ITV’s first night, 55 years ago

Today’s ITV’s 55th birthday – so here’s what went out on that first day, 22 September 1955…

VARIETY! DRAMA! PAGENTRY! A chain-smoking man who’s bringing us “world classic dramas”! Orson Welles! This was the trailer which heralded what was on the new network – which then could only be seen in London, courtesy of Associated-Rediffusion and ATV (then, briefly, known as “Associated Broadcasting”). And not forgetting the Tiller Girls… looks like it’s from another planet now, but in the buttoned-up 1950s there were real fears this could destroy the moral fibre of the country.

Hence this incredibly regal intro to the opening night gala – a tribute to a city still getting over the end of the war a decade earlier.

“It is our desire and hope… that in the years to come, that we may preserve one of the proudest boasts of England, the rights of free speech, fair play, our own particular brand of decency and tolerance, our own particular brand of humour and common sense… Ready our friends, you citizens of London, wish us God-speed! Over to Guildhall, good luck all – take it, master control!”

It’s funny to think Jeremy Kyle’s the heir to all that.

Some more old ITV footage of London was released on YouTube a few weeks ago, with a selection from the Thames TV archive being placed there by parent firm Fremantle Media to promote its clips sales department. Above is part of a documentary about Billingsgate Market made shortly before it moved to the Isle of Dogs, but there’s also footage of a youthful Ken Livingstone, a less youthful Margaret Thatcher, a 1969 documentary on “Piccadilly junkies”, Kenneth Williams raging against bores and impossibly wholesome 1980s kids’ show Freetime on cycle speedway in Edmonton.

Not forgetting the 1978 World Disco Dancing Championships. Dancing contests on prime time TV? Couldn’t happen now, could it?


  1. Darryl – what are you thinking of! The only interesting thing about the opening of ITV was what happened that night on the BBC Home Service at 6.55.

  2. I mean this seriously – I remember my Dad the next day describing how Grace Archer’s death was the talk of the factory – and how men had arrived home to find their entire families sitting sobbing, people running out of houses crying “she’s dead, she’s dead” – do you really think any of them watched ITV???

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