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Following The Box

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:24 UK time, Monday, 8 September 2008

Today we're starting a major editorial project which I am very excited about, and I hope many of you will be too. A few months ago, we in the Business and Economics Unit were set the challenge to come up with a way of telling the real story of what's happening in the global economy in a tangible, challenging and ambitious way that worked for television, online and radio.

BBC's The BoxWhat we came up with was the idea of following a shipping container around the world for a year, as it criss-crosses the globe with its various cargoes and telling the stories behind those goods, those who make them and those who consume them. So, we've painted and branded a BBC container and bolted on a GPS transmitter so its progress can be followed here on the webpage all year round.

We're calling the project The Box from a fantastic book of the same name by Marc Levinson which tells the story of how the humble shipping container changed the face of world trade. Lots of people have worked hard to make this idea happen and I'm very grateful to the CSIS who represent the container shipping industry and have helped hugely with the logistics and planning along with shipping company NYK.

The container starts its journey in Southampton today and you'll be able to see it on Breakfast and the News Channel with Declan Curry. The journey this container follows over the next few months will be a real one, and whilst we will control some aspects of the process for logistical reasons, the story it tells will be a truly representative one, painting a picture of what globalisation really means.

And, if anyone is wondering, that means it won't be costing the BBC much over and above the coverage costs for the editorial content. Whilst we have paid a little for the branding of the box and some technical costs, the fact this is a working container means it will be earning its own keep! I am keeping my fingers crossed the Box doesn't fall overboard (it happens!) and would love to hear your thoughts as it progresses on its journey around the globe.


  • Comment number 1.

    What an excellent idea. I’ve recently moved from the Norwich, UK to Perth, Western Australia and my family’s effects preceded us half way around the world in a container, much like the one used by the BBC, that left via Felixstowe. It is certainly interesting to have a container brought to our doorstep, and fortunately loaded by experts, then swept up into the network of trade that knits our world together. On the day of its departure I, with my brother, happened to be walking down the Suffolk Coast just north of the port. Standing off shore were vast container ships manoeuvring in and out of the port. I was struck that our little container was somewhere amongst the hundreds on board the ships.

    En-route to Perth we stopped off in Singapore. If ever there were a home of the container that is the place. When the traveller flies into Singapore’s airport their plane passes over fleets of container ships at anchor waiting to enter the harbour; to be loaded and unloaded with express efficiency.

    At the end of our journey, and a wait for our stuff to clear customs we had the joy of watching as our container was unloaded in front of our new home. Once here I discovered that we have nearby a front row seat for the process in operation. Perth’s port, Fremantle, offers one the opportunity to sit in the sheds of the old port sipping cappuccino while on the opposite shore of the Swan River the container port unloads the container ships in close proximity to the observer. Containers really are the building blocks of our civilization.

    I’ll be following this story with interest.

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree the idea is a good one, but I feel the branding of the container and the admission of editorial interference in the process will limit the value of the experiment.

    Why not use a standard container? The tracker will work just as well. You are tempting the shipping companies to manipulate the use of the container to get BBC coverage.

  • Comment number 3.

    Intiguing - particularly if you know whats really inside it.

    Example: If it goes from England to India there's a big difference between it being full of manufactured goods or being full of 'recycled' rubbish to be dumped in India.

    Is someone going to check whats in it or are you relying on self declaration by the shipper?

  • Comment number 4.

    An excellent idea, although I'm not sure what Declan will make of being stuck in 'The Box' for a year - although I'm looking forward to his typically acerbic and laconic comments...

    Seriously though - a good idea which I've only just cottoned on to. Although Brookside used one as a plot device some years ago...

    Wasn't there also a brief film some years ago about how old containers were being used as temporary homes/shelters in disaster areas ?

  • Comment number 5.

    Very intresting idea. What aspects of the projects will the BBC be controling? We need to know so we can judge how close to the truth the project is.

  • Comment number 6.

    #5 "We need to know so we can judge how close to the truth the project is."

    Do we? Why?

    Its not like all containers carry the same stuff to all locations. Surely the idea of this is just to give an idea how important shipping is for the world economy. Even by the paranoia of some of these blogs suggesting the BBC would fabricate this for some dark unspecified reason is disturbing.

  • Comment number 7.


    I agree that branding reduces the efficacy of the idea (which is very interesting) and that, perhaps, the BBC should have picked a number of containers to compare and contrast activity.

    I'd also like to see a similar experiment with migrant EU workers to compare and contrast their successes and failures as they move between and within EU countries.

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree about the logo. It's a real red flag to any less than 100% honest persons not to do anythign even slightly incriminating with it. In fact you might also fins shippers less willing to use it at all.

  • Comment number 9.

    Excellent idea........
    BBC will now be known to people as one of those radio stations which are reaching to
    each and every country if not by signals, then by its logo.

  • Comment number 10.

    Fascinating study. I'm intrigued to see that the container has travelled north, and is now sitting in a cul-de-sac just outside Birmingham!

  • Comment number 11.

    Are there any plans to show when the box tracking webpage was last updated. How frequently will the tracking website be updated. (realtime would be very nice) looking forward to following this item. Classic.. you should have done a tv series about it and the people/characters that come into contact with the BOX (i.e around the world in 80 days with Michael Palin type)

  • Comment number 12.

    looks like its on a Train going into Crewe at present 14:52

  • Comment number 13.

    Passed me northbound on a train at Lichfield Trent Valley at 1245 today. The BBC colours certainly make it stand out...

  • Comment number 14.

    It would be nice if the web page had its own rss feed so the journey could be followed in an rss reader.

  • Comment number 15.

    It would be very useful if you could draw a red line on the map to show exactly where the container has been. At the moment it is only possible to see where it is, not how it got there. I know you are going to pinpoint key location as it progresses, but it would be interesting to see how it gets to those key locations.

    Also can you provide the GPS coordinates so we can pop those into other online maps like Google Maps or MultiMaps so we can see a satellite view of the containers location?

    I think the implementation of these options would make following this project even more interesting.

    Many thanks

  • Comment number 16.

    I also second Animanima's comment about RSS. This would make it much more convenient to follow.

  • Comment number 17.

    It is a good idea, one my children were also interested in. But already they're fast losing said interest. According to your map, the box is on a railway line about ten miles outside Glasgow and has been for about 24 hours now. I understand we cant follow in real time but im sure you can do better than this.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why not provide some images and video that can be used by 'us' to write about the project? The map is good, but there could be more.

  • Comment number 19.

    Excellent. We know that The Box is going to be full of whisky, and will be travelling between Paisley and Southampton. Thanks for the tip-off, me and the boys will be on the look-out for a big red box with BBC News on the side.

    You haven't seen me, right?

  • Comment number 20.

    Re: post 17. The Box was in the goods yard at Coatbridge overnght, being unloaded from the train to a lorry so that it could be delivered by road to the bottling plant.

    Cranes have to lift the container from the rail vehicles to a storage area, then later (sometimes days later) onto trucks for onward shipping.

  • Comment number 21.

    Could you do a daily fact sheet on information on what lorry, train transport was used from the start? How long it stay in the yard or holding bay and why? Can you use a Webcam on the side of the container? Just some ideas to make it more interesting for younger views

  • Comment number 22.

    Can someone explain why it was necessary for the container to travel empty to Scotland? I'm asuming it was empty?
    Dont they have empty 40 footers already in Scotland?
    And what does RSS mean?

  • Comment number 23.

    Will the stupid fool at the BBC who decided this was a wise idea please makes themselves known. You have told the criminal network in the UK where a really valuable load of whisky is situated in the UK to within 50ft and hijackers can follow it on their mobile phone.

  • Comment number 24.

    I teach 11 year olds in Scotland and we are studying China. This box is great for the kids to track from their country to a distant nation. What a great idea and it came at just the right time for us. Thanks BBC!

  • Comment number 25.

    Agree with the brighter post pointing out the dangers of advertising whisky. cigarettes. or bullion on the outside of a container.
    We can expect a shotgun raid at the very least in the near future.
    But not only that, in some parts of the world the containers have often been sold as a valuable detached property, the ones openly seen in India and other places are often the property of western companies, and many of them are mortgaged to the Chase Manhatton Bank.

  • Comment number 26.

    Touching a very interesting subject here, but is anyone interested in a proposal submitted by the very underestimated John Prescott several years ago.

    A very small part of the idea only. was to use the time tested methods of the old railway companies to keep track of the where abouts of all empty vehicles; and ship them to a holding centre, for diversion to consignees with goods needing transportation.

    Today a glance on the congested motorways and side roads, merely confirms that there is no system or sense in present methods; where we see empty vehicles and containers dashing from one end of the country to the other, without thought for fuel efficiency, the environment or indeed anything else.

    Perhaps Mr Prescott became discouraged by the crude antics of the predatory press and some of the politicions of lesser ability.

  • Comment number 27.

    Noting the delay in monitoring a post, I would respectfully mention the authentic nature of my material, it is backed by a newspaper report in my possession.

    I was security consultant to B.R. at the time, I was involved in the enquiry, and the arresting officer was a valued ex colleague.

  • Comment number 28.

    "A Day In The Life Of A Penny".

    Favourite Primary School writing topic - now revived by the BBC. I bet people will be sitting on the edge of their seats for the next thrilling instalment...

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    Well, I'm thrilled by this editorial project. I am learning so much already. First, I've learned some really basic things such as what the 400 mile truck route from Southampton to Glasgow would look like (using Google Earth to chart the course). I've learned a great deal just from sleuthing in anticipating the ship route back to Southampton. I've researched the Isle of Man, found out the Titanic was dry-docked in Belfast, learned about AIS (vessel tracking system) and a whole lot more. In fact, as one is prone to do these days, I set up a blog ( to overlay "my virtual adventure" with that of the adventure of "The Box". I am learning a great deal (even as BBC sorts out some start-up GPS glitches) about inter modal transportation, shipping history and I expect to learn a great deal about global commerce and our shrinking planet as time passes. Thank you for this wonderful project!

  • Comment number 31.

    Well done for that site ( now you will have my 100% watching this container were ever it goes. Can anyone tell me if you can add to it’s blog?

  • Comment number 32.

    If you have read 'The Box' you should appreciate that the series 1 containers - favoured by the US army - are far from being the optimum dimensions for general freight - (CEN) Intermodal and interoperable workshop - 1999-12-13/14 page 40.

    A quick look at the trucks on the roads shows that modern transport has moved on to a more efficient, more appropriate pallet wide package but which is still not yet an optimum length due again to inappropriate legislation.

    A future series of loading unit, economic on the roads and readily transferable between modes (rail and sea), would avoid the subsidy implicit in running two systems and eliminate the waste. Then the possibility of a quick and reliable transfer would improve the attractiveness of building more efficient combined transport chains - a vision that we could all support.

    In an era of fuel scarcity and climate change we need to be allowed to think outside the Box and demonstrate our ideas.


    BladeRunner 2020 - "the next transport revolution"

  • Comment number 33.

    All of our eyes is on "The box". But i am wondering how huch would be the technical cost. regarding cost of transportation go to


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