The BBC in 1982 

15 June 2014 tbs.pm/3675

The BBC - an outline of its history, organisation and policy

The BBC – an outline of its history, organisation and policy

Now most newspaper groups are a part of larger media conglomerates with their own television stations and production arms, the BBC gets a lot of bad press. It’s nothing personal – the newspapers’ owners need to make money and if the BBC was gone, they feel they could make more of it and faster. Also, with less quality expected of television without the BBC keep the side up, cheaper programming could have its day and make even more cash. Only the viewer loses out.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the newspapers were broadly all anti-ITV, since ITV was competing with them for advertising. They cheered when the government dragged ITV up by the roots to examine its growth with Pilkington, Annan and the 1964, 1967-8 and 1974 franchise rounds. The newspapers preferred the advertising-free BBC.

But in 1979 Britain got a new type of government. After 35 years of the Post-War Consensus that the state had a job to provide arts, health, education and essential services at cost to the people (often via tax), Mrs Thatcher began the process of swinging the UK from mixed economy to market economy.

This new economy wasn’t to have the state helping the people. The state would help businesses, who would employ people, and thus the people would help themselves by being industrious for their employers. That meant an end to subsidies to big industry (and, eventually, an end to big industry). That meant that a tax-based system like the BBC was infinitely inferior to a business-based system like ITV. The BBC remained broadly in favour of the Post-War Consensus, but then so did the people. The government didn’t like this and attacks on the organisation and its policies began to get louder.

Backbenchers started to say outrageous things from their lofty perches. These were picked up by the right-wing press, gleeful at the promised riches of Thatcherism and keen to help out. The BBC’s contribution was marginalised, its faults highlighted, its mistakes blown up into huge headlines.

This sounds very familiar today. But while today the BBC cowers, apologises, promises reform and ducks every time its name is mentioned, in the 1980s the BBC fought back. This leaflet came in the post with the TV Licence demand, explaining just what the BBC did for you, the viewer and listener. Just how much value we got for our £46. Just how much quality TV and radio everyone got because everyone chipped in.

The campaign was deemed successful and the BBC started to do more. Adverts reminding people how much they valued the BBC appeared between popular BBC programmes. BBC stars rushed to the BBC’s defence. The BBC Press Office began a programme of ‘rapid rebuttal’ – each negative story in the press or from Number 10 was met with a positive story or was quashed. The BBC survived the 1996 charter review that this 1982 leaflet looks forward to, because it fought its corner.

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