23rd December 2022
(Updated 28th December 2022)
One major reason why, over thirty years ago, viewers in North Cumbria objected so vehemently to receiving BBC1 North West Tonight when the then Manchester-based BBC1 Regional TV service was broadcast right up to the Scottish Border was the fact that eighty percent of coverage was about happenings some 100 miles or more to the south of where they lived, whilst they got little news locally and no news about major happenings just 30 miles to the north or east of Carlisle. This pride of their northern latitude and of having news-coverage that offended them- because News- presenters treated communities like those around Carlisle, Penrith, and Maryport the same as places like Chester, Stockport and Crewe- was a major reason for the local drive to get the BBC to return BBC Look North (from Newcastle-upon-Tyne) to northern Cumbria.
The BBC had just decided, in 1986, that all of Cumbria should get BBC Regional News- output from Manchester because “Cumbria is in North West England, so viewers there should get North West Regional TV!” seemed to be the basis of the decision. The BBC should ensure that viewers do get the most appropriate Regional TV News- services for their area but the manner in which this (essentially arbitrary) decision to alter BBC Regional TV in North Cumbria was made caused great uproar at that time. Folk were not consulted, but had the BBC found resources to provide opt-out News-coverage specifically for North Cumbria (with a more North West England/ Scottish Border slant) it is certain that folk locally would have accepted it had that been offered. As it is, viewers in places like Carlisle and Brampton found themselves getting Regional TV telling them about Manchester, Liverpool, or the Wirral with news-reporters covering ethnic tensions and urban pollution, which folk living in the North of Cumbria had no interest in. There was no recognition from Programmers based in Manchester that folk living in northern Cumbria would have different (and rural) concerns, different local and regional affiliations and (often) different weather conditions- often markedly colder in all seasons.
Nowadays, it is viewers in South Cumbria or northern Lancashire who may feel aggrieved by North West Regional TV News-services that focus heavily on urban populations over an hour’s drive to the south whilst they get little local coverage- and no news about quite serious happenings just 30 miles to the north of their communities. And unlike viewers in Carlisle and the North of Cumbria who, when BBC1 North West Tonight was broadcast to North Cumbria, had the ready option of switching over to watch, what was then Border Television and Lookaround, viewers some 50 to 60 miles to the south today don’t have that choice. As today, Lookaround in (what was then) the Border TV transmission area covered Cumbria extremely well and also covered southern Scotland and westernmost Northumberland. Viewers in northern Lancashire and much of South Cumbria really only have the ready choice on their televisions of BBC1 North West Tonight or ITV1 Granada Reports: Neither tends to cover areas north of Preston at all well, though BBC1 North West Tonight will cover Lancashire and South Cumbria better than ITV1 Granada Reports: The latter is shocking for viewers who live North of Preston, so much so that I would not recommend any viewers who live anywhere in North West England North of the M62 Corridor watch ITV1 Granada Reports if they wish to know what is happening in their communities and a bit further north of them!
Viewers of Regional TV who live in North West England, as in other parts of the North of England, store great pride in the fact that they live in the North, whilst also having a strong local, county and North West Regional identity- in that order. Primarily viewers want to have news about where they live, so a viewer in, say, Carnforth would be more interested in flooding across South Cumbria- closer to where the viewer lives than racial unrest in Burnley. That’s because, even though it is in the same county, Burnley is an hour’s drive from Carnforth and it is likely to be both geographically and topically less-relevant to our viewer in Carnforth -where a low mix of different faith/ ethnic groups in a rural setting means racial tensions are less likely. However, a celebration of Lancashire Day across the county would be a source of pride for our Carnforth viewer.
Regional identity comes behind both county identity and wanting local news relevant to where one lives, but it is still important. Folk living in Carnforth, or Ulverston for that matter, still identify strongly as North West, so region-wide ambulance-worker strikes by North West Ambulance workers (as has been happening recently) are a subject of interest. A campaign for North West England to have devolved Regional Government would, because folk in northern Lancashire identify strongly with being part of the North West, arouse strong interest- not least because it could impact on their lives. However, since folk identify with local matters first, county-related issues second and regional matters third there are situations whereby a viewer in Kendal or Carnforth would appreciate being informed about heavy snowfall in the western Yorkshire Dales, even though it is not strictly in North West England, because it is something major (severe weather) happening close enough to involve their community (because local folk might, in this example, travel into the area affected by the severe weather). And this comes back to another big reason why, in the late 1980’s North Cumbrians protested against getting BBC1 North West Tonight because, in the words of some Carlisle-based viewers at the time, who commented “We get no news about Hexham (Northumberland) just 35 miles away, but Plenty of News about Cheshire, 150 miles away!”.
Likewise viewers in other parts of northern North West England today also want Local News first, News about their County second, and North West Regional News third- in that order of priority. Unfortunately, because Regional TV producers have limited funds and News-programs are transmitted to big transmission areas, these Regional TV producers impose Regional first, county coverage (if there’s space left to consider different counties) next and, only if it’s something very serious (and if Regional TV Programmers are inclined to), provide slightly out-of-area coverage on a road traffic accident or severe weather for the benefit of viewers at the fringes of the region (for whom such news would be relevant). Whilst, for instance BBC1 North West Tonight cannot be expected to provide more than 10% of coverage of places that are not in North West England or the Isle of Man,- and should always maintain at least 80% coverage of geographical North West England in order to maintain Regional identity- they would be providing a better service for viewers in eastern Greater Manchester if they reported on snow blocking the M62 near Huddersfield, they would provide a better service for viewers in north-east Lancashire if they mentioned a landslide blocking the scenic Settle to Carlisle railway line or major traffic congestion in the western Yorkshire Dales at the height of the tourist season. Programmers would also provide viewers in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria with a better Regional TV News-service if they covered coach crashes on the M6 near Carlisle or heavy winter snow blocking roads across northern Cumbria in winter.
Regional identity, whilst important, does change as one moves from south to north through North West England. Folk from Birkenhead, Preston and Whitehaven would all consider themselves to live in North West England. Someone from Birkenhead might consider North West England to include northern parts of Shropshire, or Staffordshire, and a wider definition of the North West to include north-east Wales, which are areas not far from where the Birkenhead resident lives. Either definition of North West England would extend as far as the South Lakes and Merseyside/ north-west Cheshire would be considered to be the heart of the North West Region. Forty miles further north, a Prestonian might be happier with Manchester as the capital of North West England, but our Prestonian would consider Lancashire to be very much at the heart of the North West Region: Our Preston resident would consider the North West Region to stop at Crewe and at the Welsh Border, and he or she would be very firm on that! Our Prestonian would consider the North West Region to extend north to include all of Cumbria, right up to the Scottish Border.
One hundred miles to the north-northwest of Preston, at Whitehaven on the West Cumbrian coast we have our cheerful Marra (a local term of affection, like “pal” or “mate”) who was born and bred in Whitehaven. Our Marra, from Whitehaven also believes his area is in North West England, certainly not the North East as is often suggested by watching coverage from BBC1 Look North (from Newcastle), which has news about places 100 miles away across the North Pennines. Our Marra thinks North West England extends from the Scottish Border, north of Carlisle south as far as Manchester and Liverpool, but would not consider Cheshire to be in the North West of England. For our Marra a more local but geographic-appropriate “North West Britain” would cut off at Preston, but include northern Lancashire and all Cumbria, and also include Dumfries and Galloway (visible across the Solway Firth from Whitehaven on a clear day). So, the provision of overlap news-coverage northwards for the benefit of viewers of Regional TV in northern North West England does help to provide geographic-appropriate news-coverage as is perceived by viewers. Even within the confines of ITV1 Granada Reports‘ transmission area, which includes much of southern Cumbria as well as northern Lancashire, what viewers expect and want in their North West Regional TV bulletins will change hugely from Congleton, to Clitheroe, to Cartmel.
Tied up with the sense of Regional identity and the desire for geographically local and regional news-coverage is the desire that Cumbrians and North Lancastrians have for their North West- ness, or otherwise Northern-ness of the communities in which they live. In Northern Regions of England- and in Scotland from Lothian and the Central Belt northwards, there is a pride in the Northern-ness of where folk live, and a desire to be associated with other places that are clearly Northern (or, in the North West of England, North-Western). Being Northern, and to be seen as Northern, is seen to be from a close-knit community, being Working Class is a badge of Pride for lower and middle income groups in the northern regions of Britain. The association of colder, stormier weather, especially with snow conjures an image of stoicism and Northern toughness that folk living in Northern regions like because it enhances how they are perceived: Their self-esteem (and that of their Northern communities) is bolstered by association with news features about happenings and places that “Big Up” their sense of Northern (or, in North West England, North-Western) pride in the Northern latitude of their community.
To that end, it follows that Regional TV news about places that are local and a bit further north will enhance that sense of Northern-ness, but news about towns and big cities 100 miles to the south will diminish it. This is a big reason why North Cumbrians reacted so badly to having BBC1 North West Tonight (with 80% coverage of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Lancashire and Cheshire) foisted upon them in the 1980’s. On the other hand, news from ITV1 Border’s Lookaround, with some southern Scottish news but lots of Cumbrian news-coverage, affirming viewers from Carlisle and the northern Lakes with the fact that they are in one of the most northerly regions of England makes them feel happy. The same applies to viewers who live in South Cumbria and northern Lancashire: Lots of news about Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester, that is from areas that some-one living in (say) Millom (which receives ITV1 Granada output, not ITV1 Border) would barely consider to be in the North West of England is hardly likely to make those viewers happy. Pride might be one of the original sins, and humility is certainly a virtue- but it ill- behoves Regional TV Producers based in Salford to (in effect) humiliate their most northerly viewers- intentionally or unintentionally- by just mainly covering the conurbations along the M62 Corridor!
News that is primarily local, which recognises North West Regional identity in a more “Northerly direction” that enhances community pride, and which also covers county news and upholds the pride folk have in the counties and regions where they live, is best. Unfortunately, the BBC1 is not given the resources, or is not required by the BBC’s Royal Charter to spend enough on Regional TV provision to provide more bespoke local and Regional TV services, such as one that might just serve Lancashire and South Cumbria, and provide overlap coverage across northern Cumbria whom many who live North of the M62 Corridor do consider to be part of North West England.
With all that said, I would still state that BBC1 North West Tonight does cover Lancashire and South Cumbria better than ITV1 Granada Reports, the latter Regional News-program having scarcely mentioned anything from Cumbria since the summer! Of course, BBC1 North West Tonight will have periods of a week or more when it will not cover Cumbria and struggles to get North of Preston, but at least the programme still covers southerrn Lancashire reasonably well at such times, the BBC1 Regional Programme beats Granada Reports on coverage north of the M62 Corridor hands-down! If you are a mid-Lancastrian from Preston or Blackpool, ITV1 Granada Reports provides news-coverage that does not enhance your Lancastrian or North Western sense of self-esteem, or pride in your community. However, BBC1 North West Tonight will do a much better job of it, even though programmers fail to cover significant happenings in places northwards of where you live, it scarcely can be said to “Big Up” your sense of North-West pride in the Northerly Latitude of your community: My advice to a Prestonian would be “Don’t Watch Granada Reports! Stick to BBC North West Tonight and tell them if they struggle to report on happenings North of the Ribble!”.
If one lives further north, close to the Lancashire- Cumbria boundary, and certainly if one lives in a part of South Cumbria that only receives ITV1 Granada output on the television, then my advice would be to switch to ITV1 Border to watch Lookaround. This Regional TV News-program broadcast to most (but not your part) of Cumbria, south-west Scotland and Scottish Borders actually covers Cumbria extremely well. The southern Scottish coverage, of places mainly just over the Carlisle side of the Scottish Border, makes up typically a bit less than 50% of total coverage. Of course, the point might be made to a proud North Lancastrian that ITV1 Border Lookaround does not cover Lancashire- but watching ITV1 Border’s Lookaround does not preclude one watching BBC1 North West Tonight straight afterwards, from where one would get news about Lancashire.
If viewers have a clear view north, they can switch their aerials north to get the signal from the Kendal Fell transmitter, which carries ITV1 Border and BBC1 North West. It is possible to get this across a wide area of South Cumbria and the Carnforth and Morecambe areas of North Lancashire. Much of northern and eastern Lancaster city itself can get the signal from the Kendal Fell transmitter, so that they can watch ITV1 Border Lookaround followed by BBC1 North West Tonight: You get news locally north of you from Lookaround and Lancashire news from BBC1 North West Tonight. If you live in one of those parts of South Cumbria or northern Lancashire that cannot get ITV1 Border Lookaround from their TV folk can usually find it on the ITV Border website (details here: https://www.itv.com/news/border). That evening’s instalment of Lookaround is available from the website about two hours after it is aired live (typically about 8.30.pm).
Either way, viewers in North Lancashire have the tools to take matters in hand to stop them and their communities having their Northern pride in where they live being diminished by being subjected to news about places miles to the South of them: This they can do by watching a news-service (or combination thereof from ITV1 Border’s Lookaround, then BBC1 North West Tonight) that covers places that they frequent, provides news about more local communities, and which enhances their sense of Northern-ness by covering Cumbria and a peppering of news-stories about southern Scotland, which affirms they live in a more North-Westerly part of North West England than much of the rest of the English North West! North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians end up with their Northern sense of self-esteem enhanced, their pride in their Northerly environs “Bigged-Up”: On the other hand, watching just ITV1 Granada Reports then BBC1 North West Tonight will more likely leave South Cumbrians and North Lancastrian viewers feeling overlooked, with a diminished sense of Northern self-esteem- having watched news that is largely irrelevant to their local communities as well as being well to the South of them.
It is, of course, really unsatisfactory that folk living in much of the English North West, in varying degrees dependent on where they live, have to watch Regional TV that advertises itself as covering North West England (ITV1 Granada Reports does advertise itself as doing this) that patently only really covers the southern one-third of the English North West. It is then unacceptable that viewers must scrabble around on the Internet to find something more appropriate that enhances their sense of Northern esteem and Northern regional identity rather than diminishes it with news to the South of them all the time. This is why any move to try and get ITV1 Border’s Lookaround by South Cumbrians and North Lancastrians should be accompanied by a sharp e-mail to programmers for ITV1 Granada Reports at: firstname.lastname@example.org and an e-mail to BBC1 North West Tonight at: email@example.com. The email to ITV1 Granada Reports should explain very clearly why one is so unhappy with the coverage that it is deemed necessary to boycott the ITV1 Regional TV News-service that’s ostensibly for all North West England for another ITV1 Regional News- programme even if it does not actually include coverage of one’s own county. Get local friends and family who feel similarly to write such e-mails.
For BBC1 North West Tonight, North Lancastrians and South Cumbrians should, if they plan to watch ITV1 Border’s Lookaround to get news locally north of them, explain in e-mail communication that they need to supplement their Regional TV viewing with news from another ITV1 Region than the one that they are in the transmission area of. Explain that you are doing this because BBC1 North West Tonight does not provide good, effective local news-coverage that enhances your sense of Northern (or North Western) pride in the latitude of your community. Tell Programmers at BBC1 North West that you will be following this up by writing to your local Member of Parliament because this is not a satisfactory state of affairs. Again, get your friends to do the same.
Just a small number of viewers threatening to boycott North West Regional TV services that struggle to find any space in their coverage to cover northern parts of North West England would send shockwaves through Media City in Salford! It might result in programmers making more of an effort, and putting more resources into, covering places northwards of Preston rather better than they do today. And that is a major objective of this Website- to get the good people of northern Lancashire and South Cumbria a North West Regional TV News- service that really will do them proud!