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.