For the formal opening gala on 22 September 1955, AR’s general manager Captain Tom Brownrigg, R.N. (Ret’d) took charge.
The Captain chose as the location the Guildhall, recently rebuilt and refurbished after having been gutted by the Luftwaffe over a decade before, and even helped choose, with connoisseur Sir Kenneth Clark, what would be offered on the menu for the accompanying banquet.
Invited guests included the Postmaster-General, Dr Charles Hill, as responsible minister, plus many in his department; other ministers in the Conservative government; the local mayors from the London boroughs; and important agents, advertisers and stars; as well as journalists and potential investors. Brownrigg also invited – in the name of the ITA – the board of governors, management and senior staff of the BBC who, to their shame declined to attend.
The BBC’s chairman, Sir Alexander Cadogan, was pressed in writing by his friend Sir Kenneth to attend, but apparently never replied. Nevertheless, Cadogan and his Director-General both attended on the night after all – Sir K’s legendary powers of persuasion having worked again. They worked so well, in fact, that the BBC almost joined the Television Contractors Association, chairing its meeting of 30 September.
At 7pm on 22 September, as the guests enjoyed pre-dinner drinks and ambled to their seats, the final countdown was underway. The transmitter, broadcasting a test card for most of the day, gave way to a tuning signal and then, at 7.14, faded to black.