Docs on BBC Two: Modern Britain in all its staggering variety

Controller, BBC Two

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Later this week, the documentary filmmaking world will descend on Sheffield for the 20th Sheffield Doc/Fest. This year, I’ll be heading there to take part in The BBC Interview alongside one of the stars of The Great British Bake Off, presenter and comedian Sue Perkins.  We’ll be talking about documentaries and the phenomenal impact they’re having on the BBC Two schedule.   

A selection of new documentaries coming to BBC Two.

The last year has been an outstanding one for documentaries on BBC Two – from the ambition and scale of Keeping Britain Alive and Britain in a Day to the huge popular success of Inside Claridges and The Choir, we’re seeing a renewed and growing appetite for films about all aspects of real life.  We’ve seen factual and documentary series become the stuff of water-cooler conversations and twitter trends, and collected BAFTAs and Royal Television Awards for programmes as diverse as The Great British Bake Off and 7/7: One Day in London, Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die and Protecting Our Children.

At an event last week, I was delighted to announce that BBC Two is strengthening its commitment to single documentaries by reviving the iconic series Modern Times for the 21st Century. 

Last seen on BBC Two in the late 1990s, Modern Times was a fantastic part of our heritage and is still, in my view, the defining series for single documentaries.  Walking softly but carrying a big gun, the films had unexpectedly big things to say smuggled into the filmmaking.  They may have been about particular moments or experiences but they had something bigger to say about the world we live in. It was done with wit, attitude and authorship, and was a great place for directors to spread their wings in a free and exciting way.

And that’s precisely why I’m bringing it back for BBC Two. The new Modern Times will build and expand on BBC Two’s impressive track record for producing award-winning documentaries, and provide a platform for leading filmmakers to showcase cutting-edge films which reflect life in modern Britain. We want the very best filmmakers to tell stories that will illuminate, provoke and reveal modern Britain in all its staggering variety. 

Alongside Modern Times, I was also delighted to introduce other new documentary films and series which will screen on BBC Two in the near future. 

In Stephen Fry - Out There (w/t), Stephen Fry will look at what it means to be gay in different corners of the world and explore why some people feel so threatened by homosexuality.

As tens of thousands of people across the country attend slimming clubs each week, Welcome to the World of Weight Loss (w/t) will put the spotlight on our national obsession with food and diets. More people than ever are on a diet, yet obesity rates are soaring.  So does dieting help?  Critically-acclaimed director Vanessa Engle (Walking with Dogs, Money) follows members from three different slimming clubs over a three-month period as they try to lose weight in a film that asks why we have such a complicated relationship with food. 

Marking the 25th anniversary of one of the world's worst offshore oil disasters, Piper Alpha will chronicle the tragic events that occurred on the Piper Alpha rig in July 1988.  It was a cataclysm that killed 167 men and left only 61 survivors, each of whom had to fight for their lives to escape the huge, labyrinthine structure and the flames consuming it.  The 90-minute film will detail the experiences of those who found themselves in the midst of the inferno that destroyed the rig. 

Over the course of a year, Iceland (w/t) follows the fortunes of Iceland supermarkets and its maverick CEO Malcolm Walker who believes his shoot-from-the-hip style of leadership holds the key to a happier workforce and a profitable business. But Iceland faces big challenges - from its competitors, the recession, the horse meat scandal and the changing attitudes towards frozen food. For the first time, Malcolm opens the doors to his 800-store empire in one of its toughest years.

The Crane Gang takes a look at the changing industrial landscape of Britain through the gritty world of mobile cranes and their drivers.  With unprecedented access to UK’s largest mobile crane operator, this new series follows a range of characters from the crane to the boardroom as they battle to keep everything running smoothly.

From the filmmakers behind The Tube, six-part series The Route Masters: Keeping London Moving (w/t) will lift the lid on the daily battle to keep London’s roads moving, and the individuals who keep the system working - from night bus drivers and road menders to the controllers running it all. But it’s also the story of our capital now – as the city expands faster than ever.

A taster of these, and other upcoming BBC Two documentary highlights, can be seen in the showreel (above).  I’m really looking forward to these programmes airing on BBC Two later this year and hope you like them too.

Janice Hadlow is Controller, BBC Two.

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