ABC History

The reluctant entry

The Associated-British Picture Corporation was split about whether to enter independent television. Howard Thomas, managing director of Pathe Pictures was very keen, using the reasoning that television would reduce cinema audiences and therefore reduce ABPC profits, and the way to maintain them overall was to be on the inside of television. This is similar to why Granada applied, and Thomas gained the support of the Chairman, Sir Phillip Warter and Managing Director CJ Latta. However there was opposition from the Deputy Chairman, Eric Fletcher, who represented Warner Brothers.

Thomas found himself personally in demand. He was approached by ATV to become an advisory producer, Associated Rediffusion to have some managerial role, the soon-to-fold Kemsley-Winnick group to become their Managing Director, and the BBC, to become Controller of Programmes.

According to Thomas, Sir Robert Fraser, Director General of the ITA offered ABPC a seven-day contract in the Midlands, when the fate of ABDC and Kemsley-Winnick seemed in the balance, but the offer was rejected. Thomas went on holiday, but was recalled - the Kemsley-Winnick group had finally collapsed, and they were now being offered the weekend contract for the North and the Midlands. The eventual answer was yes, and they signed the contract on 21 September 1955, one day before ITV was launched in London. They had only five months to get started in the Midlands.

They had a low cost strategy, using adapted properties and kept their first year debt down to GBP 97 000. By 1959 their profit was GBP 1.5 million. ABC Television gradually dominated ABPC - in 1964 ABC Television contributed about half the overall profits, and nearly two-thirds by the following year.

The Relationship with ATV

In the Midlands the relationship was very good; they shared studios in Aston, which saved both of them money, despite directly competing for local advertising revenue. This had been arranged one evening in the dining car of the train from Birmingham to London. This did mean that ABC never really gained a local identity in the Midlands.

By contrast the scheduling was fraught with argument, particularly after Harry Alan Towers left ATV. Lew Grade in a BBC interview claimed that he would sort out the schedule very quickly with his opposite numbers, with the only dispute with ABC being fifty pounds related to the cost of Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Thomas on the other hand related that he felt to be in the middle of a heavyweight boxing match. He would criticise their programmes, planning, lack of inventiveness and their high prices - he had to pay two-thirds of their supposed budget. Lew Grade would show him a sheaf of invoices in return and regularly telephone at the weekend to complain that a particular ABC programme was not worth the money he had paid or contained too much bad language. Each had a long list where the cost was in dispute, where the haggling would come down into shillings and the abuse start flying. The ATV threat was to withhold Sunday Night at the London Palladium; ABC eventually called their bluff by showing their own variety programme from the Blackpool Hippodrome instead. Conversely ATV was the last company to show The Avengers.

In the end, however the real disputes were short-lived, and their cheerful love-hate relationship would be resumed.


The recarving of the franchise areas in 1967 by Charles Hill eliminated weekend franchises except in London. ABC's first choice was to pursue the London weekend franchise, with the seven-day-a-week Midlands contract second. They were the front runners for this, but an impressive - on paper at least - proposal from The London Television Consortium (later London Weekend) and a relatively poor interview of Rediffusion led to the arrangement where ABC was offered the London Weekday contract if they merged their bid with Rediffusion. The profits were to be shared equally, but control of the new company would go to ABC. The joint company was to become Thames Television.

Dates & Transmitters


Start: 18/02/56
Stop:  28/07/68


Lichfield:   8V 18/02/56
Membury:    12H 01/05/65


Start: 05/05/56
Stop:  28/07/68


Winter Hill:  9V 05/05/56
Emley Moor:  10V 03/11/56  
Scarborough:  6H 12/06/65

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