An introduction to our analysis of a week on Southern Television
Independent Television had a golden age in the 1960s, and nowhere more so than 1964.
The worries over contract renewals and the Pilkington Report were now both in the past. The former had seen the Independent Television Authority roll over all the existing contracts, giving certainty to the system, whilst increasing the ITA’s say in ITV affairs, especially in terms of requiring more heavyweight and educational programming.
The latter had been so hard on ITV and so lauded the BBC that its results were largely ignored by everybody as being from a surreal counter-universe, and thus the ITV companies no longer had the worries and distraction of giving evidence to the Committee compiling the report.
The big threat, as ITV saw it, was the coming of BBC-2. This caused the ITV companies to up their game, fearful that BBC-2 would become a dumping ground for BBCtv’s heavier and less popular fare. That turned out to be largely a empty threat, but by then the investment in counter-programming against a revitalised BBC-1 had been made. Additionally, after the financial setbacks of the 1950s and the heavy investment required by the new regional companies after ITV started, most contractors were now in profit, and for the larger ones, so much in profit that they barely knew what to do with all that money, other than invest it in diversifications and, of course, back into programmes.
Of 1964 itself, the strongest season was the autumn/winter schedule at the end of the year – summer schedules on ITV always being high on repeats and low on innovation with the audience not present due to sunshine and holidays.
While we’re not saying that the week of Southern Television output we’ve decided to look at here is the best week of that new schedule, it’s certainly representative and very strong. The ITA had taken Pilkington and the stronger powers it gained from the Television Act 1964 and the renewal of contracts at the beginning of the year to toughen up its quotas of heavier material and to push for more of innovative programming in peak time across the network.
That’s what you can see in these pages. The drama, arts and documentary strands are now largely in the peak rather than hovering around 6pm and 11pm. New formats are being tried, old ones are being changed. The public service ethos that ITV had shown until the financial calamity of 1956/7 is back, but this time not a version of the BBC’s stuffy output. The plays are innovative and different from what has gone before. The amount of music, and not just the new ‘pop’ kind, has increased and is being presented in new ways. Even the quiz shows are going off at unusual angles. And audience participation – this TVTimes has two coupons to return to vote on the outcomes in different programmes – has come back into fashion.
The country and the economy were changing in the 1960s, and 1964 marks the point that the post-war baby boom children start leaving school and going into work en masse. And go into work they did – there was full employment and labour shortages in many sectors, so a 15-year old with their School Certificate could leave school in June and start work in July. With the majority of them still living at home, this gave teenagers a disposable income for the first time in history. And dispose of it they did, on records and at the cinema and on consumer goods. Suddenly the advertisers woke up to this new source of income, and wanted programmes that would reach the teenagers so they could reach into their pockets. As we will see, ITV responds well, providing something of interest to teenagers – and not just ‘family viewing’ – every day.
We have chosen Southern Television for another reason. The first phase of ITV was designed to create an internal market between the various companies, with each region picking and choosing between the best programmes of the other regions, thus driving up quality. But ITV’s shaky finances and the slow progress of the Post Office in creating a co-axial network that allowed companies to take programmes from any other company rather than taking the feed from their nearest neighbour had stymied this. Instead, the regional companies signed affiliation deals with the major companies, promising to show all of their programmes and whichever other programmes the major company had bought from its rivals. The contracts were written to hold each regional company to that deal, preventing them from properly shopping about, even if the co-axial network let them.
These arrangements were torn up in 1964. Regional companies still took their programmes from one of the major providers, but now that major provider could not refuse to let them pick and choose from what else was available. ITV’s individual schedules, which had been roughly the same in peak time across the network for years, started to look as different in peak as they had done off-peak before. The largest of the minor companies – Southern, Anglia, TWW and Scottish – took the opportunity to create a network-within-a-network, swapping their previously regional-only non-news programmes between themselves and giving them a new power to compete with the majors.
This was nowhere more true than at Southern. They were the richest of the minor companies, with a turnover greater than ABC and profits that rivalled Rediffusion. They had money to spend, not only on their own programmes, but also on programmes for the major-minor network, and to choose between the offerings of the major companies. They didn’t have the network responsibilities of the majors, but also had a largely homogenous region that was easy to cover, without the huge peaks and troughs of mansions and slums that made covering the major regions a tough job.
Southern stand out of the crowd, and their schedule is therefore the most interesting we could find: not the solid network fare of ATV or Rediffusion, nor the hyper-local service of Border or Westward. It’s wrong to make generalisations from specifics, but the Southern schedule for 6-12 September 1964 provides a great opportunity to see how ITV at its zenith worked.