25th September 2022
Today, I consider the fact that both the BBC in the North West and ITV Granada Reports do not provide great all-round Regional TV News-coverage for locations north of Preston. Neither cover the Isle of Man well either. There does not exist a TV Region that, for a viewer in (say) Morecambe or Carnforth provides good coverage of northern Lancashire and South Cumbria with a regional sweep that extends from Manchester up to Carlisle and the Scottish border and which extends east to the western Yorkshire Dales and Cumbrian Pennines. For someone who lives in North Lancashire or the parts of South Cumbria that can only readily get ITV Granada on their televisions, a good Regional TV News- service that well-covers the local area but also covers places of interest and significance north and east, as well as south, simply does not exist. This leads folk to just accept what they have with the belief that BBC North West Tonight or ITV Granada Reports are the best that exist to serve northern Lancashire! However, I will use an episode from history to illustrate that viewers can, if they find their voices en-masse, bring about real change because the BBC was forced into an about-turn over Regional TV provision in the North of Cumbria due to viewer- pressure in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
In October 1986, viewers in Carlisle and North Cumbria lost their Regional TV from Newcastle and the friendly face of Mike Neville, the main anchor for BBC Look North that covered the North East and Cumbria in output. Instead, they got BBC North West Tonight from Manchester fronted by Stuart Hall. Whilst at one level, it made sense for all of Cumbria to get North West Regional TV since Cumbria is in North West England, not North East England, viewers in Carlisle and North Cumbria were furious and protested in their thousands to the BBC about it.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which folk in North Cumbria travel to for major shopping trips or to the airport, is only 57 miles from Carlisle but Manchester is 120 miles from Carlisle and Liverpool is even further away. Folk in North Cumbria have strong links with Northumberland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Now, BBC Look North provided coverage of Newcastle, western Northumberland, and Cumbria reasonably well- all places of interest to folk in Carlisle and north-east Cumbria, even if not for folk in West Cumbria. When North Cumbrians started getting BBC North West Tonight they received a programme that was 80% about Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire, and South Lancashire in coverage, and Cumbrians were lucky if more than two news-items covered anywhere North of Preston.
Naturally, 80% of the news was completely irrelevant for North- and indeed West Cumbrians, which is why the change caused great uproar to local viewers, even though they still had what was then Border Television and Lookaround as an alternative Regional TV programme that covered Cumbria extremely well! So why did folk in Carlisle and North Cumbria not just switch over, which they did in thousands? The BBC received many complaints, local newspapers like the Cumbrian News and Star got involved and there were protests: The complaints and protests continued even though the BBC in the North West responded by providing an opt-out Regional news-service just for northern Cumbria for lunchtime bulletins. Viewers did not relent until, in September 1991, the BBC bowed to pressure and returned northern Cumbria to the transmission area for BBC Look North from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
What so riled viewers in the Carlisle area and North Cumbria about getting BBC North West Tonight? They eventually got more Cumbrian news from the special lunch-time opt-out that BBC North West provided. They could have easily switched over to Border Television (as it then was) to get much better news- coverage about Cumbria and nearby southern Scotland. Viewers did not just switch channels to Border TV (though many folk did) then keep quiet. They continued to protest!
The reason was because viewers in Carlisle and North Cumbria wanted to have news about Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Tyne Valley of western Northumberland in their Regional TV,- places that they had connections to and visited. Neither BBC North West Tonight nor Border Television’s Lookaround provided news about Hexham, the Tyne Valley, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, or Gateshead Metro Centre (where North Cumbrians would go for Christmas shopping in the days before Amazon and internet shopping). That was the beef that viewers in North Cumbria had, that there were places where they had links to that they no longer got to hear about- and they protested about it. They pointed out that viewers in Carlisle got to hear about Crewe, which was 144 miles away, but not Hexham just thirty-five miles away. Folk felt (not unreasonably) that they were not getting geographic- appropriate news-coverage.
This brings us to today, fifty to eighty miles to the south, where neither of the two main Regional TV News-services for North West England cover the northern Lancashire and South Cumbria well. Crucially- the two mainstream Regional TV News-services miss off places that viewers in Lancaster, Morecambe or Millom have strong links with- like across Cumbria! An interesting point to note is that BBC North West Tonight provided much more all-round coverage for northern Lancashire and South Cumbria when it did cover all of Cumbria. Viewers in Lancaster would find out about happenings in Keswick or Penrith, less than an hour’s drive to the north. When BBC North West Tonight no longer covered northern and West Cumbria Regional coverage effectively stopped at Kendal and there was much less coverage getting north of Preston! Viewers in South Cumbria and North Lancashire effectively lost a good Regional TV News- service that covered the local area and provided good all-round coverage north as well as south.
The question then becomes how viewers can get that good local coverage and coverage of places to the north of them back. It will, like those North Cumbrian viewers who protested about not getting Newcastle-upon-Tyne news years ago, involve a large number of folk who live in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria demanding that Regional TV News-producers provide news-coverage of Cumbria and the westernmost Yorkshire Dales, as well as more coverage of northern Lancashire. For northern Cumbria, around Carlisle, it was fairly straightforward to make the case that they be transferred into the BBC Region centred on Newcastle-upon-Tyne (covering a lower-population transmission area) so that the area got more all-round local news-coverage. In northern Lancashire it is arguably harder to press the case that viewers be transferred from the ITV Granada transmission area to that of ITV Border because a lot of folk might point out, not unreasonably, that Lancashire is in North West England and that Lancashire historically included Manchester and Liverpool and that, even though Lancaster and Morecambe are sixty miles further north there is still a strong historical connection to Manchester. One could argue that no part of Lancashire should be in the ITV Border TV transmission area because the county is not near to the Scottish Borders and because Lancastrians might object to Scottish news.
These lines of argument fall flat because, further north, much of Cumbria gets BBC Look North (NE/ Cumbria version) which has 80% news about North East England and North Yorkshire. And there is not mass unrest in Maryport, Silloth, or Burgh-by-Sands about “Cumbria Is Nowhere Near the North Sea Coast”, viewers there who don’t like BBC Look North for its North East England content can switch over to ITV Border’s Lookaround. Certainly, there is a good case for a more North West England flavoured BBC Regional TV News-service for West Cumbria (one that is appropriate to Cumbria), which this Website will campaign for, but for over thirty years most viewers in West Cumbria have tolerated BBC Look North even if they preferred the more localised offering from Border Television (later ITV Border).
Back in the late 1980’s, when North Cumbria received BBC North West Tonight it is not inconceivable that viewers in north-east Cumbria, in places like Brampton, Longtown and Brough, may have discussed extending their aerials and pointing them eastwards in the hope of getting BBC Look North from Newcastle-upon-Tyne with Mike Neville. It is likely that these disenchanted viewers won’t have been very successful, and there was no internet to fall back on in the 1980s to watch BBC Look North online if they could not get the signal. It is also certain that, had these north-east Cumbrian viewers tried to get BBC Look North they will have been told “But BBC Look North doesn’t have Cumbrian news. You will just get North East news….Cumbria is in North West England and you get the Cumbrian news from North West TV!”. So, in order to get one news item out of ten about Cumbria (if they were lucky), with the rest being mainly distant Greater Manchester or Merseyside, north Cumbrian viewers will have been told they should watch BBC North West Regional TV, not to try and make their masts tall and point east in the hope of getting (mainly closer) news about Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Durham, Gateshead and North Yorkshire. North Cumbrians were not cowed and they lobbied the BBC to get BBC Look North back in North Cumbria!
This brings us to North Lancashire viewers watching ITV Granada Reports today. Viewers would be strongly advised by broadcasters and authorities that they should watch the North West news from Manchester, because ITV Granada Reports provides one or two news-items about Lancashire. Authorities and folk inculcated with what the right TV Region for viewers in Lancaster, Morecambe and Garstang would say to viewers today “Don’t watch ITV Border Lookaround. It has no news about Lancashire and has a lot of Scottish coverage!” (actually, less than 50% of ITV Border Lookaround is about southernmost Scotland only). North Lancastrians should eschew that advice on the grounds that ITV Border Lookaround has typically at least 50% coverage of Cumbria which is, in general, more local to North Lancashire than Greater Manchester and Liverpool (which acconts for some 70% of ITV Granada Reports‘ coverage). Also the Scottish Border and parts of south-west Scotland- Annan, Dumfries and Lockerbie- are quicker to get to from Lancaster than South Cheshire and the Peak District of north-west Derbyshire (which are covered by ITV Granada Reports).
Thus, for someone living in Lancaster or Morecambe the geographical average position of places covered by ITV Border is quicker to get to than the geographical average of places covered by ITV Granada Reports even allowing for the occasional bits of coverage of Lancashire. If viewers fight for northern Lancashire to be transferred to ITV Border Lookaround and, if it succeeds, ITV Border Lookaround will cover northern Lancashire in coverage, just like BBC Look North from Newcastle-upon-Tyne now provides 15 to 20% coverage of Cumbria today (rather better than BBC North West Tonight used to in the evenings in the late 1980’s). Were North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians then to switch over to ITV Border Lookaround because they really liked local coverage this would pull BBC North West Tonight up in coverage of Cumbria and northern Lancashire: That is because there would be real competition for their northern viewers- and that would drag BBC North West Tonight closer to being the ideal North West Regional TV News-service for viewers in Lancashire and south Cumbria- with more local coverage and a spread of coverage from Cheshire up to the Cumbrian Scottish Border.
It follows that efforts of campaigning for better Regional News-coverage for North Lancashire and South Cumbria should therefore include campaigning for the area north of Preston to get ITV Border Lookaround by default, a transmission area which may be a large area, but one which will still only have one sixth of the population of the ITV Granada transmission region even once northern Lancashire are included in the ITV Border transmission region. That would certainly improve local coverage and enable viewers to find out what is happening further north too. There may be a proportion of viewers in Lancaster, Garstang or Fleetwood who want to know what is happening in Manchester and South Lancashire- fine, they could still watch BBC North West Tonight. Certainly, this would not be the ideal outcome for communities on the Fylde or just five miles north of Preston, the ideal would be for a North West Regional TV News-service covering an area from Manchester up to Carlisle and the Scottish border as this would provide best all-round news-coverage.
However, getting to that place, even just getting an opt-out which includes much for Lancashire and Cumbria coverage will require the sort of pressure that North Cumbrian viewers put on the BBC when the BBC decided northern Cumbria should get BBC North West Tonight. Large numbers of North Lancastrians, writing in to ITV Granada Reports and BBC North West Tonight asking, “We want Cumbria and North Lancashire news, not Greater Manchester and Merseyside news all the time!”. That is unlikely to cut it, so writing to ITV.Plc or to ITV Granada Reports programmers requesting for northern Lancashire to be transferred to ITV Border’s transmission area- on the grounds of closer local affiliation with Cumbria than Manchester/ Liverpool- is a vital next step. This needs to be followed up by lobbying, and peaceful protest and a concerted effort to boycott ITV Granada Reports and even BBC North West Tonight by swivelling aerials north to watch ITV Border Lookaround– the signal for which can be obtained across much of Lancaster and Morecambe. Across the Fylde and towards Blackpool it is also possible to get That’s TV Lancashire (Freeview Channel 7 at 6.pm, details here: http://www.thats.tv/lancashire/) whilst ITV Border Lookaround can be viewed from the ITV Border website from about 8.pm on week-nights, some two hours after it is aired live (details here: https://www.itv.com/news/border). There is also Lancs Live, which is an online news-site about happenings in Lancashire and, of course, the BBC Lancashire page (details here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/england/lancashire) which has plenty of news about the county. If one is used to sitting down and watching the Regional TV then, even though one is disappointed at the lack of local coverage, it can be hard to switch to ITV Border Lookaround and the BBC Lancashire web-page. Hopefully, the instructions here will make it easier for folk to do this.
Unfortunately, that is the reason both BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports are unlikely to take steps to significantly improve news- coverage north of Preston. Communities across South Cumbria and northern Lancashire are a captive audience, and they cannot easily go elsewhere but still watch the news on the TV. That inertia can be overcome because, lets face it, even in the days before Internet and local TV services north Cumbrian viewers successfully got their BBC Look North back- through complaints and lobbying. First North Cumbrians got a bespoke Cumbrian-tailored opt-out news-service from the BBC at lunchtime, then they got their BBC Look North from Newcastle-upon-Tyne back.
There is no reason why a concerted Campaign for more Cumbria and North Lancashire news-coverage, combined with a demand for North Lancashire to be transferred to ITV Border, would not yield similar results and get better all-round local and Regional TV for northern Lancashire and South Cumbria. There is more competition and more alternatives, other TV Regions are available thanks to the Internet so market- pressure can be deployed much more forcefully than in the 1980’s. Yes, it may require some moving out of comfort zones in the process and trying out combinations of Regional/ Local TV and News-services that are different to get better all-round news-coverage, but the big aim is to put additional pressure on both BBC North West Tonight and ITV Granada Reports Programmers to take their viewers who live North of Preston seriously- and to adapt their programming accordingly: IT CAN BE DONE!