More TV Memories – News At Ten.

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.

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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.

2 thoughts on “More TV Memories – News At Ten.

  1. Michael says:

    Hey Adam Beckwith, i think Sir Alistair Burnet presented his last ever News at Ten on 29th August 1991 alongside Alistair Stewart while a relaunch of the 10.00pm bulletin actually happened on 9th November 1992 which was a year later to coincide with the new white and blue ITN logo and a new version of the theme tune IMO. Also, News at Ten was axed on Friday 5th March 1999 as was the ITN Early Evening News which used to be at 5.40pm a year after the ITC (Independent Television Commission) approved the changes on 19th November 1998 which sees the both the 5.40pm and 10.00pm bulletins being replaced by ITV Evening News at 6.30pm and the short-lived ITV Nightly News at 11.00pm. News at Ten also eventually returned on 22nd January 2001 as ITV News at Ten and only aired for three nights a week before being replaced by ITV News at 10.30 on 2nd February 2004 and the 10.00pm bulletin was finally reinstated on 14th January 2008 with Sir Trevor McDonald and Julie Etchingham, although Mark Austin eventually co-presented with her until the 10.00pm bulletin was also eventually relaunched on Monday 12th October 2015 with Tom Bradby as lead newscaster and Julie Etchingham and Rageh Omaar as deputy and relief presenters, respectively.

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  2. Des Elmes says:

    I was born in 1988, and I was around 7 or 8 when I first got to stay up beyond 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays – meaning that I’d find myself watching News at Ten on Fridays more often than not.

    Of course, NAT’s title sequence at the time featured a camera pan from the top of Big Ben’s spire down to its faces – which mesmerised little me enough to attempt to draw the whole structure from memory on more than one occasion. Nowadays, what with YouTube, TV Ark and the like, I’d say that while it’s still a good title sequence, it’s not quite as impressive – or as mesmerising, for that matter – as the dramatic zooms into Big Ben’s face in the ’70s and early ’80s, or the CGI sequence used from 1988 to 1992 (the last frame of which you can see up there as Adam’s first screengrab).

    I watched the last NAT of the original run as well (Sir Trev: “We’re looking back, lumps in our throats, at the programme’s history…”), and even though I was 11 and rather more naive than I am now, like many others I was sad to see it go and didn’t think it would come back at all, let alone less than two years later. But was its replacement the Nightly News at 11pm – or the Evening News at 6:30? A case could certainly be made that it was the latter, as this was promoted as ITV’s new flagship bulletin and indeed had Sir Trev (at first), a 30-minute run time and even the “And Finally…” stories.

    When NAT returned the first time, like many others I was disappointed – not just because it only aired three nights a week and only ran for 20 minutes (like the Nightly News had done), but also because it looked just like all the other national bulletins on ITV (as opposed to having its own look, as it had had throughout its original run). ITV weren’t particularly keen on bringing it back in the first place, so it’s no real surprise that it soon started moving about in the schedules – leading to it being dubbed, fairly or unfairly, “News at When?”.

    Its replacement this time was indeed the News at 10:30, on 2 February 2004 (the first day of ITV plc, not coincidentally). But it was perhaps inevitable that it would return again, even if the wait was longer this time (just under four years). And when it did, it’s safe to say that ITV were far more keen than they were in 2001 – even giving it its own look once again, and tempting Sir Trev out of retirement (albeit temporarily).

    It hasn’t been axed again since, of course – though the more analytical and conversational approach it has taken under Tom Bradby since 2015 is rather a far cry from the days of Alastair Burnet and Sandy Gall, and indeed from the days of Sir Trev.

    To finish this long post, not long ago I had a copy of the celebratory book that was published when NAT originally ended (with foreword by Sir Trev, of course). Unfortunately, it went elsewhere when my back was turned – quite likely my mother, bless her, gave it to charity in the thought that it wouldn’t be read again…

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