1955 – ten exciting months

Now back through the first ten years …


Never before in the world had a major television organisation started from scratch and got its programmes on the air in much under two years. In October, 1954, the contract for London’s weekday Independent Television programmes was awarded to Associated-Rediffusion Ltd, a combination of the resources of Associated Newspapers, The British Electric Traction Company and Rediffusion, the broadcast relay company. The first board meeting was at the end of November. That left 10 months before opening night on September 22, 1955. It couldn’t be done and if it were done it would be a flop said the Jeremiahs. It was done and it wasn’t a flop. Key personnel were recruited (January). Work started on altering the former 20th Century Fox studios at Wembley into TV studios (January). The lease of Adastral House, H.Q. of the Air Ministry since 1919 was obtained and the building renamed Television House (February). Future Productions Ltd was formed to make filmed programmes for the future (April). And from 4,000 applicants for jobs, 100 were picked for the first of two 10-week training courses at the Viking Studios (June). So right on time, on Wednesday, September 22, master control at Television House said ‘fade-up Guildhall’ and the joint opening night programme with Associated-Television was on the air. Next day, the company became the first to be responsible for a complete day’s Independent Television programmes. The start of ‘Take Your Pick’ and ‘Double Your Money’ right from the beginning attracted much publicity. Something else which did not attract so much attention was the formation of a special department of specialists to handle programmes for children. One of their creations was ‘Small Time’, which, like the quizzes, is still running.
Glenn Melvyn, Corinne Gray and Arthur Askey

1955… Arthur Askey, Glenn Melvyn and Corinne Gray appeared in ‘Love and Kisses’, a domestic comedy series. Other programmes during 1955 included a serial – ‘Sixpenny Corner’, 18th century melodrama – ‘The Granville Melodramas’, human problems with Godfrey Winn – ‘As Others See Us’, a feature series – ‘Our British Heritage’, talent spotting with Ralph Reader – ‘Chance of a Lifetime,’ a series on sport – ‘Cavalcade of Sport’, and ‘Dragnet’.

1957 – programmes for schools pioneered

1957 – programmes for schools pioneered

Despite the financial losses, there was no loss of the pioneering spirit. In February, an Education Advisory Council was set up to advise on schools programmes. The first of these was screened on May 13 under the banner ‘ITV goes to School’. Since then, the company has established the following ‘firsts’ in school broadcasting: the first science programme for primary school children (‘The World Around Us’, 1959); the first foreign language series (‘Chez les Dupre’, 1960); the first programmes for less able children (‘You and the World’, 1964); the first religious series (‘Crossroads’, 1964); and the first for infants (‘Finding Out’, 1964).

On September 19, 1957, the company also became the first to take out a £2 million policy on 2,000 guests. A galaxy of stars and distinguished members of the press, business and advertising worlds sailed down the Thames in a tribute to all those who had helped make the programmes of the first two years a success.

The company’s variety artists that year included Arthur Askey, The Crazy Gang, the Lyons family, Max Wall, Alfred Marks, Denis Lotis and Robert Dhéry. On the more serious side, the first screening of films made for television by the British Film Institute at the National Film Theatre in December included films made by the company’s features department.

There was a happier note at the second annual general meeting in November, when the chairman reported that the company was now operating ‘at a satisfactory profit’. Advertisement bookings were increasing and while the audience in 1955 had been under three-quarters of a million, it was now approaching 5½ million. The loss for the year was £1 million.

In 1957 Rediffusion gave 100 television sets to schools in the London area. Now 2,150 schools and colleges can receive transmissions in the area out of around 11,400 in the whole country. Here pupils at Greenhill Primary School, Harrow, watch a programme in the ‘Finding Out’ series.