How I grew up with ITV 

3 September 2018 tbs.pm/66106

From LWT in Vision, the house magazine of London Weekend Television, issue 3 from September 1980

Many of the people who are lucky enough to be working in television are doing so because they happened to be in the right place at the right time, with luck on their side. Independent Television has only 15,000 employees and there are always more people applying for jobs than there are vacancies. I am no exception to the list of those who were lucky; and, in fact, it was almost by accident that I came to be considered for transfer from BBC Sound Radio to BBC Television at Lime Grove Studios to train as a television cameraman.

My good friend, Ron Francis, now a programme director with ATV, was a sound radio technician in the engineering operations and maintenance department at Broadcasting House, as I was, had brought to my attention a number of staff wishing to transfer to television, which was just starting to expand its broadcasting hours. Now television in those days was ‘live’ and something of a joke with us pros in the radio business, as the “Normal Service, etc” caption seemed to be more on the screen than off. It was, therefore, only in the spirit of fun that we applied to become trainee television cameramen. To our surprise, in due course we were asked to attend an interview. This means that, since television cameramen in those days were expected to be fully conversant with the working of their equipment and the system into which it fitted, we had to do some fast mugging up on the engineering aspects of television. The interviews behind us, and thinking that we had failed miserably, we thought no more about TV until one day, three months later, to our surprise and humilation in the face of our radio engineering colleagues, we were transferred to television operations and maintenance.

My first impression of the BBC TV Service at Lime Grove was that the people engaged in the operation were like children with a new toy, totally dedicated to the idea that it would be “alright on the night” — and it frequently was. The team spirit was tremendous, but, as a new boy, it was quite difficult to get to grips with the television equipment because those who had joined the service in earlier years were determined to hold on to their positions in the team and would rarely stand down to let the new intake try their hand.

The programmes at that time were, we thought, fantastic. Plays like “Dial M For Murder” and “1984”; serials like “Quatermass”; children’s shows from “Muffin The Mule” to “The Three Musketeers”; light entertainment such as “Band Parade” — the fastest cutting show on the box, directed by Bill Ward — and Henry Caldwell’s “Cafe Continental” and “Shop Window”, which were floor-managed by the great Lloyd Williams. Lloyd Williams later became a writer and director, involved with children’s and teenage programmes, before leaving the BBC in 1955, when ITV began, to join Associated-Rediffusion in the capacity of Assistant Controller of Programmes (Production). Many of us working at the BBC followed him to ARTV and were pleased to have him as our boss. The other half of those who left when ITV was set up went to ATV, following Bill Ward, Colin Clews and Jock Watson. The stage was thus set 25 years ago for the mammoth task of creating ITV’s initial production and programme units, with only a few experienced technicians and a high percentage of raw recruits.

A training school, making use of Marconi demonstration equipment, was set up by ARTV at Viking Studios in Kensington, under the ‘headmastership’ of David Boisseau, who had been responsible for the presentation and promotion of children’s programmes at the BBC and who, after these training courses were over, was to become one of ITV’s senior drama directors. It would be wrong to say that training was conducted within a well thought-out curriculum, as it was more a free-for-all, with everyone having a go at everything. The trained personnel looked over the trainees’ shoulders, encouraging and teaching them, as various charades were played out in front of the cameras by actors and personalities who had been lured to the studio under the pretext of doing an audition for some fictitious programme which might or might not — usually the latter — appear in the months to come. At the end of each day a discussion was held to review the day’s work; and, occasionally, it was possible to get a word in edgewise between Joan Kemp Welch and Cyril Coke, whose dynamo-like enthusiasm and loquacity inspired us all.

The next phase of training was dummy-running programmes in the studios. These were the converted film stages of 20th Century Fox at Wembley, where four studios became operational; the Granville Theatre Studio at Waltham Green; and three studios at Television House in Kingsway, which were in a complex together with the central technical facilities, presentation and master control. The dummy runs were of programmes that would be later transmitted live, one of which I shall always remember as it was my first show for ARTV: “Little Gertie or The Lamplighters’ Darling”, directed by Cyril Butcher and transmitted live from the Granville. This show was the first of a most successful series entitled the Granville Melodramas.

At last the great day arrives, 22 September 1955, and instead of being in the thick of ITV’s first live production, as we had expected to be, my crew were off duty and invited to a party at the Granville to watch ITV’s opening ceremony from the Guildhall. By all accounts this was a production not without incident; but my namesake, another ARTV cameraman, David Gardner, who specialised in OB’s, could tell you more than I about it. The impact of the commercials on the general public was tremendous, and Murray Mints, with their too good to hurry mints’ Guardsmen’ cartoon commercial, had such an effect as to leave every sweetshop in the land completely sold out of this brand of sweet in no time at all, with the manufacturers unable to meet the demand.

The first two years of ITV were exciting, tiring, but never frustrating; perhaps slightly unreal after working in the more institutionalised disciplines of the BBC. Our operational and technical standards were improving every day and our programmes becoming more and more popular with the public. This was especially true of the audience participation shows giving prizes and/or money away. These shows were new to British television audiences and they loved them so much that “Double Your Money” and “Take Your Pick”, with Hughie Green (who would have thought then that that name would have a very different significance today) and the late Michael Miles respectively, were to be found in the Top Ten week after week, year after year.

Vic Gardiner

In spite of the public’s favourable reaction to ITV, however, the first companies on the air, Associated-Rediffusion and Associated Television, were not at all immediately profitable. The cost of setting up their operations and the daily cost of producing and paying for programmes to fill transmission hours that were in fact more extensive that the BBC’s, were enormous. Advertising revenue was growing only slowly as the viewers had their sets converted to receive ITV or bought the new dual channel sets. The losses mounted — up to £3m in the case of Associated-Rediffusion after two years of operation. Something had to be done.

The ITV network was growing as new companies like Granada, ABC, Anglia, Southern, and others commenced their operations and the networking of programmes between all of the companies caused a lesser demand for production at Associated-Rediffusion and ATV.

At ARTV, the previous heavy losses now followed by a considerable reduction in programme output, caused the management to implement a massive cutback in expenditure and staff. I first got wind of this during the camera rehearsal of an Arthur Askey show, directed by Ken Carter for the Jack Hylton Organisation, which supplied most of ARTV’s light entertainment output. It was difficult to concentrate on the job as my crew, along with the other technicians, was worried about whether or not they still had a job. Unfortunately, the redundancy operation at ARTV was handled in such a way by the management that, instead of adopting a last-in first-out policy, they declared whole crews redundant, regardless of the individual seniority of the members of those crews.

As an example, the ten crew camera department was arbitrarily halved – crews numbered 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 were simply sent letters of dismissal. After strong protestation to the management a fairer system was agreed.

Personally, I was demoted to a No 2 cameraman from the position of senior cameraman or in ARTV parlance, senior video-operator, which was the name given by the company to the grade in order to avoid union designations applied to equivalent film cameramen grades. Needless to say, it was not long before all technicians, having had enough of such cavalier behaviour, joined the ACT, which eventually gained recognition among the ITV companies. It took several years for the scars of the redundancy to heal, and it was only when the eventual pick-up in revenue allowed the companies to expand again and increase their production that the memory of those difficult and uncertain days was pushed to the back of our minds.

The years that followed up to 1961 were most rewarding to me in the creative satisfaction that they brought. The amount of planning involvement that I was allowed by directors like Joan Kemp Welch, David Boisseau, Chris Hodson, Peter Moffatt, George More O’Farrell (who was head of drama for Anglia, whose productions we serviced at Wembley Studios), Peter Morley, Bill Turner, and many others was most fulfilling.

Then, in the summer of 1961, John McMillan, ARTV’s Controller of Programmes, who had come over from Television House to Wembley to watch Joan Kemp Welch’s production of “The Three Sisters” on which I was working called for me to see him privately after the transmission. I was asked to go to Malta for six months, seconded to Rediffusion International, which had just been awarded the franchise to set up and operate Malta Television.

Before I was to leave I would be given the opportunity of a month’s crash course in those parts of the television activity that were less familiar to me. I agreed to accept the task and commenced attachments to almost every department in ARTV. First was presentation, and Neil Bramson (now at YTV), who headed that department, was most helpful to me. Studies on the studio floor included the finer points of lighting for TV with Tony Hepher, now Head of Visual Services (design and lighting) at LWT; I followed the activities of the film operation from shooting through to post-production editing, and I boned up as much as I could about programme administration and a great deal else.

I arrived in Malta in mid-July. The temperature was in the nineties and the humidity seemed to be 100%. The Malta Television facilities comprised a temporary studio of 600 sq ft equipped with two image orthicon cameras; an announcer’s studio with one vidicon camera; two 16mm vidicon telecine islands; a caption scanner and combined studio and presentation control desk. I was appointed training manager and was to be solely responsible for the training of cameramen, sound operators, floor managers, vision mixers etc. It turned out that, as the Controller of Programmes had had a disagreement with the management and resigned a month before we were due to go on the air, I had to undertake the training of directors and presentation officers as well. To recount the whole story would be irrelevant, so let it suffice to say that the launch of the service was extremely successful, I made many Maltese friends and gained invaluable experience which was to stand me in good stead when I entered the ranks of management on my return to ARTV.

The transition from operational work to office work is a difficult one at the best of times, but when you take on a position that did not previously exist, the difficulties are much greater. You not only have to prove that you are going to be competent as a manager, but you have to show that the creation of the post was necessary in the first place. This was the situation with my baptism as a manager when I was appointed Assistant Production Controller.

Ray Dicks was the Controller and we worked closely together for the next five years. I became the link between the programme-makers and the studio staff at Wembley Studios. Production planning played an important part in making ARTV or, as we later became, Rediffusion Television, foremost in an efficient studio turnround which was appreciated by programme and production personnel and management alike. I am pleased to say that procedures I introduced then are now in use at LWT.

A particularly rewarding experience to me personally was to work with Stella Richman, who joined Rediffusion to produce drama series like “The Hidden Truth”, “Blackmail”, “The Informer” and others. We worked closely together on the planning of these series to allow them the best possible production values and, in particular, pioneered the use of OB and mobile VTR equipment for external sequences which had always been covered previously by film units at Rediffusion.

During the time when ITV contracts were lost and won in 1967 “Black Sunday” was the name given to that day at Rediffusion when we knew that the company would partner ABC TV for the Monday to 7 p.m. Friday London Contract. It seemed to me that, as a manager with Rediffusion, I would be unlikely to secure a position with the new company, which became Thames. Both ABC and Rediffusion had a manager doing a similar job and only one of them would be required in the new company. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that my position was weakened by virtue of the fact that Rediffusion was not to be the controlling shareholder in Thames, so I decided, without waiting to see what would happen, to widen my experience and take a chance in the commercials production field. I accepted the position of managing director of GPA Films. Gerry Poulson and his associates taught me a great deal about this side of the business and I am most grateful to them. (Since then Gerry, himself an accomplished film director, has directed episodes and titles for the LWT presentations of “Black Beauty” and “Dick Turpin”.) GPA also set up Colourtel Productions whilst I was there with a view to embarking on independent film and television production, but I fear that we were too much before our time. With only three television channels, limited airtime available on them and two large and able bodies of established personnel already clamouring to fill every minute of it, there can be little opportunity of access to British television screens for the aspiring independent producer until the fourth channel becomes a reality.

In 1969 I was approached by Michael Peacock to join LWT as Productions Controller. I accepted gladly as it would mean that I would be re-joining many of the old friends and colleagues with whom I had worked in the past at Wembley Studios and Television House. In particular, it was good to be in harness again with Cyril Bennett, with whom I had kept in touch during my two years at GPA, and whose untimely death saddened me greatly and robbed ITV of one of its most talented, humorous and lovable programme men.

As General Manager of London Weekend, Vic Gardiner’s Camera department training stood him in good stead when he was called upon to demonstrate one of the company’s EMI 2001 colour cameras to the Duke of Kent when he opened LWT’s South Bank studio headquarters, Kent House.

I was given a free hand at Wembley Studios to organise the production department of LWT, which was accomplished with the co-operation of a new management team appointed by me and the wholehearted collaboration of the staff. The leaders of this team were – and still are – considered the best in ITV.

They are my friends Peter Cazaly, Roy van Gelder, Alf Chapman, Tony Hepher and Roger Appleton. I thank them for their help and devotion to duty.

All of this was taking place whilst there were difficulties being experienced at Board level and most of us know only too well what followed – so I will not dwell on it here, except to say that from a personal point of view and for the good of the Company, the intervention of Rupert Murdoch and the appointment of John Freeman as Chairman and Chief Executive was not only exhilarating for us all, but was the saving of LWT. The expansion of the team of Executive Directors which started when Brian Tesler was appointed Deputy Managing Director and later Managing Director and whom I had worked with on productions at the BBC, was the consolidation of the Management team and stability for LWT has resulted.

I have inevitably excluded many moments of the excitement and depression from my brief reminiscences as well as names of friends and colleagues with whom it has been my privilege to work in the past 25 years of ITV, and I now look forward to the new contract and beginning of the fourth channel and the new challenge ahead.

Your comment

Enter it below