Higher Education and Public Engagement: Open University and BBC Drama Co-productions on BBC2 in the 1970s

Wrigley, Amanda (2017). Higher Education and Public Engagement: Open University and BBC Drama Co-productions on BBC2 in the 1970s. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 14(3) pp. 377–393.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3366/jbctv.2017.0379


This article explores the relationship between television and higher education in the 1970s, focusing on the co-production by the BBC and the Open University (OU) of sixteen theatre plays for transmission mainly on BBC2 as part of the OU's A307 Drama course for adult distance-learners which ran annually from 1977. It considers how, on the one hand, A307 gave its students access to performances of the plays being studied, a distinctive and significant activity in terms of the evolution of a pedagogy for drama which managed in an innovatory fashion the rather paradoxical use of the television medium to develop a critical understanding of live theatre. And, on the other, it considers how these productions were designed to reach a wider public audience, thus satisfying the OU's mission to serve the general public as well as its registered students. On occasion, however, course content proved too challenging for the BBC, leading to arguments and, on one rare occasion, censorship. Drawing on extant archival materials, interviews with academics and producers, and critical responses in the press, this article examines the opportunities and tensions which arose from delivering academic course content through a public service broadcasting medium. It therefore contributes to understanding of contemporary perceptions of the roles and responsibilities of television – and BBC2 in particular – with regard to higher education and broader public engagement in the 1970s, the first decade of the OU's existence.

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