And fi­nally... here’s a re­al­ity check on lur­ing TV types North

Yorkshire Post - - FEATURES & COMMENT - David Behrens

LEEDS, SH­EFFIELD, York and Hull are all bid­ding to be­come the new home of Chan­nel Four TV. So are Birm­ing­ham, Manch­ester and Liver­pool. This in the face of protes­ta­tions from the chan­nel it­self that it be­longs in Lon­don and doesn’t want to move any­where.

It’s one of those is­sues, like de­vo­lu­tion and the ques­tion of whether York­shire should have its own mayor, that greatly ex­er­cises the po­lit­i­cal classes, es­pe­cially those in town halls, but fails to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of al­most any­one else.

York­shire, of course, used to be home to a thriv­ing tele­vi­sion in­dus­try. I was priv­i­leged to be a part of it for some years. The ITV stu­dios in Leeds turned out sit­coms, drama, re­al­ity se­ries and some of the na­tion’s most sig­nif­i­cant doc­u­men­taries. Em­merdale is still made at those stu­dios; with­out it they would have closed down a decade ago. And there is a sig­nif­i­cant in­de­pen­dent sec­tor turn­ing out dra­mas and fac­tual en­ter­tain­ment for all the main chan­nels.

So it’s per­haps nat­u­ral for lo­cal politi­cians to think that the re­lo­ca­tion of Chan­nel Four to the re­gion would mean more of that. Sadly, the ev­i­dence is to the con­trary.

The fourth chan­nel has no stu­dio. It does not make and never has made pro­grammes. It com­mis­sions them from other com­pa­nies which are lo­cated all over the coun­try. Most are head­quar­tered in Lon­don and will con­tinue to be, ir­re­spec­tive of where the chan­nel has its ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices.

Those of­fices are where the staff hold their meet­ings with producers. The producers would be just as happy pitch­ing in Leeds or Liver­pool as in Lon­don; the staff less so.

Look what hap­pened when the BBC moved whole de­part­ments up to Manch­ester (or Sal­ford, as they in­sist on call­ing it): peo­ple had to be dragged from west Lon­don, kick­ing and scream­ing.

It should not have been a sur­prise. TV types in Lon­don have al­ways had a slightly con­de­scend­ing view of the re­gions, and it’s hard some­times to avoid the con­clu­sion that events up here are treated with less grav­ity than those in the south.

The weather is a case in point. If it snows in Lon­don, it’s the main story on the six o’clock news. If it’s Barns­ley that’s un­der a blan­ket, it’s the funny “and fi­nally…” item at the end.

This dis­dain was never more ev­i­dent than in the early 1980s when Brad­ford de­clared it­self to be a tourist des­ti­na­tion, and staged a cer­e­mo­nial wel­come party at the sta­tion for its first vis­i­tor.

You couldn’t blame the city for want­ing to change the way it was per­ceived, but the prob­lem was that its prin­ci­pal at­trac­tions for tourists were at spots like Ilk­ley Moor, which, as any­one who lives in Ilk­ley will tell you, isn’t re­ally part of Brad­ford at all.

The BBC’s re­porter in York­shire tried very hard to get his edi­tors in Lon­don to take the story se­ri­ously, but he had his work cut out as the events un­folded. As I re­call it, as the first tourist stepped off the train, a brass band struck up in the back­ground and the Lord Mayor, con­cerned that his speech of wel­come would be drowned out, bent down to get closer to the mi­cro­phone, which a sound recordist was hold­ing out of shot. The cam­era­man zoomed out to see him al­most on all fours.

You can guess how it was pre­sented. “And fi­nally... Where’s the last place you’d go for a hol­i­day?” was more or less what the news­reader said.

There have, of course, been some very good ex­po­si­tions of York­shire and the North on all chan­nels. But mov­ing Chan­nel Four here will not make them any more fre­quent. Nor will it cre­ate sig­nif­i­cantly more jobs.

The BBC’s move to Sal­ford was on a far greater scale. It in­volved the con­struc­tion of a new stu­dio com­plex. Yet even that, says the think-tank, Cen­tre for Cities, did lit­tle to gen­er­ate new em­ploy­ment or to en­cour­age busi­nesses to the area. No-one, it says, should ex­pect to see a ben­e­fit to their lo­cal econ­omy be­yond the jobs that the re­lo­ca­tion would di­rectly bring.

In the face of hard eco­nomic facts, it’s hard to see the clam­our for Chan­nel Four in the town halls of the North as any­thing other than a van­ity project. In an age of un­prece­dented coun­cil cuts, ev­ery avail­able re­source should be spent on real and press­ing im­prove­ments that will di­rectly ben­e­fit the peo­ple pay­ing for them – not on the cas­tles in the air of re­al­ity TV.

When the BBC moved to Manch­ester peo­ple had to be dragged from west Lon­don, kick­ing and scream­ing.

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