Purcell, Hugh, History Today
Hugh Purcell argues that the increasing popularity and sophistication of television and radio history makes broadcasting the boom medium for learning about the past.
EARLIER THIS YEAR THE HISTORY CHANNEL had the simple idea of inviting viewers to send in family photos of historic value. Over 7,000 responded and the best results are being shown both on television and in a national exhibition, in over 150 libraries round the country and in a book. In April the BBC broadcast a series on industrial archaeology, Fred Dibnah's Industrial Britain. Nearly three million people watched it; 20,000 rang for more information, over 80,000 received leaflets and 450,000 hit the specially created website. Two trickles from what is rapidly becoming a torrent. There is, now, a colossal interest in history and this is being stimulated, aroused in many cases, by an unprecedented quantity and quality of history programmes on television and radio.
It is impossible to quantify the amount of history programming. When does history become `current affairs'? It is partly a question of semantics. One is reminded of the academic who said modern history was `little more than journalism with foot-notes' anyway. But there is far more of it about than ever before. A few figures will prove the point. The History Channel on cable and satellite was launched only four years ago in Britain, yet its audiences now average 30,000 per hour (bear in mind that the best selling history book Stalingrad by Antony Beevor has sold in hardback about 10,000 copies) and this audience has increased by a third over the last year. Its similarly named parent company in the USA has a phenomenal 56 million subscribers; the fastest growing cable and satellite broadcaster in the land. BBC TV recently opened a specially dedicated area, The History Zone, on Saturday evenings and the audiences average over 2.5 million, twice what they were in the same slot before. Finally, over the millennium, the BBC is broadcasting no less than fifteen new radio or television history series of factual programming, not to speak of drama or natural history or single programmes in this area. Then, of course, there are the new interactive history websites that back up these programmes.
To old hands like me (I have been producing history on radio and television for about thirty years) the variety of this …
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Publication information: Article title: Broadcast History. Contributors: Purcell, Hugh - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 49. Issue: 11 Publication date: November 1999. Page number: 40. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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