BBC2: Origins, Influence, Audiences: A 50th Anniversary Conference 2014

  • Conference Call
  • The British Soci­ety for the His­tory of Sci­ence (BSHS) is kindly invit­ing you to par­tic­i­pate in a con­fer­ence for the 50th Anniver­sary of BBC2, enti­tled “BBC2: Ori­gins, Influ­ence, Audi­ences”, jointly organ­ised by the Sci­ence Museum, Insti­tute for His­tor­i­cal Research and the Uni­ver­sity of West­min­ster, held on April 25, 2014 at the Sci­ence Museum in Lon­don, United King­dom.

    Con­fer­ence Theme

    On the 20th April 1964 the BBC launched its sec­ond tele­vi­sion chan­nel: BBC2. Although the launch was a flop (due to a major power cut) the sta­tion soon became a fix­ture of UK broad­cast­ing. This con­fer­ence marks the 50th anniver­sary of BBC2, but is also timely in other ways. The way we view tele­vi­sion pro­grammes is chang­ing at a star­tling rate, not only because of satel­lite and cable, but as a result of the con­ver­gence of tele­vi­sion and inter­net tech­nolo­gies, pro­duc­ing ser­vices that audi­ences watch as and when they choose. With the shift in tech­nol­ogy the way we study the his­tory of the tele­vi­sion must also change, as not only types of pro­grammes, but the idea of a self-​contained chan­nel becomes a thing of the past. This con­fer­ence engages with the exam­ple of BBC2 in a con­tri­bu­tion to the his­tory of how, as well as what, we access through television.

    First BBC2 con­troller Michael Pea­cock orig­i­nally envi­sioned a ‘seven faces’ pat­tern designed to com­ple­ment BBC1 by hav­ing a dis­tinc­tive offer for each day of the week. This approach was ques­tioned within three months of the launch; BBC2 later came to be known as the home of ‘seri­ous’ tele­vi­sion. Pro­grammes with an adult, edu­ca­tional, slant such as Hori­zon and The Ascent of Man found a home on the chan­nel. This ten­dency was enhanced by a long run­ning rela­tion­ship with the Open Uni­ver­sity which made aca­d­e­mic pro­grammes to accom­pany their courses. In recent times though, with the estab­lish­ment of BBC4, some have accused BBC2 of drift­ing towards main­stream tele­vi­sion. It has also been a test­ing ground for new com­edy with pro­grammes such as The Good­ies, The Young Ones and The Office all of which debuted on the chan­nel. How embed­ded these aspects are in the last­ing iden­tity and influ­ence of the chan­nel is a clear direc­tion for discussion.

    BBC2 also points to wider ques­tions around the tech­nol­ogy of tele­vi­sion. In the 1960s ques­tions were being raised about the increas­ingly dom­i­nant role of tele­vi­sion in the home and the part the Pilk­ing­ton Com­mit­tee played in pre­serv­ing mid­dle– and upper-​class val­ues in the medium. It was also the first chan­nel in the UK to offer UHF, then colour, tele­vi­sion, chang­ing the way that tele­vi­sion was pro­duced, broad­cast and consumed.

    At the heart of this con­fer­ence are the wider ques­tions about how a channel’s iden­tity is crafted and how this sinks into audi­ence aware­ness. In British tele­vi­sion com­par­isons can be drawn with Chan­nel 4. While the two chan­nels have rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent back­grounds, both Chan­nel 4 and BBC2 had to define them­selves as a depar­ture from the exist­ing chan­nels on offer. How a chan­nel sets out to man­u­fac­ture a clear iden­tity (whether through pro­gram­ming or brand­ing) is another aspect that this con­fer­ence aims to explore.

    • What are the polit­i­cal, social and cul­tural cir­cum­stances that shape the per­son­al­ity of a channel?
    • Are these always successful?
    • Most sig­nif­i­cantly, do these care­fully honed iden­ti­ties still have a place in a world of thou­sands of chan­nels and tele­vi­sion on demand?

    Con­fer­ence Topics

    We are look­ing for papers that address the fol­low­ing themes and questions:

    • The ori­gins and early years of BBC2.
    • BBC2 and its rela­tion­ship to the insti­tu­tional pol­i­tics of the BBC as well as the wider polit­i­cal dis­cus­sions sur­round­ing the role of tele­vi­sion in British society.
    • BBC2’s role in the tech­ni­cal his­tory of British broad­cast­ing. In par­tic­u­lar papers address­ing the advent of UHF and colour television.
    • The long his­tory and influ­ence of BBC2: spe­cific pro­grammes, strands and genres.
    • Pro­grammes. Did BBC2 really pro­vide a more seri­ous and ‘grown-​up’ alter­na­tive to BBC1 and ITV? How did this affect the kinds of pro­grammes that were pro­duced? Who were its com­peti­tors? How did its ideas fit with the social and cul­tural changes of the 1960s?
    • More gen­er­ally, the advent of new chan­nels /​multi-channels.We are keen to see papers that address how and why new chan­nels are estab­lished. Can com­par­isons be made with the estab­lish­ment of Chan­nel 4 or with ITV, even with the BBC TV ser­vice in 1936?
    • Papers reflect­ing on tele­vi­sion today. Does chan­nel iden­tity mat­ter today when we have thou­sands of pro­grammes avail­able of demand and online.
    • Chang­ing viewer expe­ri­ence: his­tor­i­cal and current
    • Pop­u­lar Recep­tion. By audi­ences? By other media? How (if at all) have these per­cep­tions changed over the years it has been running?

    Please send us your pro­posal of around 300 words for a 20 minute paper by 7th October.

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