News At Ten (ITV, 1967-1999, 2001-2004, 2008-present)
I have been thinking for a while about whether to do another piece about TV news. This is because it could either go on about set design or host rotas, which would be rather boring, or it could go on about the editorial policy, which might just cause arguments with people. But I have decided to review this one as I do think that there is an interesting history, and this helped to establish the way that news is presented in this country to this day.
ITN has been the provider of news for ITV ever since the launch in 1955. By the mid-60s, it was decided that there should be a 30-minute news show in the evening at a fixed time, something that hadn’t been attempted before. This would be News At Ten, and although there was a quiet start, this would end up turning out to be a success for several reasons.
Firstly, there was the famous theme that featured the chimes of Big Ben (and hearing those was a real indication that it was past your bedtime). There would be two hosts, often including Sir Alistair Burnet, who become as well-known as anyone else on TV. And there were features including “and finally…”, a more amusing report that would finish things off.
By the early-90s it was felt that the format was beginning to be a little old-fashioned, and Burnet retired around this time. There were some major changes, including a new version of the theme, more features, and there was now only one host, which was usually Trevor McDonald. By the mid-90s though, it was clear that there was a problem.
ITV liked to show high-profile films at 9pm. But they had to be interrupted for the news. Along with the regional news that followed, there would often be a 40-minute gap before the film resumed, and this meant that they would often end not long before midnight. They decided that it would be better to show films without a news break, and they squabbled with the regulator about being able to do this for a rather long time.
When Channel 5 launched and boasted that they would show evening films without the long breaks, this started to become a fairly big talking debate with viewers. In 1999, News At Ten was finally pushed out of the way. You can now watch those James Bond films interrupted at last! There was a relaunch as ITV Nightly News, usually shown around 11pm, but the scheduling was rather inconsistent.
This turned out to not work that well, and the ratings fell. Soon there was a compromise of showing the news at 10pm three nights a week (there was also the launch of the ITN Channel to deal with around this time). Then, there was a full relaunch of News At Ten, right down to the familiar theme, and the return of McDonald as host, making it seem like the previous decade had never happened.