During the discussions about Channel 4’s future we have sometimes discussed what seems to be the wilful rewriting of its past. This was especially true when it came to the apparent ignorance displayed by the channel’s current supporters of the incredible range of programmes it showed in the 80s and 90s.
But another part of Channel 4’s story has been forgotten. During its early years, a substantial volume of its programmes were made by ITV companies. It is perhaps understandable why this is now overlooked.
The independent production sector was effectively created by Channel 4 and in the 90s the proportion of programmes made by ITV companies fell dramatically. It is important to remember the ITV companies had no direct access to the channel – they competed against indies for commissions.
Still Channel 4 was in its early years part of the IBA’s system of “independent television”. While BBC One and Two were siblings, ITV and Channel 4 were at least cousins.
The ITV companies paid a subscription to the IBA to finance Channel 4 but they could recoup the cost in two ways. The first was by selling Channel 4 advertising in their region. The second was by winning commissions from Channel 4.
Indeed part of the point of Channel 4 was to allow the medium-sized ITV companies – which had limited access to the ITV network – more opportunities.
STV, for example, made two memorable series – the history programme Scotland’s Story and Held in Trust about the properties of the National Trust for Scotland.
Tyne Tees was responsible for one of the channel’s first hits, The Tube.
Yorkshire – though one of the big companies – was very proud of Countdown and it was hardly a secret from viewers that it was made by YTV.
The list goes on. Around half of Channel 4’s airtime was often filled by the ITV companies; though, as a general rule, indies got the more expensive commissions and the ITV companies got cheaper studio shows.
From a Pres fans’ point of view, it was interesting to see how the ITV companies had special endcaps for Channel 4. Thames, in particular, had a highly stylised version of its skyline logo – very different to the iconic ITV image.
From the 1990s on, iTV companies got less work from Channel 4 but also started to win commissions from the BBC and other broadcasters.
Channel 4’s lasting legacy was the creation of a vibrant independent production sector. But it also provided opportunities for more within the ITV system to flourish too.
PICTURED: Yorkshire TV production endboard (1987). COPYRIGHT: ITV plc.