Before that of course, the partnership realised Harold Wilson’s truly innovative vision of a “University of the Air”. As technologies developed and evolved, so did the partnership. From 2002, it shifted its focus from providing late night lectures on television to co-produce content – across tv, radio and subsequently digital – merging the world class editorial and production skills of the BBC with the OU’s academic expertise.
The BBC partnership is part of the OU’s DNA, supporting our social mission by reaching and engaging millions of people with a varied and diverse range of subjects. It’s also a force for change, by highlighting some of the enormous societal challenges we face as individuals, communities and nations.
The programmes also reflect our histories, which have been seen through various prisms over the years, from series such as ‘Civilisations’, ‘The History of Scotland’ and ‘Patrick Kielty: One Hundred Years of Union’. They’ve considered how our identities are crafted through culture, arts and music in programmes about Shakespeare, the ‘Secrets of the Museum’ and the soon to be aired ‘The Story of Welsh Music’.
There is also a fundamental need to understand more about the societal and global challenges we face. For many years, the co-produced programmes have explored how climate change is affecting our natural world. ‘Blue Planet II’ highlighted the huge impact of plastics, and more recently ‘The Green Planet’, launched at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, highlighted a number of environmental challenges.
Through its programmes, the OU and BBC aims to cover all stages of our lives, from the cradle to grave. Life is about how human beings respond to challenges and the skills we utilise to create a better future. Finding out more and taking an interest beyond a programme is just as important.
Reaching audiences and users is fundamental to the partnership, as is public engagement. The OU’s new broadcast website, Connect OU (connect.open.ac.uk) was launched to do exactly that. Animations, short videos, interactives, articles and high-profile interviews enable people to explore a subject or an issue in more detail.
Connect OU also highlights the expertise, skills and passion of those behind the scenes of our co-productions. This includes OU academics as series consultants, or for example, scientific investigators from ‘The Real CSI’, to those in the early part of their careers that featured in our ‘Green Careers’ series – a collaboration with BBC Education.
Through television, radio, podcasts, BBC Ideas and social media, the OU/BBC partnership will continue to inform and inspire.
Academics from the OU in Scotland have advised on two current BBC Scotland productions, ‘Long Live My Happy Head’, the heart-warming story of Scottish comic artist, Gordon Shaw, who has been living with an incurable brain tumour; and the popular series from last year, ‘Gold Town’, which follows a mining company as it attempts to establish Scotland’s first gold mine. Both are available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.
For more information, please visit:connect.open.ac.uk
Dr Caroline Ogilvie is the Head of Broadcast & Partnerships at The Open University.