Elstein unravels story of British broadcasting

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David Elstein The influenced exercised by successive post-war Commissions of Inquiry, their attempts to map a political structure for British broadcasting, and their effects on the nation's viewing and listening habits are the themes of a series of lectures by the University's first News International Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media, Mr David Elstein. Mr Elstein, pictured left, is Chief Executive of Channel 5 Broadcasting.

The series, entitled `The Political Structure of British Broadcasting (1949–99)', focuses on each of the five post-war Commissions of Inquiry led by, respectively, Lord Beveridge, Sir Harry Pilkington, Lord Annan, Lord Hunt, and Sir Alan Peacock. Each played a role in loosening the Government's grip on the spectrum bands, which limited channel choice, while simultaneously considering the current state of programme quality and management of the available channels.

`In 50 years, assumptions about society, political control of broadcasting, and the relationship between viewers as citizens and as consumers, have all been transformed,' Mr Elstein said. At the beginning of 1951, when Beveridge reported, 85 per cent of UK households held BBC licences. The number of sound-only licences amounted to 11.68 million, whilst combined radio and television numbered less than 600,000. A decade later the proportions had dramatically reversed.

The introduction of ITV in 1955 changed the face of television—the new channel giving the BBC a harsh lesson in the principles of competitive scheduling, with popular and successful new weekly series, such as I Love Lucy, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, and Robin Hood.

`In dual-channel homes, ITV rapidly captured 60 per cent, then 80 per cent, of viewing, and all ten top places in the weekly list of most-watched programmes,' Mr Elstein said.

By 1958, when the BBC was spending just £14 million on television, ITV's revenue was nearly £50 million, with 60 per cent of the profit margin.

The 1960 Pilkington committee led to the creation of BBC2, the switch to colour and the change from 405-line transmission to 625-line transmission . In fact, the report is most closely associated with one of its other members, educationalist and socialist Richard Hoggart, whose `earthiness, eloquence, and high moral tone', according to Mr Elstein, `strongly influenced the Pilkington Report's language and conclusions.'

The new Visiting Chair, endowed for five years in the first instance, is intended to bring leading practitioners from the world of broadcast media, including radio, cable, digital and satellite television, to the University to deliver lectures and seminars.


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