FROM THE ARCHIVE OF: The TV Room
This week marks the 55th anniversary of what was probably the single biggest shake up in the history of the ITV network.
In 1968, all of the big regions underwent significant – sometimes dramatic – changes.
In London, Thames and London Weekend went on the air for the first time.
In the north, Yorkshire took control of the service east of the Pennines.
Elsewhere Granada lost much of its territory but gained a greater focus, serving its Lancashire heartland 7-days-a-week.
Meanwhile ATV started to broadcast 7-days-a-week to the Midlands.
A few weeks earlier Harlech, later to rebrand as HTV, took over the service in Wales and the West.
These changes affected far more people than the 1982 and 1993 shake-ups.
Viewers across most of England and all of Wales gained a new contractor or saw notable changes to the existing one.
There were also notable changes to the network service.
There were a number of different motivations behind the changes made by the regulator the ITA.
First – they all but abandoned the idea of direct public competition between the ITV companies.
Outside London, each company was to be the lord and master of its franchise area.
London retained two companies in order to prevent one from dominating the whole system.
The second was a new focus on regionalism. The changes were expected to lead to better local services – a tighter focus on the north west and Yorkshire, a regional news service for London.
And thirdly the ITA was making it very clear to the ITV companies that they were tenants – not owners. They could be dismissed by the regulator.
The ITA was clear in its belief that ITV could provide just as good a public service as the BBC and hoped the changes would do that.
London Weekend in particular promised much in its franchise application.
The initial results were patchy. Industrial action caused chaos.
Thames hit the ground running – the confident child which took the best of its parents: the showmanship of ABC in its popular drama and entertainment plus the serious side of Rediffusion in its documentaries, current affairs, schools and children’s programmes.
Granada grew in its confidence and distinctive personality.
Yorkshire, despite initial troubles and the collapse of the Emley Moor transmitter, came to speak with a distinctive voice.
But elsewhere what happened?
ATV kept on being ATV. Many of its best programmes were still made in Elstree and its commitment to the Midlands was sometimes queried. Ultimately this led to big changes in 1982.
And the early years of London Weekend were nothing short of a disaster. The company was a commercial disaster and almost failed. Too many of its programmes were simply not right for ITV at the weekend however laudable the intent.
Ultimately though, it was the beginning of a golden age.
Independent Television – strongly regulated – could often match and even beat the BBC in quality and serious broadcasting.
It’s a melancholy reminder of what was lost through deregulation and the 1991 franchise auction.
There’s no point going over old ground. Wider technological changes mean that a national ITV service with a market-driven schedule would have happened eventually by one path or another, even without disruptive and misguided political interference in the form of the 1990 Broadcasting Act.
But it is worth celebrating the 1968 changes and their legacy.
Part of their legacy is, simply, that things after 1993 could have been a lot, lot worse.
PICTURED: logos of some of the ITV franchisees in 1968. COPYRIGHT: ITV plc and various.