Bowker hails power of mainstream drama

Being Human Bowker cites Being Human as 'one of the finest pieces of sci-fi or horror ever'

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Top dramatist Peter Bowker has made an impassioned defence of mainstream British drama.

Speaking at the BBC's third TV Drama Writers' Festival, Bowker, whose credits include Eric and Ernie, Monroe, Blackpool and Occupation, used a keynote speech entitled Ambition to discuss the power of mainstream drama and comedy shows to raise important issues and provoke debate.

After introducing a showreel of clips from Rising Damp and Minder to At Home with the Braithwaites, Soldier Soldier, Lost in Austen and Clocking Off, Bowker praised the often overlooked tradition of these series dealing with race, class, social mobility, gender politics, family dynamics and celebrating ordinary people 'rebelling against the dominant values of the day'.

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There is a neglected mainstream tradition where the ambition is all the greater for being subtly deployed”

End Quote Peter Bowker Writer

'There is a common attitude that writing genre or mainstream drama is automatically evidence of a lack of ambition,' he said.

'But their popularity and humour has served to mask the ambition that sits at the heart of them. There is a neglected mainstream tradition where the ambition is all the greater for being subtly deployed.

Small budgets

'I want to celebrate and bear witness to genuine ambition in a strand of British drama that I think is every bit as significant and valuable as the social realism tradition that began with Cathy Come Home, continued through Boys from the Blackstuff, Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday, and thrives today in the work of Tony Marchant and Neil McKay, to name but two.'

With budgets and shooting schedules increasingly tight for many drama projects, Bowker cited Being Human as an example of an ambitious British drama project made on a budget that is a fraction of those available to its US counterparts, calling it 'one of the finest pieces of sci-fi or horror ever seen'.

Toby Whithouse, the creator of BBC Three's breakout hit, also spoke at the festival, and agreed that low budgets are no excuse for small thinking.

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It's somehow un-British to have a big budget; it'd be a bit vulgar”

End Quote Toby Whithouse Being Human creator

'It's somehow un-British to have a big budget; it'd be a bit vulgar,' he joked, adding: 'Working on low-budget shows forces you to be inventive.'

'Two days of discovery'

The two-day event is headed by Kate Rowland, BBC creative director, new writing and head of the BBC Writersroom, which acts as a resource for writers and champions talent and diversity throughout the corporation. Run by and for writers, it enables writers, producers and commissioners to debate the future of television drama.

Other speakers included the BBC's heads of drama from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - Faith Penhale, Chris Aird and Stephen Wright, Rev co-creator James Wood, White Heat writer Paula Milne, Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars, Cast Histories), and the BBC's controller of drama production and new talent, John Yorke, who gave a masterclass in dramatic structure, or 'Storytelling Physics'.

Bowker said: 'The Writers' Festival is two days of discovery, support and inspiration for newer writers and old hacks like myself. Writing is a pretty solitary occupation, so it is important that we emerge blinking into the light every now and then and share some old-fashioned solidarity…'

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