A new lease of life 

15 August 2001 tbs.pm/3173

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The Second World War had forced a change in priority for the BBC. With increases in the licence fee suspended and the Ministry of Information constantly watching, the BBC had diverted its efforts into three categories – entertainment on the Forces and later General Forces Programmes, news and entertainment on the Home Service and a steady diet of information and propaganda on the Overseas Service.

On VE-day, the BBC announced its pattern for peace. The single Home Service would be supplemented by the Light Programme, bringing into peacetime the entertainment people had got used to during the war. A Third Programme of highbrow arts would appear, and television would resume.

As part of this reorganisation, the national Home Service would devolve back down into the Regional Programme as established in 1929. The post-war definition of regions, though based on how far the transmitters could reach based on the prevailing landscape had a large effect on the development of both broadcasting and society in the post-war period.

The pre-war regions, Scottish, North, Midland, London and West were supplemented with opt-outs in places with a character ‘distinct from the region’. Thus Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on the fringes of the North Region transmitter in the Pennines, had a relay that allowed local programming in off-peak. Other fringe cities also had this welcome side-effect to local topography.

But the BBC’s regions were to have a greater effect. They began to define each region to itself, and also, thanks to networking of one region’s programming on the others’, define each region to the country as a whole.

When the BBC began to expand the Television Service in the 1950s, the model available was the Home Service. Although it also made sense from an administration point-of-view to build on existing regions, by the early 1950s, the BBC’s regions had broadly become synonymous with those of the country as a whole.

When the ITA was established, the new broadcaster chose from an economy point of view to establish television transmitters as close as possible to those of the BBC’s service. Where they broke from this pattern – in the north, for instance – they still appointed contractors to mirror the BBC pattern.

The north isn’t as homogonous as many believe. The cultures are quite distinct between Lancashire/Cheshire, Yorkshire, Northumbria and the Lake District. But the BBC’s placement of these together in one region (with an opt-out for the clearly diverse northeastern area) helped form a view of ‘the north’ that not only pervaded into other areas of the country, but also defined a northern nationalism that previously did not show itself.

The BBC’s regions as they stand today broadly form the boundaries of development councils, European Parliament constituencies and even railway franchises. Whether these regions would exist without the Regional Programme and the Home Service is an interesting question.

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