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Production Company

Main image of ITC

The Incorporated Television Company was born following an initially failed bid for one of the first ITV franchises. In 1954, Lew and Leslie Grade went into partnership with Prince Littler and Val Parnell of the Moss Empires group to set up the Incorporated Television Programme Company (ITP). Having been turned down for a franchise, the company became a supplier of programmes instead, capitalised to the tune of £500,000. Its first project, The Adventures of Robin Hood (ITV, 1955-59), was a considerable gamble, as the 39 half-hour episodes were budgeted at £10,000 each, tying up most of its annual budget in a single project. Fortunately it was a huge success, effectively setting the template for most of its subsequent output.

Belatedly, Grade and his partners joined the Associated Broadcasting Distribution Company consortium to run the weekday Midlands and weekend London franchise, their combined company eventually named Associated TeleVision (ATV). ITC, as it was soon known, became a wholly-owned subsidiary of ATV in 1957, providing filmed drama (and occasionally comedies) for the ITV network.

ITC under the leadership of Lew Grade specialised in generating action and adventure series aimed at the broadest possible international audience, which made the programmes often very successful but also open to the criticism that they were too bland and formulaic, didn't take risks and, in their adoption of a determinedly transatlantic style, lacked any real national identity. Clearly aspiring to the high production values and polished surface sheen of American productions, ITC shows were often set in exotic locations (though rarely straying from the backlot) and were glossily shot on 35mm film, not on 16mm as was then, and indeed is still, the norm in the UK. Even the lead actor was frequently either American or someone acceptable to the US networks, where the programmes were frequently pre-sold.

ITC usually stuck closely with one genre and format at a time, and so followed the success of Robin Hood with many other historical swashbucklers, including The Count of Monte Cristo (1956), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956-57) and The Buccaneers (1956-57), the last starring Robert Shaw, mostly shot at the small Nettlefold Studios at Walton-on-Thames. By the time it made their last excursion in the genre, Sir Francis Drake (1961-62), ITC was operating from the much larger ABPC studios at Elstree, having successfully turned to such contemporary crime dramas as Danger Man (1959-60), starring Patrick McGoohan as NATO agent John Drake.

With Ghost Squad (1961), ITC switched to hour-long series and had its biggest hit with The Saint (1962-68), made by the producing team of Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker. This paved the way for the return of a sixty-minute version of Danger Man (1964-67), as well as two shows derived from the novels of John Creasey: the unusually gritty Gideon's Way (1965-66) and The Baron (1966-67), the UK's first hour-long drama series made in colour. At its height, ITC (which also distributed in-house ATV productions internationally) had offices all over the globe, some of which even produced local efforts such as New York Confidential (USA, 1959), Whiplash (Australia, 1960) and The Forest Rangers (Canada, 1964-67).

Up to this point most ITC live-action series tended to focus on one (usually male) central character, a formula which reached its zenith in the hard-boiled Man in a Suitcase (1967-68) and which was stunningly deconstructed in McGoohan's The Prisoner (1967-68). When Berman and Baker parted company, Berman joined with writer Dennis Spooner to launch a new format, featuring three main protagonists, two men and a woman, one of which would almost invariably be an American. The first such series was The Champions (1968), quickly followed by Strange Report (1968), Department S (1969-70) and finally The Protectors (1972-74), made by Gerry Anderson.

Anderson's company was bought by ITC after Supercar (1961), leading to Stingray (1964) - the UK's first half-hour series to be shot entirely in colour - and, most successfully, Thunderbirds (1965-66). Anderson moved into live action with the science fiction extravaganza U.F.O. (1970), which, with an overall budget of £2.5 million, was ITC's most expensive television series to date.

ITC shifted increasingly towards feature film production in the 1970s, as its trademark light-weight escapist fare seemed out of tune internationally following such expensive star-driven flops as The Persuaders (1971-72), with Roger Moore and Tony Curtis, and the Shirley Maclaine vehicle, Shirley's World (1971). It found much greater success with such one-off miniseries as Moses the Lawgiver (1976/77) and Jesus of Nazareth (1977).

The company's cinema venture started very well with Return of the Pink Panther (d. Blake Edwards, 1975), while The Eagle Has Landed (d. John Sturges, 1976) and especially The Muppet Movie (d. James Frawley, 1979), based on ATV's popular series The Muppet Show (1976-81), were also highly profitable. Most of ITC's other theatrical releases, however, were expensive box office failures, even such star-packed efforts as Voyage of the Damned (d. Stuart Rosenberg, 1976), Michael Winner's misguided remake of The Big Sleep (1978) and the risible Escape to Athena (d. George P. Cosmatos, 1979) in which Roger Moore was miscast as a German Nazi officer. The notorious Raise the Titanic (US, d. Jerry Jameson, 1981) was a financial catastrophe of such magnitude that Grade reputedly quipped that "it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic".

After a somewhat lacklustre attempt to recapture old glories with The Return of the Saint (1978-79) and the cult classic Sapphire and Steel (1979-82), ITC wound down its British TV production arm. By then ATV had been restructured as Central Independent Television with its expansionist tendencies curtailed, while it and ITC's parent company, ACC (Associated Communications Company), was embroiled in a protracted series of takeover bids and boardroom reshuffles. In 1982 Lew Grade himself was forced to leave the company, which continued to operate in the US for several years. Having been absorbed by PolyGram, in 1995 ITC's huge library was sold to Carlton.

Chris Bentley, The Complete Gerry Anderson - The Authorised Episode Guide (Reynolds & Hearn, London, 2003)
Chris Bentley, The Complete Book of Gerry Anderson's UFO (Reynolds & Hearn, London, 2003)
Quentin Falk and Dominic Prince, Last of a Kind: The Sinking of Lew Grade (Quartet Books, London, 1987)
Dave Rogers, The Prisoner & Danger Man (Boxtree, London, 1989)
Dave Rogers and S.J. Gillis, The Rogers & Gillis Guide to ITC (SJG Communication Services, Shrewsbury, 1997)
Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties (Harrap, London, 1985)
Matthew White and Jaffer Ali, The Official Prisoner Companion (Warner, New York, 1988)

Sergio Angelini

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 Buccaneers, The (1956-57)Buccaneers, The (1956-57)

Pirate action-adventure starring Robert Shaw

Thumbnail image of Champions, The (1969)Champions, The (1969)

Colourful fantasy drama featuring a trio of superhero spies

Thumbnail image of Danger Man (1960-67)Danger Man (1960-67)

TV spy thriller series with Patrick McGoohan as agent John Drake

Thumbnail image of Department S (1969-70)Department S (1969-70)

Drama series about a trio of spies, one being crime writer Jason King

Thumbnail image of Jesus of Nazareth (1977)Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Robert Powell plays Jesus Christ in Franco Zeffirelli's famous miniseries

Thumbnail image of Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)

Memorably gritty ITC series about an ex-CIA private investigator

Thumbnail image of Persuaders!, The (1971-72)Persuaders!, The (1971-72)

Adventure series about a US millionaire and an English lord

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

Surreal kitsch meets psychedelia in the definitive cult TV classic

Thumbnail image of Saint, The (1962-69)Saint, The (1962-69)

Roger Moore stars as the latter-day Robin Hood, Simon Templar

Thumbnail image of Sapphire and Steel (1979-82)Sapphire and Steel (1979-82)

Science-fiction series relating six adventures of two 'time detectives'

Thumbnail image of Sir Francis Drake (1961-62)Sir Francis Drake (1961-62)

The exploits of Queen Elizabeth I's favourite adventurer

Thumbnail image of Stingray (1964-65)Stingray (1964-65)

Undersea puppet adventures of the original yellow submarine

Thumbnail image of Strange Report (1968-69)Strange Report (1968-69)

Untypical ITC drama offering a more complex look at late-60s London

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

F.A.B. adventures of International Rescue

Thumbnail image of U.F.O. (1970-71)U.F.O. (1970-71)

A mysterious underground organisation defends Earth from alien invasion

Thumbnail image of Will Shakespeare (1978)Will Shakespeare (1978)

Tim Curry stars in John Mortimer's rollicking biographical portrait

Related Collections

Thumbnail image of Gerry Anderson - SupermarionatorGerry Anderson - Supermarionator

Action drama... with strings attached

Related People and Organisations

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

Producer, Executive

Thumbnail image of McGoohan, Patrick (1928-2009)McGoohan, Patrick (1928-2009)

Actor, Writer, Director

Thumbnail image of Moore, Roger (1927-)Moore, Roger (1927-)


Thumbnail image of Spooner, Dennis (1932-1986)Spooner, Dennis (1932-1986)


Thumbnail image of ATVATV

Broadcaster, Production Company

Thumbnail image of ITVITV


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