Writing the History of Southern Television: 1958-1982

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Culture, Film and Media


ITV has been a significant force in Britain's cultural life since it began broadcasting in 1955. Its introduction broke the BBC's monopoly on broadcasting and brought commercially funded public service television to the UK for the first time. ITV was deliberately established as a series of regional franchises designed to counter the London-centric, metropolitan structure of the BBC. Despite the centrality of ITV to the history of British culture, it has been relatively neglected in comparison with the BBC. In particular, there are very few institutional histories of the ITV regional franchises. While some of the regional film archives in the UK hold audio-visual material from the ITV franchises, it is rare for the archives to hold supporting paper documentation which would give an insight into the workings of these companies. An initial survey of regional film archives in the UK suggests that the British Film Institute's Southern Television collection is the only complete paper archive for an ITV franchise. Yet at present this unique collection is un-catalogued and so not available for public use.

The overall aim of this project is to enhance understanding of the institutional history of the Independent Television (ITV) regional franchises through the specific case study of Southern Television (the ITV franchise for the south of England from 1958 to 1982). Institutional histories offer insight into decision-making processes, negotiations with other bodies, and the implementation of policy. The case of Southern Television provides a particular opportunity to explore issues of regional identity, to examine how commercial and public service demands were negotiated, and to complicate understanding of the historical development of television over the period within which it became a mass medium. As such, this research has three specific aims and objectives. First it will further understanding of the role of television in the construction of regional identities in the UK. Southern Television is an important case study because it offers the opportunity to examine how the company attempted to serve a diverse geographical region in the shadow of London that is overlooked in histories of regional television and identity. Second it will examine the relationships between the different regional franchises, the regulator and the BBC in order to increase understanding of the ways in which commercial and public service demands were balanced by the ITV franchises. While this period in British television history is often referred to as a duopoly between the BBC and ITV, such historicisation fails to acknowledge that ITV was not a single and coherent body and this project will correct the lack of research into the ways in which the ITV franchises were structured and operated. Third, this research will enhance understanding of the historical development of television by examining how changes in technology, regulation and policy, and relationships with the unions and other industries were negotiated by a commercial public service broadcaster.

As well as benefiting television historians, this research will also contribute to broader research on regional and national identities in the UK, the operation of British creative industries, and the commercial funding of public services. The project will demonstrate the value of the Southern Television paper collection for scholarship and make the collection available for future research. It will also enable public dissemination of and engagement with the Southern Television paper collection and the research based on it through contributions to BFI initiatives designed to promote access to and appreciate of film and television as a record of British society and culture. The project will also provide a doctoral student with unique insight into the workings of the BFI, as well as training and experience

Planned Impact

This Collaborative Doctoral Award will have an impact on the British Film Institute, the wider public that engage with its services (including students, schools, libraries and the general public) and the doctoral student themselves.

The principal impact on the British Film Institute will be to increase its effectiveness in fulfilling its Royal Charter. By enabling high quality research into the history of Southern Television, this Collaborative Doctoral Award will support the BFI's requirement to promote education about film and television and their impact on society. However, the Collaborative Doctoral Award will also make the Southern Television paper archive accessible for future researchers (both academic and non-academic) for the first time, and the project will also disseminate research about Southern Television to a broader public, contributing to the BFI's requirement to promote the use of, access to and appreciation of film and television as a record of contemporary life and manners. The Collaborative Doctoral Award will also enhance the knowledge capacity of the BFI by demonstrating the research value of its collections and helping to make them accessible to students, academics and the general public. It will strengthen the BFI's links with academics, enhance mutual understanding between the two communities and contribute to the Institute's current aim to engage more directly with Higher Education. Through dissemination activities about the research and the Southern Television paper collection the Collaborative Doctoral Award will also have an impact on the wider public that engages with the BFI. As well as users of the BFI Library (which is open to all members of the public) this also includes the schools, colleges and public libraries that have free access to Screenonline, and (potentially) the members of the general public who use the BFI Mediatheque. The public dissemination of the research into Southern Television will raise awareness of a neglected aspect of our cultural heritage, enhancing understanding of the ways in which television has contributed to the construction of national and regional identities in the UK and engaging people with their cultural and social history. At a time when the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has highlighted local news as a key objective, the project's focus on one of the regional commercial television franchises will provide an important historical benchmark for the ongoing debate about the local and regional role played by public service media.

The student will also benefit significantly from the opportunity to work on a unique resource not currently available for research, as well as enhanced access to other collections that would not otherwise be easily accessible. In addition, the student will benefit from the opportunity to receive training and work experience in the archiving and dissemination practices of the major audio-visual archive in the UK. Through the development of professional skills in academic research and archiving the Collaborative Doctoral Award will enhance the student's employment prospects, opening up work opportunities in archiving (from collections management to curating and dissemination) as well as academic research and teaching.


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