he oversteps the mark he can be evicted.

The Act that brought ITA into being outlined certain duties — to ensure that the programmes are of “high quality”; that a “proper proportion of films and telefilms are British”; that the amount of advertising “shall not be so great as to detract from the value of the programmes,” and so forth.

To be more specific, the Authority has the right to call for schedules and scripts in advance, to ask the contractors for telerecordings if it wants to examine a particular programme, to forbid broadcasts on certain subjects, and to regulate advertisements. Normally, these powers will be held in reserve.

Parliament voted a grant of £750,000 [£22m now] to the Postmaster-General to set ITA on its feet. Also, it made provisions for loans up to £2,000,000 [£60m] over five years to pay for the equipment.

The first grant was largely to cover the cost of any programmes that the ITA might produce. The contractors, naturally, want shows with a light touch. Thus, subjects such as religion may be left out. In such cases the ITA can provide an item that will give an overall balance to the programme. If, in doing this, they find they need more money, they can fall back on the rental paid to them by the contractors. Combined annual income from this source is estimated at £1,500,000 [£45m].

 

Television House

Headquarters of the two London programme companies is Television House in Kingsway, once the home of the Air Ministry (Remember those weather reports “from the Air Ministry roof”?) Besides containing offices for a huge staff, the building is being converted to make room for studios.

 

The ITA is headed by Sir Robert Brown Fraser, 51-year-old ex-journalist and politician who was chosen for the post from some three hundred applicants. Under him there is a Board of Directors appointed by the Government, whose duty it is to submit an annual report and statement of accounts to the Postmaster-General.

Sir Robert is a tolerant man. When asked about his tastes in entertainment he once said “I like everything.” So the contractors should not find it difficult to satisfy him.

Chairman of ITA, and second-in-command to Sir Robert, is the genial Sir Kenneth Clark, who will probably be more concerned with the day-to-day workings of ITA than anyone else. He has full confidence in the contractors.

“I can tell you,” he said, “that the programme companies are very well aware of their responsibility to balance entertainment with works of more lasting merit.”

But do not forget that the ITA chiefs have complete power to squash any programme they don’t like. Let us take an extreme case. Suppose they decide that a certain show, although popular, is having a bad influence on children. They ask the contractor to remove the item and replace it with something less controversial.

The contractors comply — they have no option. The programme they substitute is not so popular, and advertisers feel that their spot before the show isn’t doing any good. They withdraw their custom.

Now, the whole structure depends on the advertisers. If they don’t pay, commercial TV falls flat on its face. Somewhere, Sir Robert and Sir Kenneth must find a compromise between what they want and what the advertisers want. And the path that they tread is a slippery one.

 

Evolution of ITV advertising: Persil

 

 

3. WHO PAYS FOR YOUR PROGRAMMES?

 

BBC TV ARE REPORTED TO BUDGET £10,000 [£270,000] for a week-end’s programmes. And since it is your money, you may think it quite enough. But the company providing commercial TV for London’s week-ends can allot double that figure and still make a handsome profit. Their potential advertising revenue for the two days is something over £50,000 [£1.4m].

As long as the advertisers continue to buy time on the ITA we shall get star names and lavish programmes—the best that money can buy.

How does the system work? The ITA has decided to allow six minutes of advertising in every hour, and stipulates that this advertising must come during “natural breaks” in the programme. That means at the beginning and end of a show, and during intervals. Nothing is allowed which will interrupt the smooth running of a programme.

 

A camera points through a car windscreen

Associated Broadcasting are pioneering a new technique called High Definition Films. The camera turning on Reg Dixon here is a television one. A film is taken from the monitor screen, and when the HDF picture reaches your screens it is sharper and clearer

 

For the privilege of showing you their products the advertisers pay between £87 [£2,500] (for a quarter of a minute during a test time) and £1,000 [£27,000] (for a full minute at a peak viewing time).

The ITA insists that there shall be no connection between the actual programmes and the advertisements, except in shopping guides. That is where commercial TV differs from its American counterpart, sponsored TV.

If any advertiser produces a testimonial you can be sure it is genuine. He will have to satisfy the Authority on that score before it can be used. The ITA has added one other clause to its code which parents will welcome: no advertisement is allowed “which will lead children to believe that if they did not own a certain product they will be inferior to other children.”

How much of a say in the choice of programmes do advertisers have? In theory, none whatever. But to deal with that question more fully we must pass on to the contractors…

 

Evolution of ITV advertising: Fry’s Turkish Delight

 

 

4. MEET THE MIDDLEMEN

 

“AS LONG AS THERE IS a queue of advertisers, I alone will say what goes into my programmes,” said Mr. Sidney Bernstein, who runs one of the four contracting companies.

“But if we run into financial troubles, and the advertisers want programmes at a lower level when we want their money — then we shall have a tussle with our consciences, and frankly I don’t know what will happen.”

Illuminating words, these. They sum up both the hopes and fears of the people who will give you your programmes. Remember that the contractors start at a disadvantage. You have a choice between two shows — one carrying advertising, one without. All things being equal, the chances are you turn to the programme without any “dead wood.” The BBC, in fact. To tempt you away the contractors must produce shows that little bit better.

What is their answer? Money, stars and first-class showmanship. Let us take a look at the four contracting companies, chosen by the ITA from a list of about a hundred applicants.

Firstly, we have Associated-Rediffusion TV, who produce Monday-to-Friday programmes in the London area. Controller of Programmes for A-R TV is Mr. Roland Gillett, a bustling 46-year-old Englishman who brings to his job a wealth of experience in American TV.

“My aim,” he once said, “is to use the best ideas in American competitive TV, and leave out the worst. Like Topsy, British commercial TV will have to grow up quickly, but we have up our sleeve some revolutionary methods which may even put us jumps ahead of the United States.”

 

 

Gillett puts great faith in the homely type of show, on the grounds that people like to pattern their lives on what is happening on TV. He believes that TV should be a “live” show, and will use film as seldom as possible.

Here he differs from Norman Collins, deputy-chairman of the Associated Broadcasting Company [later Associated TeleVision – ATV – Ed], which will cater for the London area at the peak viewing time of week-ends. “Nobody,” says Collins, “has ever come out of a cinema saying ‘what a pity that film was filmed.’”

His company is making its great effort with films, spending £7,000 [£190,000] and more on a half-hour show. For the rest, the accent will always be on the lighter side.

Says Harry Alan Towers, ABC’s young programmes director: “We believe that we should concentrate on the straight entertainment field. Documentaries, current affairs, serious music? Remember, we have a week-end audience which wants to be entertained.” ABC have a sweeping claim to live up to, for chairman Mr. Prince Littler promised viewers “the best and brightest week-end programmes in the world.”

They will soon be providing weekday entertainment as well, for ABC has the Monday-to-Friday contract for Birmingham.

Granada Theatres, the group controlled by Mr. Sidney Bernstein, is to operate from Manchester on weekdays. Although the other contractors seem prepared to unite against the competition of BBC TV, Mr. Bernstein prefers to play a lone hand. “We are treating everyone as competitors,” he says, “and that includes the other contractors.”

He is entering the arena with an open mind, prepared to cover everything from ice shows to educational programmes.

“Wherever interest and demand exist we shall meet them,” he sums up, “but we do not intend to pander to the lowest level of taste.”

 

Evolution of ITV advertising: Oxo

 

 

5. ITA AND YOU

 

SO FAR, COMMERCIAL TV can reach only 13,000,000 people living in the London area. That is less than a quarter of the population. So the odds are about three to one that you are having to wait for ITA.

Just how long is that wait going to be? If you live in or around Manchester and Birmingham, the answer is not long. Let’s say until the early part of 1956. If you do not live in either of these areas I can only recommend you to patience and BBC TV.

The first three transmitters, between them, will serve less than half of the population. The ITA hopes that within four or five years seventy-five per cent of the people now served by ITA will be able to receive commercial. Scotland, South Wales and Yorkshire come high on the list of priorities. They will probably get the service late in 1956 or early in 1957. After them, station’s may be set up to cover the North-East Coast, the South-West, the Portsmouth area and Northern Ireland.

These, I should point out, are the areas the ITA hope to serve. Whether or not they get commercial TV largely depends on whether a programme contractor comes forward offering to operate the site. Eventually, there may be as many as fifteen separate stations.

But if your home is in too remote a part of these islands, you can give up hope of ever seeing commercial TV.

How much does it cost to adapt a set? Taking an average, about £12 [£325]. If you live close to a transmitter and have a set made in the last four years, the conversion should cost no more than £3 or £4 [£80-£110]. If you are about twenty miles away, the aerial alone may cost £10 [£270]. In some cases the adaptation may amount to £30 [£810].

If you live just outside the official transmission area it may be worth making inquiries of your dealer. Although the range of the Croydon transmitter is supposed to be forty miles, signals have been received as far away as Hastings, which is seventy miles from Croydon.

On the other hand, you may live almost next door to a transmitter and be unable to receive it. If you live close behind a gasometer or steep hill you would be well advised to ask for a test before paying for the conversion.

 

6. BRINGING YOU THE NEWS

 

“HISTORY IS ONE GIGANTIC and never-ending play, and news is a report from the stage of the Present Act.”

So says Mr. Aidan Crawley, Editor-in-Chief of the news company formed to serve ITA. His is a thankless task, for telling the news is the toughest job in television. If you doubt it, consider a few of the criticisms levelled at the BBC’s News and Newsreel.

The four programme companies united to form Independent Television News. Mr. Crawley’s network of reporting staff would be too heavy a burden for any one company, and anyway, they feel that news should be national rather than local.

Mr. Crawley is already known to viewers for his work on BBC TV’s Viewfinder. His keen, analytical mind is ITN’s biggest asset. Sir Kenneth Clark, chairman of the ITA, had confidence enough in Crawley to predict: “I think you are going to get the same kind of bright and fresh news as the great American commentators have made by far the best part of American television.”

 

Three of the people whose job it is to bring you the news. Aidan Crawley (left) is Editor-Chief of Independent Television News. Playwright Lynne Reid Banks (middle) is one of the commentators, as is Chris Chataway (right), whose athletic feats have thrilled millions on television.

 

Assisting Mr. Crawley will be Max Caulfield and Gould Adams, both well-known Fleet Street figures, and Arthur Clifford, late of the BBC.

ITN does not want its announcers to be impersonal voices behind a name plate; it believes they should be human. So let us take a look at some of the people who will bring you the news. There is Chris Chataway, whose gain to ITN is a sad loss to the world of athletics. Chataway plans to devote himself full time to reporting after the 1956 Olympic games.

Next there is attractive Lynne Reid Banks, 25-year-old actress and playwright. One of her five plays so far performed. It Never Rains, was produced on BBC TV. The other woman reporter is Mrs. Barbara Mandell, who has eight years of broadcasting experience behind her. Christopher Hollis, a retired MP, will be Parliamentary correspondent.

ITN’s policy is for more “on the spot” news, faster service, fewer weighty items that neither concern nor interest you. It is not out to make a profit and it has no axe to grind.

If it persuades you to turn to Band III at news time, rather than Band I, both Mr. Crawley and the ITA will be perfectly content.

 

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