This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Before the 1980s came along and creeping deregulation and the emergence of alternate means of receiving TV led to the vast array of trash we can receive today, in Britain television was a two-horse race. On one hand, you have the monolithic behemoth of the BBC, supported by the licence fee, and on the other hand you had ITV, a patchwork network of local commercial stations supported by adverts who had carved out regional turfs in order to avoid competing with each other as well as the Beeb and each of whom commissioned their own shows as well as importing them in from various sources.
The fragmentary nature of the ITV network was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it allowed for a slightly more diverse range of views and methods of working to take effect than would have been the case at the BBC. It is questionable, for instance, whether the magnificent prank that is the final episode of The Prisoner could have been made under the BBC’s auspices; equally ITV showed a knack for producing populist fare like The Avengers that the BBC at the time would have turned its nose up at.