ITV 50 Years of Fame: What ITV means to me - John Hegarty

Commercial TV was responsible for the creation of a unique art form that combined music, words, narrative and images to create 60-second theatre, John Hegarty writes.

Commercial television's arrival in the UK was the most public sign of Britain's development as a modern, competitive post-war state. This was a process that culminated in Thatcher's market reforms of the 80s.

Until that moment, broadcasting was still operating under the influence of the BBC's first director-general, Lord Reith.

From 1955, however, the establishment no longer held all the levers of power. A wind of change was blowing through the country and broadcasting was part of that change. ITV was by the people for the people. It was brash, crass, daring and sometimes revolutionary. Its early pioneers were business leaders and entrepreneurs who were skilled in the art of showmanship.

These people paved the way for a more democratic, egalitarian society.

The polite world of print gave way to the electronic embrace of commercialism.

Brands were built - and broken - overnight. A 30-second force had blustered its way into our cosy world of politeness. It jingled our imagination and catch-phrased our thoughts.

It injected a vibrancy into commerce that was long overdue and, consequently, brands became brighter entities.

It is perhaps to our collective loss that the British car industry, unlike the importers, didn't adopt this vibrancy more readily. Had it done so and made more reliable cars, we wouldn't today be looking at an industry that can no longer be described as "British". A belief in protectionism was to sound the death-knell of many brands and, indeed, industries.

It took our continental rivals a good 20 years to grasp this nettle of commercial freedom and liberate their airwaves but, by then, we were in the lead. British advertising was given an unrivalled advantage as the power of the TV spot became fully appreciated.

The centre break on News at 10 literally spoke to the nation. Never before had such power been available to the forces of business.

Out of this era, the concept of advertising as entertainment was born.

The legendary Collett Dickenson Pearce was a pioneering force in providing entertaining ads. Commercials were, for the first time, seen as part of an evening's entertainment. In other words, the ads weren't something to be switched off but rather something to switch on to. Collett Dickenson Pearce helped to create and sustain the very idea of advertising that didn't look like advertising.

The agency was skilled at using famous actors and personalities, but not as spokespersons for the brands. Rather, they became characters who appeared in narrative stories - just as they did in TV programmes. The idea of 60-second theatre was born.

As TV advertising grew in stature, it became a part of pop culture and featured in newspapers and magazines as a vital part of our cultural landscape.

Regardless of where TV advertising is heading today, one thing is certain: Britain would have been a much duller place over the past 50 years without the charm of Flat Eric, the brilliance of Heineken refreshing our imagination and the domestic dramas of the Oxo family.

It was also a medium that was genuinely unique. In its form and structure, it was the only original art form to have emerged in the 20th century.

Bringing together images, narrative, music and words, it created an emotional bond between viewer and brand. And I say "art form" because, as Mr Bernbach observed, persuasion is an art, not a science. At its most imaginative, it resonated beyond just the confines of the commercial break.

Apart from introducing Michael Caine to his future wife, Shakira, it also proved a testing ground for many of Britain's leading commercials directors. Alan Parker, Ridley and Tony Scott, Adrian Lyne and Richard Loncraine all perfected their craft within the 60-second commercial. But more than that, the skills they developed in this art form infected their film-making and, in turn, affected the style and form of Hollywood movies far more than the establishment British directors. The visual language, graphic lighting and fast cutting became a trademark that introduced Hollywood to the commercials generation.

The development of the British TV ad as 60-second theatre crossed the Atlantic, showed how it could live beyond a simple product demonstration.

This unique art form (will it survive the next 50 years?) will be seen by future generations as a rare, entertaining, informing glimpse into the likes, loves and hates of a nation at a unique period in its history.

- John Hegarty is the chairman and worldwide creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

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