An Overview of Television in the UK

Key dates in the history of commercial TV


Television Act establishes commercial television and sets up the ITA (Independent Television Authority). First director general is Sir Robert Fraser, first Chairman is Sir Kenneth Clark


Independent television begins, in the London area, with a live transmission from the Guildhall. (The BBC had been broadcasting since 1936).
The first commercial is screened, for Gibbs SR toothpaste
Key programme: Sunday Night At the London Palladium (ATV)


Key programme: Armchair Theatre (ABC)


Key programme: Emergency Ward 10 (ATV)
First regular schools programming on Associated-Rediffusion


Key programme: Coronation Street (Granada)


Television advertising duty imposed for first time
Border TV and Grampian TV come into operation
Key programme: Survival (Anglia), Morecambe & Wise Show (ATV)


Channel TV starts broadcasting
First transatlantic transmission via the Telstar communications satellite


New Television Act: ITA code for programme makers giving guidance on rules for portrayal of violence and on general standards and practice. The Authority gets stronger powers over programme schedules, ad content and timing.
Key programme: World in Action (Granada)


First (and only) ITV company to fail: Wales West and North (WWN). It is taken over by Television Wales and West (TWW)
Television Act includes code of advertising standards and combines 1954 and 1963 Acts
Mary Whitehouse establishes the Clean Up TV campaign, later the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NVLA) and now Mediawatch-UK


Ban on cigarette advertising on television
Key programme: Peyton Place, the first prime time soap


First News at Ten broadcast


New ITV contracts take effect: LWT, Thames, HTV and Yorkshire
Rediffusion and ABC merge to create Thames


ITV goes colour, using the PAL 625-line system on UHF
Live pictures of men on the moon


Key programme: Upstairs Downstairs (LWT)


ITA becomes IBA and strengthens control and supervision of ITV companies
Government lifts restrictions on broadcasting hours
Key programme: Weekend World (LWT)
IBA engineers demonstrate the world’s first digital converter for changing pictures from the US 525-line format into the 625-line European standard.


Independent Broadcasting Authority Act consolidates 1964 Television Act and 1972 Sound Broadcasting Act
Key programme: Within These Walls (LWT)


Life of IBA extended to 1979. ITV contracts extended to 1976
IBA changes basis of exchequer levy from ad revenue to profits


Lady Plowden becomes Chairman of the IBA
First regular teletext broadcasts
Key programme: The Naked Civil Servant (Thames TV)


Report of Committee on the Future of Broadcasting, chaired by Lord Annan, recommends setting up BCC and joint BBC/ITV audience measurement system


Life of IBA extended to 1981. IBA extends ITV contracts to end 1981
IBA engineers demonstrate world’s first digital videotape recorder
Key programme: South Bank Show (LWT)


IBA given responsibility for fourth channel
ITV/ACTT dispute leads to eleven week stoppage, losing over £90m in ad revenue
Key programme: Tiswas (ATV/Central)


IBA reappoints most ITV contracts. Southern TV and Westward TV are replaced by TVS and TSW. Associated TV restructured and based in E and W Midlands, becomes Central Independent TV
Broadcasting Act 1980 extends life of IBA to 1996 and expands its duties to include a fourth channel
Key programme: Death of a Princess (ATV)


BCC (Broadcasting Complaints Commission) established
BARB (British Audience Research Bureau) created
Biggest outside broadcast ever: Charles and Diana’s wedding
Five companies authorised to provide satellite TV services
First subscription TV service begins, Starview
Lord Thomson becomes Chairman of the IBA
Key programme: Brideshead Revisited (Granada)


Channel 4 and S4C begin broadcasting. Sir Jeremy Isaacs is C4’s first chief executive
New ITV contracts: new companies Central, TVS and TSW
Launch of Satellite Television, later Sky Channel (Europe’s first satellite channel)
Key programme: Brookside (Channel 4)


Breakfast TV begins broadcasting: TVam
Key programme: Auf Wiedersehen Pet (Central/Witzend)


Swindon Cable the first cable service licensed, carries Sky Channel Key programme: Jewel in the Crown (Granada)


Cable Authority established, advertises first five franchises – Aberdeen cable is the first to start operations. Jon Davey first Director General
Closure of 405-line VHF television broadcasting


Launch of NICAM digital stereo sound on television
IBA awards DBS (digital broadcast satellite) contract to BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting) for a three-channel service


IBA announce that 25% of ITV programmes must be produced by independents (BBC agree the same)
Broadcasting hours extended: Thames TV first to go 24-hour
Advertising minutage extended from seven to seven and a half minutes an hour
Key programme: Inspector Morse (Central/Zenith)


Astra satellite launches
White Paper recommends replacing IBA with ITC
All ITV companies are now providing a 24-hour service


Sky television launches four-channel service using the Astra satellite
IBA relaxes rules on sponsorship (of weather forecasts, arts and instructional programmes) and on advertising by charities
Key programme: Desmond’s (Channel 4)


BSB launches five-channel service Sky and BSB merge to become BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting)
Broadcasting Act sets up ITC and makes C4 a corporation
Sir George Russell becomes chair of ITC, David Glencross is chief executive


TV listings deregulated ITC awards licenses (one national and 15 regional)
Key programme: Prime Suspect (Granada) GBH (C4)


ITV renamed ITV Network Centre, Marcus Plantin becomes network director
ITC advertise C5 licence, only one application
ITC draw up and award C4 licence ITC announce networking system: OFT to consult on fairness Key programme: Big Breakfast (C4)


ITC mounts first public demonstration of digital terrestrial TV
Government relaxes rules on ITV takeovers
Yorkshire buys Tyne Tees and becomes YT-T
New ITV licenses: Carlton, Meridian, Westcountry, GMTV replace Thames, TVS, TSW and TVam Key programme: Cracker (Granada)


Carlton takes over Central Granada takes over LWT MAI takes over Anglia White Paper: BSC and BCC to merge


Channel 5 licence auction: Channel 5 Broadcasting wins (Pearson and MAI)
New cross media ownership rules announced Cable reaches 1m subscribers


United Newspapers and MAI merge (United News and Media)
OFT investigates sporting rights
First pay per view event: Sky charge for Bruno v Tyson
Broadcasting Act: media ownership, digital TV, BSC & BCC to merge
Carlton Communications buys Westcountry
Judicial review over ITC’s awarding of C5 licence finds in favour of ITC
Peter Rogers becomes chief executive of the ITC
Key programme: Karaoke/Cold Lazarus (BBC/C4/Whistling Gypsy)


Sir Robin Biggam becomes chairman of the ITC
United News and Media takes over HTV
Scottish Media takes over Grampian TV
Granada takes over Yorkshire Tyne-Tees TV
BDB wins three digital multiplex licences
Digital 3 & 4 and SDN awarded the other two digital multiplex licences
Channel 4 funding formula payments to be phased out
C5 launches
Michael Grade resigns from C4, succeeded by Michael Jackson
Key programme: Funeral of Princess of Wales (watched by 31m)


ITC alters the terms for renewing ITV licenses
BSkyB and BDB row over set-top boxes
Sky digital launches
BDB becomes ONdigital and launches
BBC, ITV and Channel 4 digital terrestrial launches
Introduction of programmes in digital widescreen
OFT inquiry into BSkyB’s deal with Premier League
ITC allow ITV to move News at Ten
ITV2 launches
Westcountry renamed Carlton Westcountry
The Connection: ITC fine Carlton £2m for grave breaches of the programme code
Key programme: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (Celador)


ntl launches digital cable TV
BSkyB hits 1m subscribers
Free set-top boxes to encourage digital take-up
BSkyB’s first interactive football match
Granada buys 9.9% of LFC (starts frenzy of TV companies buying into football)
News at Ten ends
Secretary of State announces probable cut off date for analogue TV: 2010
Tony Ball becomes the new chief executive of BSkyB


Carlton and United announce merger plans.
Telewest takes over Flextech
RTL buys into C5
Granada buys Meridian, Anglia and HTV
Patricia Hodgson named chief executive of the ITC Carlton buys HTV
David Elstein quits C5, succeeded by Dawn Airey
Capital Radio Group buys Border TV
Media Holdings Group Buys Channel TV
BSkyB reaches 5m subscribers
Annual sales of widescreen TVs exceeds one million
ITC force News at Ten to go back to ten o’clock after ratings drop
White paper: communications reform, plans for Ofcom announced
Key programme: Big Brother (C4)


ONdigital reaches 1m subscribers
United sell off shares in C5 – completing their withdrawal from British TV
ITC cut licence payments to aid digital switch
ITV revamped, ONdigital renamed ITV Digital.
Sky turns off its analogue service
ITV finally agree deal to be carried on Sky digital
Michael Jackson quits C4, succeeded by Mark Thompson


TV ratings are lost as BARB's new ratings system fails. When they begin again, they are much lower than before.
Pace launch a £100 set top box giving access to a basic package of free digital channels
ITV Digital goes into administration, unable to fulfil its contract with the Football League, and is put up for sale.
The ITC awards the Digital Terrestrial Television licence to the BBC, in conjunction with BSkyB and transmission business, Crown Castle. The service will offer 28 free-to-air channels.
David Liddiment resigns from his post as ITV Director of Channels after five years.
Lord Currie of Marylebone is appointed chair of OFCOM
Dawn Airey accepts the position of managing director at BSkyB despite speculation she would move to ITV