Perpetuum Mobile


Reaching new heights

So a new solution had to be found. If ABC and Rediffusion could not merge their operations, ABPC and BET, the respective parent companies, would have to start a new, joint company. Into this company they could pour the resources of ABC and Rediffusion, giving the new company the pick of the technology, programme rights and talent it would need, whilst keeping the profits of programmes like The Avengers safely in the parent company’s pockets.

This was bad news for Rediffusion. The 49% of the contract granted to them by the ITA may have given them some power in a merger. But 49% of a new company was simply an investment – nothing more. The sliver of a majority that ABPC would hold in the company would be enough to control it utterly. And they did.

To start, a name had to be found. The name ABC was good. It had a history and was well known. But the television market was globalising, and that meant confusion in the minds of international buyers between ABC UK and ABC US. Additionally, ABC would continue to be a brand in its own right – the highest-earning export programmes were hived off from the new company immediately, preserving the profits for ABPC.

So a new name had to be found, plans already having been made to change the name if they won the London weekend contract. Capital Television and Tower Television were seriously considered. The London Television Consortium, busy botching plans for London weekends, had chosen the name Thames Television.

But the rationalists at LTC felt that the ethos of the new company was better served by calling it what it was: London Weekend Television. The name ‘Thames’ came free, and ABPC grabbed it with both hands.

Studios needed rationalising. Thames would have excess capacity with Teddington, Television House and Wembley all available. LWT needed studio space badly as they had not considered the need at all when applying for the contract, other than to promise to build studios when cash allowed. LWT wanted Teddington. That caused ABPC and the ITA to panic… and Rediffusion was told to give up Wembley to the new weekend contractor. The staff went to LWT too.

ABPC began picking and choosing from the Rediffusion staff. The children’s department, the current affairs department and the schools department went to Thames. The rest were waved away – the presentation department decamping to Leeds, most others going to LWT. The rest of the positions were filled by ABC staff already in place at Teddington. Thus did Thames grow.

To a point, a company is what its majority shareholder or board of directors want it to be. But in day-to-day workings, a company is the people who work there. For Thames, that meant ABC people.

Very soon, ABPC itself was gone, swallowed up by the behemoth of EMI. EMI itself would merge with Thorn. Over the coming years, shareholdings would change and Thames would at one point find its majority shareholder to be BET, of all people. Eventually, the company was listed on the stockmarket, owned by institutional investors and Thorn EMI. Now it is just a brand name used by Pearson Television.

But through all of the changes of ownership and composition, ABC remained dominant. ABC people trained their successors to be ABC people. Former staff of ABC, when asked many years later who they work for instinctively start saying ‘ABC’ before correcting themselves. Today we would call this a corporate culture. Back then, it was just ABC.

A merger was out of the question. ABC’s profits from exports were high enough that ABPC was unwilling to give up half of them for Rediffusion to take.

About the author

Russ J Graham is editor-in-chief of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System

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