Did Anglians Dream of Electric Screens?

Working with the people of Norfolk to write a history of Television in Norfolk.

Month: April 2014

A Sound Vision?

I’ll admit that this post is a bit of an aside from the aim of the Did Anglians Dream of Electric Screens? project, but the subject of the documentary that I’ve embedded above is so interesting and the delivery so compelling that I couldn’t resist writing about it. I’m also sure that all of you will enjoy listening to it.

Paul Hayes of BBC Radio Norfolk was kind enough to draw my attention to a radio documentary called Radio in a Roundabout Way that he had produced. It explores a really interesting period of broadcasting history during the 1970s when Norfolk, and parts of East Anglia, opted out of broadcasting the Today programme on Radio 4 and instead broadcast Roundabout East Anglia from the BBC Studio at St. Catherine’s House. The documentary features the recollections of a number of key figures (you’ll recognise some of the voices!) from the period and is a fantastic insight into how the region tried to exercise a degree of independence from the national network.

This ‘opt out’ from Radio 4 sets into context some of the ideas expressed in Broadcasting in the Seventies, a document published by the BBC in 1969. That document made clear that there should be an adjustment of the relationship between broadcasts from London and those from the regions. As the Rt. Hon. Lord Hill of Luton (Chairman of the BBC) suggested in his foreword to the document:

Whatever else happens the public service which the BBC provides should be complete, nationally and locally. [P1]

Whilst the nations of the BBC had always expressed dissatisfaction with the power and influence of London within the BBC, Broadcasting in the Seventies pointed out that a similar sentiment was growing within England too:

It is not only Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which look for a separate identity. In England, too, there seems to be a growing resistance to the inexorable magnetism of London. Any national broadcasting organisation must create a system of broadcasting which enables this more localised feeling to express itself and which provides focal points for community interest. [P2-3]

The ultimate expression of this idea, in terms of Norfolk, was of course the establishment of Radio Norfolk in 1980, but as Paul’s documentary points out the BBC staff in Norwich were able to create radio ‘in Norfolk and for Norfolk’ long before the BBC were able to provide the resources required for the establishment of a full service.

But Broadcasting in the Seventies didn’t restrict itself to radio, it was also concerned with how the BBC television service should develop. Each of the new regions that the BBC had earmarked for creation (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Plymouth and Southampton) would also be expected to:

…produce daily news bulletins and news magazines, and they will also start their own Saturday sports reports. At the same time, we intend to expand their production of general programmes. These have been confined in the main to the existing three regions; a total of about 150 a year, Within the next two to three years, we intend that each of the new regions should produce a weekly general programme; a total of about 400 a year, over and above their daily news magazines. [P8]

Which rather begs the question: Just what were the BBC doing in regions such as East Anglia/Norfolk before Broadcasting in the Seventies was published and what did the audiences in those areas think of the service? Did Anglians Dream of Electric Screens? might be able to throw some light on that question!

I’m fascinated by the way that broadcasters have historically approached the requirements of national, regional and local audiences and Radio in a Roundabout Way is a fantastic example of the stories that can be uncovered when we shift our attention away from the national context and specifically look at activities in the regions instead.

The interactions between broadcasters and the region are an important part of the social history of Norfolk and documentaries such as Radio in a Roundabout Way show how the experience of broadcasting in Norfolk did differ from the rest of the nation at times. It’s important that we make sure these differences, no matter how subtle they might appear at times, are recorded – they could have interesting consequences for the ways in which the people of Norfolk see themselves, how they see the world and how the world sees Norfolk!

Why not find out how you can help in making sure that the history of television in Norfolk is recorded? Click here for more details on getting involved with the project.

Talking TV on the Radio

Once again Radio Norfolk have been absolutely fantastic to me, this time they invited me, or alternatively I asked really, really politely if they’d let me,  (I’ll let you decide which explanation is more believable!) on to the Stephen Bumfrey show on Tuesday 8th April, 2014.

Not only did I get to talk  about my project, which is always fun, but I also got to talk about the history of television in Norfolk a little more generally. That’s an unexpected bonus, particularly when the host has an interest in the topic too and is pushing you to come up with some good answers to his questions! It’s occasions like this when I hope people get a glimpse into how passionate I am about the project. There is an incredibly interesting, nuanced and complex story to be told about how television arrived in Norfolk and what it might have meant and it’s a genuine privilege to be involved in helping to record it.

There are obviously going to be a lot of similarities with the experiences of other parts of Britain, but there are also some important differences. Differences that I believe may have had significant consequences and that we really should give close consideration to. Hopefully by involving the people of Norfolk in the project I can begin to unpick some of these variations and peculiarities, ultimately creating a rather intriguing narrative that will be of interest to academics and the people helping me to tell it!

Anyway… I should probably just post the iPlayer link so you can all have a listen. It should be available until the 15th April 2014, after which it will be available on the Media Coverage page. My interview starts at the 3hr 5 minute mark, just after the Coldplay song (I like to think that Coldplay opened for me and that I was the headline act!)

I’ll end by saying a massive thank you to everyone at BBC Radio Norfolk, and in particular to Stephen Bumfrey and Thordis Fridriksson, as well as to Paul Hayes and Matthew Gudgin, for all their help and for responding so positively to myself and the project: they really have been brilliant!

Did you find the interview interesting? Can you remember BBC 2 arriving in the region? Did you have a colourising screen in front of your black and white TV? If so then please get involved in the ‘Did Anglians Dream of Electric Screens?’ project!

An Exciting Week: Part One

As I mentioned in the last update this week is looking like being another exciting one in terms of the project. Starting off with another appearance on Radio Norfolk!

It’s wonderful, and not to mention a little surprising, to be invited back on air to talk about my research and discuss the history of television. Television is one of those topics that seem to have the ability to get people talking (and arguing!) relatively easily – everyone has an opinion on their favourite programmes, what they hate and whether television is ‘dumbing down’, having the opportunity to discuss some of those ideas within the context of the history of television in Norfolk is an absolute privilege and I can guarantee that I’ll learn something new from the process! (Hopefully one day I’ll learn to be less nervous about appearing on the media, but I’m not holding my breath on that one!)

Hopefully I’ll be able to surprise people with a few lesser known facts about the role that television played in Norfolk during the 1950s and 60s, but also the role that Norfolk played in the national history of television! Norfolk is often marginalised in the official histories but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t times when it played a really important role in guiding broadcasting policy!

It should be a fun discussion, so please listen to the Stephen Bumfrey Show on Radio Norfolk (95.1 and 104.4FM as well as online) at around 3pm on Tuesday 8th April and encourage anyone you know to tune in too!

A brief update AKA I’ve bought some books!

Despite the silence on the blog I’ve actually been pretty busy with the project recently, hopefully the fruits of my labours will appear will be able to appear on here soon. It’s certainly the case that next week should be an interesting and exciting time for both myself and for anyone interested in the project.

A lot of my time recently has been spent reading and responding to emails from people who have heard about the project and wanted to tell me their short stories about what they can remember about television during the 1950s and 60s.

All I can say is wow! Everyone who has contacted me has had a fascinating story to tell, all of them have made me smile, reinforced my view that this is exactly the right time to being undertaking this research, and that if I write it in the correct way, then it really does have the potential to be interesting to a really wide range of people!

So thank you to you all! Hopefully I’ve managed to respond back to everyone who has contacted me, so please check your inboxes and spam folders; I’m really keen to interview you all!

In other news I also took delivery of a couple of books that I thought you might all be interested in seeing. The UEA library is a great resource, but I’ve developed a little bit of an addiction to having my own copy of some texts, not to mention that some of the books that I am most interested in just aren’t in the library and are becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of. These two weren’t super expensive, but even if they were, I consider money spent on good books to be money well spent!

The Setmakers and Radio Man

The Setmakers and Radio Man

At first glance ‘The Setmakers‘ and ‘Radio Man: The remarkable rise and fall of C.O. Stanley‘ might not appear to be obviously related to the overall aim of my project, but they’re both treasure troves of incidental information, that is both fascinating in its own right, as well as being useful in establishing the overall historical context that surrounded the introduction of television in Norfolk. Ultimately being an academic researcher is a bit like being a detective; sometimes if you want to find out what really happened you need to look for potential sources of evidence that others have overlooked!

As a fringe benefit both books also contain some amazing prints of the types of adverts and promotional materials used to sell TV to the British public – some of them are incredibly beautiful and I just love looking at them!

I’ll end this entry with a question for any media historians out there. The Setmakers was published by BREMA (British Radio & Electronic Equipment Manufacturers’ Association) and heavily uses material from their archives: Does anyone know where that archive ended up?

Do you know where the BREMA archive is? Did you or a family member or friend work for a PYE factory in Norfolk? Can you remember seeing print adverts for television and thinking that you really would have to get a set soon? If so then please get in contact with me via the ‘Get Involved‘ page!