The ultimate startup from the backbone of ITV
Notional Date: June 1967
Announcer: Redvers Kyle
Music: The Widespread World of Rediffusion (Johnny Dankworth)
The Rediffusion London daily startup routine of the mid-sixties was widely regarded by those who followed the genre as the definitive station sign-on sequence of the monochrome era, a daily screen event that helped – together with those of ABC and ATV – to set the on-screen, corporate identity standards to which other companies aspired. At that time, daily startup routines were as much a promotion of the company trademark and ethos as an engineers’ tuning feature.
Courtesy of the music as much as the graphics, from the opening fanfare to the stunning closing climax, this was the signing-on moment that wrote the rules. For presence and charisma it was never bettered in the black and white years. Confident, assured, it unmistakably stated Rediffusion’s corporate belief that they were Independent Television and that as the flagship contractor of the network – London weekdays – it was their job to captain the team, lead the pack and set the standards for ITV in the sixties, as they had in the fifties. This they did with an energy and dynamism in channel identity standards which was matched only for verve and innovation by ABC in their North & Midlands weekend contracts.
Rediffusion Television Limited, to give the company its proper corporate name, had commissioned this full orchestral piece from the jazz composer and bandleader John Dankworth as part of the company relaunch in 1964, when their operating name was shortened from the long-lived Associated-Rediffusion to the new, punchier-sounding Rediffusion, London. Their Director of Music, Steve Race requested a modern fast-paced orchestral march, with a strong percussion and a modern, sixties jazz undertone. Combining a march format with a jazz style was quite an undertaking but in going to Dankworth, Steve Race had picked the right man. This was part of a major company relaunch and needed to be both innovative and conceptual. It was replacing the rather dull traditional march used previously by A-R and in corporate identity terms needed to startle regular viewers in order to emphasise the change of name. This was a time when ITV company names had a bigger on screen profile than the letters ITV did, still used in a subsidiary role to the names of the contractors.
This challenge was carried off by Dankworth with with a breathtaking style and the result – The Widespread World of Rediffusion – was acclaimed, by those who took an interest in these things, as an outstanding achievement in the promotion of corporate identity on screen. The repeated syllables of the motif “Re-diffu-sion-Lo-n-don” appeared in every other line of the main theme and the sweet melody of the middle eight provided a relief into something less militaristic, before the final build up to a march climax resumed. In corporate identity terms this was a triumph for the company and boxed adverts in some of the broadsheets, explaining the 1964 change in London ITV to the viewers, all mentioned this special musical commission to be heard by London viewers several times each weekday.
This was a piece of music that almost commanded you to sit down and watch the screen (if not standing to attention as a result of the militarist undertone of the beating drums in the last verse). Though broadcast three or four times a day for several years (daytime broadcasting was not continuous at that time, with many intervals between schools and other programmes, which used the final 25 seconds of the music to mark each closedown) it was a theme that retained familiarity, without gaining contempt. It became well known to weekday television viewers in London and even had the distinction of appearing as a footnote in the Television Audience Measurement (TAM) figures, as collected by set-top meters outside the control of the specimen viewers. People were tuning in five minutes early to catch the teatime transmission at 4.30. This was the only ITV startup routine to ever appear in the TAM ratings.
In the continuity departments of other franchise holders, this corporate identity triumph was admired and at a time when these things were given a greater importance than today, even the Head of Presentation at ABC Weekend Television in the North & Midlands, Geoffrey Lugg, declared himself to be “quite taken aback at the ability of the piece to project the new modern ethos of Rediffusion London”.
The visual side of the equation was no less impressive. The Picasso tuning signal is seen here in its region name variant and the timing of the fade-to-symbol is powerful. The closing seconds over the clock counting down to the first programme is a masterpiece of tension building within this genre.
The senior Rediffusion announcer Redvers Kyle, who along with John Benson of ABC was the longest-serving ITV announcer at the time, brings an electrifying tone of voice to the authority announcement. An almost impossible mixture of gravitas and dynamism is conveyed. The purposeful slight rasp in the intonation of the word ‘Authority’ is an elocutionist’s triumph and is the crowning glory of this short, punchy statement.
The statement that they, Rediffusion, are broadcasting on The London Station of the ITA, conveys quite utterly the undercurrent ‘where else would we be?’. This is the almost perfect encapsulation of the Rediffusion company policy of the time: network leadership.
The crescendo to the climax, which leads into the start of the final musical verse, reproduced the successful ATV habit of visual transfer from tuning signal to ident, from television authority to contractor. This was at a point of tension and drama within the music – almost filmic in tone. This was the perfect embodiment of how it was felt that these things should be done at the time. The sense of drama probably seems overdone by today’s standards but in the sixties, television still had power and modernity. The independent television companies saw themselves as substantive and moral equivalents of the BBC and wanted to convey a sense of permanence. No contractor had ever been replaced (save for the bankruptcy of little Teledu Cymru) and the expectation of broadcasting in perpetuity seemed a given.
Rediffusion, as London weekday contractor, was the successful linchpin of the network. Profitable beyond the wildest dreams of its original investors and constantly spending more on serious and prestige programming than they were required to do, they could do no wrong. This was ITV’s first golden age.
This article originally appeared in a somewhat different form before 2000 in another Transdiffusion publication. It has been republished with the addition of the animated Rediffusion start-up recreation by Dave Jeffery.