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15 May 2012

An Ode to Salford

I never thought it would happen.

My honest impression when I first saw the architect's drawings for the BBC's new home in Salford in (about) 2005 was that the project would go the same way as the Leeds supertram and the Bradford 'Louvre' pyramid. For the record, we ended up with some tarted-up bus stops and a fountain respectively. Major investment is too good for the North.

My hard hat tour in 2010, of what was by then being marketed as MediaCityUK, (gotta be cool - no punctuation) at the Radio Academy festival still failed to banish the cynicism. It was a building site, for goodness' sake, and it's hard to get excited about concrete dust and fluorescent jackets.

Today I went back. It's happened, and I'm still gobsmacked by what I saw.

 A world class broadcast centre just off the M62. Facilities that inspire excellence and creativity because, quite simply, they're the best. A media hub for the digital age.

There's no comparison with the old BBC buildings vacated in Manchester's Oxford Road, or with the dingy and strictly functional Leeds office block that houses BBC Yorkshire.

Creative people will turn out great work in the most awful surroundings. I know of a basement in Bradford that smells of drains, but which has been the home of fantastic ideas and dedication for nearly four decades.

But great buildings inspire; just ask some of the metropolitan elite who completed their education in one of the Oxford or Cambridge colleges. And now the North of England has a world class facility to be proud of. A complex which, in time, could become as iconic as that great ocean liner of a building in Portland Place. BH was a broadcast centre for its time. Salford is a broadcast centre for the 21st century.

I have no patience for the whingers and whiners from London who bitch and bicker continually about the small stuff. I don't care where this presenter or that manager chooses to base their family home. There will inevitably be a period of transition in which known voices and faces and experienced managers have to be bussed in - because for almost a century the BBC has been, in effect, a London broadcasting outfit.

In time, new voices and faces will be attracted to the opportunities in the North. Talent from the North, sharing their passion with the whole of the UK. We won't need to bus talent in, kicking and screaming, as soon as Northern candidates (or those happy to make their home in the North) assume the roles initially relocated.

The most memorable statistic from the presentation which launched 'Project North' as the move to Salford was originally known was this.

In 2005 (or thereabouts) 74 percent of the BBC's staff had a home family address in London or the South East. For a supposed national broadcaster, that was beyond appalling. It was truly shameful.

The usual suspects from the metropolitan media regard every move of any programme out of the capital as a loss. Automatic 'dumbing down'. That they have superlative broadcasting in London isn't enough. They want all the excellence in their city.

Like the spoilt child in the kindergarten, they want all the toys for themselves.

No-one, least of all me, is suggesting that all BBC programming should be moved away from London. The new combined newsroom at the refurbished Broadcasting House is the natural home for Today, for the News Channel, for the Six and Ten main TV bulletins. But why should Five Live and BBC Breakfast also follow a similar agenda from adjacent studios?

The Northern voice isn't better or worse. It's different, and begins to reflect the diversity of outlook in the UK (or more specifically, of England which lacks the 'Nation' status of BBC Scotland or BBC Wales/Cymru).

I'd hope, in time, the idea of labelling content 'from Salford' will seem as anachronistic as the 70s TV slides which boasted 'BBC One - IN COLOUR'. It should become unnecessary as audiences become accustomed to programmes reflecting the voices of England in all their rich variety.

So Salford is important. It's the future.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed! A flat vowel will enrich and refresh. But I'm a Lancashire Lass, so I can only advocate decentralisation.

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