The first ten years

Studio 2 at Wembley photographed this month during a transmission of ‘Notre Ville’, a programme for second or third year students of French. This studio was converted for television from a film studio when the company took over the former 20th Century Fox premises at Wembley.


This website has been produced to mark the first annual report by our chairman, Mr John Spencer Wills, of Rediffusion Television Ltd, the successor of Associated-Rediffusion Ltd.

It is now appropriate to look back at some of the highlights from the past 10 dramatic years. This is done, not with a yearning for the past, but as an indication of all that we have put into the development in this country of television for public entertainment and information.

Nothing is so dead as last night’s programmes. (Naturally we are gratified when they bring us praise. Equally when we make mistakes – and we are human so we have made mistakes – then we aim to learn from them.) But if last night’s programmes, and last week’s, and last year’s, and the last decade’s show a willingness to tackle the challenge that our appointment offers, then they can be taken as an indication that those to come in the future will be of the same mettle.

We could have filled a dozen booklets this size with our memories, but we would prefer you only to flavour the past and to know that we intend the future to be even more rewarding to our public.

Scroll through the pages of ‘The First Ten Years’ to see how the years that have gone have equipped us with the experience and know-how to deal with the next ten years.

Rediffusion Television Ltd, Television House, Kingsway, London, W.C.2. HOLborn 7888

Wembley Studios, Wembley Park, Middlesex. WEMbley 8811.

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’.

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.

1959 – ballet, opera and crime


The company’s confidence in the future (despite having Pilkington round the corner) was demonstrated in May, 1959, when Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, then chairman of the ITA, laid the foundation stone of Studio 5 at Wembley. This million pound project was to give Associated-Rediffusion the largest studio built for television in the world.

The company’s willingness to try new things was further demonstrated during the year. In March, there was ‘Tyranny – the Years of Adolf Hitler’, a documentary which pioneered new techniques. From May 29 to June 14, the company screened an hour’s programmes over the Portuguese television network each night during a British Trade Fair in Portugal. In August, ‘London Morning’, a new musical by Noel Coward, was presented by London’s Festival Ballet. In September, there were new schools programmes for sixth forms and primary schools. On October 7, there was ‘Gala’, featuring Alicia Markova, Jose Iturbi, Maria Callas, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Tito Gobi. Then in December came Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’, the first full-length opera on ITV.

The year 1959 has also been described as a vintage year for series programmes. From other companies there was ‘Probation Officer’, ‘Four Just Men’, ‘Rawhide’, ‘Johnny Staccato’ and ‘The Deputy’. From Associated-Rediffusion, on September 16, Scotland Yard had a powerful addition to its ranks. Lockhart set out to prove that for murderers, thieves and gangsters, there was ‘No Hiding Place’.

‘The Turn of the Screw’, Christmas, 1959. Left to right: Janette Miller as Flora, Tom Bevan as Miles, Judith Pierce as the housekeeper and Jennifer Vyvyan as the governess.

1964 – Rediffusion, London arrives


The new contracts with the ITA were made and it was decided to form a new company to take over the television assets of Associated-Rediffusion Ltd which was wound up. The new company was called Rediffusion Television Ltd. In this year – on April 6 – a new name for on-screen and publicity purposes was adopted – Rediffusion, London.

All this was swiftly followed by something new in educative programmes. ‘Towards 2000 – the Britain We Make’ traced scientific and technological progress from the age of Shakespeare, through the present and into the future.

A documentary, an entertainment show and a play followed to demonstrate the versatility of the staff of Rediffusion, London. The documentary was ‘Black Marries White’ and it took third place in TAM’s top 10 for the week, being seen in 7,606,000 homes on April 29. The entertainment show was ‘Around the Beatles’ on June 8. This programme helped the dollar reserves by being seen coast-to-coast in the United States in November. Then ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on June 24 achieved the largest audience yet for a Shakespeare play on British television when it was seen in 3,855,000 homes. One critic described it as ‘the most profoundly satisfying dramatic experience given by television.’

To encourage these diverse talents shown by the staff, the Board set up a ‘Golden Star Awards’ scheme on November 1, under which the staff themselves could nominate for awards those who work on exceptional programmes.

To end the year, there were two more major programmes of contrast. Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ was transmitted on November 16, while Tommy Steele’s ‘Richard Whittington Esq’ went out over Christmas.

Above: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – (left to right) Alfie Bass as Flute, Benny Hill as Bottom, Arthur Hewlett as Snug. Bill Shine as Starveling. Miles Malleson as Quince and Bernard Bresslaw as Snout. The play was the company’s contribution to Shakespeare’s quarter-centenary. Below: The Beatles appeared in this scene from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ when ‘Around the Beatles’ was screened.