Monday, January 09, 2012

David Dimbleby and the demise of Nationwide

As I am not a great admirer of David Dimbleby - his career surely owes more to family connections and bladder control than talent - I was intrigued to come across this account of the demise of the popular BBC1 programme Nationwide under the editorship of Roger Bolton.

It was written by Ian Jones in 2002 and a revised version now appears on Off the Telly:
The climax of this, however, and the twist which in hindsight sealed Nationwide’s fate, was the enlistment of David Dimbleby as a new host in January 1982. This was solely Bolton’s doing. Dimbleby had been wooed by former Nationwide producers before, but turned them down; now he made the move, impressed with the expressed intention of Bolton to jettison the frippery and promote hard-nosed investigative journalism. 
“I think it displays rather a narrow vision for a programme like Nationwide not to cover events in, say, Israel or Poland,” Dimbleby sniffed. Regardless of the merits of this perception, what was arguably of far greater importance was whether Nationwide itself, with its very particular character, history and legacy, was and ever could have been the vehicle for such a stern-lipped agenda. 
Viewers certainly didn’t think so. “Nationwide is the only programme that covers matters of interest about Britain which do not necessarily warrant coverage by the national news or even national press. Hands off Nationwide, Mr Dimbleby,” an angry correspondent wrote to Radio Times. “Face the facts,” declared another, “it is all a dreadful mistake. Return the chubby chap to ‘Miserama’ and give us back Frank and Sue and the rest with their everyday stories of real people.” 
There was indeed a perversity in filling up a programme structured to “present the facts, the people, and the background of the country we live in” with a stream of foreign news stories. Dimbleby himself displayed a singular lack of charm and viewer rapport that was a trademark of the programme. He was even billed, controversially, above Frank Bough in Radio Times. 
If that wasn’t enough, his arrival was marked by yet another makeover with a further “new” theme – an acutely irritating synthesiser-heavy concoction with little trace of a tune – plus a title sequence that bizarrely harked back to that first ever “here’s-your-region” effort of 1969. Ratings slipped still further; and though Dimbleby’s “temporary” departure in April ‘82 became a permanent one, the damage was done. Management decreed the programme unsalvageable.
Later. And, thanks to TV Ark, you can hear the theme and even see a little of Dimbleby in Nationwide action. Scroll down to Nationwide 1982.

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Pete said...

As an aside, poor reporting by the Nationwide tv program, when Millom co-op had difficulty paying out withdrawals following the closure of the local steelworks, led to a run on Co-ops all over the UK. The Co-operative Building Society (CPBS) was also affected and the then chairman Len Williams asked for a correction/explanation to be broadcast. That was refused, and a couple of years later, Williams changed the name of the society - to Nationwide.

(Not a lot of people know that,)


Anonymous said...

As David Dimbleby did for nationwide, so his brother Jonathan will do for Question Time

"Dimbleby himself displayed a singular lack of charm " Sorry I was interrupted

Paul Walter said...

Recently Dimbleby didn't realise that Eric Pickles had any departmental responsibility for local government. That says it all. I understand DD spends a lot of time with cattle.