Children deliver some lessons in life

Eton boys My Life gained rare access to Eton College, where it followed three new scholarship boys

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Bafta-winning CBBC documentary My Life follows young people in extraordinary, sometimes adverse, circumstances. This year's seven-part series includes a British girl living on a floating hospital in Africa and teenagers aiming for the 2016 Paralympics.

Executive producer Kez Margrie explains how they cover sometimes difficult subjects, while dealing with a range of independent producers.

'The 30-minute films are each made by a different independent production company and all are very different. But the one thing that binds them is the amazing children telling their stories for other children.'

So, how does it work?

'As a CBBC executive producer, I'm responsible for commissioning the initial idea with channel controller Cheryl Taylor.

Start Quote

It's so brilliant to see that children are still as amazing as they ever were”

End Quote Kez Margrie CBBC executive producer

'I then work very closely with each of the independent production company teams to ensure we all agree what the story is as it unfolds, and where it will end up.

'The most powerful stories are those that can be filmed across a longer period of time, so that the child and producer/director get to know each other well. The latter self-shoots as it not only saves money, but also allows for a more intimate insight and flexibility on filming days.

'For a half-hour film, there are at least 10 days' filming, and often many more.

'The Bafta-winning Me, My Dad & His Kidney [made by Nine Lives Media] followed Raphael before, during and after his kidney transplant, and then months later.

'In this new series, The Most Famous School in the World [Blakeway North] has followed three scholarship boys across their first term at Eton for two films.

Parachuting in

'Of course, it often means there is always more footage than we have time to show in a 28-minute film. But it also means we are able to show genuine journeys that unfold in real time, as opposed to the more formatted shows we do, where we bring children into our own constructed TV world.

Sitting volleyball player Julie with her prosthetic limb covered in a fashionable animal print Sitting volleyball player Julie features in the first episode about teenagers aiming for the 2016 Paralympics

'On the My Life films, we parachute into children's own lives, and build very strong relationships with them as we ask them to open up and share their stories with other children across the UK.

'However, they have to know that they can trust us to tell their story in the way they want it to be told and we never ever compromise their safety or dignity.'

So why do we commission these often quite hard-hitting documentaries when it seems that children want their favourite dramas, bite-size comedy and, of course, all those 'did you see that?!' YouTube moments?

'Well, if we get it right - and I like to think that in the most part we do - some powerful TV is made that allows the audience to feel genuine compassion, or learn something about a life they have never known.

'In the last series, the film Breaking Free, about children with Down's Syndrome, was the most-watched CBBC programme in the week it first transmitted.'

Hankies at the ready

But working with seven different indies on seven very different subjects is a bit of a logistical nightmare, right?

'Well, yes and no. It does take up an extraordinary amount of time as there is no set format, no "hurrah we've got episode one right, now the rest will follow" and I would - on average - view each film about four or five times as opposed to the usual twice for any other series. BUT it's also one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

'It's so brilliant to see that children are still as amazing as they ever were and achieving such extraordinary things, at times, in the most adverse of circumstances ... make sure you have your hankies at the ready.'

  • My Life, CBBC, Tuesday 28 January, 5.30pm

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