Highs and lows of ITV

An ITV franchise was once famously described as a "licence to print money" - but not any more, judging on the gloomy news from the company today.

ITV's announcement that it is axing 600 jobs comes as it battles to survive the worst advertising downturn in a generation, stiff competition from other networks and an expensive schedule of programming.

Media commentators have said that, behind the apparent business-as-usual of ITV1 dramas such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale and The Bill, managers are struggling to cope with their current difficulties.

A number of cost-cutting measures have been implemented, including the reported axing of Wire In The Blood and the costly period drama A Passage To India.

The production of Heartbeat has been halted and expensive stars, such as Ant and Dec and Simon Cowell, have been warned that future golden handcuffs deals may have to be cut back when their contracts come up for negotiation, it has been reported.

ITV is also said to be examining the option of renegotiating its contract with the Football Association, a £425m deal shared with cable channel Setanta, for live FA Cup and England internationals.

ITV has not withheld any payments but was seeking to "spread the payments", it was reported.

The company's difficulties have been made worse by a cash crisis, according to a report in the Guardian, with a £250m bond due to be repaid this month and a €500m bond due by 2011.

The company is also said to be struggling with a large pension deficit.

The current difficulties contrast sharply with the optimism of the opening night of ITV on 22 September 1955 when London broadcaster Associated-Rediffusion launched its first night of programming.

The first show was an opening ceremony from London's Guildhall, with the first advertisement for SR toothpaste.

After the first night, ITV gradually rolled out across the country, with names such as Granada and ABC joining the network.

The opening night signalled the end of the BBC monopoly on broadcasting.

Critics at the time said they feared ITV could be a vulgar influence on British life. Even Sir Winston Churchill feared it would be a "peep-show".

Over more than 50 years of its history, ITV has succeeded in infuriating the then government of Margaret Thatcher - over the Thames Television broadcast in 1988 of Death On The Rock about the shooting of three unarmed IRA terrorists in Gibraltar.

It has also been home to a series of landmark and acclaimed programmes including Granada's Jewel In The Crown, Brideshead Revisited and Cracker as well as the well-regarded current affairs series World In Action.

Lows in the history of ITV include a £5.67m fine from Ofcom last year for abusing premium-rate phone services in viewer competitions and the 2002 decision by Granada and Carlton to pull out of ITV Digital, formerly OnDigital, having lost at least £1.2bn.