10th October 2021
On Friday 27th September 1991, the BBC transferred Carlisle and northern Cumbria from the BBC North West transmission area to the BBC North East transmission area- so that local folk could get the North East England version of BBC1 Look North, rather than BBC North West Tonight, which had been broadcast to northern Cumbria until that date. This followed months and years of protests by North Cumbrian viewers who complained in their thousands that Cumbria was over looked in news- coverage from BBC North West Tonight in favour of coverage of Manchester, Cheshire, and parts of Derbyshire.
As a response to these complaints, BBC North West provided a local Cumbrian-news opt-out in the lunchtime bulletins- with just news about Cumbria transmitted from the Caldbeck transmitter: Alas, still North Cumbrians were not happy and there was, in the words of a former Head of News and Programming for BBC North West, “A very strong lobby that northern Cumbria had more direct links with Newcastle-upon-Tyne than Manchester, that North Cumbrians tended to travel across- country to go on major shopping expeditions, to visit airports, etc., rather than travel South [to Manchester]”. Thus, northern Cumbria was returned to BBC North East and received Look North, as they had five years’ earlier until October 1986. Buses in Cumbria had large adverts on their sides showing the faces of Mike Neville and Wendy Gibson (who then presented BBC Look North) with a Caption saying, “BBC Look North returns to Cumbria on Friday 27th September ” and with speech quotes next to Mike Neville’s and Wendy Gibson’s mouths saying, “WE’RE BACK!”.
Northern Cumbria certainly had an unhappy relationship with BBC North West Tonight between October 1986 and September 1991: Most local viewers found the content largely irrelevant with 80% of the news-coverage being about events some 100 miles to the south. Meanwhile, North Cumbrians watching the news got no coverage of happenings just over the border in Northumberland or in southern Scotland. However, the Cumbrian- tailored lunch-time bulletins did provide news about Cumbria and there was certainly more coverage of the county on BBC North West Tonight than there was after the transmission area was chopped off just north of Kendal. When northern Cumbria was transferred back to BBC Look North (Newcastle) northern Cumbrians also lost the tailored Cumbrian output at lunchtime, which a number of viewers at that time noticed: One viewer wrote to the Carlisle-based weekly Cumberland News in 1992 to complain “We used to get good local coverage, now the BBC news is 95% North East”. Not even northern Cumbria is close enough to North East England for news about Tyneside, Sunderland, and Middlesbrough to be considered local news, even though Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the closest big city and quickest to reach from Carlisle, Longtown, Wigton, and even as far west as Workington.
Today BBC1 Look North (North East/ Cumbria) does provide a bit more than just 5% of all coverage being about Cumbria- it is nearer 15% on average- but the programme provides much less local coverage than ITV1 News Border’s Lookaround– which typically has 50% coverage or more being about Cumbria.
However, when BBC North West Tonight was absolved of responsibility for viewers in northern Cumbria in September 1991, there was a marked reduction of coverage of Cumbrian news and- almost overnight- it went from a Regional news-service that would typically provide one or two news-items about Cumbria (even northern Cumbria)- to being a news- service that did not cover Cumbria on most nights- and even when it did would cover nothing any further north than Ambleside or Millom. For viewers stuck with both BBC1 North West Tonight and Granada TV (as it then was), who lived in places like Lancaster, Carnforth, Garstang or Millom- BBC North West Tonight went from being a proper North West Regional news-service that covered all of North West England properly- and which covered almost all those places within an hour’s drive (to the North as well as to the South) to one that almost exclusively covered locations well to the south, with little local coverage and none from further north in Cumbria.
Few can argue with the strong desire for North Cumbrians to get a news- service that provided more coverage of the places they liked to visit (or areas that were more local than the mainstay of BBC North West Tonight), nor the fact that the BBC eventually acquiesced to their demands. However, as with a number of other matters in life “One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison”, as that old saying goes. And that is true of the re-configuring of BBC Regional news across northern North West England in 1991: North Cumbrians gained coverage of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Northumberland (though to this day BBC1 Look North (NE/Cumbria) never covers happenings across the Border into southern Scotland that might also be of interest both North Cumbrians and North Northumbrians); South Cumbrian and North Lancastrian viewers lost coverage of northern Cumbria and also suffered less local news-coverage when BBC North West Tonight was relieved of its responsibilities towards almost 300,000 potential North and West Cumbrian viewers!
Now, for those viewers who live in an area that extends North of Preston to the southern outskirts of Kendal- and westwards along the South Cumbrian coast and up as far as Millom, their default Regional TV News services are from BBC1 North West and ITV1 Granada. If you live in Millom, or Kirkby-in-Furness, or in Silverdale in far North Lancashire what happens in Manchester or Cheshire is really little more local to you than it is to folk who live in Carlisle or Penrith. Yet, absent quite the force of numbers or the outraged shock of thousands being forced to watch largely-irrelevant news (as happened in North Cumbria in 1986 when the area was transferred from BBC North East (Newcastle) to BBC North West), North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians seem almost resigned to accept the two main North West Regional TV news-services that not only fail to adequately cover their local communities, but which also fail to recognise that viewers who live north of Preston are actually more interested in Cumbria than South Manchester, Liverpool or Cheshire- because it is more local and certainly (today) because places like Ambleside, Keswick, and Penrith are nicer than the increasingly crime-ridden centres of the big cities.
Thus, just as folk living in places like Carlisle or Wigton not only wanted much more Cumbrian news- but also preferred news about Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Northumberland over news about Manchester and Cheshire all those years ago, it is appropriate to consider similar arguments for viewers in other parts of northern North West England today: Namely, the argument that viewers who live in Lancaster, Morecambe, Kirkby Lonsdale, or Millom- who are stuck with a choice of ITV1 Granada Reports or BBC1 North West Tonight, -that they not only want more local news-coverage of northern Lancashire and South Cumbria but whether in fact that what happens in Carlisle, Penrith, or Keswick is of more interest to those viewers than what happens in Manchester, Liverpool, or Chester.
Indeed, for a significant proportion of these parts of northern North West England- that is for folk living in places like Silverdale, Tunstall, and Leck village in far North Lancashire- plus places like Millom and Duddon Bridge in south-west Cumbria one can state the following: Firstly, what happens in Manchester or Liverpool likely to be little more relevant to viewers in those places that it is for viewers in Carlisle or Penrith (central Liverpool is two hours’ drive away from all these places). Secondly, news about Cumbria is much more relevant than news about Manchester/ Liverpool- to a greater degree than news about Newcastle-upon-Tyne/ Northumberland is more relevant than news about Manchester/ Liverpool for viewers of Regional TV across northern Cumbria. Recall that the BBC felt it had to switch northern Cumbria back to BBC North East and Look North back in 1991 because local viewers campaigned and lobbied for their area to get news about Newcastle-upon-Tyne rather than Manchester: North Lancashire has a stronger affinity with Cumbria generally than folk living up near Carlisle have towards Tyneside and Northumberland. Meanwhile North Lancastrians do not have much more of a great affinity towards Manchester and Liverpool (where the city centres are blighted by crime) than folk living in the North of Cumbria do.
That being so, it would actually be appropriate for viewers who live in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire- and who are stuck with ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight- to demand a transfer to ITV1 News Border, which does provide a lot more news about Cumbria and which- given the very low population of its transmission area (about 800,000 folk who live in Cumbria, a small part of west Northumberland, and southern Scotland)- would be able to provide a more local coverage of South Cumbria (which it already covers) as well as northern Lancashire.
There is a very powerful way that viewers can really put pressure on BBC1 North West and ITV1 Granada, and that’s by writing directly to ITV1 News Border’s Ian Payne and Amy Lea- saying you want to watch their programme Lookaround and think North Lancashire and all of South Cumbria should be in the ITV1 News Border transmission area. State that you believe this would result in more local coverage and that, because Cumbria is more local to you than Merseyside, Cheshire or South Manchester it will be more geographic- appropriate to where you live. Explain that there is a need for all of northern North West England to have more geographic- appropriate news and that what happens South of the M62 Corridor is largely irrelevant to your local community.
There is also a wonderful, charismatic, and sympathetic presenter who covers the (mainly South) Lakes for ITV1 News Border’s Lookaround. She is called Fiona Marley Paterson and she can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. As Miss Paterson covers South Cumbria she will be sympathetic to arguments that her “patch” will have more relevant content for someone living in Grange-over-Sands or Carnforth than the happenings in Greater Manchester or Cheshire.
If enough North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians contact ITV1 News Border in this way, word will soon get back to BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports: The two mainstream North West England Regional TV News producers will be mightily shocked out of their complacency as they will fear their more northern viewers looking elsewhere for relevant local news (and rightly so). If at least one of them makes a big effort to improve coverage of northern North West England- with overlap coverage northwards across northern Cumbria that will be a big positive result as far as this Campaign is concerned!