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The 1968 ITV strike was a series of stoppages and black-outs by technicians employed by the ITV companies in pursuit of a pay claim and enhanced working conditions. The technicians were all members of the ACTT (Association of Cinematograph Television and Allied Technicians) led at the time by George Elvin. The agreement on pay and conditions that existed with the television companies had been in place since 17th November 1964 and had expired on 30th June 1967 but an interim agreement had then been concluded which itself was due to expire on 29th July 1968 and the union’s requirements for any new agreement included a 7% pay increase on top of the standard cost of living rise, a reduction in working week from 40 to 35 hours and four weeks paid holiday per year (up from three).
Management refused these terms and a series of wildcat stoppages ensued with the opening nights of three new ITV stations affected during the week of 29th July to 2nd August. The unofficial stoppages had begun on Wednesday 24th July with regional programmes broadcast by Grampian Television, Granada Television, Border Television and Anglia Television not being shown although nationally the news at 5.55pm from ITN was also blacked out. Four days later the live Sunday broadcast of ATV’s Golden Shot was hit by a strike and the following day (the first day that Yorkshire Television was on the air) technicians at Granada stopped working at 7.30pm and by coincidence returned to their posts at 8.00pm thereby ensuring that that evening’s edition of Coronation Street (Episode 795) was not broadcast. The following day saw a two-hour blackout of the network that hit the opening night of Thames Television when no programmes were shown between 8.50pm and 10.30pm. On Wednesday 31st July the rescheduled Episode 795 of Coronation Street was broadcast but in the Thames, Granada and Anglia Television regions no adverts were shown, hitting those companies hard where it hurt the most – their revenue (the smaller HTV station had been similarly affected earlier in the week).
On Thursday 1st August things seemed to have returned to normal with management claiming that this was due to a threat of dismissal issued to striking staff while Alan Sapper, deputy secretary of the ACTT pointed out that staff returned because that night’s main programme was a Royal Gala in aid of cinema and television staff charities. Whatever the truth of the situation things worsened the next day with six technicians at Tyne Tees Television and Thames sent home for refusing to carry out their duties. Over at London Weekend Television their opening night on Friday 2nd August was also disrupted with their first programme, a Frank Muir-produced live comedy entitled We Have Ways of Making You Laugh, not being shown when technicians walked out during the opening credits.
Events escalated over the weekend when 1,000 technicians came out on strike, another 800 were dismissed and a further 1,200 were locked out of their work premises. For the first time since its launch in 1955, ITV was broadcast as almost a single television service with only Channel Television continuing to operate normally as union members continued as always to recognise that any strike action would probably mean the financial end of the small station. Executives and senior management manned the machines for the emergency national service which appeared under the name of "Independent Television" and which was broadcast from the ATV Network Centre on Foley Street in London. Cans of film and videotape for programmes were taken from the regional television offices and shipped to London by managers or non-union workers to get them past the picket lines outside the Foley Street building and this included the five episodes of Coronation Street which had been recorded before the strike but which had yet to be broadcast.
Episodes 796 and 797 were transmitted without incident from London on 5th and 7th August but part way through the transmission of Episode 798 on 12th August a technical hitch blanked out the screens for a long period. The episode featured the resolution of the storyline in which Val Barlow is held by convicted rapist Frank Riley and the blackout occurred during a vital scene. When the episode returned some time later the scene had moved on and viewers were non-the-wiser as to what had occurred in the interim. As the Daily Express reported on Wednesday 14th August,
- "The Coronation Street episode on ITV which was hit by technical trouble on Monday will be shown again tonight. Irate viewers jammed the Granada switchboard yesterday to complain that they couldn't understand what happened. A studio spokesman said "We will screen it again at 7.30." But unless the dispute between the ITV technicians and the fifteen ITV companies is settled within a day or two Coronation Street will go off the air altogether. There are only two more recorded episodes in stock."
Episode 798 was duly repeated that evening and this also gave the schedulers a breathing space as they now still had two episodes "on the shelf" to see them through the next week with one of their most popular programmes. It did look as if the strike would continue and Tom Margerison, chairman of the companies’ committees dealing with the unions was quoted as saying that negotiations and relations between the two parties were, "more tricky than that between USA and North Vietnam." Nevertheless the two parties did talk and over the forthcoming weekend it was agreed that all the terminated workers would be reinstated while negotiations on a new agreement continued. The technicians, previously sacked or otherwise, returned to work at 9.00am on 19th August and the emergency service was quickly phased out in favour of the familiar regional pattern. Back in Manchester the cast and crew got back down to rehearsals to supplement the two episodes yet to be broadcast and that evening’s episode went out without incident.