James Green of the London Evening News looks back at a decade (and slightly more) of Rediffusion and ITV in 1967

james green, the author of this article, is TV writer for the London Evening News. He first started writing about radio and television in 1951. In Fusion 3, [1957] under the headline ‘They Say… Frank Comment from an Outsider’, he gave his opinions about the company and its programmes. Today, nearly 10 years after that article, he takes another look at Rediffusion to recall some of the people and programmes which stick out in his memory.

THAT was a decade that was. That was a decade that was…

Oh, put the emphasis where you like. The fact remains that all of us who were there on the night when Rediffusion and ITV first flickered on to the screen are now 10 – no, 11 – years older.

I’ve changed. How about you?

Rediffusion has certainly altered. For a start it is no longer ‘Associated’.

Incidentally, dear editor, it would be interesting to find out just how many people at present on the pay-roll were with the company on Night One (still known to some as the night they invented champagne).

The answer is 252 – Editor.

From my own memory book I recall Sally Sutherland, Red Lyle, Dennis Atherton, Richard Hawkins, and the late Hugh Finlay – all part of the Press Office over the years.

Where the nostalgia really hit me was at the ITA’s white-tie Guildhall banquet when 10 glorious years and all that were celebrated.

It might have been the wine and brandy but sitting there under the stony stare of Gog and Magog I suddenly realised that 10 years (and part of a hair line) had vanished since I was in almost the same seat for ITV’s curtain-up.

The instant reaction was to check for ‘old familiar faces’ along the tables around me. Of 40 or so TV ‘professionals’ within range only four, perhaps five, had been there back in ’55.

Now I know how Greybeard felt. If my memory is right was Lord Hill, now ITA chairman, at that September 22, 1955, dinner as Postmaster-General?

And at that time didn’t ABC TV consist of just Howard Thomas and a secretary?

Before quitting that particular celebration I wonder if the champagne would have flowed so freely had it been known that within one year Rediffusion would be over £3 million down?

By the way, hasn’t that been perhaps the most important change of all – turning those colossal losses of the early years into a profit?

As a privileged spectator seeing much of the game from close quarters it seems to me that Rediffusion’s development has been in three stages.

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The first, naturally, was that somewhat daffy unreal period when the newly recruited army worked excitedly to get the company on the air and keep it there.

Forgive me if there is an overlap for so many shows have been crammed into the decade, but those were the days of Gordon Harker and ‘Sixpenny Corner’. Of Ralph Reader’s ‘Chance Of A Lifetime’.

The weekly sports magazine. The Granville Melodramas. And of Sgt ‘I Only Want The Facts, Mam’ Webb and ‘Dragnet’.

Sheila Matthews

Wasn’t there a freakish series called ‘You’ve Never Seen This’? Book reviews in the morning. Sheila Matthews as Friday’s Girl. Wasn’t this, too, the Jack Hylton variety era… the names which occur being Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock (he once did a one-man show in an emergency), Rosalina Neri, Bryan Michie, Ivor Emmanuel, the Crazy Gang and the Water Rats?

Roland Gillett was the programme controller, Lloyd Williams was on the production staff, and the whole period was like the froth on top of a pint.

The second stage was marked by the appointment of Paul Adorian as managing director and John McMillan as programme controller.

Now the workaday face and output of the company was being established. On went the old originals in ‘Take Your Pick’ and ‘Double Your Money’.

But morning TV disappeared. Much of the early pioneering excitement went with it. And the staff settled down to a more orderly existence.

Schools programmes started – remember Enid Love? Was it in this spell or even earlier that we had those Michael Ingrams’ series? How about those Goonish shows like ‘A Show Called Fred’, ‘Son of Fred’, and ‘Idiots’ Weekly’? Not only Sellers, but Milligan, too.

The work of putting in the foundations went on continuously.

‘Cool For Cats’ caught popular fancy and brought Joan Kemp-Welch’s name to the forefront. ‘This Week’ was going strong. Somewhere around this point Cyril Bennett and Elkan Allan began contributing to the company’s fortunes.

Peter Cotes is one more name I associate with this sector of Rediffusion’s fortune. And was I alone in liking America’s ‘Johnny Staccato’ jazz-thriller series?

I went down the Thames on one Rediffusion birthday party – and across to Paris for another. That was the day that George Sanders, then working on a special programme called ‘Women In Love’, helped to play host. Although only a voyage down the Seine, Captain Tom Brownrigg was also on hand.

So we had ‘No Hiding Place’ and ‘Intertel’, ‘Wagon Train’ and ‘Rawhide’. But where was Tig Roe? Whither Alan Morris? Goodbye Kingsway Corner.

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Out went advertising magazines. Out went ‘Jim’s Inn’ – after setting the standard for all shows of this type. But in came the many successful Pinter plays.

The most successful, of course, being ‘The Lover’, with Alan Badel and Vivien Merchant. It must have won almost every award possible… actor, actress, author and director. Surely Rediffusion’s most successful production in all those 11 years?

Just as the TV scene was growing contentedly sedate on came ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ to give half the nation convulsions and the other half blood pressure.

Visiting the ‘RSG’ studio at TV House brought back all the din of 1955 and that drilling year when Adastral House was being converted.

Arnold Schwartzman – Record sleeve for ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’

By now Rediffusion was part of life. Dan Farson, always prominent in company affairs on the screen (his ‘Time Gentlemen, Please’ show was not only entered at Montreux but must have been responsible for the introduction of ‘Stars and Garters’), was a notable departure.

But phase two was drawing to a close too. On went John McMillan to general manager and in came Cyril Bennett as the new programme controller.

This is now part of the latest story… come in David Frost, Stella Richman, Benny Green, ‘Three After Six’, ‘The Rat Catchers’, and David Jacobs.

Pausing only to nod a farewell to Buddy Bregman and a friendly greeting to Europe’s favourite TV ‘uncle’ Eric Maschwitz, it scarcely seems credible that Monica Rose was hardly walking when ‘Double Your Money’ was first televised.

Yes, you’ve changed all right. Some more memory jogs… Stuart Hood, that ‘Arabian Nights’ opening for Wembley Studios, ‘Hippodrome’ in colour, the American deal with David Susskind, ‘Dial M For Music’, ‘Alfred Marks Time’, Keith Fordyce, Groucho Marx, Dickie Henderson, and on, and on.

It’s been a long time. Perhaps after all it should be that was a decade that was? What’s more Gog and Magog are still waiting.

Categories: History

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