TV Drama festival lets writers go off-script

A scene from the controversial EastEnders cot death storyline

The politics of the coalition era, the EastEnders' cot death plot and a lack of black and Asian screenwriters were under discussion at this year's TV Drama Writers' Festival, when it started yesterday.

EastEnders' writer Jeff Povey, who scripted the story of Ronnie Branning (pictured) swapping her dead baby for Kat Moon's new-born son, admitted that he wasn't expecting the scale of reaction to the plot, which attracted more than 8,400 complaints.

'I didn't mean to be controversial but I wanted to be dramatic,' he said, later adding that 'a lot of people didn't agree with us but a lot of people did'.

The BBC's compliance process was also criticised when writer Tony Marchant related how he had to complete an online questionnaire on making factual-based drama during the production of Garrow's Law. 'If you did what they [the Compliance Unit] wanted you to…it wouldn't be a drama'.

Claire Powell, who has advised on BBC biopic dramas, described compliance as a 'real double-edged sword'. She added that writers were now working 'within an over-regulated industry, but where people are demanding questions, demanding responses from you all the time.'

Practical help

Executives were urged to take more chances on new writers and the black playwright Roy Williams said white writers should 'get over' any nervousness on scripting ethnic minority characters.

Other topics included a potential dramatization on the birth of the NHS and whether the impact of the coalition government meant the commissioning of political dramas was back in vogue.

More than 200 delegates are attending the annual two-day event in Leeds, which was organised by BBC Writersroom and included sessions with Hugo Blick (The Shadow Line) and Jimmy McGovern (Accused, The Street).

Kate Rowland, creative director of new writing, said she hoped the forum would help explore the responsibilities of the tv dramatist and offer practical support for working writers.

'With television drama, you can't ignore the fact that it's an industry but it's also about entertaining, challenging and reflecting the world we live in,' she added.


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