Is the BBC’s out-of-London focus delivering?

Last Tango in Halifax clapperboard Last Tango in Halifax films in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester

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When the former Simpsons writer Josh Weinstein suggests people could find better creative opportunities in Manchester than Los Angeles, it can only be a sign of the increasing momentum in the media industry in northern England.

The American executive is currently making the second series of Strange Hill High for CBBC in Greater Manchester - the home of much-loved animations Danger Mouse, Count Duckula and Bob the Builder.

Speaking at the Salford Media Festival this week, he told delegates from across the UK: "People here are so open and funny, but while people want to go to work in LA, as a comedy writer and someone who has been in the animation and the creative industry for many years, Manchester is the place to be."

He added that the area was on the "the brink of a creative revolution".

Production outside of London - not just in northern England - was a key theme at the festival, which was previously called the Nations and Regions conference.

Mrs Brown's Boys cast Award-winning Mrs Brown's Boys is co-produced by BBC Scotland

The MediaCityUK hub, where BBC North and ITV Granada are now based, was credited by Nine Lives executive Cat Lewis, who makes current affairs documentaries, with boosting business for local indies.

Last Tango in Halifax executive Nicola Shindler, from Red Productions, also noted that the drama's writer Sally Wainwright, based in West Yorkshire, has "just slowly started to get the confidence to set her work [there]".

They're both now working on a new BBC One drama Happy Valley, due to air next year, that will film in the Calder Valley in the Pennines.

Breakfast guests

BBC Breakfast editor Adam Bullimore said the daily programme had "unearthed new opinions" and a new family of experts since its move to Salford, with business coverage in particular receiving a boost.

Start Quote

It's the experience of people who have never expressed themselves that provide new ideas”

End Quote Stuart Cosgrove Channel 4's director of creative diversity

"I think the world does look a little bit different if you're a journalist sitting here, looking out, than it did when you were in the independent state of London," he quipped.

He added: "I think what's happened in the last 18 months is that we've got a bit more confident and a bit less shy about where we are, a bit less bothered about it."

Audiences haven't fallen and the show still draws famous people on to the sofa, defying some critics who predicted that talent wouldn't come - even broadcaster Richard Madeley recently conceded he had to eat his words after casting doubt on the move.

But Bullimore admitted he was more concerned about getting the right guests for news items.

"What I worry about is getting people in the middle of a news story, getting the right guest for the right story on the air, and that can be a bit frustrating if you end up doing a lot of down-the-lines… but there were a lot of down-the-lines in London, politicians wouldn't come to Television Centre so the idea that everybody sat on the sofa in London is wrong anyway."

Radio 5 live's Breakfast editor Gill Farrington admitted that attracting guests had been a concern, although less so for radio than TV. "It was a worry when we started. I'm not going to pretend we weren't concerned about it but I think it's levelled out and we're doing alright now."

Bullimore added: "You have to remember that it's a long game… we've been here 18 months so it's bound to take a bit of time but I just don't think that we're going to be talking about it in five years' time."

Centres of excellence
Matt Smith and David Tennant Doctor Who films mainly in South Wales

In a keynote speech, Stuart Cosgrove, Channel 4's director of creative diversity, said there had been a development of "mega-regional" media hubs, not just in Salford, but in Glasgow and at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, due to the filming of Game of Thrones.

There's also much pride in Wales at the success of the rebooted Doctor Who, produced in Cardiff, along with other high-end dramas such as Sherlock, Atlantis and Merlin.

Cosgrove added the BBC's Natural History Unit in Bristol "underlined the concept of centres of excellence". But he added that, when it came to comedy, where regional and working-class characters are dominant, "There's an imbalance of power between regional factories feeding a London-based control system."

He also said a decline in local funding threatened regional self-expression, noting that Uttoxeter-born filmmaker Shane Meadows, who made the This Is England series, received initial support from a regional development agency in Nottingham, and could have been easily lost to the media industry without it.

"It's the experience of people who have never expressed themselves that provide new ideas and content."

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