Next month the clouds of obscurity which mushroomed around our future following the ITA announcement about the changes in ITV should begin to clear. The end of a period most people will only want to go through once in their career is near.
It has not been a happy time and it must be stated clearly that for some the future will still bring only worry and indecision. The quart of staff at present working for this company and ABC Television will not go into the pint pot of a new joint company.
Nevertheless there has been a categoric assurance from John McMillan, our general manager, that the first consideration in all the many problems to be thrashed out will go to the staff. One cannot ask for more than that.
As soon as possible next month personal interviews will be held with everybody and those who have been selected to join the new company will be informed. The union shops will be told simultaneously. Then the ITV companies and the unions are to organise a Register upon which the names of those not offered jobs will be placed. A similar Register is to be set up at the same time for nonunion staff.
The aim with both these registers is to ensure that everyone is given the chance of re-employment in the industry at the same basic rate of pay as at present. The unions have their own weapons to see that this is done. The non-union staff must depend on the goodwill of others which surely must be forthcoming.
Both must also rely on Lord Hill’s public statement at the press conference on Sunday, June 11 at which he announced the proposition that ABC Television and Rediffusion Television should form a new company.
In reference to the appointment of the Harlech Consortium in place of TWW he said:
‘It will also be a requirement that, when appointing staff, the new company will give prior consideration to the employment of those now working in Independent Television in Wales and the West. I may say at this point that the Authority will make the observance of this principle a requirement in all cases of change (Fusion‘s italics). The sum of the changes we are making will lead to an increase in overall employment in Independent Television; and there should be no reason to fear general redundancy, though there will be individual cases where goodwill and care will be needed and these will be exercised.’
The demise of TWW made the main press headlines. The merger of Rediffusion Television and ABC Television was a secondary story. Yet, in terms of human predicament, the merger presents far more complex problems than those arising from what will probably be a straight takeover of staff and equipment by the Harlech Consortium from TWW.
There will be ‘an increase in overall employment’ (more jobs) but, the formation of a new company in Leeds is not of much value to those whose homes and lives are centred around London.
So that leaves London Weekend Television, the new London weekend group, as a source of jobs. How far they will wish, or be forced by the unions and, possibly, the ITA, to take on Rediffusion staff not re-employed remains to be seen. John McMillan has told Fusion that in his opinion all unionised ITV workers, except those soon to retire, will get jobs starting July 30, 1968 or before with either the new ABC/Rediffusion company or London Weekend Television. One good thing which will, in Fusion’s opinion, probably arise from all this is a transferable pension scheme between all ITV companies and possibly with the BBC as well.
This is vital in view of the fact that a similar situation involving others, if not ourselves, could arise in another six years’ time – or eight – when new contracts are again handed out.
For the present, however, the immediate concern of everybody must obviously be to see that Rediffusion Television continues to operate at the highest possible standard right up to the time it comes off the air on July 29, 1968. We must do this for the sake of our own personal professional reputations quite apart from loyalty to the company and to the public we have chosen to serve by working in television.
This will not be easy but anyone who has decided to make television a career must have a basic desire to serve the public and this service must not be allowed to deteriorate.
As this edition went to press, detailed discussions were being held to form a new direction and management structure and to agree with ABC Television on the disposition of offices, equipment, transport and all the many other factors involved in the merger. One of the most important, of course, will be a decision on the future use to be made of Studio 9, Television House, Hanover Square, Wembley studios and Teddington studios.
By the time this edition is printed decisions may have been reached and announced. If this has not been done rumours will, no doubt, start to circulate. Again management has stated categorically that, as soon as there is anything to say, the staff will be the first to know. So, if rumours are flying, they can be summarily shot down.
It is obvious that there will be many delicate negotiations to be handled with ABC Television and it would be wrong to expect a day-by-day account of them. Indeed, they would be likely to attract press publicity which could prejudice further negotiations.
So the only reasonable attitude must be to wait patiently knowing that we have been promised information as soon as it can be given. There is one happy side to all this which must not be overlooked. Few people have the opportunity in the middle of their careers to review just what they are doing with their lives and what they wish to do in the future and to be given virtually a whole year to think about it.
Obviously this does not apply to those nearing retirement age and one hopes that some system will be devised to ensure that they do not suffer because of the high level decisions which have been made and over which they had no control.
But for those with some years still to work – and the average age of the ITV industry is low – the situation does present an opportunity to make a reassessment of their careers and the pattern of their lives.
As for the pattern of the industry, this would need a really magical crystal ball to unravel. One thing is clear: we have not seen the last television upheaval. Here, verbatim, are the words spoken by the Postmaster General in the House of Commons last month:
‘There remains … the question of the longer-term organisation of broadcasting in Britain. The recently awarded contracts will run from next July to 1974. Two years later, in 1976, the franchise of the ITA and the BBC’s charter, Licence and Agreement will end together. Recently, I have taken steps to ensure that licences of the relay companies, which make up a very important element in our broadcasting system, will end at the same time. So, nine years from now, an opportunity will arise for a fundamental review of the whole system, because ITA, the BBC and the relay companies will all terminate at the same time.
‘As I have said on a number of occasions since I became involved in the subject, I cannot see the present kind of organisation lasting for very much more than the decade which we have ahead of us before those changes take place. In 1969 the Post Office becomes a public corporation. The residual Minister will then have under his wing the two broadcasting authorities, the Post Office Corporation and a number of other residual activities, but he will be freed of all the day-to-day administrative work of the Post Office – that great mass of administrative work which weighs down the Postmaster General. From that time the residual Minister will be able to devote more of his time to broadcasting, and I hope that, in the spring of 1969, a long, cool look will begin at the whole system of broadcasting in this country.’
What other group of people in the country has to work under these terms? Are long, cool looks and the upheaval of individual lives going to be a continuous reward of working in ITV?
Possibly. And possibly it is right that such an important industry should be the subject of long, cool looks – as long as they are not positively frigid. It is not Fusion‘s job to comment on this.
But what Fusion must do is to point out that such events as the breaking up of companies, the holding of ‘fundamental reviews’ (remember Pilkington?) are not likely to create the most conducive atmosphere in which either companies or individuals can flourish. We have the compensation of working in what we all obviously regard as the most exciting, challenging and interesting industry there is. Perhaps we must expect to forfeit the security which comes from working in a bank or insurance.
But, whatever the reasons for ending Rediffusion Television may have been, it must not be forgotten that very talented and dedicated teams of technicians and programme people, and accounts, advertising, publicity, administrative and secretarial staff are also being broken up.
There is no doubt that those who are picked will recreate similar teamwork in the new company but it will take time.
Further, although Fusion does not want to be accused of chauvinism, we do believe that the spirit of the ‘workers’ in Rediffusion Television is and was second to none. The co-operation between individuals, the help one section gives another, the happy working relationships between people from post-room to management, are all indefinable. But they added up to something pretty considerable. Furthermore in the last three years and more there has never been the faintest whisper of a possible stoppage.
The new company will have a flying start if it inherits only this happy spirit.
Meanwhile there is plenty of work to do until July, 1968 and on the remaining 34 pages of this edition Fusion, too, gets back to normal …