The case for the Midlands: Historical perspective

The Midlands was at one time a major centre for broadcasting.



A region of firsts


The BBC's first regional radio station outside London went on air in Birmingham in 1922 and its first regional television transmitter at Sutton Coldfield was switched on in 1949.


ITV's first regional station started to broadcast to the Midlands in 1956 with the opening of Associated Television.


The first purpose built colour TV studios in the UK opened in Birmingham in 1969 by what is now ITV and the BBC, not to be outdone, quickly followed with Pebble Mill, opened in 1971 - both of which have been closed. Lenton Lane Studios in Nottingham were opened by ITV in 1983 - also closed. At its peak, ITV made 400 hours of programming each year for its national network in Birmingham and Nottingham.



With a proud broadcasting record


BBC Midlands made much of the iconic television drama that is now looked on as a golden era of UK production, examples of which include All Creatures Great and Small, Boys from the Blackstuff and Poldark. Back in 1966, Cathy Come Home was filmed on the streets of Aston (produced by Balsall Heath born Tony Garret and directed by Nuneaton's Ken Loach). 


BBC Pebble Mill gave its name to Pebble Mill at One, a long running and highly sucessful magazine programme that help to make the Birmingham complex the most iconic of BBC studios. It was also here that Top Gear was conceived as a local programme. The programme was eventually transferred to London and today is the BBC's most highly watched programme across the world and its biggest export earner.  



A long and continuous decline


The decline of broadcasting in the Midlands commenced with a reduced number of commisions at ITV from the late 1980s and the eventual closure of their Birmingham studio complex in 1999 (replaced with a local news gathering operation with no network televsion studios). This was compounded by the BBC who mothballed the main Studio 1 at Pebble Mill in 2000 (after a £2.2 million refurbishment just 2 years earlier). 


The BBC moved out of Pebble Mill and into new premises at 'The Mailbox' in Birmingham city centre in 2004 - described as "state of the art" but which does not contain any network television studio space.


ITV closed their Nottingham complex in 2005 and have continued to make cuts to their operation in Birmingham, reduced to just 70 people in local news, covering both the West & East Midlands . 


Whilst the BBC continued to make award winning factual programming such as Coast and Countryfile, these have now been transferred elsewhere with the closure of the BBC Factual Unit at Birmingham in 2012. At about the same time, the Leicester studio for the Asian Network was closed and what was left of network radio at Birmingham was transferred elswhere.



And now...


The city remains the home of The Archers (Radio 4)  - a commission that goes back to 1950. This highly respected continuing drama achieves the highest ratings of any non-news programme on Radio 4 with 5 million listeners every week. 


Whilst over on daytime BBC1, Doctors - made by the Drama Village at Selly Oak pulls in an impressive 2  million viewers. On average, there is also another two short series produced once a year for daytime televsion, most recently Father Brown and Shakespeare & Hathaway.



Having been a region of firsts, with some of the best studio facilities in the UK and a record of innovation and succesfull programme making that still ripples throughout the world, the Midlands has seen the greatest decline of the broadcasting sector of any region. 



The case for the Midlands: Population


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