A Regional TV News-service for Cumbria and Lancashire. If North Lancastrians Really Want It they Can Get It.

23rd November 2022

Dear Readers

North Lancastrians- who are disheartened with the miniscule amount of local and Regional TV News- coverage from BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports that gets North of Preston should be encouraged by an earlier example of whole communities getting together- to force the hand of the mighty BBC- just 35 years ago and an hour’s drive up the M6. Back in the late 1980’s viewers in the North and West of Cumbria were upset to lose BBC1 Look North, the main News-presenter of which, Mike Neville was a household name for many viewers who had grown up with him. The change to BBC1 North West Tonight, then fronted by Stuart Hall, left viewers very despondent, the main reason being a change to Regional TV against the regional affiliations of folk in northern Cumbria. This was exacerbated by the fact that Cumbria received little coverage when the change was made, with “local” coverage being dominated by news about Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside- and even Derbyshire (as some Cumbrian viewers commented at that time).

BRAMPTON TOWN CENTRE, NINE MILES EAST OF CARLISLE IN NORTH CUMBRIA. THIS AREA RECEIVED PROGRAMMING FROM BBC1 NORTH WEST TONIGHT IN THE LATE 1980’S AND VIEWERS ACROSS NORTH CUMBRIA WERE LIVID- AND CAMPAIGNED FOR MORE CUMBRIAN NEWS AND FOR THE BBC TO RECOGNISE THEIR LINKS WERE WITH NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE RATHER THAN MANCHESTER/ LIVERPOOL. IN 1991 LOCAL VIEWERS GOT THEIR WISH, DEMONSTRATING THE POWER OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES COMING TOGETHER TO TAKE ON THE MIGHTY BBC.
PHOTO TAKEN BY IAN PENNELL IN AUGUST 2021.

Viewers in West Cumbria may not have had much joy with news about North East England from BBC1 Look North until then: West Cumbria is clearly in North West England, but they had grown up with Mike Neville who brought a real Northern friendship to those who watched BBC Look North. Also, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead is a bit closer than Manchester or Liverpool (though any of these cities would involve travel times of at least two hours from somewhere like Whitehaven), so North and West Cumbrians would tend to travel east towards Newcastle only if a trip to a big city, or to the airport, was unavoidable. Viewers in both North and West Cumbria suffered a loss of really local coverage (i.e., about northern Cumbria) when the BBC switched northern Cumbria to BBC1 North West Tonight: They also lost a presenter they knew and trusted to get one that they did not know who seemed to have little interest in what was happening north of the M62 Corridor! All this compounded North Cumbrian viewers’ sense of shock and outrage. Viewers were not happy with the change of regional news, mainly covering areas up to 150 miles away which they had no affinity with.

Now, one of the side- effects of thousands of Cumbrians writing in to BBC North West to complain about getting news about Manchester and Derbyshire in the late 1980’s was that BBC North West provided an opt-out news-service at lunch-times. This opt- out local news service provided North and West Cumbrian viewers with bespoke Cumbrian news-coverage for viewers, read by a news- reporter from a studio in Carlisle and transmitted from the Caldbeck transmitter. Of course, many Cumbrians were still not happy and the BBC finally relented and returned northern Cumbria to BBC1 Look North broadcast from Newcastle, in 1991. In the process, however, North and West Cumbrians lost their special Cumbrian local news opt-out from Carlisle at lunch-time- leading to viewers as far north as Wigton complaining in the local press that “We used to have good local TV coverage. Now it’s mainly about North East England“. Certainly for West Cumbria, Regional TV broadcasters need to be mindful of the need for all-round local news-coverage relevant to West Cumbria, considering local and regional affiliations whilst remembering that Cumbria is indeed part of North West England. It is programmers and presenters for ITV1 Border’s Lookaround that realise this and reflect it in their coverage very well.

Returning to the opt-out that BBC North West provided for their northern Cumbrian viewers in the late 1980’s, the lesson for viewers who live on the northern fringes of BBC1 North West Tonights and ITV1 Granada Reports‘ transmission areas today, that is across northern Lancashire and much of South Cumbria, is that when people in an area unite and put real pressure on Regional TV bosses they can get opt-outs with better local news-coverage. Back in the late 1980’s, viewers in North and West Cumbria achieved this despite there being no Internet and no alternative Local TV channels like That’s TV Cumbria and Border. Whilst it’s true that they still had what was then Border Television- which produced Lookaround, with it’s coverage of Cumbria and southern Scotland, that was all there was available as an alternative to BBC1 North West Tonight. Viewers in North Cumbria did switch over to Lookaround -in large numbers! But there was no Internet in those days, no means of finding BBC1 Look North from Newcastle because the analogue signal from Pontop Pike- carrying the transmission signal for BBC1 Look North from Newcastle-upon-Tyne- did not reach as far west as Carlisle!

Today, if North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians really unite to demand that BBC1 North West Tonight and/ or ITV1 Granada Reports provide an opt-out for more northerly parts of North West England, so that they are not subject to news about Greater Manchester, Merseyside or Cheshire 80% of the time, viewers do have rather more tools at their disposal to bring about this possibility. It is now entirely possible to watch other BBC1 and ITV1 Regional News- services and supplement this with a local TV- service for their area. Viewers in Garstang, for instance, are at the northern limit of where they can get That’s TV Lancashire (available on Freeview Channel 7), details here: http://www.thats.tv/lancashire/: The programme is transmitted from the Winter Hill transmitter. Garstang viewers could then find out what’s happening north of their community- across Cumbria- by tuning in to ITV Border’s Lookaround from the ITV Border website, where it is usually- but not always- loaded about two to three hours of being aired live (details here: https://www.itv.com/news/border/2022-08-30/watch-the-itv-news-border-evening-programme). Viewers have, in other words, got the power to credibly boycott the two mainstream North West England Regional TV News-services when and where these don’t serve their communities with effective local coverage.

Even were the worst to happen in future, with both ITV1 Border’s Lookaround ending up being mothballed/ merged with ITV1 News Tyne Tees and the That’s TV Local programmes get axed due to lack of viability (which this Website will fight tooth-and-nail to oppose), it will still be possible to put big pressure on Regional TV producers: There would be a way for folk living in North Lancashire and Cumbria (all of Cumbria will suffer poor local and Regional TV coverage if ITV1 Border is ever axed) to combine the might of all their communities to tell both the BBC and ITV.Plc: “This is unacceptable. You MUST provide local news-coverage for Cumbria and northern Lancashire, relevant to our communities!”.

As things are today, if 5,000 North Lancastrian viewers write in and complain to BBC1 North West Tonight and/ or ITV1 Granada Reports and demand more local coverage, and they assert that their affiliations are more towards Cumbria and the Lakes, and western Yorkshire Dales- than to Greater Manchester and Liverpool, both broadcasting organisations in the North West would struggle to ignore it. If viewers then descend en-masse on Media City to lobby BBC1 North West and ITV1 Granada to that effect they will take notice. If local MPs are then involved, and the letters and comments pages of local newspapers demand more news-coverage about Lancaster, Morecambe, Kendal, Fleetwood and the Lune Valley- with folk pointing out that Cumbria news is more relevant than Cheshire news for the area, then the BBC and ITV.Plc bosses responsible for North West Regional TV News- provision would have to be remarkably thick-skinned (and, I would add, tin-eared) not to respond to such pressure!

Viewers in the upper Lune Valley and along the North Lancashire/ North Yorkshire/ Cumbria border- with links over the county boundaries -to Cumbria and North Yorkshire could get more of the news they want about Cumbria and North Yorkshire from BBC1 Look North (the NE/ Cumbria version), two counties with which locals may have strong ties if they commute north and east. They could really upset programmers at BBC1 North West Tonight by writing to programmers at BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria)- which has some 30% coverage of North Yorkshire and Cumbria together- to say “We wish to watch your programme. The content is more relevant to our communities than BBC North West provides!” . And if you have Sky TV you can watch BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) on Sky Channel 955 (the up- to- date details are here: https://www.mediamole.co.uk/entertainment/broadcasting/information/sky-full-channels-list-epg-numbers-and-local-differences_441957.html). You can then get Lancashire news off the LancsLive website (details here: https://www.lancs.live/).

Such a move would involve swapping one Regional TV news- service for one that is a bit less “local” overall for far north-east Lancashire and south-east Cumbria (BBC1 Look North (NE/ Cumbria) is 70% about -Tyneside, Teesside, County Durham and Northumberland), but if followed up by looking through LancsLive you could still expose yourself to more local coverage overall compared to just watching BBC1 North West Tonight if you live somewhere like Cowan Bridge or Kirkby Lonsdale. That may be better, -depending on your work/ geographical affiliations if you live in far north-east Lancashire- than hearing nothing about North Yorkshire, very little about Cumbria (if anything), and 20% coverage about (mainly South) Lancashire with the rest (75%) being about Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire with a bit of north-west Derbyshire and the Isle of Man from BBC1 North West Tonight alone.

Today fortunately, viewers in North Lancashire and South Cumbria don’t have to put up with news that’s “Even Less Local” to effectively boycott BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports: It is possible to get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround in some of these areas by pointing the TV aerial north, and Lookaround usually has 50% or more coverage of Cumbria, occasionally Lookaround covers the westernmost Yorkshire Dales too. Any southern Scottish coverage is often of places just over the Scottish Border, and no further from (say) Lancaster than mid- Cheshire that often features in ITV1 Granada Reports. And Cumbria as a whole is closer to North Lancashire than Greater Manchester and Merseyside that takes up so much air-time on BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports. If one lives in North Lancashire and South Cumbria and one cannot get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround on the TV aerial, the programme is normally (but not always) uploaded to the ITV Border website some two to three hours after being aired live (typically, therefore, about 8.30.pm). Local viewers could still get Lancashire news by just following up on the LancsLive website.

If 5,000 people in North Lancashire and South Cumbria boycotted BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports in this way, in addition to campaigning and writing in to these broadcast media and involving local MPs, the impacts on Regional TV, as is available in places like Carnforth, Kirkby Lonsdale and Morecambe would certainly be profound and much for the better. The area may well end up with a bespoke northern Lancashire and South Cumbria Regional TV News-service (with overlap coverage across northern Cumbria and western Yorkshire Dales, and for viewers nearer Preston- overlap south to Manchester for major happenings). This would be run from new TV studios in Lancaster. That is the aim of this Website and it would serve the almost one million folk who live in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria so much better than what they have today.

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.

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