Raven Row in London dedicates an exhibition to DIY television. Remarkably, much of this emerged from a fringe department of the BBC – the Community Programme Unit (CPU). Set up in 1972, the CPU provided a camera crew and studio, and handed over complete editorial control, to groups and individuals with ‘voices, attitudes and opinions’ hitherto ‘unheard or seriously neglected’, so they could make their own programmes.
Several hundred campaigning and community groups, and individuals, representing amongst myriad others anarchists, farm workers, Black teachers, women priests, office cleaners, radical housing associations, trans women, ex-cons, situationists, film co-ops, neurodiverse people, freethinkers and channelers of the extra-terrestrial, produced autonomous material that was broadcast on BBC2 between 1973 and 1983 in a series called Open Door. This exhibition features over 100 Open Door programmes (from a total of 243), almost none of which have been seen since their original broadcast. This raw, often formally inventive television comprises a vivid archive of social history, and direct testimony of the concerns and struggles of a tumultuous decade.
Simultaneously to the beginning of what became known as public access television on the BBC, the UK government granted licences enabling commercial cable companies to add a channel of local content alongside the national and regional channels they offered to subscribers. The programmes they produced, with skeleton crews, volunteers, community activists and artists, reveal the possibilities of hyper-local television. These groundbreaking communication experiments, however, were short-lived. Five of the six licenced channels lasted no more than a few years. While much of their output has been lost, this exhibition reveals rare footage from Bristol, Sheffield, Swindon and Milton Keynes.
At Raven Row, visitors can browse the vast array of material in an installation designed by Jones Neville, select programmes from sofas and armchairs, and explore the archive in a mediatheque.
(from the press release)
People Make Television, curated by Lori E. Allen, William Fowler, Matthew Harle and Alex Sainsbury, Raven Row, London, until March 26, 2023