A change of programmes 

16 December 2023 tbs.pm/80331

 

A big name in broadcasting disappeared fifty-five years ago this year, as ITV went through its first big shake up. Many will be too young to remember Rediffusion (some even too young to remember its worthy successor), but it is significant in that it left a long legacy in the world of commercial television, the ripples of which are only just fading. It made the glitzy new Independent Television respectable.

As “Associated-Rediffusion” it was the company that launched the fledgling ITV service back in 1955, providing the Monday to Friday service in London.

The name came from it being a joint venture between Associated Newspapers and Broadcast Relay Systems, a company providing an early version of cable TV and radio.

Associated Newspapers quickly sold out its share holding in the combine. The ITV network lost money by the bucket load in the early years.

A relaunch as “Rediffusion Television Limited” to reflect the part change of shareholders, came in 1964 by which time it had established itself as the backbone of the network and was making good profits.

It had bankrolled a failing Granada TV in 1956 and had given studio space to its weekend rival ATV while they were struggling to fund their own facilities.

Had either of these other companies gone down, Rediffusion would have been faced with being almost the sole provider of network programming and they too would have fallen, under the crushing costs.

Rediffusion’s legacy was a pattern of scheduling that would shape the rest of the network for the decades to come.

Classically, their innovative formula ran like this:-

Teatime (4.20-5.55) Children’s programmes. (For a period preceded by a housewives soap “Crossroads”, at 4.20 (later moved to 6.35).

5.55 News.

6.10 Current Affairs or Critics Debate. Other ITV companies would be showing their regional news magazines at this point but Rediffusion considered itself to be a national broadcaster based in London, the capital was evidently not a “region” as such, so no local news was required here…

6.35 Family viewing: Imported US comedy shows (The Flintstones, Mr Ed, My Favourite Martian, Car 54 Where Are You, The Beverley Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Etc)

7.0 Light entertainment, Quiz or Game shows (The Dickie Henderson Show, Take Your Pick, Double Your Money).

7.30 Soapland (Coronation Street/Emergency Ward Ten) – neither were actually made by them but were ‘imported’ from Granada and ATV).

8.0 Populist drama (No Hiding Place, Crane, The Rat Catchers, Riviera Police or US imports such as Burke’s Law, Rawhide, Gunsmoke).

8.55 News.

9.10 And beyond … belonged to the serious stuff, drama, documentaries and current affairs, finishing the evening around 11.30 with a Westminster style news review “Dateline” and final news summary.

The thinking behind this scheduling meant that the advertising returns on the lighter fare of the early evening paid for the quality output in the later slots, types of programming that have long disappeared from the ITV line up.

There were two other important innovations from Rediffusion. They were the first to provide daytime television programmes for schools in 1957, an idea that the BBC just had to follow. They eventually broke their own rule of ‘current affairs at 6.10’ on Fridays with the groundbreaking teatime pop show ‘Ready Steady Go!’, setting the template for ‘The Tube’ on Channel Four some twenty years later. The weekend really did start here!

Through the producing talents of Humphry Barclay and David Frost it was Rediffusion which in 1967 brought us the new ground breaking comedy strands ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ and ‘At Last The 1948 Show’, both of which set the scene for the BBC’s ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ in 1969.

The Independent Television Authority didn’t see eye to eye with Rediffusion’s management who were thought to be arrogant but the ITA accepted their importance in the network as flagship contractor. In 1967 all the ITV contracts were up for renewal and another company, ABC Television who were providing a weekend service in the midlands and the north were to be homeless, with the services in those areas converting to seven day contractors. ABC hoped they would be granted the London weekend contract leaving Rediffusion in place…. and it nearly happened. The ITA had been dazzled by a promising new applicant The London Television Consortium, created by David Frost … which would become “London Weekend”, leaving ABC (who’d done nothing wrong) nowhere to be placed.

The ITA admired ABC and it flexed its muscles. ABC had a stunning record, it had flair, it had panache. Rediffusion had substance, dependability and gravitas with a flair for documentaries, children’s and schools broadcasting. The ITA decided that the two should form a joint subsidiary (not a merger) with ABC having the controlling interest and Rediffusion holding forty-nine per-cent of the profits. ABC selected staff from both former companies taking Rediffusion’s departments of current affairs, children’s and schools. The new company would be ABC dominated.

At 11.20 pm on Monday 29 July 1968 Rediffusion broadcast an episode of the US soap ‘Peyton Place’ followed by a weather forecast and a religious epilogue. Then a little while after midnight Chief announcer Redvers Kyle made a short speech wishing the new company all the best before closing the station down for the last time. Things would be very different tomorrow.

It seemed like a kick in the face for a company that had done so much to keep ITV alive in it’s early days. But it’s management and shareholders were soon to discover that despite being a ‘minority’ partner within the new company, a forty-nine per-cent share in Thames Television would pay handsome dividends for years to come.

 

Geoff Nash is a Staff Editor at Transdiffusion

 

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2 responses to this article

Ray Wilson 17 December 2023 at 2:05 pm

An excellent article…

Alan Collins 20 December 2023 at 5:03 am

Very informative. I am too young to remember Rediffusion other than TV Rental shops in the high street so to learn more about the company’s past is very interesting.

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