The ITV Story

From the TVTimes for 25 September – 1 October 1965

THE small group of top executives sat numb and horrified. With only 24 hours to go before Independent Television opened on the night of September 22, 1955, they faced disaster.

At Television House, Kingsway and in the studios at Wembley where they crouched behind the computer-like machines which control the transmission of programmes, they stared white-faced at the monitor screens in front of them.

All were — catastrophically — blank. The final run-through before ITV went on the air had failed.

This was the situation: Five Outside Broadcast cameras had been set up in London to transmit the opening night’s programme.

Early in the afternoon of September 21, the two men in charge of the master control units — Cyril Francis at Wembley and Neil Bramson in Television House — took their seats at their “space-age” desks.

The Lord Mayor of London is speaking at the Guildhall. On his left is Sir Kenneth Clark

They exchanged light hearted banter with the assistants and technicians around them which did nothing to relieve the underlying tension.

At approximately 3 p.m. they started the procedure for bringing all the OB points under their control.

“Cue Wood Green!”

Dutifully sound and vision ‘mixers’ threw their switches. On the bank of monitor screens, a picture from the Wood Green Empire should have come in loud and clear. Instead, nothing!

“Cue Shoreditch!”

Still nothing! Phone calls, frantic messages flashed out. Nobody could find out what was wrong. Then, after two hours of tense, sweating anxiety and frustration, the Programme Controller called off the rehearsal. “Not to worry, we’ll try again later.” At 6 p.m. they tried again. Once more Francis and Bramson sat tense and sweating in front of their monitor screens. Behind them, chiefs of the new service smoked incessantly and made little jokes and remarks.

“How are things going?” asked one of the top brass. “Ruddy awful!” replied Francis.

For a second it looked as if the earlier disaster was about to be repeated. Sound and vision had come in loud and clear from four OB points but the fifth still showed blank. Panic! But a swift phone call and suddenly the screen came alive.

Twenty-four hours before the new service was due to open, secretaries and technicians acted as ‘stand-ins’ for the distinguished people and well-known artists who would be seen the following evening.

On the big night, nerves were stretched as the 7.15 deadline neared. At 6.55 p.m. Cyril Francis took a deep breath, glanced round his tiny control room filled with anxious, straining faces, and checked his monitor screens. In Television House, 10 miles away, Bramson followed the same procedure.

Relief! — the pictures came through beautifully clear. Sound, too, was OK. Everybody kept their fingers crossed hoping that the gremlins had been locked out of the works. The Control Engineer felt a sense of marvellous relief. Then suddenly he stiffened. With less than five minutes to go, a monitor screen went blank!

With a feeling of panic, the Control Engineer lifted a phone and rang the G.P.O.’s Museum Exchange, through which all the TV lines are fed to the transmitters. “Has anybody touched anything?” he yelled.

A confused scramble at the other end, then a voice said: “We just pulled out a plug to check that it was OK.”

“Well, put the ruddy thing back at once!” yelled the irate Control Engineer. The blank screen flashed to life.

The first thing seen by viewers, watching 600,000 converted sets in the London area and waiting tensely for the big switch-on, was a black cross on a white ground, accompanied by a high pitched scream. For a moment many must have thought things had gone wrong.

Leslie Mitchell spoke the first words on ITV

Then the legend “Opening Night Independent Television Service Channel 9” flashed on the screen and the voice of Leslie Mitchell, the veteran broadcaster, declared: “This is London!”

A brief snatch of film, with the commentator saying: “Wish us Godspeed. Over to Guildhall. Take it away, master control!” And suddenly viewers were with the 450 distinguished guests — who included the Postmaster General, Dr. Charles (now Lord) Hill, now chairman of the ITA, Sir Kenneth Clark, then ITA chairman, and the Director-General, Sir Robert Fraser — listening to the Hallé Orchestra at ITV’s inaugural banquet in the historic Guildhall. Independent Television was born!

It was 8.13 p.m. before viewers saw what they had been waiting for — the little items that were entirely new to British audiences. The commercials.

The first commercial in British history was for Gibbs SR and showed a toothbrush and a block of ice. The second was for Cadbury’s drinking chocolate, and the third for Summer County margarine.

Tingling fresh! The first commercial on ITV

Altogether viewers saw 24 advertising ’spots’ during the evening and found them fascinating. Within a week, people all over London were whistling TV jingles instead of the latest popular tune.

A variety show, starring Harry Secombe and Hughie Green among others; drama excerpts introduced by Robert Morley; a professional boxing match; a visit to the gala opening night with cabaret at the May Fair Hotel; the news (read by champion runner Chris Chataway) and ITV closed down its first night’s programmes.

The Press next day was kind if not over-enthusiastic. But on one thing they were all agreed — all the prophecies and warnings that it would take two years at least to mount a new television service had been wrong. It had been done successfully in ten months and technically everything had been perfect.

Mishap for the Hallé – trapped on their rostrum (background) in the hall

Yet although everything appeared to go off without a hitch, there were at least four ‘mishaps’ during the evening. Viewers saw two of them but missed the other two.

The first one they didn’t see took place in the Guildhall. The Hallé Orchestra, having finished Elgar’s ’Cockaigne’ suite, rose from their seats and attempted to leave the rostrum only to find that they were trapped.

So hemmed in were they by tables, guests and TV equipment that they had to sit where they were until the banquet and the speeches had finished.

The second took place in the offices and studio of ITN. Minutes before the news at 10 p.m., Chris Chataway snatched up the prepared bulletin and raced out to the lift that would take him up seven floors to the ITN studio on top of TV House. He found the lift jammed!

“It was a terrible moment,” says Chataway today. “We were all in a desperate state of anxiety and excitement — and then this. Fortunately my limbs were still in a sound state in those days and I raced up the stairs two at a time, followed by the whole production staff, puffing and blowing for all they were worth.”

Another hitch — which viewers actually did see — also involved Chataway. He had begun his first newscast and everything was going fine when he found that the teleprompter on which his script was revolving was going too slowly. It was being operated by a secretary who could control its speed with a gentle pressure of her foot.

Chataway began slowing down to keep pace with the machine — only to find to his horror that the slower he went, the slower the teleprompter revolved!

Finally, in desperation, he risked glancing away from the camera to look round at the girl who was standing a little behind him and out of vision. She realised her mistake immediately and at once speeded up.

But next day a critic wrote: “Mr. Chataway did fine except for one moment when he glanced over his shoulder, apparently to see where the rest of the field were.”

The second hitch which viewers saw was certainly far more hilarious. At the end of each round of the professional boxing match from Shoreditch, there was a break for commercials.

At the end of one round, the director cut away from the ringside to show a half-minute of advertising.

The last of these ‘spots’ was for a well-known beer. Viewers saw the bottle of beer, watched it being poured into a glass and finally saw a man drinking it with obvious satisfaction. Just at that moment the director cut back to the boxing. The boxer, on whom the camera focused, having rinsed out his mouth, spat the water into a bucket. The impression given was that he was spitting out the beer!

The ITV Story

From the TVTimes for 2-8 October 1965

THROUGHOUT the spring and summer of 1955, small bands of men worked feverishly against the clock in London. They had a deadline to meet — September 22, 1955 — the night they must open a new television service in Britain.

Only the London area would see the new programmes to begin with — the rest of the country would follow at gradual intervals.

Two companies had been awarded programme contracts by the Independent Television Authority to provide the London service. They were Associated-Rediffusion, who had to provide the Monday-Friday weekday programmes; and Associated Television who had to provide programmes at weekends.

Independent Television News, whose job was to provide a news service had been established and Associated-Rediffusion had undertaken the publication of TV Times for the whole ITV network.

The men at the top of these companies started with almost nothing but their own determination and energies. They had no staff, no permanent office premises, no studios, no cameras, no sound equipment. And they had only 11 months altogether, from the date of the announcement that they had been awarded programme contracts in October, 1954, to the date on which the new service had to begin, to mount programmes capable of challenging the mighty BBC.

They began with temporary make-shift offices. The top men of Associated-Rediffusion found themselves housed in six offices in Stratton House, Piccadilly — comfortable enough to begin with; but a bit overcrowded when recruiting boosted the staff to 60!

The ATV backroom boys found refuge at York House, Bloomsbury and Regent House, Lower Regent Street. Here things were so cramped, according to Keith Rogers, then head of Outside Broadcasts, “that we all had to sit on the corners of chairs — in my room, for instance, there were four of us and masses and masses of files and correspondence.”

There was even a shortage of elementary office equipment. When Captain Tom Brownrigg arrived to take up his duties as general manager of Associated-Rediffusion, “I found myself with a nice office but only a table and a chair. So I had to go and find a telephone. Then a secretary. Then I went for a walk up Tottenham Court Road and bought a second-hand desk for £65.”

The stage is cleared at London’s Granville Theatre and the scene is set for one of Britain’s first ITV studios

Lloyd Williams, then assistant Controller of Programmes for Associated-Rediffusion, recalled that conditions in Stratton House grew chaotic.

“There were never enough chairs — you just had to walk about the other offices and pinch what you could. Most of the time was taken up interviewing the prospective staff — after all, we had to hire something in the region of 600 people, right from scratch. Things got so bad that you never got a chance to leave the office.”

ITN, housed in Ingersoll House, Kingsway, had no complaints about space. But Max Caulfield, the chief news editor and Bill Sweeney, the chief engineer, fighting to get their departments organised, found themselves squabbling over priority for the only telephone in the vast office. Sweeney complained one day: “If I can’t use that telephone, we won’t be able to put out a programme!” Caulfield retorted: “If I can’t use it, there’ll be no programme to put out!”

The big task for all the companies was to find suitable premises and recruit skilled staff. As early as the frosty weeks before Christmas, 1954, Commander E. N. Haines, Managing Director of Central Rediffusion, the company providing technical services to Associated-Rediffusion, was tramping round London looking at possible studio sites.

Studio 5b at Wembley in the late 1960s

The choice eventually fell on the old Twentieth Century-Fox studios at Wembley. “Studios” was hardly the right word — there was only one big studio. And Haines needed at least four.

Worse, right in the middle of the studio was a big tank filled with thousands of gallons of water and a battered-looking old motor torpedo boat, laden down with film actors. Film-makers were still shooting a film called, “The Ship that Died of Shame.”

“We had builders and installing engineers in the same night the filming finished,” said Haines. “The ship was quickly unrigged and the tank emptied. Then we started building the four studios.

“The real problem was dust. We had only eight months from scratch to get everything ready and the trouble with rushing a job like this is that you are inclined to get technicians and gear in place before the place is dust-free and that can create an awful lot of trouble.

“We had plasterers working alongside installing engineers and the dust continually created problems we had to overcome somehow. A speck of dust lodged in the wrong place might well have meant no programmes on opening night.”

Associated-Rediffusion also bought the old Granville Theatre in Fulham Road as studios — which meant taking the whole theatre to pieces, turning the stage around, tearing out the old dressing rooms and redesigning everything to TV studio specifications.

Television House in the late 1960s

But the real nail-biting problems centred round Adastral House in Kingsway, the giant rabbit-warren of out-of-date offices from which the air war against Germany had been directed.

Although a 50-year lease was taken out in January, the company were unable to get in until the Air Ministry moved out — which was not until late in May. Then the gigantic job of tearing the whole place asunder and redesigning it began.

ATV, with only the weekend programmes to worry about (their transmission in the Midlands did not begin until the following spring) were able to manage in London with one big studio, the old Wood Green Empire in North London and a smaller studio and master control room in Foley Street, near the G.P.O.’s Museum Exchange, through which all TV lines pass to the transmitters. For office space, they hired two floors in Television House.

Bill Ward, pioneer of ITV and now an executive controller

“My overriding memory of the very early days,” said Keith Rogers, “is of a small group of us. Bill Ward, then Head of Light Entertainment, now Executive Controller, Elstree Studios, his deputy, Frank Beale, Terence MacNamara. the chief engineer, and myself, sitting on the floor of an office in Regent House in the evenings, plans for studios and equipment scattered all around us, trying to work out exactly what were our requirements.

“We needed a complete outside broadcast set-up, with two or three O.B. vans, fully equipped. We required a control room, equipped with telecine, sound and vision mixing and also a full-sized studio (we got Wood Green) where we could stage variety and light entertainment programmes.

“We weren’t given a budget. We simply worked out what we needed and sent up the list to the directors. The most sobering thought for all of us was that when we totted up what we’d ordered after an evening’s work, we’d find we’d spent perhaps £500,000.”

By July, the job still seemed an impossible one. Skilled television technicians were at a premium. Men, of course, were being lured away from the BBC by prospects of promotion and better pay.

“But,” said Bill Ward, “not everybody was prepared to take the risk like we were. The directors of ITV companies risked losing their money if the new venture failed. And those of us who left the BBC knew that ITV simply had to succeed. If it failed, there was no going back — the BBC had made it plain they wouldn’t take us back. We knew we’d all be out of work.”

The first hours of ITV in 1955. Announcer Muriel Young faces the camera

But, nevertheless, staffs slowly grew. Men like Presentation Officer Cyril Francis quit a job in commercial insurance to join; Neil Bramson gave up a career as a professional French-horn player with a leading orchestra. Muriel Young gave up acting to become an announcer. Chris Chataway chucked a safe job with a big brewery concern to become a newscaster with ITN.

In July, staffs at last moved into Adastral House, by then renamed Television House. Few offices were ready for occupation. Pneumatic drills thundered everywhere; barrow loads of cement were trundled up and down; dust fell in showers. Women employees were given a hairdressing allowance; the men were told to have their suits cleaned once a month at company expense.

The ITV Story

From the TVTimes for 9-15 October 1965

HE was large, fat and jolly. He shook with laughter as he stood beside the microphone. Then quizmaster Hughie Green asked him: “What’s your job?” “You’ll never believe me,” said the fat man.

“Go on,” said Hughie Green. “I’m a morgue attendant,” said the fat man and roared with laughter. The audience couldn’t help itself and roared too.

Then there was the girl who when asked: “Are you married?” answered “No — I live at home with two sisters and a b— of a brother.” “A piece,” says Hughie Green, “that ended up on the cutting room floor.”

The same girl, asked what questions she wanted to take, replied: “On cooking.”

“Well,” asked Hughie, “what kind of sauce do you put on the following meats — chicken?” “Mint sauce,” she replied “No, I’m sorry that’s wrong,” said Hughie. “What about pork chops?”

“Mint sauce,” she said.

“But you don’t put mint sauce on pork chops,” protested Hughie.

“Well, we do on our b— pork chops,” she said.

Ten years ago and Hughie Green and assistant Vic Hallam set the mood for Double Your Money in the warm-up before the show

It was the summer of 1955 and Hughie Green was telerecording the first of his famous Double Your Money quiz shows—one of the longest running shows on television.

The search for programmes by the new Independent Television companies was well under way four months before the service opened on September 22, 1955.

It was towards the end of May that an Associated-Rediffusion talent scout called at the Baker Street studios in London where Hughie Green was recording the radio version of his show for Radio Luxembourg.

“Would you like to try it for TV?” asked the talent scout.

“Would I?” said Hughie. “The answer’s ‘yes’.”

“I realised,” he says today, “what wonderful opportunities ITV was opening up for everybody in the entertainment and allied fields and I knew I’d have to be in it. We telerecorded a show and in less than a month Associated-Rediffusion had made up their minds to buy it.

“It was pretty tough doing them in those early days. Sometimes we were stuck for an audience. I remember one night only a handful of people turned up for some reason or other. So, even though we had makeup on our faces, all of us, including myself, went out into the streets and knocked on people’s doors and asked them if they would like to take part in a TV show. And that way we got a very good mob.

“Telerecording was fairly primitive in those days. The cameras could only shoot 10 minutes or so of the show at a time. You’d have got everybody warmed up and somebody would be about to say something funny, or somebody’s trousers would be about to fall off, when the cameraman would call out: ’The film’s run out.’

“So you’d swear at him, hate him and shout how you loathed the system and so on — and wait until he had re-loaded.”

Elsewhere, staff training was carried out at a furious pace.

Ex-BBC men like Stephen MacCormack and Barry Baker, men who had just started in television like ex-navy man Commander Robert Everett, were flown to New York to study how American commercial TV dealt with the tricky technical job of timing programmes and commercials.

At the small Viking Studios off Kensington High Street, two training courses with cameras and equipment were run for all the programme staff.

Directors, secretaries, sound mixers, vision mixers, lighting experts, cameramen — all listened to lectures and then tried out in practice what they had been taught. Alongside them, auditions for announcers, “personalities,” actors and actresses, were conducted on closed circuit television.

“I had to audition the announcers,” says Leslie Mitchell. “Anybody and everybody thought they could do it. Some were very nearly right: some were terrible. I think I must have auditioned about 300 people altogether — but it seemed like 3,000.”

Chris Chataway interviewed the Deputy Governor of Cyprus, Mr. John Sinclair, in October 1955, as one of his first jobs for ITV

In ITN, Chris Chataway and Robin Day stumblingly learned to read news bulletins. “My most vivid memory,” says Chataway, “is of this wooden board which was put up to simulate a TV camera, into which we solemnly delivered these news bulletins. We would crane forward and talk into this wooden framework while everybody stood around and watched.

“Then we were taught how to conduct an interview. People forgot that the standard BBC interview in those days consisted of a reporter almost on his knees at the bottom of airport steps, saying: “How do you view the current situation, sir?” and taking the answer without once interrupting.

“I remember when the editor told me to interview Field Marshal Harding. ‘What will you say to him?’ he asked me.

“I thought I’d ask ‘how do you think things are developing in Cyprus, sir?’ ‘Whatever you ask him,’ said the editor, ‘don’t say: sir’.”

By this time Television House had become known affectionately as “The Hellpit.” Pneumatic drills chattered all day long. Carpenters and bricklayers worked alongside producers and directors. There were hazards and mysterious happenings.

“I had a desk at a window overlooking the well of Television House,” says drama director Cyril Coke. “One day I lifted my telephone to make a call. But the phone had gone dead. I rattled it once or twice but it stayed dead. So I crossed the office to another desk and began to dial from the extension there.

Suddenly, an enormous piece of steel girder came crashing down from the top of the building. It bounced off some projections, shot through the window on to the desk which I had just left.

“If I’d still been sitting there, almost certainly I’d have been killed. But the really extraordinary thing was when the phone people checked my extension, there was nothing wrong with it — it ought to have worked perfectly!”

The chaos and difficulties of working in Television House in those days is described by Eric Linden, features editor of TVTimes who remembers: “I used to go along there from the offices of TVTimes, then in Gough Square, to find out who people were and where they were. I remember checking with security man Glyn Davies to try to put names to people but he was just as baffled as anybody.

“It was quite easy in those days for anybody to walk in and out the place, in fact, one day he discovered two men occupying an office in Television House and using the phones to carry on a business. Neither had the slightest right to be there — they were just two strangers who had availed themselves of the conditions.”

The ITV Story

From the TVTimes for 16-22 October 1965

THERE was intense excitement in the newsroom of ITN. With the start of Independent Television only weeks away (Sept. 22, 1955), the tempo of training was becoming more and more frenzied.

For weeks the news staff, still without news sources of their own. had been cutting out items from the evening papers, pasting them on to bits of paper and passing them over to Chris Chataway and Robin Day so that they could practise reading “dummy” news bulletins.

But on this day the excitement was because a film of a prison break in America had just been flown in FROM New York. This meant that at last something not far removed from a real programme could be tried out.

Robin Day took his seat at a table, facing directly into a closed-circuit TV camera. To one side of him, an operator prepared to project the American newsreel on to the wall of the ITN newsroom. Hovering around, his spectacles pushed up on his forehead like a First World War pilot with raised goggles, was Aidan Crawley, then editor-in-chief.

Aiden Crawley… “Someone do a commentary”

Robin Day was cued-in by a producer. He read out two or three items, managing not to stumble at all, although he still couldn’t help plucking nervously at his bow-tie.

Then the producer bawled: “Cue telecine!” and with a whirring noise, the projector flashed the newsreel on to the wall. Robin said: “And from America, film of the prison riot!”

Suddenly little matchstick figures could be seen jumping back and forward on the walk But there was no sound!

For a moment the whole illusion of success was in danger as the film continued to flicker on in silence. In desperation Crawley’s voice rang through the newsroom: “For Pete’s sake, someone throw in a line of commentary! ”

Almost immediately the high, clear, normally cultured voice of girl announcer Lynne Reid Banks was heard rasping: “I’m Gonna break this goddam riot if it’s the last thing I do.” “Absolutely first class!” applauded Crawley. “That’s the stuff!”

Slowly but impressively ITV was gaining momentum; tackling and overcoming problem after problem; training its raw if enthusiastic staff, trying out its equipment — where it was fortunate enough to have any!

Commander Robert Everett, in charge of Outside Broadcasts for London’s Rediffusion, travelled up to Cambridge to collect an O.B. scanner which was at once christened “Sweetie Pye” by the staff. It was their first one and they were so pleased to get it. Then he told the Programme Controller: “Look, we’re going to take it over to the Festival Hall and try it out.”

The technicians lumbered off in a great big O.B. van, Everett himself following in his nippy sports car. A camera was set up by the side of the Thames while “Sweetie Pye” and a monitor screen, packed inside an O.B. van, were parked outside the Festival Hall.

Distance from camera to scanner was about 100 yards. Suddenly everything was switched on. The camera focused on a bus crossing Waterloo Bridge and as it did so, there was a yelp of excitement from Everett inside the O.B. van. “It works! ” he yelled, startling passers-by. “It works! We’ve got a picture!”

Cameras in position for the first Outside Broadcast trial

At once, he telephoned Television House to tell the waiting Programmes Controller the good news. Then, for half an hour or so, the whole unit enjoyed itself, taking pictures of passing buses or river craft, mocking up a commentary as they went along.

Yet enormous technical problems still remained to be overcome. At his office in Lower Regent Street, Commander E. N. Haines, in charge of technical installation for Rediffusion, scratched his head and wondered how to arrange a micro-wave link between the studios in Television House, Kingsway, the Granville Theatre and the various O.B. units operating in the held.

He desperately needed a pickup on a fairly high point at a place convenient to the centre of London. One day a letter from the Metropolitan Water Board landed on his desk. “Would you like to lease our Campden Hill water tower?” it asked. “We no longer need it.”

The water tower (which figures prominently in G. K. Chesterton’s novel, “The Napoleon of Notting Hill”) stands 156ft. high on top of a considerable rise of ground in Kensington.

Inside it was an enormous 10ft. pipe through which water used to be pumped to London. Could Haines get a micro-wave receiving dish up on to the top of it? Well, there was only one way to find out and that was to climb up and have a look.

It proved to be a fantastic job. Haines, a retired D-Day assault commander, accompanied by an official from the Water Board, a man in his 60’s, clung precariously to a small iron ladder running up inside the tower and climbed up the 156ft. to the top.

And three times they repeated this dizzy, frightening feat before they could be sure that the tower would prove perfect for the job.

Then engineers cut a big hole in the bottom of the tower, removed the water pipe, bit by bit, and built up a staircase inside. Just under the top of the tower, they erected a small room into which they packed all the reception gear for a micro-wave link.

Finally they hauled up a big dish and erected it on top of the tower so that it could be beamed all round London and could pick up O.B. units many miles away.

Although the men organising ITV were working 16 and 17 hours a day, they were getting a great deal of fun out of it all. One day Eric Linden, now Features Editor of TVTimes went along to an hotel to interview the American singer, Guy Mitchell, who was to star in the first of Val Parnell‘s Sunday Night at the London Palladium shows. When Mitchell had finished talking to reporters he asked Eric to stay behind for an extended chat.

Then to Eric’s surprise — and the horror of the waiters — he pulled a portable barbecue from his baggage and started grilling a couple of steaks in the middle of the room!

The ITV Story

From the TVTimes for 23-29 October 1965

MURIEL YOUNG had “a whale of a time” learning to interview people for TV ready for the opening of Independent Television.

For a country programme she visited a crystal salt works, then a group of home winemakers; finally a mink farm. This proved to be an exciting, frustrating but hilarious experience.

“One of the minks got away, you see,” said Muriel. “And it took us more than two hours to get it back. The scene was a very funny one.

“The mink had hidden itself in a barn. By the time we realised it was there, it had grown dark, so we turned on our camera lights in order to see.

“There we were, cameramen, lighting men, sound men, myself, all scrambling about on the floor or climbing up ladders, carrying nets and prods and goodness knows what else, trying to flush this little blighter from his hiding place and catch him.

“Only when it was over and we’d nabbed him, did it strike us how really funny it all was.”

One of Muriel Young’s first interviews… and not a mink in sight

It was a matter of trial and error all the way. It was decided that there should be an O.B. “dummy-run” from a model engineering exhibition being held at London’s Earls Court and Muriel was asked to conduct some interviews. A brigadier who happened to be a model railway enthusiast eventually volunteered to be interviewed on his hobby.

“We had been talking only a second or two,” said Muriel, “when I began getting very strange signals from a member of the production staff. I thought he wanted me to get closer to the brigadier, so I moved in closer.

“The poor man immediately shied away. But I was still getting these signals, so I moved right after him.

“Once again he shied away. But the next time, when I moved closer, I got him in a firm grip and held on to him. And I continued to hold on to him until the interview was finished.

“Imagine my horror when the director called me over at the end of it and snorted rudely: ‘Muriel, you know you must never handle people you’re supposed to be interviewing.’

“But I kept getting signals!” I replied, hurt.

“They weren’t signals,” protested the floor manager. “I was simply winding up my microphone lead so that I wouldn’t trip over it!”

There was another spot of trouble with a different subject.

On Sunday, September 18, 1955, with only seven days before the first Sunday Night at the London Palladium was seen. Bill Ward, Head of ATV’s Light Entertainment, spent the day at Wood Green Empire with his team running through a final rehearsal with all the stars except Gracie Fields, who had promised to fly in from Capri in time for the show.

Most of the rehearsal went like clockwork, for Ward’s team were all ex-B.B.C. men to whom this kind of operation was a fairly routine job.

The only bit that didn’t go like clockwork was the act which involved a clock — Beat The Clock.

Bill Ward explains: “Our first B.T.C. set was extremely heavy and cumbersome and it took a great deal of effort to shift it about. We were faced with only a 2½ minute break for commercials in which to get the set before this out of the way and the heavy B.T.C. set into position.”

For an hour Bill Ward and his team wrestled with the task. But it was a job which looked as though it would defy organisation. It did not seem possible to do it within the 2½ minutes.

Lew Grade… he was happy to lose a bet

Then on to the stage strolled Lew Grade. “It’s no good,” he said to Ward. “You’ll never be able to do it.”

Stung by this lack of faith. Ward snapped back: “Don’t worry, it’ll be all right.”

“It won’t happen, it won’t happen,” insisted Lew Grade.

“Look, I’ll bet you it will,” said Ward.

“Done,” said Grade immediately.

“What’s the bet?” asked Ward.

“A week-end in Paris, all expenses paid.”

“For my assistant, Frank Beale, as well?” asked Ward.

“Yes. But my money’s safe,” said Grade.

“Needless to say, it wasn’t,” says Bill Ward, now Executive Controller, Elstree Studios of ATV. “I told Frank that there was a bet on and one worth winning. So we did it! And two months later when the first rush of starting ITV had eased off a bit, we had our week-end at the George V hotel in Paris. That’s the kind of man Lew Grade is to work for.”

As Managing Director of Moss Empires, owners of the Palladium, showman Val Parnell later lent his name to the full title of the show which was soon to become famous and which was to uncover so many stars now well known to the public.

“But you know, the idea of putting the show on TV wasn’t mine at all,” says Val Parnell.

“To the best of my recollection, it was Lew Grade’s. Of course, until I retired recently, I took the final decision as to the shape of the show and the artists who appeared on it.

“I’m glad to say we discovered quite a few big names such as Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan and Jimmy Tarbuck.”

The ITV Story

From the TVTimes for 30 October-5 November 1965

THE pace grew faster as the deadline approached September 1955, opening night for ITV. In the haste, clashes between unions and management were inevitable.

At Shepperton Studios, filming of a series of one hour dramas stopped when it was found that a director was not a union member. Then the Musicians’ Union threatened a strike over pay.

Camera operators struck a few days before opening night, and in ITN all “dummy runs” came to a temporary halt.

Conscious of the slogan “Never Baffled” he had given ten company, Captain Tom Brownrigg, General Manager at Associated-Rediffusion, (now Rediffusion), quickly sorted the problems.

The unions were as anxious as anyone to make sure everything went well. They had a big stake in Independent Television.

Despite the difficulties, a wide variety of programmes was being prepared. Drama producer Cyril Coke began working with the late Macdonald Daly, the dog expert, on a series of pets programmes that proved to be among the most popular of ITV’s earlier shows.

Transatlantic favourites such as I Love Lucy and Dragnet were bought; the Grade organisation searched the world for top talent for the new variety spectaculars.

Orson Welles went round the world for ITV, taking a personal look at its problems and its pleasures.

Suddenly, it was opening night…

Despite the glittering success of that night, ITV’s troubles were just beginning.

“The following day every thing seemed to go wrong,” said Neil Bramson, who was in charge of the master control.

“We were still operating with much temporary equipment because the manufacturers had not been able to deliver everything in time. And there were gremlins.”

Things were not eased for Cyril Coke when Customs refused to allow Orson Welles to bring in a film of his travels. He turned up at the studio with a substitute unedited and without commentary.

“We simply can’t do it.” said Coke.

“Don’t worry, son,” replied Welles grandly. “You roll the cameras and I’ll talk as we go along.”

“But the timing!” protested Coke. “I’ve got to bring the commercials in on time!”

“Never you worry, son! We’ll manage it.”

It could be done but it couldn’t be done in time. Welles was still giving voice to his commentary when Coke had to cut him off.

Welles stormed out, threatening never to work for ITV again.

Compere Leslie Mitchell said: “One basic trouble was that many of our staff were inexperienced. One young producer, handling his first programme, suddenly froze in his seat and could neither move nor speak.

“Everything was going haywire when I woke up to what was happening. ‘Cue two!’ I yelled (‘cue camera number two’). He responded and the programme was saved.”

ITV’s troubles in those early days went much higher. Suddenly it was facing a financial crisis.

People were slow to convert their sets to receive ITV programmes and, with only two companies to take the initial strain of the heavy capital and running costs, losses mounted.

Suddenly it was opening night for ITV drama producer Cyril Coke (above) whose problems got worse when Orson Wells (main photo) stormed out after being cut off while still talking

“I had forecast to my fellow directors that we must be prepared to take losses of at least £3 million before Independent Television was likely to begin making a profit,” said Paul Adorian, managing director of Associated-Rediffusion.

“Those of us who had faith were rewarded eventually.” Captain Tom Brownrigg said: “We had lost £3$ million and looked like losing more.

“A firm of advertisers came to me and said: ‘Look, we’ve got a successful show running in America which we sponsor there. If you let us put it on here, we’ll guarantee to buy a;l the spots surrounding it.’

“’No,’ I told them. ‘If I did that, I’d be allowing sponsored television.’

“Then, a big company came along with a proposition which would have turned the tide earlier. They wanted a pattern of broadcasting which meant giving over almost an entire evening’s commercials to their products.

“’We’ll pay you £1½ million,’ they said. ‘Your sales chaps have sold some of this time to a few little advertisers — so you’ll just have to tell them their time is cancelled.’

“’You mean, I’d have to break faith with some small advertisers to accommodate you,’ I said. ‘Well, I’m sorry!’ And so I let them walk away with that £1½ million.”

The faith of Adorian and the courage of Brownrigg were rewarded.

As other companies sprouted and ITV transmitters began to beam their programmes over a wide area of Britain, more advertising revenue flowed in.

The costs of making programmes and operating studios began to be spread over the growing number of companies. Within three years ITV had turned the tide.

The stage was set for the time when there would be 14 programme companies giving 97 per cent. of the population alternative programmes to the BBC.

So ends the beginning of the ITV story.