Paying for Fewer Imports
The BBC License Fee 1975–1981
and Attitudes toward American Imports

By Elke Weissmann (Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK)

This article investigates the impact of the BBC license fee negotiations between 1975
and 1981 on the relationship between the broadcaster and American programming. It
highlights the increasing dependence of the BBC on imported programming and on the
export of content to America due to a series of below-inflation increases that left the
BBC financially weakened. The article’s main concern, however, is with the manage-
ment of attitudes toward American television that were exploited by key executive
personnel in the United Kingdom for political ends: the campaign for a higher license
fee. The author argues that the successive campaigns during the late 1970s exploited
fears of Americanization to emphasize the lowering of quality in the output on the
BBC, which connected to debates around public service ideals and hence, to the
legitimization of the license fee. The campaigns ultimately also affected public atti-
tudes, which increasingly registered American programming in relation to the lowering
of standards on the BBC. (download)