While researching the book ‘When Reporters Cross the Line’ ,co-written with Jeff Hulbert and published by Biteback this Thursday (5th September 2013),I found an archive reference to what may well have been the late David Frost’s first conflict with the broadcasting authorities.
In the archive of the Independent Television Authority (ITA),safely stored at Bournemouth University, is a note from one ITA official to another in September 1960. It refers to an edition of ‘About Anglia’ the magazine programme produced by the ITV franchise holder for the East of England, Anglia Television.The note says:
‘You might be interested in this gaffe in About Anglia.David Frost is not on the regular payroll of Anglia.He is a young Cambridge undergraduate who made a creditable appearance in Town and Gown and was tried out as an interviewer.It is clear that he had not been properly briefed about 3(i)(f).ROA tells me that Anglia have frankly acknowledged a serious mistake’.
3 (i)(f) is a reference to the sections of the Television Act which required ‘due impartiality’ from the ITV licensees. ITV companies started to come on the air in 1955 but in September 1960 Anglia had only been on the air for less than a year.’ROA’ probably stands for Regional Officer Anglia,the ITA’s regional representative. David Frost was aged 21 at the time.
Also in the file is a letter from the ITA to Anglia Television formally recording that they had breached the Act. The background was that Norwich Education Committee had submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Education asking for funding for a major expansion of schools but this had been rejected by the Ministry. The Secretary of State for Education then would have been the Conservative Sir David Eccles. On ‘About Anglia’ David Frost interviewed the Chairman of the Norwich Committee,a Councillor Smith, and at the end of the interview Frost summed up;
‘Well thank you very much indeed,Councillor Smith.Well the verdict is yours…Is the rejection of the plan by the Ministry a wise step to stop inflation,or is it an act of blind,short-sighted and criminal folly?’
In the copy of the transcript kept in the ITA files,the words ‘or is it an act of blind,short-sighted and criminal folly?’ are underlined. The ITA’s letter to Anglia Television pointed out that there was no representative of the Ministry of Education on the programme . It went on:
‘When viewers have only one view to consider how can they possibly give a verdict of whether the rejection of the plan is wise or blind,short-sighted and criminal folly’
There was more criticism to come in the letter:
‘Later in the programme in the interview between David Frost and Peter Starling relating to the Olympics, Anglia Television identified itself through David Frost as awarding the second wooden spoon of the night to the Ministry of Education.I consider that this expression,in the absence of a representative of the Ministry,as most unfortunate and quite unnecessary’.
Sadly there is nothing in the file to indicate what the ‘young Cambridge undergraduate’ made of broadcasting regulation.