BBC North East and Cumbria 

28 November 2022


Cover of Inside BBC Television

From ‘Inside BBC Television: A Year Behind the Camera’, published in 1983

Broadcasting House in Newcastle was once a lying-in hospital. John Frost, the Regional Television Manager, thinks it is more like a destroyer these days. There is no space wasted,’ he says. ‘Every cupboard has something in it.’

The staff squeeze into the L-shaped 900 square-foot studio. This space is a tenth the size of Studio One at Television Centre which is 9000 square feet.

Newcastle, one of eight BBC regional stations, produces 205 programme hours a year of which 70 are features, the rest being mainly news and current affairs.

‘Many national programmes are made in the North East, but ours have a local viewpoint which producers who live and work here can uniquely contribute’, says Frost. ‘They serve to make life in our region better known and understood by the nation as a whole.’

In three years’ time BBC Newcastle will vacate their cosy, Georgian home and move into one of the most advanced electronic studios in Europe. It is being built on the two-and-a-half-acre Fenham Barracks site at a cost of eight million pounds. The new centre will also house Radio Newcastle bringing radio and television under one roof.

‘Building this new complex is a mark of the BBC’s confidence in regional broadcasting,’ says Frost.

Newcastle’s main function is catering for the region. This covers six counties and runs from the east coast to the west coast, north to Berwick and south to Yorkshire. Once the cradle of industry, they are currently [1983] feeling unemployment of between 22 and 30 per cent. Television plays a major role in their lives both as entertainment and, we hope, as a link towards the fuller enjoyment of life.


BBC Broadcasting House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Broadcasting House, Newcastle, once a lying-in hospital.


‘People in the North-East watch two and a half hours more television winter and summer than anywhere else in the country,’ says Frost.

One of the most popular programmes is the daily magazine Look North which is presented by Mike Neville, a Geordie, who has become something of a folk hero in the 18 years he has been with the show.


Mike Neville on the Look North set

Mike Neville, Look North presenter, in the Newcastle studio.


A regional station provides rich opportunity for learning how to cope with those terrible moments when the screen goes blank, something which happens with much less frequency in the network centres.

‘Mike has won a reputation for having the appropriate phrase when, say, a film machine breaks down,’ says Frost. ‘As there is only one machine, it can happen without warning.’


Recording Eric Robson in the Dolphin Centre

Eric Robson completes a documentary on political reporting.


Most of Newcastle’s output is on film, except for studio-based pieces. But for ten weeks of the year, this most northerly television station in England has the use of an outside broadcast unit which is shared between Manchester, Leeds and Cumbria.

‘There is a great yearning for the countryside, particularly in the industrial areas,’ says Frost, ‘and one of our three feature producers does a series of programmes called North Country with this OB unit.’


Camera crew in a crowded room

BBC camera crew standing on a table to film the declaration.


Newcastle’s main programme thrust is for local consumption, although a number of their productions are shown on the network over the year. However, in spring 1983 during the Darlington by-election, the station found itself the centre not just for BBC crews from London but for the rest of the world as well.

Perhaps the experience could best be summed up by the title of the half-hour feature Eric Robson made about the by-election. It was called The Three Weeks the Circus Hit Town.


Candidates and the mayor stand on a stage in front of a microphone

The Mayor of Darlington gives the by-election results.


Monster Raving Loonies

Candidate Screaming Lord Sutch placed a bet on the number of votes he would poll (374), and won.


Camera crew filming a man in a flat cap

A vox pop in the streets of Darlington. A voter tells Look North reporter Tony Baker what he thought of the result.


Courtesy of tv68


Text: Rosalie Horner
Editing: Ruth Rosenthal
Pictures: John Timbers


You Say

1 response to this article

Stephen T 9 December 2022 at 10:48 am

BBC North East it definitely is. Many people have complained over the years about how ‘little’ Cumbrian news is shown on Border’s ‘Lookaround’, however sometimes you’re hard pushed to even hear about Cumbria most evenings on ‘Look North’.

I remember in the 80s there was a Cumbria opt out for BBC local news, mainly on BBC Breakfast Time. I can’t remember if this was the time when North Cumbria moved to BBC North West Tonight. An absolute outcry happened, we went back to Look North, and still very little Cumbrian news.

Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Friday 12 April 2024