Introduction: One Cumbrian not impressed with Regional Television

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.

Published by northwestisnorthwest

My name is Ian Pennell and I am a freelance Book-keeper: I live near Alston, in the North Pennines in north-east Cumbria. I have friends who live in northern North West England - near Lancaster (which is where I went to University and used to live until 17 years ago) and in other parts of Cumbria. I have two Website Campaigns that seek to promote more localised Regional TV coverage for large rural areas across the North of North West England and North East England. . A big problem is that the Regional Television Bulletins for the North West covers the southern third of the Region about 90% (plus a part of Derbyshire which is NOT the North West of England), covers the middle third of North West England poorly and covers the northern third of North West England not at all! When I was studying at Lancaster University, I used to watch BBC1 North West Tonight because it covered areas up around where I was brought up- in northern Cumbria as well as more immediately locally around Lancaster. Then I came home one day, turned on BBC1 North West Tonight wondering why they were silent on Cumbria and discovered why: Most of Cumbria had been chopped off the weather-map! . People living in the westernmost part of North West England (around St. Bees Head) have local BBC news on their televisions which is 90% about North East England! In rural and northern Northumberland too, Regional TV, as is received by viewers, tends too often to be Tyneside/ Wearside/ Teesside- focussed with little news locally. Communities in North Northumberland have strong links across the Border into south-east Scotland and towards Edinburgh but none of the Regional TV News- services serving Northumberland today ever goes across the Scottish Border for significant happenings of interest to North Northumbrians. I have also done walking in the area, including around the Cheviots in the past- and the Northumberland/ Scottish Borders/ East and Mid Lothian area is vast- but it is largely overlooked by mainstream Regional TV! . North Yorkshire, the largest county in England also falls in the gaps between coverage from BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria) or ITV1 News Tyne Tees in the north of the county, and the Leeds-based BBC1 and ITV1 Regional TV- services in the south of the county: North Yorkshire is a huge, yet beautiful county, which I have visited and explored in the past, yet is poorly covered in Regional TV. . Based near Alston, near the Cumbria/ Northumberland boundary I am well-placed to discuss Regional TV in all these large rural areas, in which collectively some two million folk live, yet they are poorly covered by the Regional TV News- services set up to serve them. These huge areas are an hour to two hours' drive from where I live: North Lancashire and South/ West Cumbria are to the south-west, Northumberland and the Scottish Borders and Lothian are to the north and north-east, and North Yorkshire is to the south-east of my home near Alston. I am well-placed to draw attention to deficiencies in Regional TV coverage for folk in all these areas. The North Pennines, where I live, is arguably another large area that touches on the other three where Regional TV coverage falls through the gaps completely (and that is despite the North Pennines running north to south down the middle of the BBC1 NE/ Cumbria Region). . In two websites, one for northern North West England and the Isle of Man (a country in it's own right that does not have it's own TV service!), and another Website focussing on Northumberland, North Yorkshire and the North Pennines I make the point that Regional TV that informs viewers of important things in their local area is a Public Service, funding for which should be given a higher priority (and if necessary via statute through the BBC's Charter), than funding for Soaps, Films or Sport- which are for leisure. I also give viewers the tools to fight effectively for better- and more geographic-appropriate Regional TV where they live- and to seek it through alternative (often little-known) local TV services, some of which may only be available on the Internet.

One thought on “Introduction: One Cumbrian not impressed with Regional Television

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