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Broadcaster, Production Company

Main image of ATV

Norman Collins, Robert Renwick and C.O. Stanley, the chairman of electronics manufacturer Pye, formed the Associated Broadcasting Development Company (the word 'Development' was included because the only broadcaster permitted in the UK at the time was the BBC) in 1952 to lobby for the introduction of commercial television in Britain. They were successful in this aim, and although it had not been their original intention, were rewarded by being offered one of the first franchises, for the Midlands Monday to Friday, and London at the weekend (which initially included only Saturday and Sunday). But while successful as a pressure group, ABDC was less capable when it came to raising money. Initial funding came largely from Pye, and the regulator, the Independent Television Authority (ITA) was, at first, unhappy with some of the newspapers it proposed using as sources of funding. The company also had challenges in actually producing programmes. As a result, ABDC approached the Incorporated Television Company (ITC, formerly ITP), a group including agents Leslie and Lew Grade, Val Parnell and Prince Littler of Stoll Moss.

ITC had failed in a franchise attempt of its own, because the ITA felt that the enormous amount of talent ITC controlled could easily lead it to monopolise the fledgling network, and the regulator preferred applicants to have a breadth of interests rather than ITC's evident show-business bias. The jointly owned company, under the Chairmanship of Prince Littler, dropped the 'Development' from its title and became known initially as the Associated Broadcasting Company, or ABC, adopting a characteristic 'double eye' symbol. It received its licence on 25 May, 1955. ITV's Opening Night, 22 September 1955, presented jointly with the London weekdays contractor Associated-Rediffusion, was a Thursday, so ABC's first full day of broadcasting was two days later, on the 24th.

But there was a problem with the name. Associated-British Picture Corporation, owners of the ABC cinema chain, was late in the day persuaded by the Independent Television Authority (ITA) to take the contract for the weekend service to the Midlands and North. ABPC wished to call their company Associated-British Cinemas (ABC) Television, later renamed Associated-British Corporation in line with their cinema chain and to avoid confusion. But the battle for the initials 'ABC' had to be settled in court, where the cinema owner succeeded on the basis of prior use. So on 6 October 1955, just a few weeks after it had started broadcasting, the Associated Broadcasting Company consortium had the difficult job of changing its name to Associated TeleVision Limited, or ATV. The Midlands service began on Friday 17 February 1956, broadcasting for just a day before handing over to ABC Weekend Television.

After this inauspicious start, rivalry between the two contractors continued for the next dozen or so years. ATV made a name for itself with strong, populist entertainment, which ABC felt it was charged too much for, while ABC was sometimes unwilling to show ATV programmes to London weekend audiences. Yet the two companies, obliged to work together, actually succeeded, and went as far, early on, as to set up a joint production facility, Alpha Television, to serve the Midlands from a converted ABC cinema in Aston, Birmingham. This move had a downside, however, as it meant that the Midlands, despite being an important service area for both companies, arguably never received the attention it deserved, ATV's primary production centre being in Borehamwood, to the north of London.

There were no changes in the 1964 independent television franchise round: although Lew Grade, by now head of the company, apparently bid for the London weekday contract, he was unsuccessful. For the 1967 round, however, the ITA abolished weekday/weekend splits outside London, and ATV had to go for either London weekends or the Midlands seven days a week. Grade was allegedly unhappy with the decision to bid for the Midlands franchise, but was told later that ATV would not have succeeded in an application for either of the London contracts. From Tuesday 30 July 1968, ATV began broadcasting all week in the Midlands under the name ATV Network Limited, having ceased transmissions in London, where it was replaced by London Weekend Television.

A successful franchise award in the Midlands, however, meant that the company's main production centre was now outside the service area. With the demise of ABC, ATV built an extensive new studio complex in the centre of Birmingham to replace Aston, but major production still continued in Borehamwood.

ATV is particularly remembered for light entertainment, especially game shows such as The Golden Shot (1967-72, 1974-5), Celebrity Squares (1975-9) and Family Fortunes (1979-), variety entertainment such as New Faces (1973-78; 1986-88), and of course the long-running soap Crossroads (1964-88). In addition, the company produced a strong line of children's programming from the start, beginning with ITC's The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-59), starring Richard Greene, and also including Pipkins (1974-81), Tiswas (1974-82) and Gerry Anderson's popular puppet and live action shows such as Thunderbirds (1965-66) and Space: 1999 (1975-78). A vast number of widely networked drama series produced under the ITC Entertainment banner were also notable, such as The Prisoner (1967-68), successor to Patrick McGoohan's earlier series, Danger Man (1960-8) and The Saint (1962-69; Return Of The Saint, 1978).

ATV survived the advent of UHF broadcasting and the coming of colour, but the 1981 franchise round saw further, far-reaching changes. The regulator, now the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), had been persuaded - primarily by local authorities in the East Midlands - that the East of the region was poorly served and that as a result the Midlands should become a dual region (as had been the case with Wales and the West), with production facilities in both the East and West of the region. ATV won the contract against stiff competition, but in return the company was required to restructure dramatically. 49% of its shares had to be divested and placed in local ownership - though the latter requirement was not strongly enforced - and a name change was required to underline its commitment to the region. The new name was Central Independent Television, and ATV as a broadcaster ceased to exist at the end of Thursday 31 December 1981.

ITC was retained by the parent company Associated Communications Corporation, ownership later being taken by Polygram International Television, while Seagram's ultimate takeover of Polygram resulted in the ITC library being sold off to Carlton Television for £90 million.

Bernard Sendall, Independent Television in Britain, Vol I
Independent Teleweb,

Richard G.Elen

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1955-59)

Hugely popular series that gave a ratings boost to the early ITV

Thumbnail image of Beasts (1976)Beasts (1976)

Chilling tales on an animal theme, from the imagination of Nigel Kneale

Thumbnail image of Crossroads (1964-88, 2001-03)Crossroads (1964-88, 2001-03)

Motel-based soap, much-mocked but hugely popular in its day

Thumbnail image of Death of a Princess (1980)Death of a Princess (1980)

Notorious drama that caused diplomatic tensions with Saudi Arabia

Thumbnail image of Pipkins/Inigo Pipkin (1973-81)Pipkins/Inigo Pipkin (1973-81)

Imaginative puppet-based programme for pre-schoolers

Thumbnail image of Prisoner, The (1967-68)Prisoner, The (1967-68)

Surreal kitsch meets psychedelia in the definitive cult TV classic

Thumbnail image of Space: 1999 (1975-77)Space: 1999 (1975-77)

Moon-set science fiction drama

Thumbnail image of Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955-74)Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955-74)

Long-running variety show that helped to make ITV a hit

Thumbnail image of TISWAS (1974-82)TISWAS (1974-82)

Saturday morning anarchy presided over by Chris Tarrant and Sally James

Thumbnail image of Thunderbirds (1965-66)Thunderbirds (1965-66)

F.A.B. adventures of International Rescue

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Thumbnail image of Shakespeare on ITVShakespeare on ITV

How Britain's leading commercial channel tackled the Bard

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Grade, Lord Lew (1906-1998)Grade, Lord Lew (1906-1998)

Producer, Executive

Thumbnail image of Parnell, Val (1892-1972)Parnell, Val (1892-1972)

Producer, Presenter, Executive

Thumbnail image of Central Independent TelevisionCentral Independent Television

Production Company

Thumbnail image of ITCITC

Production Company

Thumbnail image of ITVITV


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