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Sussex researchers help create public archive of BBC election coverage

MPs on film: How the BBC covered the 1966 General Election

A new public archive site that contains footage of every General Election since the BBC first introduced televised coverage of elections in 1950 is the culmination of a joint project between the University of Sussex and the BBC.

The archive features never-seen-or-heard-before video and audio clips with key BBC figures and senior politicians, such as former prime minister Harold Wilson and Labour MP Tony Benn.

As well as video and audio, the site includes downloadable written archive documents, some of which have been made available for the first time, and pages on the development of the political interview, the broadcasting of Parliament, and the history of party political broadcasts.

New interviews with key figures in the history of election broadcasting (such as Sir David Butler) have also been added to the site.

This election archive is the first site to be unveiled as part of the '100 Voices That Made The BBC project' - an oral history of the BBC produced in collaboration by the BBC and the University of Sussex. The project will be completed in 2022, the year of the Corporation’s centenary, and further content will be added on other subjects over the next seven years.

Content on the site is written by two Sussex academics: Professor David Hendy, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange in the School of Media, Film & Music; and Dr Alban Webb, Lecturer in Digital Humanities.

Professor Hendy said: “In this particular set of interviews and archives on 70 years of election broadcasting, we're hoping that we can reveal a clearer picture of how the style of politics on TV has evolved.

"The interviews show some of the 'hidden wiring' behind the machinery of broadcasting - the personal motivations, the chance encounters, the networks and connections, the arguments and disagreements that have sometimes been crucial to the development of TV and radio.

“Oral history is rather beautiful at reminding us that the media are not always about policies and structures and formats: they also involve the action of pioneering individuals; they offer a human face and human voice to what might otherwise be a rather impersonal account."

Speaking about the '100 Voices That Made The BBC', he added: "This is a huge - and hugely exciting - project. Many of the figures are famous, for example former Directors-General, politicians, leading programme-makers and presenters, but others are more obscure - known by BBC insiders perhaps, but not by the rest of us.

"Our task at the University of Sussex has been to spot the connecting threads between the different interviewees, to unpack the background to their accounts, to draw on other material in the written or programme archives as well as scholarly work on broadcasting history, in order to put all these interviews into a much broader historical context.

“The great thing about doing the history of the BBC is that, by default you find yourself doing the history of British life. You can listen to an interview - or open a file of memos - and be confronted with a description of a meeting with the prime minister at one moment and a discussion of the appeal of a TV comedian the next. In all senses, though, its history is our history.”

Robert Seatter, Head of History at the BBC, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with the University of Sussex on this unique oral history collection, which reveals the fascinating story of how the BBC created election broadcasting and opened up the wider UK democratic process to audiences. It’s an illuminating and invaluable resource.”

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 9 April 2015