From Alec Guinness to Ant and Dec: The events that shaped ITV

The Spitting Image puppet of Prime Minister John Major gets to grips with the leader of the opposition Labour leader Neil Kinnock, as ITV celebrates its 60th anniversary
The Spitting Image puppet of Prime Minister John Major gets to grips with the leader of the opposition Labour leader Neil Kinnock, as ITV celebrates its 60th anniversary
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As ITV celebrates its 60th birthday today, here’s our timeline of the key events in its history

60 years on - ITV’s secret history

• 1954

The Television Act of 1954 is given Royal Assent, paving the way for commercial television.

• 1955

The Independent Television Authority (ITA) awards the London weekday licence to Associated Rediffusion, while the weekends are given to ATV London. ITV begins broadcasting at 7.15pm on September 22 in the London region only, with ITN supplying news.

Chris Tarrant promoting the ITV programme 'Who Wants to Be a Christmas Millionaire', as ITV celebrates its 60th anniversary

Chris Tarrant promoting the ITV programme 'Who Wants to Be a Christmas Millionaire', as ITV celebrates its 60th anniversary

The first programme broadcast is a ceremony from London’s Guildhall, featuring speeches from the Lord Mayor, the Postmaster General and the ITA’s chairman.

The rest of ITV’s opening night schedule includes boxing and drama excerpts featuring Sir John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and Dame Edith Evans.

• 1960

Granada airs the first episode of long-running soap Coronation Street on December 9 at 7pm. The show is fully networked in 1961.

The 1960 cast of Coronation Street in the Granada TV Centre car park in Manchester, between rehearsals for the first programme

The 1960 cast of Coronation Street in the Granada TV Centre car park in Manchester, between rehearsals for the first programme

• 1968

A reorganisation of ITV franchises results in ABC and Rediffusion merging to form Thames, the new weekday broadcaster for the London region. New company London Weekend Television (LWT), co-founded by the late David Frost, wins the weekend franchise from ATV.

Seven-day-a-week franchises are awarded to regional broadcasters Yorkshire Television, Granada and ATV. Harlech Television (HTV) takes over from TWW in Wales and the west of England.

• 1971

On October 10, costume drama Upstairs, Downstairs makes its debut. Depicting the lives of the masters and servants of 165 Eaton Place, the landmark TV serial went on to win numerous awards including two Baftas, two Royal Television Society awards, three Writers Guild Awards, eight Emmys and a Golden Globe.

• 1975

Classic TV drama The Naked Civil Servant, originally broadcast on December 17, starring John Hurt as flamboyant British eccentric Quentin Crisp living in a society not prepared to accept his openly gay lifestyle.

• 1979

A strike hits Britain’s only commercial television broadcaster, taking all ITV stations (except Channel Television) off the air - leaving viewers with BBC One and BBC Two only. Service resumed on October 24, but ITV’s ratings and business suffered significantly.

• 1980

Death Of A Princess airs on April 9 and sparks diplomatic tensions between the UK and Saudi Arabia. Based on the true story of a young Saudi Arabian princess publicly executed for adultery, the dramatisation was condemned by the Saudi Embassy in London. In response, the British Foreign Office released a statement expressing “regret” for any offence caused.

• 1981

Award-winning drama Brideshead Revisited debuts on October 12 to great acclaim and impressive ratings.

Based on Evelyn Waugh’s best-seller of the same name, it raised the bar for television dramas in terms of production, cast and prestige.

• 1983

The so-called “Famous Five”’ David Frost, Michael Parkinson, Angela Rippon, Anna Ford and Robert Kee launch TV-am on February 1. But ITV’s breakfast show was beaten to air by its BBC One rival Breakfast Time.

Two months later, TV-am was in crisis with falling ratings and the exits of Rippon and Ford. LWT’s Greg Dyke was brought in as programme director and revived the show’s fortunes by introducing puppet rodent, Roland Rat.

• 1984

Ground-breaking satirical puppet show Spitting Image premieres on February 26, lampooning famous figures of the day.

• 1985

Cilla Black consolidates her position as queen of light entertainment with Blind Date. The show aired on Saturday nights from November 30 until May 31, 2003.

• 1988

Death On The Rock airs on April 28 and infuriates Margaret Thatcher’s government. The controversial instalment of Thames documentary strand The Week investigated the killing of three IRA members in Gibraltar by the SAS.

Topical magazine series This Morning launches on Monday October 3 with husband and wife team Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan.

• 1991

On April 7, Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect makes its debut with Helen Mirren as hard-edged Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. The cop drama was a sensation for ITV, catapulting Mirren to international fame.

Shock as the Independent Television Commission (ITC) announces that Thames TV has lost London’s weekday franchise to Carlton, the higher bidder. The new franchise system claimed a huge victim and the decision was widely blamed on Mrs Thatcher’s anger over Death On The Rock. TV-am also lost its licence to GMTV.

• 1996

Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough airs on December 5. It depicted the events of the 1989 tragedy which claimed the lives of 96 football fans attending the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

• 1998

Granada and Carlton launch digital terrestrial pay-TV service ONdigital on November 15.

Quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? debuts on September 4, quickly becoming a sensation. ITV2 premieres on December 7.

• 1999

Bong! News At Ten is axed on March 5 so that ITV could screen dramas and movies uninterrupted. Bong! The replacement bulletin is moved around the schedules so often, it’s dubbed “News at When?’ Bong! News At Ten returned on January 22, 2001 with Sir Trevor McDonald at the helm.

Bong! ITV axed News At Ten again, replacing it with ITV News at 10:30 which launched in February 2004. Bong! News At Ten made yet another return on January 14, 2008.

• 2001

Ailing ONdigital rebranded as ITV digital in April. The advertising campaign featuring comedian Johnny Vegas and a knitted monkey called Monkey was so popular, the duo were recruited to sell PG Tips tea after ITV Digital’s 2002 downfall.

Singing talent series Pop Idol, presented by Ant and Dec and featuring Simon Cowell on the judging panel, premieres on October 6.

• 2002

A big year for presenters and producers Ant and Dec as both Saturday Night Takeaway and I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! debut on ITV.

• 2004

Granada and Carlton plc merged to form ITV plc in February.

The X Factor premieres on September 4 with Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh on the judging panel.

Digital channel ITV3 launches on November 1.

• 2005

ITV celebrates its 50th anniversary on September 22.

12 months after ITV3 goes on air, it is joined by ITV4.

• 2006

A coup for ITV as Olympic champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean are persuaded out of retirement for celebrity ice skating series Dancing On Ice.

ITV launches children’s channel CITV in March, airing programmes including Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants, Art Attack and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

• 2007

Simon Cowell’s variety talent show Britain’s Got Talent launches in June, with Ant and Dec as presenters. Taking its cue from Hughie Green series Opportunity Knocks (1964-1978) and New Faces (1973-1988), which were also broadcast on ITV, the show is an instant success.

Ofcom fines GMTV a record £2 million after millions of viewers called premium rate lines for phone-in competitions they had little or no chance of winning. GMTV had already been fined £150,000 from premium-rate phone line regulator Icstis. The scandal extended as far as Ant and Dec shows Saturday Night Takeaway and Gameshow Marathon.

• 2008

ITV announced its video-on-demand service ITV Catch-Up would be rebranded as ITV Player.

• 2010

Downton Abbey, a period drama about an aristocratic Edwardian family and their servants, debuted on September 26 on ITV. It would go on to win national and international awards and has been viewed by an estimated global audience of more than 120 million.

ITV’s new-look breakfast show Daybreak launched with Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley on September 6.

• 2011

ITV1 +1 is launched on January 11.

Long-running crime series Taggart was axed by ITV on May 12 after almost 28 years on air. The show survived the death of its original star Mark McManus in 1994 and continued for a further 17 years.

• 2012

Multi award-winning light entertainment series Harry Hill’s TV Burp ends when the comedian quit after 11 years.

• 2013

On January 14, ITV rebranded under what the broadcaster called a “unifying brand identity”.

• 2014

New pay channel ITV Encore launched on June 9.

• 2015

ITV celebrates its 60th year on air.