The nucleosome remodelling complexes CHRAC and ACF of Drosophila are thought to play global roles in chromatin assembly and nucleosome dynamics. Disruption of the gene encoding the common ACF1 subunit compromises fly viability. Survivors show defects in chromatin assembly and chromatin-mediated gene repression at all developmental stages. We now show that ACF1 expression is under strict developmental control. The expression is strongly diminished during embryonic development and persists at high levels only in undifferentiated cells, including the germ cell precursors and larval neuroblasts. Constitutive expression of ACF1 is lethal. Cell-specific ectopic expression perturbs chromatin organisation and nuclear programmes. By monitoring heterochromatin formation during development, we have found that ACF1-containing factors are involved in the initial establishment of diversified chromatin structures, such as heterochromatin. Altering the levels of ACF1 leads to global and variegated deviations from normal chromatin organisation with pleiotropic defects.