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‘People Make Television’

  • Art
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
A man watching a TV that says "TV LIES"
Photograph: BBC
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Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

A micro-history of Britain is unfolding at Raven Row. But this isn’t the history of kings and wars and empires. This is the history of the people, told by the people. 

The endless screens of the newly reopened Raven Row are showing videos by the BBC’s Community Programme Unit, a division of Auntie dedicated to allowing everyday folk to make films about the issues that mattered to them. It closed in 2004, but before that it racked up hundreds of films by hundreds of people, giving the good taxpaying citizens of the UK budgets, editorial freedom and a film crew to tell their stories. It’s like American cable-access TV, but in Scunthorpe. 

It’s all captured on grim, grainy, grey film; it’s brutally nostalgic, intensely transportive. It starts with the CPU’s earliest work in the 1970s. There’s a play about the struggle for employment benefits, a debate about pelican crossings, a documentary about builders from Skelmersdale helping rebuild an earthquake-ravaged Italian town. There are films by the National Unions of the deaf, the Merseyside Chinese community, the Campaign Against Racism in the Media. There are comedy shows, punk zines, musical performances. It’s staggering, incredible, a beautiful window into the communities of 1970s Britain, their struggles, passions, battles, beliefs. These are the people who cared, and you can tell.

Nothing’s changed: these battles are still being fought

Upstairs, the focus shifts to community-access cable shows: everyday people allowed to make televisual entertainment their way. These channels were in Sheffield, Milton Keynes and Swindon, regional centres trying to open up access to creativity. There’s music, drama and more politics. It’s creativity TV, the most popular of modern visual mediums, without the fear of viewer figures, of corporate oversight and pressure. It feels free, gorgeous, real. You could watch hours and hours of it. 

But the most shocking, affecting, stomach-turning aspect of all of this is that every issue being confronted here is still an issue. Structural racism, poverty, gentrification, gender identity, feminism, pollution, workers’ rights. Nothing’s changed: these battles are still being fought, and the system is showing no more signs of crumbling today than it did back then. The past isn't a foreign country, it's just like today, but with flares. 

What helps soften that blow is knowing that these people had the courage and energy to fight, and that there are still people like that now. Just because the BBC isn’t giving them all camera crews doesn’t mean they’ve stopped fighting. 

Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel

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