discovery of a previously lost Associated-Rediffusion start-up
casts new light on the way in which the company started broadcasts
in the very earliest days when, perhaps, the rules
were a little more flexible than they later became. Richard
Elen looks at how we can attempt to reconstruct broadcast
events that nobody quite remembers.
Shirley Butler rehearses for her part in British commercial
television's opening night, September 22, 1955. (Fox Photos
the years, Transdiffusion
has amassed a great deal of knowledge, reports, facts, deductions
and recordings concerning Independent Television daily start-up
Start-up routines were the rituals occurring at least once
daily through which the Independent Television Authority (later
the IBA) handed over control of its television
transmitters in different parts of the country to the franchise
holders for the region.
the early days of broadcasting, when television enthusiasts
were likely to make up the entire audience rather than
just a small minority, the record of these start-ups was
in the form of audio recordings, often captured with a
microphone held up to the television loudspeaker.
recordings are backed up by still photographs and, of
course, memories. The Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
is living proof of this, with the largest known private
archive of this type of material.
if we go back to the very earliest days, predating even
the majority of what we would now call television enthusiasts,
documentary evidence is even more scarce, and memories
case in point is the way in which Associated-Rediffusion,
the London weekday commercial TV broadcaster from September
1955 until April 1964 (when it metamorphosed into "Rediffusion,
London" on air), started its daily transmissions.
recording in the Transdiffusion Archives, taken from a
one-off acetate disc labeled "Opening Day",
provides the audio for the start-up sequence that occurred
on Thursday, 22 September 1955, when the first Independent
Television station opened on Channel 9, Band III, in London.
opening night, shared with the London weekend contractor
at the time, "ABC" (which quickly became ATV),
began with speeches and stirring music, and continued
with a variety gala and some quite highbrow programming.
was much more the hallmark of Associated-Rediffusion than
the game shows for which it is latterly remembered and
was an indication of things to come. Associated-Rediffusion
was dedicated to the very highest standards and saw itself
as every bit as much in the public service broadcasting
business as the BBC Television Service but with
start-up audio tells us a lot about the station and its
ethos. Of course, not all the potential television audience
saw the opening broadcast. Some of them were watching
the "other channel". Others couldnt watch
Band III because they had yet to install the additional
aerial and a down-converter or new dual-band TV set. Yet
more were listening to the fire that consumed Grace Archer
over on BBC radio. In total, less than half of those who
could even receive the broadcast watched it.
those who were watching the earliest moments
of Associated-Rediffusion saw and heard an impressive
testcard (left) faded to black and ten minutes
of silence. A tuning signal (below) was accompanied
by a piece of music: an orchestral arrangement of the
traditional tune, "The British Grenadiers".
The sprightly three-minute piece progressed through numerous
key-changes and passages of light and shade, culminating
in a majestic re-statement of the theme and a triumphant
piece of music was used every day for almost a year. During
the Suez Crisis in 1956, however, it seems that "British
Grenadiers" was thought a little too militaristic
and A-R cast around for something else to use as the stations
chose a bright, symphonic march by that master of the
light music march, Eric Coates, called "Music Everywhere",
which had been written in 1948. Subtitled "Rediffusion
March", "Music Everywhere" was the perfect
choice until something could be written specially to take
its place. That happened several months later when the
unknown composer "S Bates" once rumoured
to be Associated-Rediffusions musical advisor Sir
John Barbirolli completed the piece that came into
use in 1957.
back in September 1955, the "Grenadiers" was
followed by a dramatic pause. Then the dulcet tones of
former BBC Television and Movietone News announcer Leslie
Mitchell announced, "This Is London", followed
by a short fanfare by Charles Williams: Fanfare Number
1 from "Five Fanfares".
the same time, the A-R symbol faded on to the screen
a white, 16-point angled star (named the "Adastral"
after the fact that the companys head office in
Kingsway, London, by then known as "Television House",
had formerly been headquarters of the RAF, with its motto,
"Per Ardua, Ad Astra" or "Through
Hardship, To The Stars"). The Adastral appeared on
a black field with the words "Associated-Rediffusion"
and "Channel Nine" sliding in from left and
right (see illustration above).
then announced that this was the company that broadcast
on Channel Nine, Band III, and brought programmes to London
every day from Monday to Friday the word weekday
being available but not common coin at the time.
that, the image dissolved into Associated-Rediffusions
clock. The clock was accompanied by an excerpt from Sir
Edward Elgars symphonic overture, "Cockaigne
(In London Town)" an appropriate piece
to symbolise the companys aspirations and intent
and one which, to all intents and purposes, must have
been regarded as the stations theme in these early
that, at the top of the hour, viewers saw Associated-Rediffusions
"frontcap" similar to the symbol described
above but with the words "Associated-Rediffusion
Presents" sliding in from left and right, accompanied
by what we would now call an 'ident', an eleven-note figure
borrowed from Cockaigne and then into the first
programme of the evening.
evidence for the visuals that accompanied the known audio
track is unfortunately scant, we can tell a great deal
by running likely images together with the audio and seeing
how they fit.
a compendium of available knowledge on the structure and
requirements of start-up sequences that evolved later,
we can make some very good educated guesses, helped where
available by memories and documentation, as to what the
viewers of 1955 would have seen on their screens as the
the pieces used in 1955 by A-R were not specially commissioned
as was later the case, it would still have been possible
to time transitions in the visuals to occur at salient
points in the music, by either editing the music, or creating
the visuals to match it. or both.
is no doubt that, with experimentation, some of these
juxtapositions fall into place in a most convincing manner,
rather like finding two pieces of Neolithic pottery on
an archaeological dig and, on cleaning them, finding that
they fit together perfectly. Trying such juxtapositions
and playing them to people who might have their memories
triggered as a result can be a useful technique in reconstructing
events like this.
it was believed that the start-up described above was
used on opening day only, and on subsequent days omitted
the "This Is London". Apart from anything else,
the format, surely, was a little over the top, even for
those days. "This Is London"?
from the occasional DX viewer, only people in London could
watch the broadcasts from the ITAs new transmitting
tower on Beulah Hill, Norwood, just down the road from
the BBCs Crystal Palace tower in South London. The
ITA called it their "Croydon" transmitter (though
it was strictly not quite in Croydon) but Associated-Rediffusion,
more concerned with the great city in which their audience
lived and breathed than technical accuracy, always called
uncovering of a second start-up from the same period,
as described in a previous
article, prompted a reconsideration of the theory
that "This Is London" was used once only.
Along with the complete Grenadiers start-up I located,
labelled on my tape "A-RTV Evening Intro", was
another complete start-up sequence, labelled "A-RTV
Afternoon Intro". This featured opening music by
Richard Addinsell from David Lean's 1945 movie "Blithe
Spirit" and a female voiceover but with
the same script and the same content apart from the initial
suggested that not one but two start-ups had been used
in the early days: one for the afternoon programmes starting
at 5 pm and the other for the evening, beginning at 7
oclock. Both included "This Is London".
This also presented a problem.
General Post Office, the body in those days responsible
for licensing of wireless transmissions of all kinds in
the UK, and the Independent Television Authority, which
had the job of administering Britains burgeoning
commercial television network, were traditionally thought
to have been quite strict with their definition of how
the ritual handover of the transmitter from the Authority
to the broadcaster was to be carried out.
themes had to be registered with the Authority. A suitable
announcement had to be made at the start of the theme.
Other requirements also had to be adhered to. By the late
1950s at least, nobody would have been allowed to have
two opening pieces, used at different times of day.
those earliest, heady days of the countrys first
commercial television stations, there was a little more
leeway. It may be that, as in the days of radio before
the BBC, the rules had yet to be written. Or, as the official
history of ITV has it, the new contractors forgot, and
were quickly reminded of, their status in the broadcasting
hierarchy by the ITA.
happened, if the rules were written in stone on day one,
they must have been ignored in the excitement of a dream
of broadcasting being finally brought into reality.