After the tortuous passing of the Television Act – which split the House of Commons as no other matter until the Suez Crisis in 1956 would – the Independent Television Authority came into being on 30 July 1954. On 4 August 1954 they Authority had their first meeting, where the number one decision was to move quickly.
The speed at which the ITA moved to create a whole new system was breathtaking. Within a month, the first chairman, Sir Kenneth Clark, and his newly-appointed officers had chosen from the myriad of different options available under the Act and decided upon the exact split between different contractors.
With the decision made, on 25 August they advertised two contracts in London, two in the Midlands and two in the North, based on a 5-day/2-day split of the week. Leaving little more than a month for applications, they began interviewing the 25 potential contractors on 28 September, completing the process just under a month later, on 20 October.
Their decisions on who would become contractors out of the many groups to apply was announced on 26 October – a truly amazing date given the Authority’s creation less than three months before.
It appears that Broadcast Relay Services (BRS) – a division of British Electric Traction and the supplier of ‘piped radio’ services in areas without a good signal – originally sought the London weekends contract. To back their considerable experience in colonial television and domestic relay services, they brought the newspaper group Associated, publishers of the Daily Mail, who had the financial and political muscle that a new television company would need.
The consortium was named ‘Associated-Rediffusion Limited’, combining the name of the newspaper group with that of BRS subsidiary ‘Rediffusion’, and the ITA offered them the 5-day weekday contact in London. They accepted without hesitation, and thus took on the bulk of the responsibility for the look and feel of the new independent television service. The ITA announced that construction of a new transmitter on Beulah Hill in Upper Norwood, Croydon, would begin as soon as possible with a view to starting programme service in September 1955.
Associated-Rediffusion had less than a year to turn itself from an idea into the UK’s first domestic commercial broadcaster.