Raven Row re-opens after a five year hiatus with an exhibition of DIY television from the 1970s. 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, five UK districts, and later Milton Keynes, received cable stations which provided local content alongside national channels. The programmes they produced, with skeleton crews, community activists, volunteers and artists, reveal the possibilities of hyper local television. These experiments, however, were short-lived – almost all the channels lasted just 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 on a mediatheque. A free publication featuring texts by Rosa Campbell, Naseem Khan, Peter Lewis, Giles Oakley and Clive Nwonka, designed by John Morgan Studio, accompanies the exhibition. Two events, convening producers from the Community Programme Unit, and community activists and station managers working on UK cable channels, will take place at the Bishopsgate Institute in March. People Make Television is curated by Lori E. Allen, William Fowler, Matthew Harle and Alex Sainsbury.