Saturday 30 January 2010

"It's Not Really Glamourous at All"

Gill Murray and Julie Ives 'Ordinary People and Regional Television in the Midlands'

Making use of MACE, the Media Archive for Central England, which holds one of the most comprehensive catalogues of Regional TV in the country. Both the presenters come back from different backgrounds - Gill from Urban History and Julie from the History of Art and Film.

The relationship between the audiences and makers of regional news and television is a complicated one - as it is with the newspapers. The regional calendar of local events was expected to be shown by the television. But they also needed to show what was extraordinary. The intent of this paper is to show how the companies attempted to keep the audience engaged, often by juxtaposition of the ordinary with the extraordinary.

Programmes such as Citizen 84 provide such interesting juxtapositions - weighty topics such as the comparison of life in the region in 1948 and 1984, the Data Protection Bill alongside the profile of Gerri Perry, an aspiring topless model from Birmingham. But there's something real about her, something "Not really glamorous at all". It was considered perfectly acceptable for a teatime audience - and the TV company even considers, explicitly, their role in her rise to fame. The emphasis, though, remains male. She's presented at a calendar shoot, as a sexualised object. She is presented, too, as a local phenomenon, who was heading to national stardom.

In 1986, 'Stoke in Bloom' was broadcast. This was a time of huge levels of unemployment in the old Potteries, and the documentary might be read as a morale boost for the area.

(As an aside, I'm particularly loving the spectacles in this clip!)

There's a surreal and rather sad segment in which the presenters talk to a busker dressed in a gorilla suit playing an accordian. He refuses to get involved in the 'Stoke in Bloom' celebrations, because it "Isn't worthwhile for him". There's a melancholy comment to be made here. In a programme which intended to celebrate the area, we can peer into a world of poverty and dissolusionment.

Watching these old clips is fascinating. Not only are they interesting visually, but like museum objects, there are many ways in which they can be read. By setting them in their various contexts, we can see that they take part in a wider dialogue with society. The advantage with television is, of course, that there is much contextual information available, which for many objects and resources is not the case. Exploring such items collaboratively is a way of delving deeply into the richness of these items.

Resources need to be combined. We can, of course, only ever gain a limited picture of historical activities. But we can't ever find 'truth'. Just a window onto speculation and stories. But for all that, it's a worthwhile activity. It's important that we keep these records, much as we keep myths - they are part of our identity, part of our very selves.