The wool and the scouse 

18 August 2014

Daily TelegraphGranada was everything the Independent Television Authority wanted of a major contractor: huge programming power coupled with a love for its region that came out on screen. In 1967/8, there was no choice but to change its focus, but still, seven days in the northwest was as good as 5 days in the whole north for Granada. But this fine-tuning of the regional system threw up problems of its own.

The Salford-based Granada, covering a region from Liverpool to Scarborough and from Cumberland to Derbyshire, tried to be fair to everyone, although a natural bias to Manchester – on their doorstep and the north’s biggest city – was easy to spot. With just half the region, however, the Manchester bias began to look a bit painful to people not in Manchester’s orbit. Worse, those people were from Liverpool, and if there’s one thing people in Liverpool know how to do, it’s campaign about subjects that matter to them.

The argument was a clear one: the Manchester bias had, to the eyes of people in Liverpool, become a Manchester-exclusivity. As Liverpool began a surprising, painful and slow decline in the 1970s (little knowing how worse it would become in the 1980s), it seemed that Granada’s Manchester news operation could only report good news about Manchester and bad news about Liverpool – if the Liverpool news got reported at all. Many Merseysiders also felt that that Granada was biased to its nearby red and blue football teams, ignoring the two red and blue giants down the road except for when one of them played against a Manchester team.

Such bias creeps in and ends up going unnoticed, especially amongst the people in the middle of it. It’s called the “01” syndrome, from the terrible habit the BBC had of saying “call us on 01, if you’re outside London, 811 8181” without consciously realising that 80% of their audience were “outside London” in the first place. This was a similar phenomenon, an “061” syndrome if you like.

There’s no easy solution to this. People who feel that their part of a region is ill-served often pressed the ITA (later the IBA) for a dual-region or their own contractor. The IBA could do the dual region thing in Wales and the West, in the Midlands and in the South and South East. But the North West? Well, the north had already been given two contractors. This was the compromise already. And, as Peter Knight notes, the north west was served by one transmitter. There was no way of “splitting” the region to give Liverpool a bigger bite of the cherry.

The competition in 1981, and again in 1991, for the north west contract went too far in the other direction for the IBA’s liking. Switching from a Manchester bias to a Liverpool bias might satisfy Merseysiders for a while, but only at the price of annoying the Lancastrians. And there were more of them. Also, there was little chance of shifting Granada anyway – an ITV system without Granada as a mainstay was as preposterous as an ITV without Thames: it could never work properly again.

Still, Granada could be nudged by the consortium bidding against them, as it clearly was, and they built studios in Liverpool and moved the news operation to them. From that point of view, Mersey Vision was successful in part of what it had wanted to do.

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