ITN has been ITV’s news provider since the channel’s launch in September 1955. News updates from ITN at the time tended to run 14 minutes in length at most, with no fixed broadcast time. From his arrival in 1956, ITN editor Geoffrey Cox had consistently argued to the Independent Television Authority (ITA) that ITN should be providing at least one news bulletin of substantial length, in order to cover and analyse major news stories more closely. ITV argued against the idea of a 30-minute evening bulletin, insisting a news programme of such length would eat into its primetime entertainment schedule and turn viewers away from the channel, but the ITA granted Cox’s wish in 1967. ITV reluctantly agreed to give the proposed bulletin – a Monday-to-Friday programme, fixed at 10pm – a 13-week trial run to test its success.
News at Ten began on 3 July 1967 under Cox’s editorship. He said that the aim of the new programme was to “remove the spin and bring facts and the news as it really was.” ITV’s stance was seemingly confirmed early; the programme had little news to cover in its first few editions, having launched in the middle of summer during a slow news week. However, a reversal of fortunes quickly took place after an “action story” from ITN reporter Alan Hart on the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders re-entering Crater, which ran for a then-unheard-of length of 5 minutes. A series of similar in-depth reports eventually helped to give News at Ten a regular viewership of seven million every night, forcing ITV to keep the programme. By 1969, News at Ten had become the first news bulletin in Britain to enter the top 20 most-watched programmes of the week.
The arrival of the new 30-minute programme allowed ITN to give a more in-depth and detailed treatment of serious news for the first time on British television, as well as coverage of populist stories and issues that would attract the viewing audience. The programme built on these concepts by introducing reporter packages, not the norm then but now a staple of television news, and a team of two newscasters taking turns to read stories instead of a sole presenter: a two-man team would inject personality into television news, as well as allow breaking news to be handed to the newscaster not in vision. The original newscasting team included Alastair Burnet, Andrew Gardner, Reginald Bosanquet, George Ffitch and Leonard Parkin. News at Ten also employed several other distinctive features which proved popular with viewers: the use of Big Ben’s chimes (or “bongs”) to separate the news headlines being read in the opening sequence, and the “… And Finally” report – a quirky and often humorous end piece designed to send the viewing audience to bed “on a high note” after 30 minutes of hard news coverage.
News at Ten developed a solid reputation for its extensive coverage of international news stories. Foreign correspondent Sandy Gall, the first ITN journalist to cover the start of the Vietnam War in 1965, returned there on several occasions to produce reports for News at Ten until he was forcibly removed from the country following the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Michael Nicholson reported in-depth on the 1976 Soweto uprising for News at Ten, and later went on to cover the Falklands War in 1982, after which he was awarded the South Atlantic Medal for his work. News at Ten, by now the UK’s most popular news programme, ultimately forced the BBC to follow ITN’s lead and extend its own programming to match, although Lord Annan declared in his 1977 Committee into the Future of Broadcasting, “We subscribe to the generally held view that ITN has the edge over BBC News.”
In the absence of Alastair Burnet (who left ITN in 1972 to pursue a career in print journalism), News at Ten paired Andrew Gardner (left) and Reginald Bosanquet to create one of the programme’s most well liked newscasting duos. In 1978, Anna Ford became the bulletin’s first female newscaster, and Alastair Burnet rejoined the programme in the same year. For more than a decade onwards, Burnet was the newscaster most associated with News at Ten, his “serious persona”, “sepulchral tones” and “deferential interviewing style” becoming respected hallmarks of the programme. By the late 1980s, Burnet – now a member of the ITN board of directors and News at Ten’s associate editor – began to draw criticism that he was losing the personal touch with his audience, allowing News at Ten to settle into a “stodgy” and “old-fashioned” complacency. Nonetheless, the programme continued to maintain a solid high audience during the 1980s and well into the next decade.
The development of satellite technology in the 1980s allowed News at Ten to broadcast live from several locations around the world, including the Great Wall of China during a visit from the Queen in 1986. Alastair Burnet presented News at Ten from the United States during several presidential campaigns, as well as the 1984 conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties. Alastair Stewart presented News at Ten live from Saudi Arabia, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the liberated Kuwait City during the 1991 Gulf War.
Burnet retired from ITN in 1991 after several clashes with the ITV companies over the future of the news organisation. In November 1992, News at Ten was given its first major relaunch, in part to address the criticism it had attracted over the last few years. In a bid to regain the personal touch that had been lost, the programme dispensed with the dual-presentation team in favour of a sole newscaster, Trevor McDonald, who subsequently became one of the most well-known newscasters in the UK. Julia Somerville, John Suchet and Dermot Murnaghan each presented News at Ten when McDonald was absent. The bulletin carried this format until March 1999.
Despite News at Ten’s continued stature and popularity, ITV announced its intention to axe the bulletin in 1993, proposing two new peak-time bulletins at 6:30pm and 11pm. ITV justified the move as a measure to stem the decline in television viewing audiences and to allow the uninterrupted broadcast of movies, dramas and other entertainment programmes, but the plans were met with widespread criticism from viewers, several Members of Parliament, the then-Prime Minister John Major and the National Heritage Committee. The Independent Television Commission ruled that ITV had not established a solid case for the removal of News at Ten, pointing to BBC News having experienced a larger viewing decline than ITN, but were restructuring the contents of their news programmes rather than move them to different timeslots. The proposals were eventually withdrawn after the ITC threatened ITV with legal action.
In September 1998, following intense lobbying from the ITV companies, the ITC finally reviewed plans for a new weekday primetime ITV schedule that saw the removal of News at Ten (and the 5:40pm Early Evening News) in favour of new 6:30pm and 11pm news bulletins. The ITC undertook extensive audience research which found that the public preferred News at Ten to stay by a proportion of 5 to 3, but nonetheless granted ITV permission to axe News at Ten for a one-year trial period. The programme’s demise in March 1999 coincided with an overhaul of news on ITV, which continued to be produced by ITN, but now branded on screen as ITV News. Trevor McDonald presented the new flagship ITV Evening News at 6:30pm, a one-minute news summary was broadcast at 10pm, and this was followed by the 20-minute ITV Nightly News at 11pm presented by Dermot Murnaghan. But these changes ultimately resulted in a 13.9% decline in overall viewing figures for ITV News.
In 2000, the ITC ordered ITV to reinstate News at Ten to stem the ratings decline. The BBC then decided to cash in on the move by shifting its own long-running Nine O’Clock News to 10pm. McDonald returned to front the retitled ITV News at Ten in 2001, with a dual-presenting team of Dermot Murnaghan and Mary Nightingale replacing McDonald on the ITV Evening News. However, the haphazard scheduling of the revived 10pm bulletin ultimately led to its downfall. While the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News was fixed at 10pm for six nights a week, the ITV News at Ten was broadcast for only three nights a week, allowing entertainment programmes to be broadcast past 10pm for the rest of the week. In addition, the programme was often delayed by overrunning entertainment programmes on the nights that it was scheduled for 10pm. This inconsistency led to the bulletin being unceremoniously dubbed News at When?
In 2003, ITV received approval from the ITC to axe the programme and replace it with the ITV News at 10:30, fixed at that time every weeknight. McDonald presented this bulletin from its launch on 2 February 2004 until his retirement on 15 December 2005. Mark Austin became the programme’s main host from January 2006.
In October 2007, ITV chairman Michael Grade announced the return of News at Ten, following comments he made in March that the original removal of the programme was “a shocking mistake [that] damaged ITV more than anything else.” The bulletin returned with its original name on 14 January 2008, broadcast from Monday to Thursday at 10pm, with an 11pm bulletin titled The Late News airing on Friday evenings. The revived News at Ten saw the reintroduction of the dual-newscaster team, pairing new presenter Julie Etchingham with Trevor McDonald, who had temporarily come out of retirement. Etchingham and Mark Austin presented The Late News. In March 2009, The Late News was dropped in order for News at Ten to return to its traditional Monday-to-Friday 10pm slot, giving the programme a “consistent home at the heart of the schedule”.
McDonald finally retired from News at Ten in October 2008 after hosting the programme’s special US election coverage from Washington and was replaced by Mark Austin in November. Austin presented the ITV News at 6:30 simultaneously until he was replaced on that programme by Alastair Stewart.
News at Ten struggled to regain its high viewing figures following several years out of the 10pm timeslot, its 2008 return watched by 3.8 million viewers in comparison to 4.9m for the BBC. However, the bulletin occasionally beat the BBC News at 10 in the ratings: an overrunning football match on BBC One helped deliver ITV 4.3m at 10pm; severe weather conditions on 2 February 2009 saw terrestrial TV news bulletins receive a boost in ratings and News at Ten was watched by 4.8m; and a week of special Britain’s Got Talent semi-final programmes in May 2009 saw News at Ten beat the BBC with figures of 6.1m (26 May) and 6.4m (28 May), the latter being the programme’s highest audience figure since 2003.
In November 2009, the famous Big Ben clock tower was removed from the programme’s opening credits after concerns it alienated viewers outside London, but was ultimately reinstated to News at Ten’s opening sequence following a further ITV relaunch in January 2013. From November 2009 onwards, the bulletin has been titled on screen as ITV News at Ten.
As part of a move to enhance the reputation of ITV’s news and current affairs output, News at Ten was restructured and redeveloped across a number of months: the new format launched in October 2015, placing more emphasis on analysis, context and a more “conversational” presentation style under new presenter Tom Bradby, former ITV News political editor; then the appointments of former BBC News journalists Robert Peston (as political editor) and Allegra Stratton (as national editor), who both reiterated in the press ITV’s newfound intention to challenge the dominance of BBC News; and a refreshed set and opening title sequence in January 2016.