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The Times 17/06/67
The Times 27/06/67
This is London: The Times 17/06/67 The Newspaper Archive

The Times 17/06/1967AN ITV OBITUARY

From Captain T. M. Brownrigg, R.N. (retd.)

Sir, - Your paper regularly prints obituary notices of people; may I ask you to print this obituary notice of a Company?

Associated-Rediffusion (A-R) was born in November, 1954, the child of Associated Newspapers and Rediffusion.  It first spoke in September, 1955, and was on the air for some 35 hours per week as, at that time, it had no brothers or sisters to help.  However this amount of broadcasting proved a heavy burden and the Company lost some 3,500,000 during the next two years: at that stage it lost its father as Associated Newspapers withdrew.

A-R continued to broadcast and, with the assistance of its newly born brother and sister companies, succeeded in both making money and pleasing the public.  A-R stood for two principals: that it was "independent" and that it was "never baffled".  It resisted the 14 day rule (no discussion on T.V. of a subject within 14 days before it was discussed in Parliament) and attempts by Ministers to prevent a programme on the Cyrus war being broadcast.

It stood firm against criticism that it should not have brought Dr. Banda home to broadcast, that it should not have allowed Nasser, Ben Gurion and King Hussein to express their views.  It insisted that, if it was to broadcast political programmes during the election campaigns, then, whilst it would comply with the law, it would not necessarily comply with the wishes of the Chief Whips.

It was in fact, as well as in name, Independent; it did not fear what "They" at the I.T.A. or Whitehall or Westminster might think provided that the programme was not "against the public interest" and complied with the stringent requirements of the Television Act.  Now that A-R has been smothered, its successor will know that "They" must be humoured otherwise not only will the shareholders lose money but the staff will lose their jobs.

The staff motto was "Never Baffled".  The studio crews, technicians and the production staff always rose magnificently to any challenge.  A-R staff and studios were the nub of many big I.T.V. and I.T.N. broadcasts; the Election Results, Sir Winston Churchill's funeral, &c.  The Outside Broadcast crews were magnificent at the Derby and Wimbledon; the film crews covered the world.  A-R started school broadcasts before the B.B.C. and its dedicated staff have produced first class educational programmes ever since.  Now, for the first time, they are baffled because their Company has been ruled unworthy to continue broadcasting: the Company's shareholders are permitted to have a minority holding in a new company but the loyal staff must find jobs elsewhere.

Sir Kenneth Clarke will go down in history as the man who brilliantly started Independent Television.  Lord Hill will be remembered as the politician who changed Independent Television Companies into commercial contractors; the staffs of the contractors will know that, unless "They" at the I.T.A. are pleased, their company is liable to be liquidated.  We were proud that British Independent Television was really independent of the establishment (unlike most countries).  I doubt if we shall be proud for this reason in future.

Even the T.V. Times, of which I am a director, is being killed in July next year; at its peak it has a weekly circulation of four million and it made a profit.  It is to be succeeded by a new board on which the I.T.A. will be represented, i.e. the I.T.A. will control, since the other directors from the commercial programme contractors can be displaced at the end of their licence period.

It is sad and I am baffled.

Yours sincerely,

T. M. BROWNRIGG, General Manager, Associated - Rediffusion, 1954-64

Vann House, Finchampstead, Berkshire, June 15

The Times

The Times is Britain's second largest broadsheet newspaper, owned by News International, one of Rupert Murdoch's companies.

The paper follows a Conservative line, and is probably the most famous UK newspaper outside of the country.

You can find out more about the Times and the Sunday Times at www.thetimes.co.uk

PMC Comment
No student of television history should miss this letter.  For all Brownrigg's faults as Associated-Rediffusion's General Manager, ensuring that the company's reputation to this day is one of stuffiness and 'balance' programmes, he has neatly encapsulated what happened to ITV in the following three decades.

Leaving aside the heliography of Associated-Rediffusion (one would somewhat expect the first company of a new system to be a trendsetter, or it wouldn't be doing its job) and the continual references to A-R when he means Rediffusion London (as from 1964), the remaining letter is frighteningly accurate in many respects.

Brownrigg implies that A-R was too independent, and therefore it was killed.  However, the part he thinks of as being most independent - current affairs - continued unchanged and even improved.  By amazing irony, it was Rediffusion's This Week, under the banner of their successor company Thames, that pushed a later government to sign Thames's death warrant and squeeze all independence out of the system for good.

He is incorrect on another point - Hill had not changed the nature of the system from ITV companies to ITV contractors.  That had been the system all along, but the contractors had forgotten this.  However, Brownrigg is right on the consequences of this move - from this point on, all licenses were viewed as temporary, by the companies, the regulator, and the public.  Companies would come and go at, in retrospect, an alarming rate, from this point onward.

The process started here, neatly dividing ITV in three eras: 1955-1968 as companies, 1968-1992 as contractors, 1993-today as merely names.

From today's vantage point, where money is the beginning, middle and end of Independent Television, and no thought is given to anything else by anyone connected with it, it is easy to forget that television, and Associated-Rediffusion, were television companies that happened to make profits, not profit-making companies that happened to make television.  And the profits then, as now, were huge.

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