The BBC and European Integration, c.1957-1975

Lead Research Organisation: University of Westminster
Department Name: Westminster Sch of Media & Communication


In June 1975 over eight million people tuned into BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) coverage of Cabinet ministers Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn doing battle on Panorama over the referendum on EEC (European Economic Community) membership. The intense debate about whether Britain should join the EEC rumbled on from its establishment through the 1957 Treaty of Rome until the 1975 referendum, set against a backdrop of decolonisation and a narrative of national decline. It divided the nation and its political actors, causing both inter- and intra-party conflicts, and regular changes in government policy. BBC broadcasts presented the issue of European integration to the British public and the corporation was a constant presence in the overwhelming majority of British homes. Its status as an outward-facing national institution, funded by the public, gave it a crucial role in everyday discourses on European integration, ideas of 'Britishness' and more, especially with the rise of television. Its reach exceeded that of any single newspaper or other broadcaster. Furthermore, its External Services saw it broadcast British discourses to the world. Yet there has been no sustained examination of internal BBC discussions about handling programming on European integration, or of audience reception to BBC programming on the issue. This project will provide this study and situate itself within wider historiographical debates concerning: the nature of national and regional identities within Britain; the role of broadcasting in shaping and reflecting popular & elite attitudes; the development of British political and media cultures; and contemporary perceptions of Britain's changing place in the world, including Commonwealth relations. The BBC will be used to investigate Britain's changing relationship with Europe and the fluctuating salience of European integration. This historical background will enable a deeper understanding of how discourse in Britain on European integration was shaped.

The primary question this research will address is: How did the BBC interact with contemporary discourses surrounding the issue of European integration?


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