Launch of ITV
Commercial Television, compared by the BBC’s Lord Reith to smallpox and the plague as they were all to his mind foreign curses, hit the airwaves at 7.15pm on September 22 1955, albeit only in the London area.
The first evening gives a fascinating snapshot of the 1950s. An opening short film set the tone, plummily voiced by the controller of Associated Redifussion Cecil Lewis. This showed the sights of London - in glorious black and white of course, adding a few moments of previous broadcasting history for good measure. The audience – and only one in three families then had a TV set – was thereafter treated to the grand dinner celebrating the event at The Guildhall, with speeches from the Lord Mayor among others. The menu by the way featured clear turtle soup, lobster, and grouse, with 1947 Krug to make things go with a sparkle – vicarious pleasure for a Britain still partly rationed. A variety show with the likes of Hughie Green and Harry Secombe followed; and before the night was through viewers had been treated to the Hallé Orchestra giving a rendition of Elgar ’s Cockaigne Suite and John Gielgud in an excerpt from The Importance of Being Earnest. Strangely the most anticipated moment of the evening was the first commercial, shown at 8.12pm, for Gibbs SR toothpaste.
Reith’s BBC had attempted to dampen the evening by stealing some of the new channel’s audience and depressing them at the same time, killing off the young Grace Archer in its radio sitcom. This coup did attract 8 million listeners, but ITV’s launch was not overshadowed. Commercial TV had arrived.
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