THE ITV network took the first steps towards what it hopes will be a reversal of its fortunes yesterday when it signed up Robson Green, television's hottest property, to an exclusive contract and then poached the man who made the hit documentary series Driving School from the BBC.

Green - star of Soldier Soldier, Reckless, and Touching Evil - has signed a deal worth a reputed #1.5m which will tie him to ITV until the middle of the year 2000. In that time he will deliver at least 32 hours of drama.

The network's new boss David Liddiment described Green as a younger bankable star with the surefire ratings power of David Jason and John Thaw, both of whom are also tied in with ITV.

The death of Diana, Princess of Wales will loom large in ITV's Christmas and New Year schedules, with two major documentaries dedicated to the tragedy.

Seasonal schedules will not be published until later this week, but the Diana programmes are likely to figure sometime in the period between Christmas and New Year.

Mr Liddiment, who recently asked advertisters for 100 days to make an impact on the ''aging'' schedules, has stressed the importance of new ''factual entertainment'' programmes in his plan to rejuvenate the audience ratings figures.

To this end, he has signed up Grant Mansfield, currently editor of network features at BBC Bristol and the man who gave the green light for hit series like Driving School, Vets' School, Vets In Practice, and Holiday Reps - the type of programme which Mr Liddiment wants to make for ITV.

''One of my first initiatives has been to put factual programmes back at the heart of the ITV schedule,'' he said.

Documentaries feature prominently in the winter line-up, announced yesterday by ITV. They include a spin-off series from the recent Neighbours From Hell one-off; Airline, about charter company Britannia; and Builders From Hell, about dodgy tradesmen.

On Christmas Day, Emmerdale is to get a special for the first time, alongside more familiar festive fare from Coronation Street.

Some of Sunhill's officers will let their hair down as pantomime dames in an hour-long episode of The Bill, while high quality drama is promised with an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost starring Ian Richardson, Pauline Quirke and Rik Mayall and an all-star cast.

Heartbeat star Nick Berry is also donning period costume for Black Velvet Band, a South African adventure set in the 1880s.

For the first time ITV is taking responsibility for the Queen's Christmas Day broadcast, which will also be shown on other channels.

Blind School Christmas Special will come from Edinburgh's Royal Blind School, and Anthea Turner and Philip Schofield will be in the city for Happy New Year - Live From Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

ITV's festive films will include Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, and Richie Rich, both starring child actor Macauley Culkin; and Look Who's Talking Now, featuring John Travolta, Kirstie Allie and the voices of Diane Keaton and Danny de Vito. David Jason is the voice of a new children's animation, Father Christmas and The Missing Reindeer.