Tonight’s Rediffusion, London… in 1968
A look at what was on Rediffusion in London on Monday 29 July 1968
- This is Rediffusion’s last day as an independent broadcaster. The company would maintain hopes of returning – they sought to take control of Thames as part of EMI’s takeover of the Associated British Picture Corporation in the 1970s and were approached by the Independent Television Authority to see if they would take over management of London Weekend when that company spectacularly failed in the late 1960s. But their share of the profits of 49% of Thames came close to equalling what they’d made from 100% of Rediffusion London; it became clear that this investment was worth far more to shareholders than running an ITV company on their own.
- There had never been a substantial change in ITV’s organisation before – the contract round in 1964 had produced no changes other than confirming TWW’s takeover of the bankrupt Teledu Cymru. The changes in 1968 were massive, to viewers and staff alike. ITV had presented itself as a thing of permanence, a solid undertaking with deep roots, a BBC. And no company more so than Rediffusion – to the point that Bernard Sendall, the official biographer of ITV, said “ITV without Rediffusion was unthinkable”. In retrospect, it’s amazing that the ITA, in order to accommodate what was in effect David Frost’s star-studded vanity project, were prepared to sacrifice Rediffusion’s weekday contract in order to fit London Weekend into the ITV jigsaw. And yet here we are.
- The contract changes officially happened at midnight on Monday 29 into Tuesday 30. Yorkshire Television and Granada, both seeking a fresh start at the beginning of the week, came to an agreement for YTV to buy that day off Granada in the east of the Pennines. Rediffusion, no doubt still smarting at how badly they had been treated over the contract changes, had no intention of giving up a penny of the advertising revenue by doing the same with Thames. Hence we get one single odd day of Rediffusion and the bizarre thought of a Yorkshire Television ident going out after two Rediffusion junctions.
- The same was not true at YTV – their evening was devoted to themselves, so no Rediffusion ident appeared on TV screens in Leeds.
- As can be seen, Rediffusion was dragged kicking and screaming off the air. The staff and management alike were heavily demoralised by the contract changes, with the board of directors quietly lobbying politicians and the great and the good in gentleman’s clubs across London, while the staff held protests, wore badges and put up posters denouncing the Independent Television Authority and the loss of their happy workplace.
- This edition of the TVTimes must be unique for having four regional contractors appearing in its pages: ATV London on Saturday and Sunday, Rediffusion on Monday, Thames on Tuesday through to 7pm on Friday, and London Weekend’s first evening tucked into the inside back page.
- Whilst ABC and ATV London had run special programmes to say goodbye to their regions, Rediffusion’s last night is almost entirely a celebration of their contribution to television and society, starting at 4.35pm with a repeat of an interpretive dance version of James Thurber’s Many Moons, which had been showered with awards on its first showing.
- Do Not Adjust Your Set at 7pm is a special version aimed at a more adult audience, again showing how innovative and un-stuffy the staid and stuffy Rediffusion could be. The show survived the changeover to Thames, with Daphne Shadwell and the Rediffusion children’s department moving over intact. DNAYS was the precursor to the (not for children) Monty Python’s Flying Circus from 1969, as can be seen from the cast and writing credits – Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin joining John Cleese (of Rediffusion’s At Last The 1948 Show), Graham Chapman (also an alumni of 1948) and Terry Gilliam over on BBC-1.
- DNAYS had won the Prix Jeunesse award in Munich in 1968, as the listing boasts. Daphne Shadwell would continue her career with Thames as a director, producer and executive.
- Granada and Rediffusion had divided up the ITV current affairs slots between them, with World in Action on Mondays and This Week on Thursdays. In order to get one final edition of This Week in under their own banner (it would transfer to Thames with the staff of the current affairs department), we get a ‘special’ today. For 13 years, Rediffusion had always done documentaries, current affairs and social investigations far above the amount they were contractually required to produce. Tonight, their last night, is no exception.
- The war in Biafra, a secessionist region of Nigeria, was awful, as civil wars always are. It was accompanied by terrorism across the region and a famine that affected all of Nigeria but was particularly devastating in Biafra itself. This was the first widespread ‘television famine’ – those in India had occurred before television had a global reach, whilst those in China were beyond an iron curtain that shut bulky film and video cameras out – and this half hour documentary had a similar effect on 1968 audiences as Michael Buerk’s report from Ethiopia for the BBC would have sixteen years later, with the creation of Médecins Sans Frontières paralleling that of Live Aid.
- This Week producer Phillip Whitehead would go on to be Labour MP for Derby North from 1970-1983, then a Labour MEP from 1994 until his death in 2005.
- In between the two current affairs strands, Yorkshire’s big contribution to the network, the hour long play Daddy Kiss it Better airs. This shows again how odd the stray Rediffusion Monday is. Whilst Granada and ATV were celebrating starting their 7-day contracts and YTV was celebrating its launch, Rediffusion were mourning their death. For the majority of people in the UK, Monday was the big relaunch day. In London, that would have to wait until tomorrow.
- There’s no local news programme on Rediffusion – they felt the area was perfectly well served for local news by the ITN national news – so the News at Ten is followed by a visit to Commander Laurie West, their resident weatherman.
- Associated-Rediffusion’s original staff had been drawn from the regular armed forces by semi-legendary founding General Manager Captain Thomas Brownrigg CBE DSO RN (Rtd) as he believed the discipline instilled by fighting in World War II and doing post-war National Service was something that a louche profession like television needed. Amongst his recruits was former navy commander Laurie West, who, holidays and sickness apart, presented every weather forecast on Rediffusion for 13 years. He makes three appearances today, after the two ITN bulletins and as part of the closedown around midnight. His contract was not carried forward by Thames, to the dismay of many viewers.
- The military links for Rediffusion didn’t end with the staff roster. Television House had spent the previous decade or so as the headquarters of the Air Ministry and thus the Royal Air Force and the Meteorological Office (which had been part of the RAF). The building was known then as Adastral House – the RAF symbol being an adastral, the name then attaching itself to the Rediffusion star logo – and was famous to two generations of listeners from it’s mention in each BBC radio weather bulletin, where they would end with “the temperature on the Air Ministry roof at XX o’clock was XX°F”.
- Half Hour Story at 10.30 was one of Rediffusion’s biggest exports. The series, at 25 minutes a show, was ideal for smaller commercial stations who didn’t want or couldn’t afford hour-long shows in their schedules. It didn’t move over to Thames, but Thames optioned the rights to repeat it, complete with Rediffusion front and endcaps.
- The producer of Half Hour Story was Stella Richman. She was one of the people who had horrified Lord Hill of Luton at the contract negotiations a year earlier by coming in for interview to discuss drama for Rediffusion, then popping up again later the same day doing the same job at the London Television Consortium (later LWT). For some reason, Hill blamed Rediffusion for their staff playing for both teams, but it worked out well for Richman, who became director of programmes at London Weekend and commissioned Upstairs, Downstairs before being fired on the personal orders of incoming (and soon outgoing) major shareholder Rupert Murdoch.
- Rediffusion and its ultimate parent company British Electric Traction were mid-century patrician Conservative to the very core. The boards of BET subsidiaries were always filled with Conservative Party members (and usually one representative from the Trades Union Congress) and they believed that running a business meant caring for their workers – current and retired – and society. BET gave millions of pounds to charities, encouraged its staff to do voluntary work and tried to put something back into the world they were working with – a very Macmillan-era Conservative view of capitalism needing a layer of paternalism that was only really driven out of the party in the late 1970s. One of Rediffusion Television’s way of meeting these societal goals was to open its airwaves to marginalised people and organisations who weren’t talked to or about in the hide-bound 1950s and 60s. Documentary crews had looked into whether homosexuality should be decriminalised, recreational drug use should be legalised, and blind and deaf children educated with ‘mainstream’ children; they encouraged people to talk about cancer at a time when people never mentioned the word out of fear and would shun someone diagnosed with the disease; and most of all they made a point of repeatedly looking at how the country treated our less abled citizens and above all children. The programme at 11pm, despite being titled with a word we no longer use, was made with Rediffusion providing its facilities for free to staff who volunteered to work on it without pay; it was shown without advertisements, so Rediffusion ensured they made no money from the hard work of the staff; and it shone a bright light upon a subject that people then had preferred to ignore despite its prevalence – cerebral palsy. As the final in-the-can Rediffusion production to go out on the company’s last ever night, there can be no finer example of what Rediffusion stood for.
- When Thames took over the London weekday contract, they noted that that audience approval was higher and ratings went up compared to Rediffusion. But the audience weren’t completely satisfied with the new Thames, as it dropped three things they liked: Crossroads, Peyton Place and Laurie West. Whilst Commander West was not to return, the howls of protest about the sudden end of Crossroads were picked up and amplified by the tabloids, whilst the big papers were stoutly displeased to have lost Peyton Place 400 episodes into a 500+ arc. After six months of any Thames news story or review in the papers having a paragraph shoved in it about the absence of one or the other of the two soaps, they returned; Peyton Place picked up where it left off, whilst Crossroads ran six months late for a couple of years compared to the rest of the country before they synchronised by having Noelle Gordon make a visit to the Thames continuity studio to fill viewers in on what they were about to miss.
- Peyton Place was not networked, with each ITV company starting with episode 1 on a different date and running out of sync across the network. Granada never showed the original run, waiting until much later to pick up the twice-weekly soap, running it five days a week in the afternoon in the 1970s. The show was even more popular in the United States where it originated, with superstar Dorothy Malone soon overshadowed by the two careers it launched: Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow.
- This last day ends with the Last Programme. The epilogue, an ITV standard (outside of Granada) since 1955, had always been called Last Programme on Rediffusion. Tonight it has a double meaning.
8 thoughts on “Tonight’s Rediffusion, London… in 1968”
Yet another superb article from the Transdiffusion team.
I’ve heard an edited audio recording of their final opening which said,
“This is Rediffusion, broadcasting for the last time from the London transmitter of the Independent Television Authority”, then the main part of the theme started.
I’m too young to remember the original ITV contractors, but have wondered if some old ABC or Rediffusion programmes were repeated under the Thames banner as Central did when repeating most ATV programmes in 1982?
Seems that’s been answered by the mention of “Half Hour Story” repeated under the Rediffusion banner.
As with ATV and Central in most cases, copyright of the older programmes were not transferred to the new companies, even when they continued producing material made by their predecessors.
In 1976 Yorkshire Television repeated the first colour series of “The Avengers” produced by ABC in 1967. The ABC idents and end captions were substituted by Yorkshire Television In Colour ones they used for Presentations.
Really interesting pieces on the end of the old itv and the beginning of the new.
Rediffusion was a good tv company for the swinging 60s, and with atv, were fun to watch. It seemed someone turned the wick down on tuesday .. thames came across as competent, but not very exciting. They didn’t use the skyline ident much in the early days, and instead used a grey into black ‘from thames’ ident. I watched their first night from 6, and didn’t see the ident until news at ten. Thames used a blank screen between the commercials, instead of rediffusion’s ‘starburst’.
Tv times also said that london weekend would have no symbol, just the company’s name. So for the first few months there was just a caption saying ‘this is london weekend television’ instead of an ident … so dull after atv!
Very interesting, beyond the fact that Rediffusion plus ABC equals Thames i knew very little about that period. Thames was established by the time i was old enough to appreciate the regions. Thank you for the education.
On Rediffusions final day, a new cartoon series began at 4.55, The New Adventures of Superman (1966), was previously shown on CBS in a Saturday morning slot during the fall of 1966, produced by Filmation Associates, the series contained two Superman segments with a Superboy segment sandwiched between.
An excellent piece of history from Transdiffusion. I do remember however that Laurie West was brought back by Thames on the Today programme for a period, I think, from memory, it was just a Friday for the weekend weather. Not sure if anyone else remembers that? But later Francis Wilson also did the weather forecast in that slot.
Thames did indeed bring back Laurie West to a limited extent for a short period but this had followed adverse press coverage in early 1969 about him having to sign on at his local Labour Exchange as he had found any work since the end of Rediffusion. There is at least one example existing.
It was LWT not Thames that repeated these Rediffusion’s HALF HALF STORY episodes, 9 episodes repeated January to April 1971.
It was LWT not Thames that repeated those Rediffusion HALF HOUR STORY episodes, 9 episodes repeated January to April 1971.