Barbara Sadler – Who do you think you are? A regional perspective.
It is a great pleasure to be here. I’m Barbara Sadler. I joined the project team along with Sarah in late September of 2006. I’m a working class, British, Geordie. So now, who do you think you are? Don’t worry it’s a rhetorical question, it does have a serious point. I just wanted you to reflect on the question. The verb think is crucial – it suggests identity is not natural or fixed but constructed in the lair of the mind. Linguists call think a modal verb – it lacks categorical certainty – it suggests doubt.
The question who do you think you are seems to have particular relevance in Britain at the moment. In many areas of public life through government, through religious affiliation, on television and in the press, there are questions being asked about our identity as individuals and as a nation. But as analysts we need to ask whose voice is being articulated? Who is speaking and who is listening?
Needless to say, my initial area of enquiry was the BBC TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? This programme uses a particular mix of programme elements that appeal to audiences tastes and interests. In terms of genre it is a hybrid. There are elements of reality tv, documentary, education and light entertainment. It uses celebrity presenters who embark upon a type of personal quest for the truth about their identity. The authenticity is offered by a mix of historical archive material, official documents and personal testimonies. But in addition to that, it connects with the pastime of genealogy that is an increasingly popular pastime for the public. For the programme makers this is a winning formula resulting in a regular 9 O’clock slot on BBC1 and a healthy viewing audience of 6million per episode.
What I would argue is that the identity issues dealt with in the programme Who Do You Think You Are reflect the anxieties of the audience in a rapidly changing, devolved Britain that is constantly under threat of terrorism and cultural homogeneity. However, in a globalised, postmodern world, these anxieties are universal. So, it is not surprising that the programme is being duplicated throughout Europe. To date it has been sold to France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Canada, Australia and recently the United States of America. For our purpose, this will offer the opportunity to complete comparative work around these issues of identity in other European countries and feed into the overall project aims.
Of course research is a very fluid process and in reviewing the range of history programmes across the channels I noticed a lack of history output on the main ITV1 channel. However, this was not the full picture, because was I also noticed is a pattern of history output throughout the ITV regional variations. The result is an additional focus in my research to incorporate regional identity and regional history output. Already trends seem to be developing. I’d like to show you a map of the ITV regions and the current output for the variations that occur in two slots on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30.
I’m concentrating on England to begin with and will complete a study of Wales Scotland and Ireland in due course. At present the programmes seem to run in 6-9 week series, so it will be interesting to see what new programmes pop up in the new schedules that start in the next couple of weeks.
The first map shows English TV regions Tyne Tees, Yorkshire, Border, Granada, West, and West Country. The trend here suggests that the programme output is very much related to the geography and history of the regions. So, just looking on the west coast Border region we get Lost at Sea, then Granada with Lochs and Quays, then West and West Country with Deep Sea Mysteries.
In the north there is collaboration across Granada and Tyne Tees with Grundy’s Northern Pride – which links the idea of North being very different to South – it suggests a Northern identity based upon shared geography, history and a marginalisation from the south.
The regions Border, Tyne Tees and Yorkshire all produce the programme The Way We Were, but each programme is specific to its region with different directors and production teams. The premise of this programme is that it uses archive footage from viewer’s home movies in addition to library footage and personal testimony. It is currently in its fourth series.
The second map shows Central, Meridian, London and Anglia TV regions. There is quite a marked difference here because the programmes do not reflect quite the same connection to the geography and history of the region, but rather reflect the diversity of the population by appealing to a more generic consumer and lifestyle identity. So instead of history programmes Central shows Extra Tonight which is a regional current affairs programme. There are cookery programmes A Taste of the South on Meridian and Coastal Kitchen on Anglia. The series Tales from the Country is shown in both Anglia and London and takes a look at the people and places of the English countryside.
Looking at the current output the overall picture indicates a very different sense of regional identity between the north, the south and the south west. However, this is just the beginning of the research. So I’m looking forward to meeting you all and if you have any thoughts on my research that would be great – I’d love to hear it. If not, you can completely ignore the research and just tell me who you think you are.
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