An unpopular war in the Middle East forces a change of identity for the biggest ITV company
Notional Date: October 1956
Announcer: Leslie Mitchell
Music: Music Everywhere (aka The Rediffusion March) (Eric Coates)
Geoffrey Lugg, Presentation Manager of ABC Television and later Head of Presentation at Thames, had joined the industry in 1955 as a trainee transmission controller for the putative ABC North & Midlands weekend contract. ABC were new to the broadcasting industry, having previously run cinemas and film studios. By the time ABC was recruiting staff, Associated-Rediffusion (AR) had been on the air for some weeks. There was a shortage of skilled technical instructors in the new industry and at the suggestion of the ITA, selected new technical recruits from ABC and Granada – both coming on air months later than AR and ATV – were seconded for six month periods to shadow various jobholders at Associated-Rediffusion. Thus it was that while on the ABC payroll, Geoffrey found himself training in the AR transmission controllers suite at Television House, in the Autumn of 1955.
Many years later, when the original Transdiffusion organisation was founded in the 1960s, Geoffrey Lugg agreed to become Honorary Lifetime President of the Transdiffusion archive and was interviewed several times by a small delegation of presentation and continuity enthusiasts at his home in Teddington and again later when he moved to Camden as Thames began, when the ABC Presentation department at Teddington moved to Television House in Kingsway. Thames was building on the foundations of the old Rediffusion contract and Geoffrey in his several interviews, spoke highly of the Rediffusion presentation standards and their long record of ‘conceptual’ use of commissioned music for daily startup routines (five routines in 13 years).
Because of his association with AR in 1956, Geoffrey Lugg had a fund of stories about the internal politics of early ITV, and particularly the way in which Associated-Rediffusion ran its operation. One of the most interesting stories he told Transdiffusion was about presentation music at AR.
How do you know that a country is beginning to change? What indication is there that a nation may be beginning to turn its back on colonialism, is getting tired of Empire and that some of the establishment and people no longer have the stomach for militarism, so soon after standing alone and then jointly winning the biggest war in human history? It’s not something that can be accurately measured by the polls, or by votes in an election. But oddly, it could perhaps be glimpsed in a sudden change of on screen presentation routines and music used at the daily start of transmissions at one of the early ITV contractors.
This means war
The year is 1956, the company is Associated-Rediffusion, and the story is of how they suddenly, unplanned, switched to using an Eric Coates piece Music Everywhere.
For their first year of broadcasting, AR had been using an arrangement of a traditional piece, The British Grenadiers, as station theme for the daily 7pm start to evening transmission, with another softer piece for daytime programming. At that time, there was still a mandatory gap between daytime and evening television broadcasting – for both BBC and ITA transmissions, enforced by the General Post Office on the instruction of the Postmaster General, a member of the Cabinet. This was ostensibly so that the nation’s mothers could get their toddlers to bed without tears after children’s programmes ended at 6pm.
It had been a particular worry of the legislators who had recently authorised commercial television to be introduced in the first place that it might have a deleterious effect on children’s lives, so this stress relieving cordon sanitaire was conceived as a solution, in a culture where children’s bedtimes were still strictly enforced in middle class families – the only people, of course, who had television sets at the time.
This enabled Associated-Rediffusion to select a different station theme for daytime and for evening broadcasting and it was not until some months later with the cut back of unremunerative daytime programming for housewives that the regulators decided that one registered station theme for all daily startup routines would become the national standard.
With the use of The British Grenadiers as station theme for the 7pm start-up each weekday, AR was following the general ethos of many broadcasting signature tunes of the time – orchestral versions of military marches, with their inevitable hint of territory and triumphalism.
The Grenadier Guards depart for Suez
Into this obscure world came an intrusion from the unexpected arena of international politics, with the invasion of Egypt in the summer of 1956 by British and French troops determined to wrestle ownership of the Suez Canal back from the Egyptian government who had nationalised the Anglo-French canal owners operating company against the wishes of the shareholders.
There was uproar. The Americans were horrified that the old colonial ways of which they thought they had rid Europe ten years before were suddenly reasserting themselves. The population of the UK were largely against more war and more deaths so soon after the last. Cooperation between the parties in parliament came to a sudden end and scenes of bitter recrimination in both houses were reported in a divided press. The government fell out badly with the BBC when the latter agreed to give the opposition chance to state the case against the invasion. The BBC was threatened by the government of the day. Twas ever thus.
The Postmaster General suggested, off the record to the Post Office and the Post Office in turn to the ITA, that it was perhaps not appropriate or neutral for AR to be using, on a daily basis, a march whose unsung words were known to many school children from hearing them in music lessons and assemblies, a common choice for rousing primary school sing-songs. They were about a leading British regiment that was at any moment possibly to be involved in the invasion of another country. This was not so much a warning on the Post Office’s part as a piece of friendly guidance to the ITA. The whole thing was done informally – most probably by telephone – but hit home nevertheless.
AR quickly decided to change the daily music – at least for the duration of the conflict. They had to look for a replacement in something of a hurry as there was not sufficient time to commission and record a new daily theme for the station. The music used in regional ITV opening routines was registered with the Authority and could not be instantly changed at will. Thus was the ethos of independent broadcasting regulation in the fifties. In their hurried search, an inspiration occurred.
Back in the late forties, when Rediffusion/British Relay were principally in business providing wired sound services bringing clearer piped radio signals to valleys and areas with poor reception, they had been granted a special waiver by the Post Office to provide a very limited service of football commentaries on nearby matches in specified local areas, without commercials, provided by their own staff on closed circuit systems in a number of Northern and Welsh provincial towns.
This certainly did not amount to a local radio service but did signify, for the first time, the willingness of the authorities to make a tiny, non-commercial sound provision for a specific local need. The service was only possible where the football club concerned felt it would not detract from match attendance and also that there was a wired service available nearby – so relatively few places enjoyed this facility. This tiny and now forgotten niche facility was probably the first home-generated, non-BBC output in domestic services, though it was of course limited to a few wired networks and never broadcast to the mainstream radio listeners.
This was an unusual, if tiny concession at a time when the BBC had a monopoly of domestically generated sound broadcasting. The authorities had always been ambivalent about wired relay services, not strictly being broadcasting at all, and the Rediffusion company British Relay Services may have felt that this could give them a foot in the door should independent broadcasting of any kind be later authorised in the UK. The creation of non-BBC services had been debated but not acted upon by legislators for some years.
Sound and Vision
For this very minimal service of a couple of hours on Saturday afternoons in only a very few localities, Rediffusion needed to create a more distinct identity that could be distinguished from that of the BBC – and indeed Radio Luxembourg and Radio Eireann – that they generally relayed. A short unique signature tune – in those days known as an interval signal – would be required to distinguish the brief local output from the normal national fare. This was first used around 1949 on some of the company’s wired systems.
It is not clear as to whether the Eric Coates piece Music Everywhere was adopted off the shelf or whether it was specially commissioned – which seems unlikely for such limited exposure. It would be most probable that it was selected for use from a record library, where much Coates style music was available. Seven years later, when the AR Music Department was casting round for an urgent replacement to The British Grenadiers, the copyright clearance that the company already enjoyed with Music Everywhere made it an obvious choice and with the composer’s agreement (and no doubt some money changing hands!) the piece was renamed The Rediffusion March. This was not the only time Coates had agreed to a move like this – renaming an off the shelf piece for a customer.
In 1955, the BBC and ATV were both using Coates pieces as station theme tunes (the BBC Television March and Sound & Vision, the ATV march) so there was no question of this choice being from some totally new field. Coates, for a few months at least, had a total monopoly of London TV station signature tunes. This may have been a lack of imagination on the part of the companies concerned as much as being a self-perpetuating genre.
The supposedly new Rediffusion March entered use rather suddenly during the Suez Crisis in September 1956 and remained in use for more than a year. It might have been wise to have left well alone after that point but someone in the AR music department, possibly their supposed Musical Adviser John Barbirolli, or their Head of Music Steve Race, was of a notion to commission a new piece, to be specially composed for the company as a more permanent daily station theme. Stanley Bate, a lesser known composer of the time, was engaged and so his Associated-Rediffusion March replaced Coates’ Rediffusion March late in 1957. The new piece though appreciated no doubt by some, seemed like dreary “B film” music, compared to the bouncy Coates piece and not for the only time in the history of ITV daily startup music, an improvement turned out to be a dis-improvement. In hindsight, the Coates ’stop gap’ piece may be considered the more memorable work of the two. Make the judgement for yourself.
Leslie Mitchell on British Movietone News
Visually, this start up was impressive. It opens with the authoritative voice of former BBCtv announcer Leslie Mitchell, latterly installed as Head of Presentation at the fledgling Associated-Rediffusion, who was also for very many years the narrative voice on British Movietone News in cinemas. The purposeful identification, almost ex-cathedra in tone, is followed by the Coates piece, borrowed by A-R from the archive of a parent company.
It is interesting to note some similarities with the Coates BBC Television March of the time (written in 1946) latterly in use on the opposite channel. Particularly to be noted is what almost amounts to a composers ‘signature motif’ heard when the opening lines are reprised in louder form some moments further into the score. This brief identifier is heard identically on the BBC Television March, and suggested an ‘authentication’ of the piece as part of a Coates marches canon. With ATV also using a Coates work at weekends, the composer was suddenly dominant in a growing genre.
As was becoming standard for such daily opening ceremonials, the tuning signal faded as the grand last verse of the march approached and the AR symbol formed on screen. Although the ‘adastral’ trademark star revolved on the AR clock of the period, in the ident itself this revolved only as part of the form up music and froze again thereafter. It was not until many years later that the star was shown in permanent revolution in the new 1964 idents of successor identity Rediffusion London.
The trademark caption gave way to the company clock over the last lines of the music and the formality of the era was underlined with a continuity announcement that is all information and no welcome. The ethos of ‘carrying on where we left off yesterday’ was typical of AR, who did not, in the main, waste too much time on sentimental welcomes. But this was the ethos of the time and thus not unusual. On the hour the sequence cuts to the opening caption of the first programme, identifying the company who had originated the production, not the company output on which you were watching it; a habit that was to become standard everywhere on the network for more than 30 years.
This article is based on other articles by the same author that originally appeared in a slightly different form before 2000 as well as all new material. It has been published with the addition of the animated Associated-Rediffusion start-up recreation by Dave Jeffery.