Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting

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Group.png Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting  
Formation13 July 1960
Membership• Harry Pilkington
• Harold Collison
• Elwyn Davies
• Joyce Grenfell
• Richard Hoggart
• E. P. Hudson
• J. S. Shields
• R. L. Smith-Rose
• Elizabeth Whitley
• W. A. Wright
• F. H. Newark
• John Megaw
• Peter Hall
• Jock Campbell
1960s British media report which represented a strong support of the BBC. One of the most senior of former BBC officials, Sir Basil Nicolls, wrote that the BBC had received a "marvellous endorsement", "almost embarrassingly so".

The Pilkington Committee was the fifth Committee of Enquiry into broadcasting in the United Kingdom. It was appointed on 13 July 1960 under the chairmanship of the industrialist and Bilderberger Sir Harry Pilkington to consider the future of broadcasting, cable and "the possibility of television for public showing". One of the Pilkington Report's main conclusions was that the British public did not want commercial radio broadcasting, and it offered criticism of the existing commercial television licensees.

It was set up by the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan, who had won the 1959 general election, increasing his party's majority from 67 to 107 seats.

Terms of reference

Everything except the external services of the BBC, which had been almost continuously under official review during the 1950s, figured in the remit. The Committee was required

to consider the future of the broadcasting services in the United Kingdom, the dissemination by wire of broadcasting and other programmes, and the possibility of television for public showing; to advise on the services which should in future be provided in the United Kingdom by the BBC and the ITA; to recommend whether additional services should be provided by any other organisation; and to propose what financial and other considerations should apply to the conduct of all these services.[1]

The most interesting questions it examined were should there be a third television network? And, if so, what sort of authority should be set up to run it?

The Television Act of 1954 had given the ITA an initial life of ten years, and in announcing the setting up of the Committee Macmillan's recently appointed Postmaster-General, Reginald Bevins, announced also that the BBC's Charter, due to expire on 30 June 1962, would be extended to 29 July 1964. He added that both the BBC and the ITA would continue to exist after 1964.


Sir Harry Pilkington was announced as chairman nearly two months ahead of the rest of his colleagues. An energetic industrialist from St Helens, he was chairman of his own family business, Pilkington Glass, from 1949 to 1973, was a former President of the Federation of British Industries, and served as a Director of the Bank of England from 1955 to 1972. He had considerable experience of public service, serving, since 1957, as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration.

Committee membership

The announcement of the names of the 12 members of the Pilkington Committee was made on 15 September 1960:

The members were:

  • Sir Harry Pilkington
  • Harold Collison (53) — former Gloucestershire farm-worker in, who for seven years had been General Secretary of the National Union of Agricultural Workers;
  • Elwyn Davies (51) — Welsh member who was Secretary to the Council of the University of Wales and to the Board of the Welsh University Press;
  • Joyce Grenfell (50) — actress and writer, had been radio critic of the Observer for three years before the Second World War;
  • Richard Hoggart (41) — senior lecturer in English at Leicester University;
  • Edmund P Hudson (57) — Managing Director of Scottish Agricultural Industries;
  • JS Shields (57) — headmaster of a school in Winchester, had been Vice-President of the Classical Association in 1958;
  • RL Smith-Rose (66) — an electrical engineer who was responsible for radio in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research;
  • Elizabeth Whitley (45) — social worker and journalist, and a future SNP candidate, who was well-known in Scotland where she had broadcast regularly;
  • Billy Wright (36) — the England football captain;
  • Professor FH Newark (53) — Ulster member, Professor of Jurisprudence at the Queen's University, Belfast, joined in Mar 1961 after others had left;
  • John Megaw (51) — Recorder of Middlesbrough (resigned Jan 1961 when he became a High Court Judge;
  • Peter Hall (29) — Director of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (resigned 27 Jan 1961 because of "outside commitments")
  • Sir Jock Campbell (48) — Chairman of Booker Brothers, McConnell and Co. Ltd. (resigned 2 Feb 1961 for health reasons)

Pilkington Report

For consideration

  • renewal of the BBC Charter;
  • Licence Fee funding;
  • extending radio hours;
  • adult education broadcasting;
  • a third television channel;
  • colour television on 625 lines;
  • local broadcasting; and
  • better commercial television regulation.


Pilkington's original aim was to complete his Report by about the end of 1961, giving the Government time to consider it before the next general election, and to put consequential legislation through Parliament.

In the event, the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting was published at 11:00 on 27 June 1962, long before the next general election of October 1964.


Scotland and Wales

The Committee wanted Scotland and Wales to have more authority over their own BBC television programmes — giving the National Broadcasting Councils rights comparable to those they have over Home Service sound radio. And it was suggested Wales should have its own service — a first priority when the uncommitted frequencies in Band III were allocated.


One of the most radical proposals was for a complete transformation of the ITV system, fundamentally changing the relationships between the ITA and the contracting companies:

The following changes should be made in the constitution and organisation of independent television: (i) The Authority to plan programming (ii) The Authority to sell advertising time (iii) Programme companies to produce and sell to the Authority programme items for inclusion in the programme planned by the Authority.

Meanwhile, the BBC, financed from its licence fees, was to be left completely unchanged as "the main instrument of broadcasting in the United Kingdom":[2] It was also to be "authorised forthwith to provide a second programme", while ITV was to be authorised likewise only if it was "reconstituted and reorganised".[3]

Our appraisal of the BBC's performance, the Committee concluded, did not lead us to expect that the Corporation's constitution and organisation would be faulty in any fundamental way; and this our examination confirmed. By contrast, our examination of independent television showed that its failure to realise the purposes of broadcasting derived essentially from a fundamental fault... an organic change was required. The change we propose is, in our judgement, the least that will suffice; nothing else will do the job.

Television conclusions

The Report, published on 27 June 1962, recommended the introduction of colour television licences and that Britain's third national television channel (after the BBC Television Service and ITV) should be awarded to the BBC. BBC 2 was launched two years later.

The Committee also want the line standards changed from 405 to 625, and the early introduction of colour television on 625 lines.

It also criticised the populism of ITV by attacking its American originated acquired programming such as Westerns and crime series. The report criticised commercial television for triviality and endorsed the view "Those who say they give the public what it wants begin by underestimating public taste, and end by debauching it".

BBC local radio

In radio the Pilkington Committee saw no reasons for change, except that the BBC should extend its activities to the creation of local radio stations in order to prevent the introduction of commercial radio:

We consider that the BBC can confidently be expected to provide a service of local sound broadcasting. The Corporation's conception of the possibilities of such a service is much further ranging than that of the companies.[4]

One service, and one only, of local sound broadcasting should be planned; it should not be financed from advertising revenue; it should be provided by the BBC and financed from licence revenue.[5]

There was no intimation in the Report that the question of how sound radio should be structured would prove to be one of the main points of controversy during the late 1960s.



The Report represented a strong support of the BBC. One of the most senior of former BBC officials, Sir Basil Nicolls, wrote that the BBC had received a "marvellous endorsement", "almost embarrassingly so", and that he was glad Pilkington had had 'the guts to speak out'.[6]


The Economist took a different view. Its lead article, called 'TV with Auntie', began with the words:

The worst has happened. The Pilkington Committee on television, the biggest and most revolutionary opportunity in human communication since the invention of printing, has fallen hook and line and sinker, to its own dogged good intentions. The important thing now is to see that British audiences are not subjected to this compulsive nannying over everything they want to see and hear.[7]

The Times concluded:

The Report of the Pilkington Committee, the latest of the decennial inquests on broadcasting, gives three cheers for the BBC and cannot raise even one for commercial television. Since this is at variance with the conferment of popular applause as expressed in the way most people use their switches, it requires some justification. This the committee offers at remorseless length — without doing it very well.[8]

Writing in the Sunday Times, Maurice Wiggin described the Report as "gobbledygook". On the matter of its substance he concluded:

Reading this Report you would think that there is practically nothing wrong with the BBC, and practically nothing right with ITV. This is not the truth as I see it — and I have been watching television solidly, seven nights a week, forty-eight weeks a year, for eleven years. Which is a lot more than Sir Harry Pilkington or probably anyone else can say.

The Report, he said, smacked of a "deep-rooted fear of free enterprise and a completely unrealistic attitude to the simple commercial facts of life". "To make the ITA into another BBC" — that was "the hopeless last resort of men who fundamentally fear the operation of a free society".[9]


Peter Cadbury, Chairman of Westward Television, who enjoyed flamboyant gestures, burnt a huge effigy of the Report on a bonfire.[10] Sir Robert Renwick, in a letter to ATV shareholders, wrote that what the Pilkington Report had outrageously proposed was "utterly contrary to the whole tradition of a free enterprise country":

The Pilkington Committee have tabled a biased report which has one apparent objective — to destroy in one vicious blow the whole structure which has given the public the programmes they enjoy and in its place to set up a second monolithic State institution. This is Lord Reith all over again. [Since 1955] through energetic competition [...] commercial TV has raised the lethargic standards of the BBC.[11]


The Report was unpopular with many MPs on both sides of the House. The majority of Conservative MPs were said to have been "irritated" by the conclusions, and not merely because they were responding to the pressure of interests, strongly represented though these were in Parliament, but also because they believed they were responding to opinion in their own constituencies. The Labour Party was about equally divided between those who broadly accepted the whole of Pilkington and those who did not.

Bevins considered the Pilkington Committee "politically broadly based", although he was to complain that it had given "far too much weight to the views of the do-gooders' than to those of the public".[12] He said at the time:

The Committee seem to have accepted the BBC at their own valuation. The ITA, however, they find too negative in their concept of the purposes of broadcasting; apt to play down the influence of the medium; and responsible for the great bulk of the programmes which have given rise to criticism. I think this verdict is unbalanced and unfair. I think the committee have been swayed unduly by the evidence of prejudiced but articulate organisations and has largely ignored the inarticulate man in the street.[13]


In his evidence, John Reith surprised the Committee by stating that he was fully in favour of letting the BBC advertise "if they want so long as it is under their control and conditions". Pilkington told him he was the first witness to suggest sponsored programmes.[14]


There was little surprise when the Government which had commissioned the Pilkington Report did not accept many of its most important recommendations, for this had been predicted in 1960. Indeed, in February 1962, when it was clear that the Report would be seriously delayed, the Cabinet set up a Broadcasting and Television Committee under the chairmanship of Butler, the Home Secretary, to start to prepare for the publication. Ministers were unanimous that the Committee's proposals for a change in the structure and responsibilities of the ITA were "unworkable".

On 4 July 1962, one week after the Report appeared, the first White Paper (Cmnd. 1770), which had been prepared in outline beforehand, set out the Government's immediate plans for the future of broadcasting. It was described as 'interim', and the Government's position was carefully reserved on a number of broadcasting issues, among them BBC local radio and television for big screen public display, the latter development rejected by Pilkington, pay TV, and, most important of all at this stage, the future of ITV.

A second White Paper (Cmnd. 1893) was issued in December 1962. It further postponed any decision on BBC local radio, agreed that proposals for big screen television showings could be considered, provided that they did not monopolise "public spectacles and sporting events of overwhelming public interest", and approved a limited experiment in pay television by cable, said to be favoured by the Prime Minister. On the most important matter of all, the restructuring of ITV, it totally rejected the Pilkington Committee's proposals. It did, nonetheless, propose "a more positive role for the ITA in regard to programme standards and control of networking and advertising".

The two White Papers, however, authorised the BBC to:

  • Start a second television service (what became BBC-2) on 625 lines in the UHF bands by mid-1964;
  • Introduce colour television on 625 lines once the preferred system was finally agreed;
  • Increase its hours in sound broadcasting, making possible new developments in programming.

More generally:

  • More broadcasting hours were to be authorised for adult education, carefully defined, for both the BBC and ITV;
  • ITV advertising was to be limited to an average of six minutes an hour, with a maximum of seven, and advertising magazines were abolished.[15]

Unintended consequences

In deciding that the British public did not want commercial radio, it rejected requests for licences that were being sought by over 100 British registered commercial radio companies. Its immediate result was historic in nature because it inspired both the creation of a trade lobby group for commercial radio, and the establishment of ship-based pirate radio stations operating in international waters outside the jurisdiction of the British government. The best known of these was Radio Caroline whose transmissions began in 1964.


Known member

1 of the 14 of the members already have pages here:

Harry PilkingtonAttended the first Bilderberg as President of the Federation of British Industries, and two more in the 1950s
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  1. Cmnd. 1753 (1962), Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, 1960, 1.
  2. Cmnd. 1753 (1962), Recommendation 12, 288
  3. Ibid., para. 1060, p. 286.
  4. para. 842, p. 231.
  5. Cmnd. 1753 (1962), Recommendation 89, p. 294.
  6. Nicolls, to Greene, Letter of 9 July 1962, sourced in Briggs, Vol V, 297.
  7. The Economist, 30 June 1962.
  8. The Times, 28 June 1962.
  9. M. Wiggin, 'Going the Whole Hoggart', Sunday Times, 1 July 1962.
  10. Sendall, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 138.
  11. Sir Robert Renwlck to ATV shareholders, 30 June 1962; sourced in Briggs, Vol. 5, 301.
  12. R. Bevins, The Greasy Pole (1965), 85–6.
  13. Reginald Bevins, Postmaster-General, Cabinet Paper, 22 May 1962.
  14. HO 244/243, sourced in Briggs, Vol. V, 299.
  15. The Pilkington Committee had claimed that they blurred the distinction between programmes and advertisements.
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