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Bournemouth Media Archives

Hugh Chignell

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In her recent account of the Wisconsin Media Archives in CST online, Michele Hilmes comments on the surprising location of one of America's largest media archives, in the small, rural town of Madison. A similar point could be made about Bournemouth University's media archive. It will also surprise some people that such a large and important collection should be found in the pleasant south coast resort of Bournemouth. Despite the location, the Centre for Broadcasting History Research, together with a very dynamic and ambitious university library, has assembled a media archive which features both extensive paper collections and also audio and video tape, much of which has been digitised.

Until quite recently the most significant parts of the archive were collections of radio. These included BBC Radio 4's Analysis (800 tapes of programmes from 1970 complete with transcripts); the ILR programme sharing collection from the 1980s and the largest collection of commercial radio in the UK - the LBC/IRN archive which consists of over 7,000 hours of programming. Much of this commercial radio material is becoming available on the website of the British Universities Film and Video Council. These resources are complimented in the university's library by complete collections of Radio Times, the Listener, BBC Handbooks and a very important book collection relating to the history of radio and television.

For television scholars the archive houses some small but important collections including BBC's Panorama and ITV's This Week; there is also a This Week database, a detailed record of the entire production history of the series, created over many years by the television historian, Patricia Holland. On the same site can be found the 'TVTip' database which consists of the complete listings from the London edition of the TV Times 1955-1985; the database was originally created at Bournemouth.

The IBA Archive

In October 2008, after a long process of negotiation, one of the largest broadcasting archives in the UK was transferred from the media regulator, Ofcom, to a specially converted library basement in Bournemouth. The documents of the Independent Television Authority (1955-1973), the Independent Broadcasting Authority (1973-1990, following the introduction of commercial radio) and the Cable Authority all now have a new home in the media archive.

The collection is impressively (and dauntingly) large; over 1100 archive boxes and 21,632 separate files; probably in excess of one million documents. Which prompts the question – what on earth does a university want with the often dull deliberations of now defunct broadcasting regulators? The answer is that far from dull this is an exceptionally rich and fascinating collection which, in an institution of research and teaching, can now be fully exploited and given the attention it deserves. To explain the importance of the IBA/ITA archive a little historical background is needed.

It is a particular feature of British commercial broadcasting, both radio and television, that it was, at least for the first decades of its existence, so tightly regulated and so explicitly conceived of as a public service. From the beginning of commercial television in 1955 it was supervised by the Independent Television Authority whose duty it was to ensure that a range of strictures were followed; programmes had to be British in 'tone and style', no offences against taste and decency, accuracy and 'due impartiality' in news, representation of the main religions in the UK, no programme sponsorship and so on. Similarly, the launch of Independent Local Radio in 1973 also brought with it the paraphernalia of regulation to ensure that this would be a public service containing the required mix of drama, news and current affairs, religious programmes as well as the regulation of taste, decency and balance. So the ITA morphed into the regulator for both television and radio, the IBA.

It follows from all of this desire to have a tightly regulated, public service oriented commercial sector that the ITA and IBA were very busy indeed. Not only had they to supervise the allocation of franchises, the licences to broadcast in various parts of the UK, but they also had to make sure that content was controlled and supervised. As a result of these responsibilities, the authority archives are full of detailed policy and communications (letters and memos) tracing every step of the journey of commercial broadcasting over 35 years.

To take an example of file content, the online catalogue (see below) lists 'Authority Papers'. This category includes slightly over 6,000 files, each one containing scores of letters, minutes, official papers and so on. A quick look at the subjects covered shows 21 files on the report of the Annan committee, some individual programme files, including some on Death of a Princess, and 82 files temptingly labelled 'Programme Intervention Reports'.

Another category of files is labelled 'Research'. There are 450 files which include a wonderfully varied range of subjects, rich pickings for both media historians and also cultural historians. This part of the collection includes files on attitudes to advertising, Channel 4, 'drama documentaries, 'employment of women', 'evaluating the AIDS campaign', 'measuring television audiences for SCUM', 'television and teenagers' and 'Satanic Verses and television'.

For anyone studying the history of television in the UK (and of course radio) this is an extremely important resource and we welcome researchers to make use of it.

Information about access to the Media Archive can be found on the University Library's website.

Researchers can access the searchable Excel database and order archive boxes prior to visiting. For inquiries please contact the Media Librarian, Stephen Parton, sparton@bournemouth.ac.uk.

Hugh Chignell is Associate Professor of Broadcasting History and Assistant Director of the Centre for Broadcasting History Research at Bournemouth University. His publications include a number of journal articles on the history of radio and most recently Key Concepts in Radio Studies.


Case Study
Using the IBA/ITA Archive

My research focused on the history of ITV in Wales. What I wanted to get (and got!) from the archive was material which shed light on the relationship between the Independent Television Authority and Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Welsh ITV companies, Television Wales and the West (TWW), Wales (West and North) Television (WWN) and HTV. Using the archive - and in particular the files which included ITA papers on, and correspondence with, TWW in the 1950s and 1960s - helped me to trace a long term deterioration in the relationship between broadcaster and regulator that hadn't been discussed before now. Certainly I wouldn't have been able to complete my book on ITV in Wales without this archival material. Jamie Medhurst, University of Aberystwyth

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