By Nigel Dacre
ITN has always been quite rightly proud of its heritage and history, and has always made much of its key anniversaries.
2020, of course, has seen the 65th anniversary of ITN first going on air in September 1955.
This, though, has been a very different anniversary than those in the past. Mainly, of course, because it’s been a lockdown anniversary. No parties or get-togethers – and instead, a ten-week online initiative.
The anniversary date of September 22nd was marked by ITN launching what it called a ‘festival of news’ microsite, in association with the magazine Broadcast. It had new content uploaded to it over ten weeks, including comment, behind the scenes articles, and a young journalists’ competition. The site was planned by ITN’s new Director of Communications, Lisa Campbell – who joined ITN about a year ago.
There was a wide range of articles on the microsite – from the newscaster Tom Bradby’s ‘How Life has Changed at ITN’ to ‘A Day in the Life of a Floor Manager’.
Tom described his first day at ITN 30 years ago, “as an eager young trainee”. He said: “ITN was only thirty-five years old at the time, but it appeared so much more established and venerated, with a culture that felt like the product of hundreds of years of history.”
Interestingly, he argued that ITN today is “calmer and more measured” than the company he joined – adding that “there is, dare I say (ahem), a lot less alcohol consumption!”
Other on and off-screen ITN staff wrote articles, many of them describing the pressures of working during the pandemic. And there were features looking back at ITN’s history.
As a former Editor of ITV News, I was commissioned to write two articles for the site – one about ITN News in the ‘90s, and the other about ITN’s coverage of the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
Opportunity for ITN
But the 65th anniversary has also coincided with an unsettling period for ITN. Its chief executive has just resigned to take up a new role at Netflix. The pandemic has had a disruptive impact on both the company’s production systems and its revenue models. And the government’s PSB review will investigate the role of news on PSBs like ITV.
So, as well as looking at the past, it was clear by looking at the content on the anniversary website that ITN were also keen to use the site to stress the company’s role and place in the evolving broadcasting landscape, and its ambitions for the future.
The outgoing ITN CEO, Anna Mallet wrote an article describing “ITN’s vital role in these extraordinary times”. The ITV News and Current Affairs Director Michael Jermey wrote a feature arguing that a commitment to digitalisation, diversity and safeguarding public service broadcast values would “drive future success” for ITV News.
And the DCMS minister John Whittingdale, under the headline ‘A bastion of British Broadcasting‘, wrote a piece in which he said: “I am confident that in the coming decades, whether the media landscape continues to seismically shift or settles, ITN will remain a familiar face on the frontline of news and a shining example of a British broadcasting success story.”
In the month that his department set up the PSB Advisory Panel, this was, for ITN, a useful message of support.
Other ITN Anniversaries
I was at ITN during what I call its Middle Years. I was there for 20 years from 1982 to 2002.
So, from my time, my main memories of other anniversaries are the 10th anniversary of the 545 News in 1986, the 25th anniversary events for News at Ten in 1992, and the 40th anniversary of ITN in 1995.
There were, of course, parties and events for the anniversaries. I have a great photo, for example, of a cake-cutting celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the 545 News – held in the old ITN Wells Street newsroom, with the then programme editor Derek Dowsett centre-stage.
But as well as celebratory events like these, I think that the publications brought out to mark the anniversaries are also of real interest. They are useful accounts of where ITN had got to by that stage in its history, with contemporaneous interviews and quotes.
On the ITN 55 Club website, I found a PDF of the 30th ITN Anniversary edition of the in-house The Lens magazine. It’s from September 1985, and has on its front page the photos of the 15 people from the early days who still worked at ITN in that year.
There was also a great article inside that edition of The Lens, written by Arthur Clifford, describing the founders’ members dinner, held at what was then the Berners Hotel (just round the corner from the ITN Wells St headquarters) on September 13th 1985. His first paragraph was a lovely piece of writing: “Some strode into the Berners Hotel with a jauntiness that belied their years. Others leaned heavily on sticks. But they all bore the unmistakable stamp of pioneers; of shared achievement against tough odds”.
From the 40th ITN Anniversary in 1995, I still have the 80-page anniversary publication, ‘ITN – the First 40 Years’. It has a series of chapters on ITN’s history with interviews and photos.
Its first chapter talked about the launch of ITV in 1955: “After months of frantic preparation, the general public finally had an alternative source of news and entertainment to the BBC”. For the fledgling ITN, the aim was “to combine the verve of Fleet Street with the authority of the BBC.”
The anniversary booklet also included various messages, including one from Tony Blair, the then leader of the opposition, saying: “Congratulations on reaching the ripe old age of 40”!
The production of the publication was overseen by the then ITN Chief Executive Stewart Purvis, and I remember him saying afterwards, at a management meeting, that he’d put a lot of effort into trying to make sure that as many people as possible were mentioned in the text and/or seen in the photos.
I think that the 40th publication is actually an important part of ITN’s written history – I hope it’s being stored somewhere safely at ITN!
So … with the end of ITN’s 10-week 65th online event, another ITN anniversary has passed. Coming up in the next few years, it looks like 2022 will be a big anniversary year – mainly, of course, the 40th anniversary of Channel 4 News. For those interested in anniversary dates, 2022 will also see the 50th anniversary of the launch of First Report, the 55th anniversary of the launch of ITN’s News at Ten, and the 35th anniversary of the launch of ITN’s Super Channel News.
Anniversaries have clearly been important for ITN throughout its history – a chance to celebrate past achievements, evaluate current practices, and, most importantly, look forward to and assess future challenges. Its 65th anniversary has been no exception – despite being held during such an extraordinary period of history.