1955 – ten exciting months

Now back through the first ten years …

1955 – TEN EXCITING MONTHS

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’.

1956 – losses reach £3¼ million

1956 – losses reach £3¼ million

Pioneering proved to be a pretty unrewarding business financially. The lack of any other ITV area with whom to network, slowness in the conversion of sets to receive the ITV signals and caution over the new advertising medium in some circles, combined against the new arrival. By December, the chairman had to report to the company’s general meeting ‘substantial losses’. By the end of one year’s operations the company had lost £3¼ million.

Despite this, Associated-Rediffusion continued to set the pace. On January 6, a bright news magazine programme was launched to create a new standard in television journalism. It has been doing so ever since, for the name of this programme was ‘This Week’.

On the staff side, 1956 saw two major appointments – Paul Adorian was made managing director and John McMillan came in as controller of programmes. With Capt. T. M. Brownrigg as general manager, the management team was complete.

Then came a further major gamble. Losses were continuing to build up. Yet, such was the group’s faith in the outcome, a deal was concluded on August 23 with Associated Newspapers for British Electric Traction (on behalf of itself and Rediffusion) to buy four-fifths of the Associated Newspaper interest. Subsequently the remaining one-fifth was acquired.

In September, Studio 9 was opened in Television House. Little was it realised then that it would become the nerve centre for ITV’s coverage of general elections and Royal Weddings. Nor could anybody envisage how many of the world’s leading statesmen and politicians would appear before its cameras for ‘This Week’ and ‘Division’. Meanwhile, in February, the ITA’s Midland transmitter had gone on the air. This meant the setting up of networking with ATV. The audience was slowly growing and by October, a million sets could receive ITV programmes in the London area. But the losses mounted.

It was at this troubled time that the board – conscious of its responsibility to provide a comprehensive public service – took the decision to pioneer again by providing the first television programmes for schools in Britain and the Commonwealth.

‘A Show Called Fred’ pioneered in its own way in 1956. Among those in it were (left to right) Valentine Dyall, Graham Starke, Kenneth Connor and Peter Sellers, together with The Alberts (back and right). Spike Milligan added to the madness.

1965 // FROM TRANSDIFFUSION