In 1952 the Associated Broadcasting Development Company Limited [ABDC] had been formed, by Norman Collins, C.O. Stanley and Robert Renwick, to support and campaign for commercial television in the United Kingdom. ABDC was deemed to be a natural choice by the Government for an ITV contract, given the effort the company had placed in the campaign to pass the Television Act.
However the newly formed Independent Television Authority, while in agreement ABDC should be awarded an ITV region, found the consortium failed to meet their requirements on the grounds of financial backing, the regulator required all companies to have up to £3 million in capital. The authority offered ABDC the ITV London Weekend franchise and the ITV Midlands weekdays franchise, should ABDC reveal their backers. The television company wasn’t entirely keen on the offer by the ITA; they had hoped for the ITV London licence for weekdays.
While the authority wanted Associated Broadcasting Development Company Limited to be part of the new ITV – mainly due to Collins’ experience at the BBC and Stanley’s technical experience with the Pye Group - they couldn’t grant a licence to a company with no secure financial arrangements. The Midland and London Weekend licence was to be awarded to a new company instead, one formed from ABDC and the Incorporated Television Company Limited*.
ITC had been founded in August 1954 to also bid for a place on the independent television network. ITC’s backers were noted by the authority; Messrs S.G Warburg & Co. Limited (merchant bankers). As well as strong financial backing the Incorporated Television Company also had a wealthy talent bank with both The Grade Organisation agency and theatre group Moss Empires Limited on board.
The ITC failed to gain an ITV licence on its own. Grounds for this are believed to be that the authority felt the company may have too much monopoly over the show-business talent, leaving other ITV broadcasters without star performers and that the ITC may be great at entertainment and variety, but it lacked in other areas of output and in television production know-how.
Initially the ITC was offered the role of ‘sub contractor’ to ITV – the ITA saw the company as a provider of programmes to other ITV companies, however the ITC wouldn’t have a licence to broadcast itself. ITC were far from pleased with this suggestion.
It's luck changed with the issues surrounding ABDC, ITC was to become a lead player in independent television. On March 11th 1955 the London Weekend and Midlands licence was awarded to Associated Television Limited**, a new company formed by the Incorporated Television Company and the Associated Broadcasting Development Company on the 2nd February 1955.
From the outset Associated Television was to be very much controlled by the ITC side of the organisation with the role of Chairman in the joint venture going to Prince Littler (Moss Theatres), Managing Director to Val Parnell (Moss Theatres) and Deputy Managing Director to Lew Grade (Grade Organisation). From ABDC Norman Collins took up the position of Deputy Chairman.
ABDC and ITC together, formed a founding capital of £1,020,000 with the backing of S.G Warburg and The Birmingham Post and Mail. In a controversial move, the capital was increased to £2,020,000 when in a surprise action The Daily Mirror invested in the company. The newspaper had previously vigorously campaigned against newspapers being ‘part’ of the new ITV.
By 1955 Chairman of the Daily Mirror Cecil King wanted ‘in’ on the commercial broadcasting action. Initially he had told the Mirror shareholders that the company would become part of independent television after the ‘second bankruptcy’. King foresaw that ITV would end up initially having a large expenditure with little in the way of profit.
However after discussing ITV with the Managing Director of The Daily Mail, Donald McClean, King reviewed his stance when McClean suggested there would be no first, never mind second bankruptcy. On 29th May 1955 the Capital Issues Committee approved the Daily Mirror’s share holding with ATV. Cecil King picked to invest in the ABDC and ITC formed company due to its associated expertise in the electronics business (Pye) and the wide knowledge of entertainment (Moss Empire/Grade Org).
The shares when ATV went on air were as follows: Daily Mirror 13%, Sunday Pictorial 13%, Moss Empire Group 27%, Pye Electronics 11%, Westminster Press 7%, Birmingham Post and Mail 5% and AEI 5% with the remaining 19% split between ITC and Howard and Wyndham Theatres. Many of these investors however were not to weather a soon to arrive storm and within a year the owners of the company would look very different.
ITV was to broadcast 35 hours of television during the week between 9am and 11pm, with a maximum of 8 hours per day. The companies were not allowed to broadcast between 6pm and 7pm during the week to allow parents to put their children to bed! At weekends there was to be a maximum of 15 hours of broadcasting across both days. Stations were also required not to transmit between 6.15pm and 7.30pm in order to not distract from Sunday Church Services. Any afternoon broadcasting on a Sunday had to be of a ‘grown-up’ nature so that it wouldn’t tempt children to stay away from Sunday school.
The run-up to launching ATV London saw the company undertake – along with ITV London weekday franchise holder – Associated Rediffusion – major challenges to get on air. Studios, talent, crews, programme planning and technical equipment all had to be put together in less than a year. A September 1955 launch date had been pencilled in with the first round of licences issued by the Independent Television Authority.
Associated Television had in place a studio centre at Highbury via the ABDC link. This facility, managed by former BBC Television Controller Norman Collins, had been producing filmed television programmes for the viewing of the regulator authority since 1954. The first noted recording for the ITA at the studios was on the 16th September 1954.
With the involvement of ITC the company moved many theatre directors over to the television production. Associated Television utilised the creative talents of crews from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the London Palladium, the London Hippodrome and the London Coliseum Theatre. In the early months of Associated Television programme creation many other Moss Theatre producers and directors from across the UK were used by ATV in their fledgling productions. Lew and Leslie Grade’s talent agency provided the majority of the on-screen faces.
By September 1955 ATV had also founded a control base at Foley Street in the Capital, as well as fully completed a conversion of an old theatre in Wood Green into a television studio [pictured right]. In addition to the Highbury studios, the company had also secured use of the Elstree and Nettlefold Studios for film television programming.
ATV also had equipped two outside broadcast units, which in 1955 consisted of three bulky studio cameras, a vision mixer, an eight-channel sound mixer and four monitors – one for each camera and one showing the live output. The company by launch night had hired circa 200 staff.
The *Incorporated Television Company was originally known as Incorporated Television Programme Company, **Associated Television Limited was known initially as Associated Broadcasting Company Limited, and had to change its name when the ABC Cinema Group also entered into ITV television.