When we think of broadcasting institutions, we think inevitably of the BBC. But when Independent Television began, on September 22nd 1955, another institution in broadcasting was born too: one that challenged the BBC and brought the first of a cluster of fresh, new voices to British television.
Associated-Rediffusion Ltd was the first British independent, commercial television station to go on the air, and it was as dedicated to the public service broadcasting ethic as were its non-commercial competitors on ‘the other side’. Formed by British Electric Traction, the tram power cable manufacturing company with a hundred-year history, and also backed initially by Associated Newspapers, Associated-Rediffusion was the London weekday contractor from 1955, through a change of name to Rediffusion, London, in 1964, to its effective demise and absorption into Thames Television in 1968.
The company was headed initially by general manager Captain Thomas Brownrigg, RN, (Ret’d) and based in the former RAF building Adastral House in Kingsway, renamed Television House. It included such well-known faces as Chief Announcer Leslie Mitchell, who had opened the BBC Television Service twenty years earlier and designed the heraldic station clock that was nicknamed ‘Mitch’ after him (below).
Associated-Rediffusion was the quintessential voice of the establishment end of commercial television – ‘The BBC with adverts’.
After the change of name, the station was run by Paul Adorian – former BBC engineer, amateur archaeologist and prime mover in schools television broadcasting – and indeed A-R was the first to broadcast programmes to schools, as you will read here.
Adorian put the old station clock in the Science Museum and took Rediffusion, London firmly into the Sixties with a fundamental change of design and of spirit, and commissioned one of the most familiar start-up themes, John Dankworth’s Widespread World of Rediffusion.
Rediffusion has been variously remembered both for the crassness of its money-making game shows and for the landmark drama and current affairs coverage for which it also became renowned. Rediffusion was both of these – and more. Deserving both praise and criticism with the benefit of hindsight, the company undeniably set many trends and brought a unique new voice to the airwaves over London and thence to the burgeoning ITV Network as a whole.