22 September 1955: ITV’s inaugural broadcast

On this day in 1955 at 7.15pm, Associated-Rediffusion made ITV's first television broadcast, followed an hour later by Britain's first TV advert.

Associated Rediffusion logo and clock © SSPL/Getty Images
(Image credit: © SSPL/Getty Images)

Until 1955, there wasn't much choice of what to watch on British TV – you got one channel: the BBC. But the Television Act 1954 changed all that. It authorised the creation of the first commercial television network in the UK, overseen by the Independent Television Authority.

Many people were worried that commercial broadcasting would lead to a dramatic fall in standards. So a requirement to produce quality programmes was included. Six franchises were put out to tender. And at 7:15pm on 22 September, Associated-Rediffusion – which had been awarded the London weekday franchise – began broadcasting.

The first thing to air was a five-minute introductory film (which you can see below); then it was off to London's Guildhall, where viewers were treated to a gala evening of live variety entertainment. Just under an hour later, Britain's first TV advert was aired for Gibbs SR toothpaste.

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After ten years, the regional franchises came up for renewal. Just one was not re-awarded to the existing franchisee – Wales West and North was taken over by Television Wales and West.

In 1968, there was a big reorganisation of the franchises, which saw Thames TV and London Weekend come into being.

In 1990, the requirement to produce quality TV was done away with in the franchising process, and franchises were effectively handed to the highest bidder. A year later, Thames TV was outbid by Carlton, which offered £43m for its licence.

Ownership regulations were relaxed in 1994, ushering in the first wave of consolidation in the industry. Three years later, a second wave of mergers left three major players Carlton, United News and Media, and Granada.

By 2000, just Granada and Carlton remained. They merged in 2004 to form ITV plc in a £4bn deal, leaving one company in control of all the franchises in England and Wales.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. 

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