Thirty Years Ago People Power changed Regional TV in Northern Cumbria- and it can in Northern Lancashire too.

10th July 2021

Dear Readers

In August 1986 the BBC, under the management of Michael Grade decided that it would be appropriate if Carlisle and northern Cumbria received their Regional News- programming from Manchester rather than from Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the grounds that “Cumbria is in the North West, so it should receive North West news”. The move caused uproar across northern Cumbria because Mike Neville was a well-liked and popular news-presenter at BBC Look North (the version broadcast across North East England and northern Cumbria, very similar to today). Also, local folk in Carlisle and northern Cumbria felt that the news- coverage would be even more remote (even though they were- at that time -getting news mostly about North East England off the BBC Regional News, as nowadays). However, Michael Grade’s solution to Cumbria getting “Mainly North East Regional News” actually made a bad situation much worse as most of the news would come from even further away- over 80% of it 100 or more miles to the south (and presented by a news- reporter who was irritating to many, rather than well- liked)!

Such was the strength of feeling across North Cumbria that the local newspaper- the Carlisle-based Evening News and Star organised a petition against the BBC’s plan for Cumbria’s Regional News (which ended up going ahead in October 1986). This was despite the petition showing that North Cumbrian viewers of BBC Look North were 96% against the change, but the BBC refused then to listen. Thousands of Cumbrians complained to the BBC stating that BBC North West Tonight was overlooking Cumbria in favour of Manchester and Merseyside- and the BBC soon felt that they had to provide opt-out news-coverage for North Cumbrian viewers from a purpose- built news- studio in Carlisle (now the home of BBC Radio Cumbria). 

However, after five years with further complaints and protests by Cumbrian viewers and poor Cumbrian viewing- figures for BBC North West Tonight the BBC finally relented. In September 1991 launched an advertising campaign to tell Cumbrian viewers that BBC Look North would return on Friday 27th September 1991- with accompanying pictures of Mike Neville and his co- presenter Wendy Gibson with a smile saying, “Were back!”: I personally remember this, because the advertisements announcing “BBC Look North Returns to Cumbria on Friday 27th September” was plastered on the sides of buses across Cumbria!

I also remember watching BBC1 North West Tonight in Lancaster in September 1991 when I was at Lancaster University: I recall the result of northern Cumbria being transferred back to the BBC1 North East Region when North West Tonight changed from being a sweep from the Scottish Border to Cheshire (albeit with too much coverage south of Preston) to one where the news stopped at Kendal and BBC1 North West Tonight became even more Manchester/ Liverpool- centric! I’m sure the good viewers of Regional TV in northern Cumbria did not intend for that to happen, but their transfer to BBC North East meant viewers a bit further south ended up with a North West Regional News- service decidedly even less geographic- appropriate than it was before!   

Information about this sorry episode for BBC Regional Television in northern Cumbria in the 1980’s can be found in a later article that respected Whitehaven Regional TV commentator Glenn Aylett wrote about Michael Grade, then in charge at ITV- and his proposed merger of ITV Border with ITV Tyne Tees in 2008 (thankfully, though this went ahead in 2009 the original ITV1 Border Region is back- providing excellent local news for North Cumbrians!). The article in question can be read here: https://www.transdiffusion.org/2008/04/08/byebye_border.

This brings us today, and the current sorry choices on offer for viewers in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria in communities where the default Regional News services are BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports. Regional News- provision is poor for many thousands of people who live in large towns like Morecambe, Ulverston, Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool, Heysham- as well as the City of Lancaster. Their communities are overlooked in place of coverage of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Cheshire- every time! Viewers on the Isle of Man- a small country in its own right with a population not far short of 100,000 inhabitants have Regional Television about Manchester and Liverpool! Yet, if viewers are unhappy with this state of affairs, they are resigned to nothing changing and they can only feel “Oh well. It’s the best there is.”.

But if the lesson of northern Cumbrians in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and their acceptance of unwelcome changes to their Regional TV is anything to go by, it is that when local folk mobilise to campaign for real changes to the Regional Television that they get- and specify what it is that they want and get the local newspaper behind them (or this very Website!) then Programmers at BBC North West and/ or ITV1 Granada will relent. It might take five years of consistent effort, of campaigning, writing to OFCOM, threatening to watch ITV1 Border’s Lookaround instead- but BBC1 North West and ITV1 Granada will eventually take the hint:  One of the North West Regional News- programmers will provide an opt-out for South Cumbria and North Lancashire (as BBC North West once did for northern Cumbria), ITV1 might even agree to the area being transferred to ITV1 Border if viewers would prefer that to “News that is 85% Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire”.

Viewers in the north of Cumbria have provided a demonstration of the power of lobbying the BBC, albeit thirty years ago now. Likewise, today, if you are a viewer living in South Cumbria, northern Lancashire or the Isle of Man are you happy to accept poor local coverage when it could be so much better? Your “North West Region” extends from the M62 to the Scottish Border- and it does not include Cheshire and Derbyshire and it’s high-time that both BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports provided you with geographic- appropriate news- or they are forced to lose custody of your area to another Regional News provider that is more likely to cover your part of northern North West England (or the Isle of Man) much better and provide more geographic- appropriate Regional News.

Indeed, as Desmond Dekker, the Jamaican pop legend sang all those years ago when he sang You can Get It If You Really Want, if you are a viewer who lives in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria who really wants good, relevant North West Regional TV that addresses your concerns and covers your communities you really can get it if you really want.  However, as the lyrics of that song also point out  “But you must try, try and try. Try and try, you’ll succeed at last.”.  Viewers who lived in Carlisle and North Cumbria in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, who wanted their BBC Look North back tried and tried and tried for five years- and they eventually succeeded at last against the mighty BBC that thought it knew what was best for Cumbrians without actually consulting them.

You, the viewers of the northern North West of England -where BBC North West Tonight was arguably made even less representative for South Cumbrians and North Lancastrians when northern Cumbria was transferred back to BBC North East’s remit back in 1991 because there was less pressure on BBC North West to cover the northern half of North West England- you have a Voice. Use it, but you must try and try…until you succeed at last and get what you really want. Don’t be put off by the effort, even if BBC North West and ITV Granada threaten a Court Injunction if you don’t stop complaining.

Write to BBC North West, write to ITV Granada, and tell them that two-thirds of the English North West Region is covered by Lancashire and Cumbria- and would they kindly cover these areas. If they don’t, write to your MP, complain to OFCOM and to the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport. Keep plugging away and get your friends who live locally to do the same.

If all that fails write to ITV1 Border and say that you would like North Lancashire and South Cumbria to get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround because the content will be more local and topically- relevant to you than ITV1 Granada Reports. Voice your frustration at your area being overlooked, if you have the resources travel down to Media City in Salford with your friends and have a protest at BBC North West’s and ITV Granada’s lack of coverage north of Preston.

Even when you think all has failed keep Writing, E-mailing, and Protesting peacefully. Write more to ITV Border and say you want their news because “Cumbria is more local than Manchester and Cheshire”. If it takes five or even six years before there is at least one good North West Regional News service for northern Lancashire and south Cumbria (or the area is transferred to the ITV Border Region where programmers provide better local coverage), the fight will be worth it. This Website will cheer you on all the way and support your efforts! If you want to embark on writing, e-mailing and protesting to bring about change to North West Regional TV contact information for the North West Regional News services, OFCOM, the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport- along with details of your own MP can be found at: https://northwestisnorthwest.org/important-contacts-to-write-to-about-regional-television/

Published by northwestisnorthwest

I live near Alston in north -east Cumbria (and yes, it is in North West England). I have friends who live in the middle part of North West England - near Lancaster (which is where I went to University and used to live until 14 years ago). 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! 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!!

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