18th November 2020
A couple of months ago BBC North West posted a news- item about Alton Towers in northern Staffordshire (closed by Covid-19 restrictions) on their Twitter feed. Many tourists with young families who live in Manchester, Liverpool or Cheshire would happily visit Alton Towers for the day- to enjoy the fun rides at this theme park because it is within an hours drive of these more southerly parts of North West England. It was, therefore, appropriate for this news to be featured on the BBC North West website, even though Staffordshire is, broadly speaking, in the English Midlands rather than the English North West Region and northern Staffordshire is, in fact, just south of BBC North West’s transmission area.
Almost as soon as this news about Alton Towers appeared on BBC North West’s Twitter feed there was a sharp response from a viewer who lived in Warrington “Alton Towers is in Staffordshire. Is Staffordshire in the North West?“. On the other hand, on the rare occasions when BBC North West Tonight have covered news-items from northern or West Cumbria, such as the light aircraft crashing near the northern Troutbeck, midway between Penrith and Keswick or the controversy over Britain’s first new coal-mine being given the go- ahead near Whitehaven there has not been such sharp comments, even though northern and West Cumbria is outside BBC North West’s transmission area. It is widely understood that northern Cumbria is part of North West England by viewers across the BBC North West Region and- for viewers in the north of the transmission area- they want more of it. In fact they are upset when major happenings in northern Cumbria are not covered by BBC North West Tonight nor ITV Granada.
Talking of northern Staffordshire and northern Shropshire- and Roger Johnson acknowledged this fact this evening on BBC North West Tonight- viewers in these areas watch BBC North West Tonight if they can get it, not BBC Midlands Today (which covers the Midlands). Viewers living near transmission boundaries face their aerials north to get a more northerly Regional News- service in the northern half of England- so as to receive a more relevant news- service that also “Big up their sense of Northernness”. Further north, parts of South Cumbria can pick up ITV1 Granada as well as ITV1 Border (Cumbrian version) and where they have a clear choice- such as around Kendal, north of Cartmel and near Sedbergh their aerials point north so they receive ITV1 Border (England)- with the limited southern Scottish coverage re-affirming to viewers that Cumbria- where they live- is one of the most northerly counties in England.
On the contrary, even though viewers of northern and West Cumbria still had the choice of (what was then) Border Television, with it’s excellent Cumbrian coverage, in the late 1980’s thousands of them protested about being switched from BBC Look North (Newcastle- based) to BBC North West Tonight. They hated getting 80% coverage of locations over 100 miles to the south of them, from locations many in northern and West Cumbria consider to be part of the Midlands, – to the extent that they did not just switch over to Border Television, they complained in their thousands to the BBC and wrote to their MPs.
From a pure localness test, that reaction of North Cumbrians to receiving BBC North West output seemed excessive, especially since North Cumbrians earlier received much BBC Look North coverage about places also eighty or more miles to the east (as they do today). However, being forced to receive news mainly about locations that are over 100 miles further south, whilst getting little truly local news- was considered insulting to their Cumbrian Northern-ness. Viewers of Regional Television living in Carlisle and the North Lakes are proud of their locality, the rugged beauty of the Lakeland Fells and- just over the Scottish Border, the wild beauty of the Scottish Southern Uplands. Manchester, on the other hand, is considered to be a grimy urban city far to the south full of people who do not understand Cumbrian issues or their way of life, affected by crime….like Birmingham along way away and nothing to do with them [Cumbrians].
Further south, even into the more populated parts of North West England around Manchester, Warrington and into Merseyside, Cumbria is a lovely county to visit with the beautiful Lake District to provide a breath of fresh air. Cumbrian news- coverage in bulletins is seen to complement and complete Regional News- coverage. However, cities like Birmingham, Stafford and Shrewsbury- a similar distance to the south of Manchester and Warrington as the heart of Cumbria is to the north- are clearly not part of North West England. These big cities are surrounded by flat countryside where there are towns with relatively well- to- do communities like Tamworth, Lichfield and Ludlow that seems to just scream “Posh” to many folk living in the North West. In the minds of many Mancunians, Scousers and Lancastrians “The Midlands” is synonymous with “The South- full of Southerners”: There is, and has been for years, a cultural disdain from communities in the North West of what are considered to be “Posh Southerners”, where folk are considered to talk with a “Posh” accent, considered to “Vote Tory to get Tax Cuts at our Expense“, and who seem to be a world away from concerns in their communities. The cities of the Midlands are also considered to be alien grimy places with little impact on their immediate communities at home.
North West England as a Region- is understood by Viewers of Regional Television in that region to mean the geographical North West. They- to some extent- North West viewers welcome coverage of places a further north of where they live. In particular, if it’s news that demonstrates their northern-ness in a unique way, snowy mountains in the Lakes in November (as was shown on BBC North West Tonight early this month)- when nowhere else in England had yet had snow bigs-up their sense of the high latitude of their community. Snow and ice evoke strong emotions, a fall of snow is dramatic and it’s presence in excess (or in other seasons than winter) is uniquely associated with high latitudes. And it’s presence in the Regional News in excess – or at seasons other than winter- is an affirmation to viewers in North West England that they live in a high latitude. It also provides something of interest and excitement to viewers.
However, for reasons given above, many folk living in North West England would be intolerant of significant news coverage to the south of the BBC North West and ITV1 Granada transmission areas. Even if Cheshire and the High Peak area of Derbyshire (both within the south of the BBC North West and ITV1 Granada transmission areas) were given 40 to 50% coverage each night for a week, it is likely to engender complaints because many viewers in Manchester, Merseyside and Lancashire consider Cheshire to be affluent with folk there having “Very Different Concerns to Us“. However, on rare occasions when Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man receive up to 50% coverage on BBC North West Tonight, that does not elicit complaints from Mancunians, Scousers- or indeed folk living in Cheshire.
If BBC North West Tonight decided to cover all of the geographical North West in output (from Cheshire to the Scottish Border), but ITV1 Granada continued to cover mainly Manchester and Merseyside (as now) that would probably end up with more satisfied customers overall, not less. It will probably be surprising how many viewers North of the M62 decide that BBC North West Tonight, not ITV1 Granada Reports, is their go- to Regional News service if this is what is decided.