Xenophobic, indolent and starstruck...the BBC identifies the television tribes of Britain identifies the TV tribes of Britain

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The Independent Online
A secret BBC report has identified 10 million Britons as xenophobes with no interest in foreign culture who can only be tempted to watch programmes about the rest of the world if they are hosted by stars like Gaby Roslin or Pauline Quirke of Birds of a Feather fame.

The leaked report, Reflecting the World, recommends using popular stars as a way of getting to large numbers of viewers who turn off if they see programmes set overseas. It calls on the BBC to find new stars to replace "the two Clives and Palin" - Clive Anderson, Clive James and Michael Palin whose travel programmes have been hits. Younger viewers in particular are attracted by presenters rather than a show's content

The report also recommends combining leisure-related genres like cookery, gardening and fashion with overseas locations to get viewers to tune in. It picks out Channel 4's A Taste of the Caribbean as an example of this combination. The report describes this in typical BBC jargon as a "value plus" - in other words mixing information with entertainment. It also suggests bringing back Whicker's World because people will watch shows about eccentric characters and extreme situations.

The BBC found the xenophobic audience when it used "cluster analysis" techniques common in the world of advertising to create images of six audience types. The biggest group to turn off when the rest of the world appears on their screen is what the BBC calls "Club 18 to 35ers" - 6.8 million relatively young people who when they travel don't trust the locals and don't want to learn about their culture. Mostly male, this group watches a lot of satellite television and ITV early evening programmes such as You've Been Framed.

The other big group of xenophobes is called the "Stay at Homes" - 3.5 million older working-class people who are often retired and who holiday at Butlin's. They prefer soaps and snooker to foreign-based shows but might tune in if the right stars were presenting.

The report was commissioned because of concern at the BBC that the number of programmes about the rest of the world has fallen by half during the Nineties across all television channels.

It has been welcomed by a lobbying group that works with overseas aid charities to change the media's portrayal of the developing world. "There are only half as many documentaries being shown in prime time now that are about the rest of the world compared with the beginning of the decade," said Paddy Coulter, director of the International Broadcasting Trust (IBT). "The pressure to get ratings is causing a slide to a more parochial agenda because broadcasters are scared of losing any viewers at all."

"What's been left over is the international coverage of news and current affairs which by its nature lives on a diet of wars and disasters," Mr Coulter added. "We welcome the report because we have told broadcasters that there needs to be more imaginative ways of doing these programmes - but we are concerned that the report seems to have been buried."

Mr Coulter said that research by the IBT showed that programmes like Madhur Jaffrey's Taste of India could attract ratings while presenting more positive views of the world. "Unfortunately it still seems to be rare that they will put an ethnic minority presenter in front of a programme about abroad," said Mr Coulter.

The report was commissioned by the BBC's Director-General, John Birt, as part of a review of the way the corporation makes "difficult" types of shows. Another report on programmes about social issues has also been completed.

Reflecting the World says that while the amount of contact that Britons have with the rest of the world has gone up enormously because of travel, business and family connections, attitudes have been slow to catch up.

The BBC said yesterday that the report was part of an ongoing effort designed to keep producers informed of viewers' interests and needs.

This is the most xenophobic group and accounts for 8 per cent of the population (3.5 million people). They don't travel, they don't want to travel and if they did travel they wouldn't trust the foreigners when they got there. So they don't watch programmes about the rest of the world. Instead this group likes Barrymore and Peak Practice.

Stay at Homes:

Keen Travellers:

More than one-fifth of the population - about 9.5 million people - who are interested in the rest of the world and like to find out about the country they visit. They tend to be young adults, or families with young children who are working full-time. Favourite destination would be a tour of Australia or, if they have kids, a fly/drive holiday in the US.

Discerning and Serious:

These are the people who already seek out programmes about the rest of the world - but, according to the report, they are doing it on Channel 4. There are 8.7 million of them, who are upmarket and well-educated. They are likely to speak a foreign language and be interested in the politics of other countries.

Saga Travellers:

This elderly group makes up 15 per cent of the population (6.6 million) but is growing in numbers. Because of their age they don't travel very much themselves, but they are interested in cultural programmes set overseas - but they are not very interested in foreign people. They are mainly retired or divorced women who read the Daily Telegraph.

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