Cultural Revolution? Reassessing the BBC and social change in sixties Britain (BBC History 100 Fellowship)

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Politics and International Studies


Did Britain and the BBC undergo a 'cultural revolution' in the 1960s? Did the BBC in the sixties fulfil its declared ambition 'to be ahead of public opinion' in its coverage of social change, laying the foundations for its current initiatives on diversity and inclusion? How does the BBC's treatment of women and BAME and LGBTQ+ communities in the 1960s appear to members of the same groups in 2022? The BBC's centenary year provides an opportunity to explore the intertwined histories of the BBC and modern Britain by focusing on the decade popularly thought to have marked a turning point for both broadcaster and nation.

This project will create a people's history of the BBC in the 1960s to complement the institutional history undertaken by the major AHRC-funded project on Connected Histories of the BBC. Schoolchildren will analyse how the BBC reported on race relations, the emergence of gay rights and women's liberation and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Marginalised communities will review how they were represented in 1960s broadcasts and will stage theatrical adaptations of lost documentaries about their communities for which only transcripts survive. A series of talks during LGBTQ+ History Month will explore the BBC's awkward attempts to tackle gay and lesbian live before and after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. A podcast series drawing upon one of the world's largest oral history collections, the BBC-created Millennium Memory Bank, will trace how ordinary people experienced BBC programmes and other aspects of popular culture in the 1960s. Academic and non-academic researchers will come together at a conference on 'The BBC at 100: Past, Present and Future' to share their findings, discover more about the BBC's rich archives and discuss with media professionals how past experiences can inform the future development of broadcasting.

These activities will be delivered in partnership with leading organisations in education, heritage and drama: the Historical Association, the OCR examination board, the National Science and Media Museum, the Cinema Museum, the community theatre groups Tamasha, Collective Encounters and Homo Promos and a dramaturg with a distinguished track-record in participatory drama. The activities will be coordinated by a historian of sixties Britain who is experienced in public engagement and who has written widely on popular culture, migration, generation, sexuality, permissiveness, second-wave feminism, national identity and New Social Movements and who is currently writing a history of BBC documentaries about LGBTQ+ issues from the 1950s to the 1980s. The programme will ask participants to decide for themselves whether BBC programmes confirm or contradict my characterisation of sixties Britain as an 'anti-permissive permissive society' in which broadcasts alerted the general public to a liberalisation and diversification of society and culture that most of them opposed.


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