Where do we go from here? 

1 September 2014 tbs.pm/5500

Television historians tend to forget the 1964 franchise round. After all, nothing much happened. TWW’s takeover of WWN, the failed north and west Wales company, was written into their contract, creating the first “dual region”. But otherwise, there were no real changes.

Nevertheless, Lord Hill of Luton, the new chairman of the Independent Television Authority was firing a warning shot across the bows of the existing companies. The oldest, Associated-Rediffusion, had been in place since 1955. It had come to see itself as permanent, the keystone of the ITV system. A-R had kept ITV alive in the first, painful, two years of losses and low viewer numbers. It had provided the heavyweight programming successive chairmen of the ITA had sought. It had faced down the Pilkington Committee, sent by government to examine the television system of the UK which had castigated ITV and lauded the BBC. It was London’s national broadcaster and only a fool would tamper with it.

Hill knew from the discussions he’d had with ITV managers that all of them thought of themselves as permanent. The ITA, after all, couldn’t remove a contractor mid-contract, leaving viewers without a service. The only time the ITA had any power was at contract renewal time. And that was reached in 1964, the original contracts (regardless of when they started, the ITA had them all lapse on the same date, 10 years after the first was awarded) coming to an end.

Associated-Rediffusion’s house magazine, Fusion, printed a special supplement to relay to staff what Hill had said on 1 August 1963, when he announced that the end of the contracts would be the end of the contracts. In it, he subtly warns of big changes ahead. With ITV2 on UHF promised by the then-Conservative government, there would at last be real competition for regional advertising. That would make the Midlands contract too small to support a split across 3 companies, so ATV and ABC were warned to watch out for a shake-up. By implication, that was a warning to London as well.

But the will-they-won’t-they provision of ITV2 tied Hill’s hands. All the ITA’s fact-finding prior to the contract discussions was based on a start for ITV2 in 1966, 67 or 68. Then, at the general election just before the franchise interviews, it was cancelled in 1964 by the incoming Labour government who promised, but didn’t deliver, a new BBC3 instead. Hill and the ITA had allowed for this possibility by declaring that the next round of contracts would be shorter and have break points – they’d run for 3 or 4 years, with the launch of ITV2 before then breaking the contracts. In the event, there was no ITV2 and Hill made big changes in 1967/8. But for 1964 he could make almost none.

On the day of the contract interviews at the ITA’s headquarters in Knightsbridge, Rediffusion senior management swept in and told Hill how to run the ITA. They knew there was nothing he could do this time around. It seemed unlikely there was anything he could do in 3 or 4 years either. He certainly couldn’t get rid of Rediffusion. The company management told him, in effect, to butt out of trying to manage. They knew best. They knew what people wanted. By all means tinker with the other regions, they neither knew nor cared what happened there, but London belonged to Rediffusion and Hill would be wise not to forget that. Anyway, Hill was a civil servant. He would move on. Rediffusion would not. They then swept out, confident that their contract had been renewed and their permanence was permanent.

Hill was left seething. Rediffusion were right: there was nothing he could do this time around. There was no new contractor he could put in their place for just 3 or 4 years. He was stuck with them. Until next time.

You Say

1 response to this article

Jeremy Rogers 9 September 2014 at 8:28 am

The franchise end dates were all the same simply because that was the end date of the ITA itself under the 1954 Television Act. So instead of ‘all the same’ it could have been ‘all change’.

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