Balancing a prosperous London with creative renewal in the North

Director, BBC Studios (formerly Director, England)

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I’ve just written a column in the Royal Television Society magazine about the continuing north-south divide debate. The article touched on the growing confidence of the Northern media scene, rejecting the premise that London's continuing growth means we should all just give up - or develop a raging inferiority complex. Our future digital prosperity needs London - and the rest of us - to get our act together. It really isn't about one part of the country against the other.

London and the south east are "racing away from the rest of the UK," according to the Guardian.  The Sunday Times ran a similar feature recently; 'Another Country' speculated on what would happen if a booming London became an independent state. 

But The Sunday Times added that in one of the few major economic developments outside the M25 belt, 10,000 jobs at Salford Quays were helping Manchester become the biggest digital hub in Europe outside London. 

In his 2013 Brian Redhead Lecture George Osborne described our move as a “spectacular success” but warned: "You have to keep the rocket boosters firing" to resist London's powerful gravitational pull. 

Even a tough-minded Public Accounts Committee report conceded that after arriving on time and on budget, we are showing signs of steady progress. 

Our many critics told us it couldn't work.  But now a Salford-based Radio 5 live is Sony Station of the Year; CBeebies just notched up one million downloads for its new App; BBC Sport has established a multimedia operation that powered the BBC's acclaimed London Olympics coverage and will drive the Commonwealth Games and the Rio Football World Cup; six of the BBC's ten big online products and four hundred plus technologists are here; BBC Breakfast is thriving with fresh news angles from all corners of the UK; and BBC One's The Voice UK is in the £100m studio block recording the entertainment blockbuster.

What is pleasing is that Northern writers have really found their distinctive voices.  Sally Wainwright with Last Tango in Halifax – about to return in a new series - and Scott and Bailey; Kay Mellor with The Syndicate, Jimmy McGovern's Accused, Danny Brocklehurst's Exile, Bill Gallagher on The Paradise and newcomers like Dominic Mitchell with In The Flesh

Building on the region's strong soap base from Emmerdale in Leeds to Coronation Street - soon to move into MediaCity - their successes may just be coincidental, but there is certainly a growing confidence in the air, underpinned by a strengthening Northern production base. 

That is reflected in the creativity of independent producers from Red Productions and Shine North in Salford to True North in Leeds, Nine Lives in Manchester and LA Productions and Lime Pictures on Merseyside.

The entire region is benefitting - investment by the main channels has risen by nearly 20 per cent between 2009 – 2012. Screen Yorkshire is backing dramas like Peaky Blinders and York-based Death Comes to Pemberley. 

Bradford hosted BBC Three's Bollywood Carmen and the city is getting behind big Bronte plans for 2016's bicentenary.  

It is certainly busy and creative across the entire region as we approach the end of the year. Leeds boosted its commitment to becoming a child friendly city in partnership with the CBBC channel's live summer events. Next up is BBC Sports Personality of the Year from the new arena there.

Sheffield, home to a thriving documentary festival, was also the setting for A CBeebies Christmas Carol panto with a fantastic 25,000 people turning out for our free three-day event. And Liverpool is building on BBC Worldwide's Showcase Conference with huge ambitions for the 2014 Business Festival.  The city is also planning the BBC Worldwide Showcase and events to mark the re- opening of the Everyman Theatre and World War One anniversary. At the last count the BBC alone was working with partners from Hull to Haworth, Lincoln to Sunderland.

It's got to be healthy that a prosperous London is balanced by creative renewal elsewhere.  What is exciting about the new Northern media explosion is that it feels like the success of an entire creative community. 

Programme makers share crews, talent and production insights. There is pride in the fact the region no longer feels second class and is self-evidently a world class media sector.

London is a marvel but is focused on the global market, with less time for the rest of the country: its sights are set on Beijing, Paris and Tokyo. That focus has made it unstoppable - great for London but likely to be a mixed blessing for the rest of the country, so we need to be particularly organised and fight our corner smartly and strategically.

As the year draws to an end, the awards season is looming and I get a strong sense of place and purpose. 

The RTS North West is dominated by new drama and current affairs and factual titles - a 52 per cent growth in entries year on year and an enjoyable gathering of the creative clans. 

Up the road in Newcastle at the North East RTS it'll be locally-made children's programmes like The Dumping Ground and Wolfblood that feature strongly, plus home-grown BBC Two comedy Hebburn with Vic Reeves and Gina McKee, based on writer Jason Cook's birthplace of the same name. 

The night should be as warm and colourful as the family at the centre of that sitcom.  Just like the North itself.

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