Barry Norman in The Times criticises News at Ten in 1971. Thames bites back immediately

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The basic difference between the news at nine on BBC 1 and News at Ten on ITV is one of style rather than content — Dougall’s Magic Porthole against the informal mateyness of the two-man team on the other channel.

The events recorded by each may be much the same, but somehow the news seems graver on the BBC, despite the Peeping Tom effect of watching it through that spyhole, as if one were a morbid voyeur prying furtively into the world’s misfortunes.

By contrast News at Ten purveys good cheer, probably because two newscasters simle more than one. Over to Reggie. Smile. Back to Leonard. Smile. BBC newscasters have little chance to smile as they plough their lonely way through the average day’s quota of civil war, famine, motorway deaths and riots, though sometimes they are given a dreadful pun to deliver and then they smile bravely to hide the pain.

About News at Ten there is often the kind of ruthless optimism that characterized the Daily Express in Beaverbrook’s time. Things, it seems to say, are not that bad. Outer Mongolia may be on the brink of nuclear war with Inner Latvia but Reggie and Leonard (or Andrew and Sandy) have tucked their pens away and smiled at each other and life goes on. This can be most reassuring to a viewer on his way to bed and, with luck, a dreamless nights sleep; it is also, they say at ITN, the most effective way of disseminating news.

The aim there is to produce a programme rather than a bulletin, to communicate as well as to inform. “At the BBC,” Leonard Parkin once said, rather unkindly, “they produce news like the Water Board produces tap water. At ITN we feel one can be responsible without being dull.” Punting it another way, Nigel Ryan, ITN’s editor, says: “Our priorities are objectivity, clarity and humanity. They are equally important.”

Derrick Amoore, recently appointed editor of BBC Television News, might claim much the same thing himself. Certainly the BBC’s bulletins are at least as objective and clear as ITN’s. Even in the field of humanity, Mr. Amoore says stoutly, the BBC is up there with the front runners. “The News at Ten chaps are lovely,” he admits, “but our chaps are lovely, too. Robert Dougall can’t go down the street without being mobbed, and Richard Baker has the highest personal rating of any news reader in the country.”

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Mr. Amoore, who has been editor since March 1, has made no great changes and claims to have none planned for the future. “New brooms are very boring and very inefficient. If I was the inheritor of a broken-down machine I might well be worried. But in fact, as far as we’re concerned, more people look at us than at them.”

This may well be true, since the B.B.C. produces nine hours’ and I.T.N. only six hours’ news a week. But the certain area of rivalry, so far as ratings are concerned, revolves round the nine o’clock news on B.B.C. 1 and News at Ten. Sadly, BBC2’s Newsroom at 7.30, which is crisp, informative and comprehensive, and perhaps the best news programme on television, hardly registers with the viewers. It has an audience of about 300,000 compared with nine million or more for the later bulletins on the other channels.

Which of these two actually has the higher viewing figure is debatable; the BBC claims approximate parity, I.T.N. a dear superiority. But since they measure their audiences in entirely different ways the statistics are virtually meaningless.

Barry Norman
The Times 1 June 1971


Comment from Thames

As most JICTAR watchers will know, there’s very little in it as far as audience ratings go. Since the beginning of this year, News at Ten has been marginally ahead of the BBC’s Nine O’clock News in the Thames area. ITN’s best nights are Monday and Thursday.

But the important things to note are, first, that News at Ten averages a London homes audience of nearly 1,500,000 homes every night; and secondly that its audience is of a very special quality.

For example, Thames recently commissioned two studies* of the News at Ten audience. First, a series of interviews with AB men revealed that:

  • 79% of AB MEN in the Thames area watch NEWS AT TEN regularly – the highest percentage for any BBC or ITV programme including the 9.00 News.
  • 57% of AB MEN in the Thames area watch NEWS AT TEN up to three times a week.
  • 43% watch it four or five times a week.
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In the second study, two hundred leading businessmen (all Chairmen or Managing Directors of companies listed in The Times 500 for 1969-70) were asked for their confidential views about News at Ten.

  • 64% of these top businessmen watch News at Ten at least once a week.
  • 34% watch three, four or five times a week.

The majority rated News at Ten and BBC 9.00 News equally on clarity of reporting, reliability, lack of bias and standard of news reading.

But News at Ten was the clear leader on RANGE OF COVERAGE, SUITABILITY OF TIMING, and INTEREST OF PRODUCTION.

* 1. Personal interviews with 200 AB Men in Thames area carried out by Dataplan.
2. Personal questionnaire answered by 200 leading businessmen.

The Grocer, of course, is full of ads like this. Ads that tell retailers and wholesalers about imminent television campaigns or recent TV successes. But have you counted the ads that mention imminent Press campaigns lately? Try it. You’ll find that practically nobody thinks they’re worth shouting about as far as the trade is concerned…

PS: Have you ever thought of telling your retailers about a TV campaign -on TV?

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