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?
(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
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
T. M. BROWNRIGG,
General Manager, Associated - Rediffusion, 1954-64
Finchampstead, Berkshire, June 15
Times is Britain's second largest broadsheet newspaper, owned by News
International, one of Rupert Murdoch's companies.
paper follows a Conservative line, and is probably the most famous UK newspaper
outside of the country.
can find out more about the Times and the Sunday Times at www.thetimes.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.