A Complicated Brief
y R. B. HENDERSON*
all began on a sunlit autumn day in 1958 in the traditional smoke-filled room when a small group of Northern Ireland men met to apply to the Independent Television Authority for the right to supply programmes to their trans- mitter Willing helpers were many. but direct
exp.:I-mice in television was then virtually non- existent in our group. And so the rush began.
The examination paper had to be ans%%ered and a statement of aims compiled. A few days--and nights hier emerged the first draft which had
been carried lovingly around in a rather battered 41tach: case Editing, final agreement and sub- nlIssion accomplished. a group of four left for
London. and in November we learned that our group, now much larger. %vas .to be charged with the great adventure
Adventure?' Of course independent television hail aIreat.I‘ proved itself in Great Britain._ but the rathet felt thaj there were some considerable
difierenccs in Northern Ireland. Much lower Proportionate advertising potential, a possible
non-acceptance of some independent television Programmes, a very low set-density, a generally difficult economic situation, and above all, a divided community. But we had undertaken to blaze a trail.
The first problem was to find a site for the studio and over the months of weary plodding
,n° fewer than fifty-seven potential places were inspected and assessed and they comprised quite a number of varieties. Eventually a former ware- house was purchased and our good friends Messrs. Marconi proceeded to advise us on plan- n'ng and installation. In this, too, we were for- tunate enough to have the advice of skilled engineers from one of the major British indepen- dent companies. Afterwards came an organisation to sell .advertising time. There followed arrangements rti), the purchase of programmes and then came
.? key decision—people. Could we induce tiled television personnel to come to Northern !eland and how many Ulster people could we
train in the time available? This was spring and 1A had set Hallowe'en as our opening 'date. Six Heads of Department were engaged, two of wli the had previous experience in television, and th_e remainder were Ulstermen with allied skills, the 1 ondon operation was at this stage well
* Director. Ulster Television. uncle: way, and then came the problem of what type of local programme we could produce, bear- ing in mind the talent available and the particu- lar tastes and susceptibilities of the Northern Ireland audience. Thanks to a powerful publicity campaign the thought of having a choice of programme was enough to double the number of sets in he Province during the year.
How could we mirror Ulster life? During an especially warm, early summer when it was scant pleasure to be arguing anxiously there emerged the idea for a nightly news-feature magazine, and so Roundabout was born. And here we come to
a triumph, albeit a small one. International, national and local celebrities have willingly appeared in this programme, which has tried faithfully to reflect the passing scene from the eccentric to the egocentric, from the polite to the political, and from the exciting to the elevat- ing.
The staff which launched the Station numbered seventy-nine at the outset. and has now risen to some 120 producing some fifteen local pro- grammes a week. These have covered many facets of Northern Ireland life but eschewing- apar from excerpts---drama and spectacular variety. Regarding these two aspects of television. we have felt it better to recommend Ulster artists and authors to those companies with sufficiently large technical sources to do justice to their talents This is something of a disappointment, but yet the very success of these people. in national British television has been heartening. Triumphs? Modesty forbids much on this, but our audience is loyal and our international, national and local programmes receive remark- ably high appreciation. We have been assaulted twice on the front page of two 'national' news- papers and criticised by various sources, but we have also been praised. Above all, we have not been ignored.
For eccentricities. readers would be well advised to watch our screen. There are plenty, but they are better seen than read about. We are still the baby of the business but we have squared. our tottering steps after our first year. Perhaps I may be asked to write again when we are out of the playpen.