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Strategic Realignments at the BBC Empire / External / World Service

Although London has remained the centre of what we have learnt to call, since 1988, the BBC World Service, the conceptual geography of overseas broadcasting has undergone deep changes over its nearly eighty year history. Reflecting this significantly altered state of relations between programme-makers and audiences and the nuanced political, cultural and diplomatic shifts they denote have been the changes in name given to these services – Empire, External, World, and more recently, the ubiquity of Global News.

Research aims

  1. To investigate the historic role of the BBC World Service as a geopolitical contact zone and examine these points of transition and their wider significance
  2. To contextualise the changing broadcast functions of the BBC World Service in these periods in terms of both its diasporic workforce and audiences

 Research questions

  1. In what ways have changes in the names of BBC overseas services either reflected or anticipated actual change in the nature of its output and engagement with audiences?
  2. Should the history of the BBC World Service be considered as a series of epochal periods, or as a continuous narrative?
  3. What are the consequences of looking at the history of the BBC World Service through these different conceptual optics?

Project contact: 

Dr Alban Webb, The Open University,

    Project members: 

  • Dr Alban Webb is a Research Fellow in Sociology at the Open University, working as part of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). His previous research as a historian has focused on Cold War Britain, examining the UK's nuclear deterrence strategy, intelligence services and civil defence planning. His book on the BBC World Service, London Calling: BBC External Services and the Cold War, will be published in 2011. His latest research, on the roles of public and cultural diplomacy in the context of international relations (most recently as part of the AHRC-funded Tuning In: Diasporic Contact Zones at the BBC World Service project) forms the basis of his ongoing examination of the changing Cultures of Diplomacy at work in British overseas communication strategies.