Long live regional broadcasting 

7 November 2016 tbs.pm/9542

From the BBC Year Book for 1945

BBCYB1945It is a fact of human nature that, the smaller the social unit, the more violent is apt to be its sense of partisanship. The inhabitants of a town commonly feel more solidarity than those of a nation. A village cricket match will rouse more internecine loyalties than are usual in the supporters of a county team. A family, however divided within itself, closes fiercely against the outsider. This characteristic alone puts a strong case for the local broadcasting station, as for the local newspaper.

But regional broadcasting is based on a wider foundation than any human foible, however deeply ingrained or endearing. It does more than encourage local amour propre. Its value is, broadly, to provide a platform for the various kinds of British life: to give expression to those diverse individualities of thought and speech which make up the national character. Such expression has a twofold if not a threefold function. It satisfies each region by supplying it with broadcasts of local as well as national interest (and, incidentally, by giving the local broadcaster a chance). It gives listeners an opportunity of learning about those who live in other parts of the country. (They do not as a rule show much curiosity, but in the long run a service begets users.) And, ideally, it supplies the interested foreigner with data on which to base his estimate of our way of life. (This is the more important since, as a people, we are inclined to withhold such data from sheer negligence.)

In fact, regional broadcasting reveals Britain to herself and to the world.

Nobody who lives in a ‘region’ will need arguments for the principle of regional broadcasting, although in practice we often used to hear disparagement of the local station. Naturally, the station existed not only to arrange local broadcasts but to give better transmission of the national programmes to districts where reception from source might not be perfect: and the idiosyncrasies of our climate and geographical formation provided many such. Local patriotism has its inverse side, which includes the privilege of ferocious grumbling: those who most scathingly aspersed their regional station would have been furious at any suggestion to abolish it.

Nor is the regional listener at all receptive to the argument that as he has done without local programmes in wartime he would not miss them after the war is over. Whatever views they hold on matters of detail, listeners all over the country are united on one point. They want the best that can be given them, the clearest reception of the widest possible choice of programmes. They want what only a comprehensive service of regional broadcasting can provide.

The value of diversity in broadcasting cannot be exaggerated. A civilization which tends towards mass-production and uniformity needs the corrective of individual views and ways of life expressed in individual voices. The ‘received standard English’ of announcer and metropolitan broadcaster needs the corrective of provincial idiom and accent. From such idiom and accent our speech draws most of its vitality. The contribution of American idiom, with its graphic and vigorous metaphors, has given new life to our language: but the older stream that flows steadily from shire and moorland is no less valuable, no less necessary. And, idiom apart, how good it is for us to be obliged to contrast with, for instance, the slovenly argot of Mayfair, all slurred syllables and devitalized vowels, the broad health of Gloucestershire and the West Riding, the music of Wales and of the Outer Islands. If the speech of Mayfair had no snob-value, no success-value, we should all hear it for what it is, the laziest drawl that ever took privilege for granted: the utterance that makes more and moor and maw all one, pronounces sure as shaw and pure as pyaw calls beer beak and a bear a bah… but if I particularize any further there will be a demand for a new regional station somewhere in Knightsbridge.

The BBC Home Service regions when broadcasting was re-regionalised shortly after VE-Day.

The BBC Home Service regions when broadcasting was re-regionalised shortly after VE-Day.

English is the medium in which the people of these islands express every detail of their lives, inner and outer. English is our life, our reality. Of this life and reality the dialects are a part. They are tributaries to the main stream, which is made up of all their waters. Not only the preservation of these local ways of speech, but their day-to-day life and growth belong to regional broadcasting, the diffusion of the spoken word. This is a spiritual matter, and, like all spiritual matters, an intensely practical matter, too. Where local speech might become precious, a cult of giving artificial respiration to a moribund lingo, broadcasting allows it to breathe naturally and lets its voice be heard. Only those who can spontaneously relapse into a dialect know the release which it offers, the life it recalls.

On the practical side, there are one or two points to be borne in mind if regional broadcasting is to live up to its responsibilities in the years that lie ahead. First of all, its standards must be kept high. That the performers are local should be no excuse for poor work. A bad baritone, an indifferent talk, a rough and ready orchestra should not be allowed on the air in order that local listening time be filled and fees go into local pockets.

Also — an important corollary — local discoveries should not be restricted to their own wavelength. When Glasgow or Stockport or Taunton finds a first-class performer, he or she should not be debarred from engagements in the national programmes, as has been known to happen in the past. Whether the cause was regional timidity or metropolitan disdain does not greatly matter. What does matter is that the best talent should be available to the biggest possible audience, and that there should be a constant and kindly current flowing both ways between the regions and London.

The regions should have the greatest possible freedom to organize and plan. They proved in the past, what overseas broadcasting has proved more recently, that a certain happy informality does not make for worse broadcasting but often for better. I remember an evening in Bristol (Hush! Ed….)[1] They should be encouraged to put on experimental programmes for minority listening. Many a national gain can come from a local try-out. With no huge public to please, the local producer is free to please a special public: and he who pleases a special public today is not infrequently acclaimed by a general public tomorrow—for the excellent reason that he has aimed at a specific target, not shot hopefully in the brown. There wasn’t much lowest common denominator stuff about regional programmes—and as a broadcaster of several years’ standing I venture to record my belief that there should never be any lowest common denominator stuff about any programme, but that each should have a specific aim, if it is only to please the producer. It will then actively please some listeners at any rate, instead of semi-pleasing or trying to semi-please a whole mob.

I am not sure that this isn’t the whole strength of regional broadcasting, that it doesn’t try to please too many people at once: the polite sin, the fatal sin, the worst of all the sins that broadcasting or any other form of entertainment or publication can commit: the sin to which those are most easily tempted whose audience is the largest; the sin which tells us at once that the broadcast lacks the courage of its convictions, because it hasn’t any convictions.

Long live the regional stations, therefore, with their individuality, their local interest, their local accent, their freedom to experiment and get on with things while their big brothers aren’t looking. By their fruits ye shall know them: and by their fruits they must be judged.


  1. Much of the BBC’s production had been evacuated to Bristol on the outbreak of war in 1939 and had slowly drifted back to London as the conflict progressed. The author is writing in 1944, where the war is not yet ended, although Britain is confident of victory, and the evacuation to Bristol is still officially a secret, albeit the worst kept one in the country.

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1 response to this article

Nigel Stapley 7 November 2016 at 7:55 pm

“English is the medium in which the people of these islands express every detail of their lives, inner and outer.”

This would have been news to the inhabitants of Llanbedrog or Loch Baghasdail!

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