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Regional British television drama, 1956–82
Author: Lez Cooke

This pioneering study examines regional British television drama from its beginnings on the BBC and ITV in the 1950s to the arrival of Channel Four in 1982. It discusses the ways in which regionalism, regional culture and regional identity have been defined historically, outlines the history of regional broadcasting in the UK, and includes two detailed case studies – of Granada Television and BBC English Regions Drama – representing contrasting examples of regional television drama production during what is often described as the ‘golden age’ of British television. The conclusion brings the study up to date by discussing recent developments in regional drama production, and by considering future possibilities. A Sense of Place is based on original research and draws on interviews by the author with writers, producers, directors and executives including John Finch, Denis Forman, Alan Plater, David Rose, Philip Saville and Herbert Wise. It analyses a wide range of television plays, series and serials, including many previously given little attention such as The Younger Generation (1961), The Villains (1964-65), City ’68 (1967-68), Second City Firsts (1973-78), Trinity Tales (1975) and Empire Road (1978-79). Written in a scholarly but accessible style the book uncovers a forgotten history of British television drama that will be of interest to lecturers and students of television, media and cultural studies, as well as the general reader with an interest in the history of British television.

Abstract only
Lez Cooke

The introduction sets out the case for a study of regional television drama, at a time of significant change in the ecology of British broadcasting, and considers perspectives on regional broadcasting, in the light of the impact of global media culture on regional and local broadcasting. It defines regional TV drama, making a distinction between dramas set in the regions (but produced in London) and dramas produced in the regions. It outlines the aims of the thesis: to examine the representation of regional culture and regional identity, to examine the policies of regional broadcasters, to analyse the aesthetic strategies adopted by the makers of regional drama, to explore the relationship between regional theatre and regional TV drama, and to consider the current situation and future possibilities for regional TV drama.

in A sense of place
Lez Cooke

Chapter 1 explores the ways in which regionalism, regional culture and regional identity have been defined and discussed by historians, geographers, economists, sociologists and cultural historians, from the Middle Ages to the present day. The aim of the chapter is to provide an overview of these concepts and a theoretical and historical foundation for the discussion of regional broadcasting and regional television drama in subsequent chapters.

in A sense of place
Lez Cooke

Chapter 2 examines the history and development of regional broadcasting in the United Kingdom, from the beginnings of the BBC in the 1920s to the arrival of Channel Four in 1982, paying particular attention to the regional organisation of the ITV network and the development of regional broadcasting at the BBC. This chapter concludes with a case study of one aspect of regional broadcasting in the 1960s-70s: the structure and organisation of regional television in the Midlands, explored through the example of the Victoria Theatre Company in Stoke-on-Trent which produced TV dramas for four different Midlands TV companies from 1965-74.

in A sense of place
Abstract only
Lez Cooke

Chapter 3 provides an extensive case study of Granada Television, considering the major contribution made by Granada, one of the original Big Four ITV companies, to television drama in general, and regional television drama in particular, from 1956-82. The chapter discusses in detail the vast output of this important and influential regional ITV company during its first 25 years, before changes in the broadcasting culture gradually eroded its regional identity. Included among the many dramas discussed in this chapter are single plays, including adaptations of the Manchester Plays, anthology series such as The Younger Generation, The Villains and City 68, plays and series by Northern writers such as John Finch and Jack Rosenthal, and popular series such as Coronation Street and A Family at War.

in A sense of place
Lez Cooke

Chapter 4 provides an extensive case study of BBC English Regions Drama, based at BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham, from its foundation in 1971 to the early 1980s. This chapter explores the model of regional drama production offered by this regional BBC department, under the influential leadership of David Rose, and the extent of its achievement, examining in detail the plays, series and serials produced over a ten year period, including the Second City Firsts series of half-hour dramas, plays by regional writers such as Peter Terson, Alan Plater, David Rudkin and Willy Russell, and series such as Philip Martin’s Gangsters, Michael Abbensetts’ Empire Road, and Alan Bleasdale’s Boys from the Blackstuff.

in A sense of place
Abstract only
Lez Cooke

The book concludes with an assessment of the different approaches taken to the production of regional television drama by Granada and BBC English Regions Drama in the period under consideration. It is argued that while the representation of regional culture and identity was an important part of Granada’s television production from 1956-82, providing representations of the region for both local and national audiences, this was only one part of the company’s remit within a federal, commercial broadcasting network. BBC English Regions Drama, on the other hand, was established in the 1970s specifically to produce ‘regional’ television drama for the BBC network, although the conceptualisation and realisation of ‘regional’ drama in the department’s work varied considerably within this remit. The second half of the conclusion considers the decline of regional broadcasting since the early 1980s, assessing the impact of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, the consolidation of the ITV network, the emergence of independent production companies which have, to some extent, revitalised regional drama, the preference among regional audiences for local representations, the BBC’s outsourcing of its drama production to regional production centres in Cardiff and Salford, and the new possibilities for regional drama afforded by digital television and the internet.

in A sense of place