ABC was a most unlikely addition to the new Independent Television system. The Independent Television Authority had lined up several companies to provide programmes in the main regions (London, Midlands, North) beginning in 1955. Associated Newspapers and BET’s Rediffusion formed Associated-Rediffusion for London weekdays.
The Associated Broadcasting Development Company became Associated TeleVision for London weekends and Midland weekdays. Granada Theatres developed Granada Television Network for Northern weekdays. Kemsley Newspapers and Winnick Entertainment formed Kemsley-Winnick for Northern and Midland weekends.
Then a problem appeared. Maurice Winnick admitted to the ITA that he did not have the finance available to run two ITV stations. The finance had never existed, but he had hoped it would arrive. It didn’t, and the potential losses frightened Lord Kemsley’s newspaper group (later to be bought out using ITV profits by Lord Thompson of STV) away.
Winnick insisted the he could, eventually, pull together the people and talent required for a new television channel. He was wrong, and, in any case, Kenneth Clark and the ITA staff had lost faith in his consortium. But what now?
Two days in the Midlands and the same two days in the North was not a plum contract. The ITA had to fill the weekends – ITV without weekends was ridiculous, while ITV with seven-day companies in major regions would hand the network to Granada – or worse, to ATV with a national contract (Monday to Friday in the Midlands, weekends in every major region) – but who would want such a minor role?
The Associated British Picture Corporation, with their chain of ABC cinemas, had campaigned long and hard against advertising-supported television. Television took viewers away from the cinema, and advertising-supported television would take even more revenue from the company. Even when Granada Theatres decided to use the old adage ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, ABPC held out.
Then Kemsley-Winnick fell at the first hurdle. Sir Kenneth was soon on the ‘phone. Would ABPC consider taking a contract? Would you help me out of a spot? What if the contract offered large returns for little risk – two days a week in two regions? What if I promised to pay you some of the £750,000 promised by the government should ITV fail?
ABPC had no choice – a business opportunity avoided by gut feeling was one thing. A business opportunity avoided despite there being a guarantee of breaking even at the very least was another.
ABPC accepted the contracts for Midlands (Saturdays and Sundays) and Northern England (Saturdays and Sundays). ABC Television, as the new venture was to be called, had five months to prepare for broadcasting to begin in the Midlands.
This is the story of that company. The story of the only organisation to never apply for an ITV franchise, yet get one. The story of a company that produced the best drama, the most popular programmes, and the classic presentation that gave rise to Transdiffusion. ABC produced a generation of producers, presenters, directors, designers and technicians with ‘quality’ written through them.
ABC, by accident and design, created and nurtured ITV. ABC was the trendsetter whose influence we still see, hear and feel today. ABC made television that still resonates now.
ABC Your Weekend TV.