BBC One viewers in the north will hear continuity announcements in their own accent, in the corporation’s latest attempt to move outside “the M25 bubble”.
The “bespoke” service will be applied in the North West, North East, and Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, with each employing announcers specific to the region.
“We are tailor-making the feel of the channel for those areas,” said Rhodri Talfan Davies, who is spearheading the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plan to make the corporation feel less London-centric.
Mr Talfan Davies discussed the initiative in an event hosted by the Royal Television Society, and was asked by his interviewer, Sky News presenter Gillan Joseph, if it was not “a little bit condescending and superficial”.
He replied: “It would be superficial if we weren’t also radically shifting our focus across network television – if I was to say, ‘Let’s give BBC One a northern voice,’ but we didn’t have a pipeline of exciting creative projects rooted in England.”
The BBC has a new plan to emphasise voices and stories from outside London. Current affairs shows including BBC Two’s Newsnight and Radio 4’s Today programme will go ‘on the road’, and entire departments will move away from the capital.
Mr Talfan Davies said: “We bring ourselves to work, we bring our home life, our outlook, our perspectives. And if we’re all living within the M25 bubble, that inevitably has an impact on the editorial choices we make. So I believe it will make a difference.
“We take a licence fee from every household across the UK and they have to believe that the BBC is an organisation for them – not just a brilliant, world class organisation, but an organisation that speaks to the individual audience member.”
He cited The Pact, a thriller currently drawing large audiences on BBC One and iPlayer, as a good example of a show made outside London. It was filmed in Wales with a predominantly Welsh cast.
The Pact, a thriller currently drawing large audiences on BBC One and iPlayer, was filmed in Wales with a predominantly Welsh cast
Credit: Warren Orchard
As part of the six-year Across the UK plan, the BBC is killing off Holby City and using part of the money saved to fund a continuing drama set in the north of England.
Mr Talfan Davies hinted that it would be set in the North East, an area that does not have a soap opera of its own. Yorkshire has Emmerdale, while the North West has Coronation Street.
“We look at large areas of southern England and Wales and we see high levels of [BBC] consumption; in other areas, the North East would be one, audiences can feel more distant from the BBC. So there is no doubt that there are some areas of the UK where we want to dial up our presence,” he said.
“I’d love us to do more in the North East of England… there is more creatively that we need to do in that space.”
He also hopes to boost the BBC’s local presence online, covering towns “overlooked by mainstream media”.
Asked what Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director-general, would think of today’s BBC, Mr Talfan Davies said: “Do I think he’d love everything the BBC does? I suspect tastes have moved on. But I think he’d recognise the integrity of the organisation and the trust that audiences have in the BBC.”