On Wednesday, November 24, 1954 I walked into the offices (two rooms) of Associated-Rediffusion in Stratton House as the third member of the staff: the company secretary, Arthur Groocock, and his personal secretary, Fay Caddy, were already there. The company’s name was fixed – an accountant in Rediffusion was presented with a gold watch for having thought of it, especially the hyphen – and the Board of Directors had been chosen – the chairman from B.E.T., three directors from Rediffusion and four from Associated Newspapers. Nothing else was fixed.
I do not propose to trace the build-up of the company, nor to describe the intriguing excitement with which I entered, for me, the unknown worlds of entertainment and advertising. Suffice it to say that the company went on the air on Friday, September 22, 1955 with a crashing and most expensive programme, and will end its present Licence period on Wednesday, July 29, 1964 with, I hope, another outstanding programme: and that between these two dates, the company has been so successful financially as to become the envy of many people, and so successful programme-wise that it is the provider of the majority of live/taped hours to the network. Some call us doggedly decent; I say we are reliably good.
Most people think of a general manager as a man in command, even at times as a dictator, but in fact no one is a successful general manager unless he serves. In our case he has to serve the viewers, the staff and the shareholders. Also, of course, he has to manage.
If the viewers are not given the sort of programme they can admire and like, they will switch off or switch on to the BBC. First, therefore, the general manager must develop a programme policy which will serve the viewers. We have now evolved a programme policy over the years which, I think, meets the viewers’ needs. From 7.00 p.m. till about 10-10.45 p.m. we give programmes likely to appeal to all members of the family over the age of 17. Before 7.00 p.m. and after 10-10.45 p.m. we give programmes likely to appeal to substantial minorities. Sport in the afternoon; small children at 4.45 p.m.; older children at 5.00 p.m.; news at about 6.00 p.m.; the till 7.00 p.m. Similarly, in the late evening a more sophisticated audience is always served by at least one programme. Up till 7.00 p.m. programmes are suitable for children; between 7.00 p.m. and 9.00 p.m. they are not unsuitable for children; after 9.00 p.m. they are suitable for adults, but not always for children.
To arrive at this pattern of programming, and to make a success of individual programmes, a great deal of research is essential in order to find out the types and the sizes of minority audiences, and to find out if a particular minority audience likes the programme aimed at it. If, for instance, we transmit a programme on the lives of pop singers, and we know that a minority of three million homes in the country are interested in pop singers, then if 80 per cent of this minority of three million homes switch on and stay with the programme, we have got a successful programme; whereas, if only 40 per cent switch on or if the 80 per cent dwindles to 40 per cent, then we have a failure. The viewers must be served and, therefore, the programme must be altered or withdrawn.
We are sometimes accused of being too rigid in our programme schedules, especially by the television critics – poor chaps, they have to watch all the time – who long for a surprise. It is said that we are forced into a rigid pattern by the advertisers: this is not so. We do not lightly change a programme schedule because we feel that we should keep faith with our viewers. If the keen followers of “This Week’ switch on only to find we have substituted boxing, then they are maddened; if the followers of Hughie Green find a Cape Canaveral programme substituted, then they are saddened, whilst family men will know the result if ‘Small Time’ is pre-empted for tennis. My policy throughout has been to try and serve the viewers; the touchstone is whether or not the viewers will be satisfied by and grateful for the programmes. To make them grateful, however, it is necessary to advance a little beyond their present taste; always to improve the programme content.
Strange as it may seem to many of you, a general manager also has to serve the staff. Firstly, he must establish an organisation which is clear and workable, so that everybody knows who does what. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing who deals with what and who can give a decision. Secondly, he has to create a staff relationship in which the staff feel that promotions or demotions are fairly done, that discipline is tempered with understanding. Nothing can engender bitterness more than a feeling that something has been decided unfairly or ruthlessly and, in this connection, the same ill feeling can be caused if the general manager allows one person to get away with something – bad time-keeping or excessive expenses – whilst his colleague has abided by the rules. Thirdly, the general manager must see that conditions under which the staff work, and the equipment that they operate are the best that can reasonably be provided. It may be the creative freedom given to the programme directors, or it may be the vision mixing panel in master control, but whatever it is, it should enable the creative staff to be creative and the servicing staff to be able to do their job efficiently.
The shareholders are certainly considered by the staff less than any other part of the company: I doubt if the majority of the staff ever give them a thought. Nevertheless, they are a most important part of the organisation. They provide the money and it was their faith which launched the company. The general manager must serve the shareholders. Therefore, he must set up and supervise an advertising sales department which will bring in the revenue; he must be attentive to the views of advertisers and their agents, since they are entitled to get good value for the money they spend with the company. The shareholders want revenue, not only to pay for the cost of our operations and to pay a dividend on their capital, but also to provide cash for improving the equipment and programmes. 625 lines standard and colour are on their way, and will need a lot of money to install. The shareholders through the board also look to the general manager to see that the money they provide is not wasted, either by bad organisation, excessive salaries or artists’ payments, or by the purchase of dud or unwanted equipment.
You will observe that there is a very fine dividing line between the object of satisfying the viewers with better programmes which might be achieved by extra expenditure, and the object of preventing the shareholders’ money being wasted. The general manager never has an easy life and very rarely does he have easy decisions to make. (‘Problems only reach the general manager when they are insoluble elsewhere’.) An example much talked about at the moment is the decision whether or not to edit tape. Editing tape might lead to improved programmes, though the improvement in my opinion will only be appreciated by a minority of professional viewers, and not by 90 per cent of our public. It would, however, be expensive and might lead, as in the U.S.A., to taped programmes being produced by film techniques which would be very expensive. This, in turn, might lead, as in the U.S.A., to 90 per cent of the programmes being made in film studios which, to my mind, would kill ITV as it now exists and substitute a home cinema. This general manager has not found it an easy decision, but he leaves the company firmly convinced that the editing of tape is not in the interests of the viewers, the staff or the shareholders.
As planned long ago, I am retiring from my job as general manager before the start of the new Licence period; firstly, because I think that after 45 years of full-time work I am entitled to take life a bit easier and, secondly, because I believe that television is a young man’s job: new ideas should be bubbling up and new techniques tried (always provided they are not to the detriment of the viewers). When you are over 60 there is a danger of thinking that old and tried ideas are necessarily the best. I shall, however, be on the board of some of our subsidiary companies, and will not, therefore, be completely out of touch.
I am delighted that John McMillan, who has so often stood in for me when I have been away, is now relieving me. The board of Associated-Rediffusion is remaining the same and they are, in my opinion, the best board in Independent Television. I am sure that Associated-Rediffusion’s second licence period will be one of continuing success. I hope to see most of the staff over the Christmas period in order to say a personal good-bye, but I would like now to thank you all for your loyal support through the years, and for never allowing your jobs to get you down. I hope, when the station clock is redesigned, it will contain the company’s motto ‘Never Baffled’.