Lord Hill’s diagnosis creates a new company

The ITA’s press conference to announce the forthcoming changes to ITV’s contractors and structure contained many surprises and quite a few shocks.

The press in the week before had taken delight in authoritatively speculating that certain companies were doomed. STV in Glasgow was going. One of the regionals would be restructured. A merger between Southern and someone was on hand.

The reality was very different but just as shocking. TWW, the dual broadcaster to Wales and western England, was out, replaced by a dazzling array of names headed by Richard Burton.

London weekends went to the London Television Consortium, made up of some of the senior management of the BBC plus other big names. ATV was therefore stripped of its London foothold.

The new Yorkshire region went to the Telefusion rentals and pipe-TV company, on condition that they took up the talent and management of the rival Yorkshire Independent Television consortium.

With all that and the headlines for Monday’s newspapers practically writing themselves (Richard Burton top, David Frost second, Telefusion on the inside pages), the announcement about the London weekdays contract must have seemed dry and technical.

It certainly didn’t seem to be a revolution. After all, neither the incumbent, Rediffusion, nor the displaced ABC had lost out.

Instead there would be a technical change as the two combined to provide programmes from Monday morning till Friday afternoon.

That ABC was given a slim majority of the company was barely noticed. That the ITA had specified the Howard Thomas of ABC was to be the MD and that he was to have a free hand in choosing the staff and management also slipped past.

Most journalists saw nothing to write up about – just a boardroom manoeuvre here and name change (possibly) there. Richard Burton and David Frost seemed much more important.

The journalists probably missed a trick. Far from being a simple merger between two companies to run an existing service, this was a revolution.

Rediffusion were completely humiliated. From being the premier ITV company, they switched to having a large investment in someone else’s premier ITV company.

ABC, that minnow in the Midlands and North, frequently confused with ATV and always fighting its London weekend rival for access to the peak London audience, suddenly came into possession of the commanding heights of ITV.

What no-one asked, because no-one realised exactly what this meant, was if ABC was up to the job. And would Rediffusion go quietly?

The journalists went back to their desks and wrote about Richard Burton’s private life and David Frost’s public life and produced profiles on little Telefusion.

Meanwhile, Howard Thomas sat down and started to consider the really important issues.

Categories: History

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