This book chapter, written in collaboration with Paul Long, was published by Ashgate (2010) in Popular Music and Television in Britain, and represents part of an evolving body of research work being undertaken by Tim Wall and Paul Long on the subject of televised Jazz histories, which fits into a broader analysis of the way in which television treats Popular Music’s past. These themes of music history, heritage and archives are strong threads which run through both Tim Wall’s work, and that of BCMCR as a research centre. Tim has previously published papers on the history, mediation and technology of popular music, whilst Interactive Cultures (part of BCMCR) are currently supporting the development of Jez Collins’ Birmingham Music Archive, a project which seeks to preserve, share and celebrate the musical heritage of the city in which BCMCR is located.
Since the broadcast of Jazz Britannia in 2005, BBC-TV has produced several documentary series and one-off programmes about the history of musical genres and related cultural activities in the UK under the ‘Britannia’ label. These programmes include Folk Britannia (2006), Soul Britannia (2007), Dance Britannia (2007), Pop Britannia (2008), Prog Rock Britannia (2009), Synth Britannia (2009), Blues Britannia (2009) and Heavy Metal Britannia (2010). In the same stylistic vein, Classic Britannia (2008) ventured outside popular music forms and Comics Britannia (2007) extended the idea to print culture. In this chapter, we explore the significance of these programmes within the context of the place of music on television. Notable for the manner in which they treat their subject matter, we suggest that as a whole the Britannia series represents a remarkable commitment of resources to music television under the guise of ‘quality TV’. We explore this characteristic for what it tells us about the institutional context of production and the cultural politics of such programming. A key concern is with the approach to music taken in the series, and the way in which the various projects are worked through as historiography. Our examination reveals much that is original and innovative about the series, but also some continuing limitations attendant upon the relationship between popular music and television. This raises some questions about the project of the BBC as a public service broadcaster, and the expectations generated amongst the intended audiences for these series.
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