Hello, my name is Ian Pennell and I still live on the North Pennines farm where I was brought up. I am fifty years old and work as a freelance Book-keeper. I also do cooking and cleaning, and help my parents who cannot do so much for themselves these days. I also watch the news, catch up with the latest problems with the Government dealing with a Pandemic and catching up with the Regional news. I like to look at BBC North West tonight because I used to live in Lancaster and have friends who live there and in other parts of Cumbria. Invariably I find myself disappointed with the output and wonder how the two million people who live in Lancashire and Cumbria have not put up a real fuss themselves with the amount of coverage that actually seems to find its way north of the M62.
I used to live in Lancaster. I did my degree in Environmental Science at Lancaster University and graduated in 1992. After a year back home in the wilds of the North Pennines I returned to Lancaster where I lived and worked until early 2006, I then returned to the farm where I was brought up (near Alston in northeast Cumbria) where I have been ever since. I still keep in touch with friends who live in Lancaster, usually sending them a card at Christmas-time. Living in Cumbria, I also know about what happens in the county and I also know about what they get in daily servings of so- called “local news” on the Television. It is different depending on where one is in Cumbria, but if it is from the BBC then (except BBC Radio Cumbria, which is good), what Cumbrian viewers get on the telly is unlikely to have much reference to “Cumbria”.
People who live on Alston Moor, where I live are probably quite happy with the mainly “North East” output from BBC Look North. After all those of us who live in the North Pennines will travel to Hexham, in Northumberland rather than to Carlisle or Penrith- we have friends who live in Hexham and my father taught at Newcastle University when he was still working. The links between Carlisle/ northeast Cumbria and North East England are strong, which is why viewers in those parts of Cumbria did not like the BBC’s experiment in the late 1980’s to put them in the BBC North West remit. North Cumbrians are not much interested in what goes on in Manchester and Liverpool- a point I discuss below.
However, once one gets south of Penrith or west of Aspatria it is abundantly clear that BBC Look North’s mainly North-East output will tend to grate more with local folk than benefit them. Perhaps fortunately, many people in the more western parts of Cumbria have the advantage of switching over to ITV Border Television, an option denied to those who live in the south and south-west of Cumbria or in Lancashire. It is viewers who live in the South of Cumbria or in Lancashire who really have a tough Hobson’s Choice- I know because I lived in Lancaster for over 15 years: The choice is BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports- neither of which afford more than 10% of coverage north of the M62 and neither of which cover northern and central Cumbria for the benefit of their Cumbrian or North Lancashire viewers because it is just outside their transmission area! Not one of the two million (potential) viewers of Regional Television who live in Cumbria or Lancashire consider 90% coverage of the two big cities and other towns along the River Mersey to be good Regional News coverage for them.
Some evenings, tonight was an example, BBC North West Tonight produced nothing north of the M62 except for a piece on the Isle of Man. This is not acceptable.
My new online diary will cover the problems regarding Regional Television in Cumbria and Lancashire. There is a need- and a market- for three million regular viewers in the North West to have a recognisably “English North West” Regional news- service which recognises the North West as that Region with the Irish Sea to the west, the Pennines to the east and which extends from Cheshire in the south right up to the Scottish border.
There is also a need for communities in northernmost Cumbria and in Northumberland, who currently receive BBC Regional output from Newcastle (i.e. Look North) to get more coverage and to receive some overlap coverage into southern Scotland. Communities do not stop at the transmission boundary, nor do they stop at political boundaries. People who live in such border communities need to have good all-round coverage and (as for people living in the north of the ITV Granada and BBC North West transmission areas) that requires some overlap provision of happenings a bit further north. This can be achieved very well without “diluting” the Regional Television brand, in the case of BBC North West Tonight covering all of Cumbria would actually enhance the brand because the programme would be seen to cover all of North West England, not just the southern part of it!
Thus, in my diary I will be covering aspects of both ITV and BBC Regional Programming in the North West and the North East. There are elements of television news- programming in all these transmission areas that need improvement.
ITV Border Television will, though it provides excellent news coverage for Cumbria and (despite the low population of its large transmission area) provides tailored Scottish output for those who can get ITV Border who live in southern Scotland, almost certainly come under threat as a result of the Coronavirus Recession and falling advertising revenues. If ITV Border goes, or is fully amalgamated with ITV Tyne Tees there will be an appalling loss of good regional output for folk living in northern/ central Cumbria and southwest Scotland. So, there needs to be public discussion aired (in the event of such becoming likely) of contingencies to put in place to ensure those Cumbrian viewers who currently receive ITV Border continue to have a fall-back of excellent local output where the regional output from the BBC fails to inspire.