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The ITV Colour Strike was one of the more unusual union disputes faced by the ITV group of companies in the 1960s and 1970s.

Starting on Saturday 15th November 1969, the ITV companies had started to transmit a full colour service although due to the high costs involved in the conversion of studios and transmitters, the roll out of colour television had, by November 1970, not been across the entire country with viewers in the regions covered by Westward Television, Border Television, Grampian Television and Channel Television still watching ITV in black and white.

In addition to the costs of electronics, colour television cameras at the time presented problems with changing hues and shades and longer recording time was needed. This, combined with the view by the main union involved – the ACTT (Association of Cinematograph Television and Allied Technicians) – that using new equipment should be monetarily rewarded by a 5% pay rise, led to an agreement to negotiate and also an understanding that technical staff would revert to working with black and white equipment three months after the introduction of colour if a final agreement had not been reached.

By Friday 13th November 1970, just two days short of the first anniversary of colour, ACTT members refused to work with colour equipment and all recordings and transmissions – even of material previously recorded in colour – were in black and white from that day onwards.

As only a small percentage of viewers possessed colour sets, the main effect on the ITV companies was that they would not be easily able to sell their programmes to foreign television stations if the material was in black and white and this valuable income stream would be affected. Indeed, London Weekend Television were only able to sell the five episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs recorded during the dispute to PBS television in the United States of America in 1988, fourteen years after the colour episodes had made their debut there.

The strike was finally called off on Tuesday 2nd February 1971 when union members accepted an offer of 4% backdated to July 1970 and an additional 4% for certain grades backdated to November 1969 however due to delays caused by regional ratification of the deal, colour recording and transmissions didn’t restart until Monday 8th February and even then material recorded during the dispute had to be shown in black and white, including episodes of famous series such as Please, Sir!, Budgie and A Family at War.

Coronation Street was affected by the strike as follows:

  • Episode 1025 was recorded in colour but transmitted in black and white on 16th November 1970.
  • Episodes 1026 to 1049 were recorded in black and white and transmitted in that medium during the period of the strike.
  • The short segment for the All Star Comedy Carnival was recorded in black and white and transmitted in that medium on 25th December 1970. The segment along with the overall spectacular is missing from the ITV archives.
  • Episodes 1050 and 1051 were recorded in black and white and transmitted in that medium on 8th and 10th February 1971 even though ITV had started transmitting colour programmes again where they were able to do so.
  • Episodes 1052 and 1053 were made and transmitted in full colour.
  • Episodes 1054 and 1055 contained pre-filmed black and white location inserts within the recorded-and-transmitted colour editions of the programme.

Aside from several flashback sequences over the years which contained archive black and white scenes and the opening moments of the 40th anniversary live episode the programme has been made and transmitted in full colour ever since.