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 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!

TVTimes #1

The Palace gets the new TV

BUCKINGHAM PALACE is to get the new TV. The order has gone out that all sets at the Palace must be capable of receiving Independent Television programmes when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh return from their Balmoral holiday.

The Royal family have always been keen viewers and now — at the turn of a switch — they will be able to see the star-studded, vigorous shows produced by the London programme contractors.

A member of the Palace staff told me: “It is inconceivable that the Royal family, interested as they are in public affairs, would not have at their finger-tips an alternative TV programme.”

The Duke’s quiz

And I hear of an interesting conversation the other day between the Duke of Edinburgh and Sir William Becher, M.C., Associated-Rediffusion’s cricket adviser.

They were opposing cricketers in a charity match, but cricket was by no means the only topic discussed.

The Duke proved to be intensely interested in Independent TV, quizzing Sir William for much information on the subject.

Says Sir William, the former Sussex and Wiltshire cricketer: “The Duke has a typically modern, democratic brain and always shows terrific interest in anything that is new and enterprising.”

At the Palace, Sandringham, and Windsor, the Queen makes a point of sitting with Prince Charles and Princess Anne to watch the children’s programmes.

U.S. looks in

“Not that I would say a word behind her back-” Or what do you think the young gossip seems to be saying? Can you find a better title for this picture? Watch next Saturday’s “Week-end” programme.
AMERICAN TV people are agog to learn about British Independent TV — and the point that interests them most is our completely new approach to the advertising “spots.”

Eighty TV editors, from newspapers in all parts of America, have just flown home. They have been touring the British TV studios and are now reporting to their readers what they have seen.

From the questions they have been asking in England, it seems that many people on the other side of the Atlantic are envious of our advertising plans.

You see, in America, the advertisers sponsor the programmes themselves: for example, a soup manufacturer sets up a special department to produce plays for TV.

But in England the programmes are completely independent — time is sold to advertisers rather like a newspaper sells space alongside the news.

And that, think many in America, is a better idea than the “sponsoring” system.

Cool kids

PRESS photographers at the filming of a “Noddy” programme urged that children should appear in the pictures with the puppet.

So producer Quentin Lawrence phoned to his wife Margaret (“Ming”) at their Hampstead home: “Bring the kids — quick.”

Duly Mrs. Lawrence arrived with “Tiny,” aged four and Christopher, aged five. They had the time of their lives posing with Noddy, their favourite story-book character.

It was a very warm day and I wondered how “Ming” had managed to keep the children so clean and tidy.

“Well, I had to hunt for them,” she said. “And when I tracked them down they were clean already. They were completely naked, standing in the spray from the garden hose.”

Pat knows

IF pretty Pat Fender, a commere of Morning Magazine, ever has a cricketer to interview she’ll be asking questions to which she already knows the answers.

For dark-haired, 25-year-old Pat is the daughter of P. G. H. Fender, skipper of Surrey’s cricket XI for eleven years.

She plays cricket occasionally herself, and helped to “put on the map” a women’s cricket team in New York last year when she was acting, announcing, and commentating for American TV.

She is unmarried and lives with her parents in a little street behind Park Lane.

Miss Fender has this confession to make: after giving the subject long and serious thought, she considers that cricket is NOT a woman’s game.

Still in harness

WHAT a surprise for the great Dan Leno if he could see the Granville today.

The Granville is the old music hall at Walham Green, London, which Leno helped to found and where he appeared regularly. Now it has been bought by Associated-Rediffusion and converted into a modern television theatre.

But the best has been retained. For example, the walls of beautifully painted tiles are still there.

The flooring was ripped up, though. And under the carpeting one of the workmen found a golden guinea.

Oh, my nose!

NOSES are very important, and the nose of Orson Welles is no exception. He pays it great attention.

Sometimes he gets a little exasperated, hides his own beneath a false nose. Asked why, he once replied:

“I hate my nose — it stopped growing when I was ten years old.”

Baby grand

OWING to rebuilding at Television House ABC’s “Week-end” programme has a temporary studio too small to contain a grand piano.

“It would have meant us all standing out in the street to do the programme,” explains producer Stephen Wade. “An upright was not suitable so we sent our musical director, Leslie Julian Jones, round London trying out miniature pianos.”

Says Leslie, who writes a sketch for the programme as well as playing the piano, “It took a long time, but at last I found one small enough — and it also had the right tone for television.”