My uncle’s television was a source of perplexity: it insisted on showing programmes from Plymouth. Each evening, he would sit down to watch the news and instead of the familiar faces from BBC West in Bristol, there were the presenters from BBC South West in Plymouth. It should have been a straightforward matter of simply adjusting the preferences, but repeated attempts to set BBC West as the default channel were of no avail, it simply reverted to Plymouth. It refused even to show BBC West as a choice among the other channels. “I have solved the problem,” he declared one evening, “I’ve got a new television!” The reappearance of the local news was a by-product of him switching from BT to Sky, but it was reassuring to see the Bristol presenters talking to us about our locality instead of Plymouth presenters talking about faraway places.
While among the millions of holidaymakers journeying from London, the Midlands and the North there may be many who would see the south-west of England as a region that starts at Gloucestershire, or Wiltshire, or Somerset, when you are living in the middle of the Somerset Levels, there is not much common feeling with Plymouth, and even less sense of community with Cornwall.
Perhaps it was our primary school teacher who prompted the inquiry, but I remember learning when I was quite young that our village was one hundred and twenty-five miles from London. A holiday in Saint Ives when I was twelve brought the discovery that the Cornish town was one hundred and thirty-three miles from our village. Distance alone was enough to suggest that we belonged to different communities.
BBC South West primarily covers the counties of Devon and Cornwall with their population of 1.7 million people.
Devon and Somerset may have much in common, on the west Somerset border with the farmland of mid-Devon, it is hard to discern where the county line has been crossed. Small towns and villages, mostly untouched by the tourist industry, are tucked into the rolling landscape.
However, Cornwall is a very different proposition: seventeen of its neighbourhoods rank among the 10% of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. Much of the county is wild and rugged and not easily accessible: the railway to Plymouth, not a single mile of motorway, and roads that become jammed with summer traffic. Cornwall is a fine place for a holiday, not such an easy place to earn a living, and not much from its news that would interest a Somerset farmer.
Sky television obviously have a better understanding of the need for a television to carry the right evening news.