A Dickens of a Year

Thursday 22 November 2012, 11:36

Peter Salmon Peter Salmon Director, England

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To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it has been the best of times and the worst of times for the BBC:  record-breaking sports coverage; brilliant new dramas like Parade's End and The Paradise; dazzling comedy and entertainment such as The Thick of It and now Strictly Come Dancing. At the same time huge challenges to the Corporation in the wake of the Savile revelations and the departure of a much-respected new DG. While the BBC will certainly address the issues that it faces, we must focus every day on the thousands of hours of quality content enjoyed by audiences across the UK.


The teams based here at MediaCityUK continue to deliver those programmes on television and radio.


This week two of dramas made here in the north premiered on BBC One. First up The Secret of Crickley Hall, based on James Herbert’s best-selling novel. In three parts, it stars a strong cast including Suranne Jones, David Warner and Tom Ellis. Next is Last Tango in Halifax, Sally Wainwright's latest from Manchester-based Red Productions – makers of the recent Blackout and Exile. Starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, it explores the rekindling of love in the twilight years against the background of ensuing family tensions.


In the pipeline for next year is a series of Northern made and inspired dramas. As well as In The Flesh, the BBC’s first ever Zombie-drama, developed through Writersroom initiative Northern Voices, next year will also see the return of North East-produced The Paradise and Yorkshire made The Syndicate and Prisoners’ Wives.


Thank goodness that comedy and entertainment continues to deliver laughs in these difficult times. The Salford Sitcom Showcase is back this week with six new pilots for BBC One, Two and Three. Performed before a live audience we hope that it will deliver new commissions like Citizen Khan and Hebburn did last season. Next month Saturday evening hit The Voice will land in Salford when Sir Tom Jones, will.i.am, Jessie J and Danny O’Donoghue hold blind auditions in front of a studio audience.


Our news and current affairs also continue to go from strength to strength. Breakfast has confounded the critics, performing as strongly as ever from Salford, less than a year since it moved, here, with audience approval actually increasing. And if you get the chance to listen to one show on BBC Radio 5 live, still available on the BBC RadioPlayer -track down The Body Beautiful? as Eleanor Oldroyd interviews sportswomen including Jessica Ennis, Denise Lewis and Christine Ohurugu about the pressures facing female athletes.


While making programmes is always the most important thing, sometimes it fees great to accept recognition from colleagues and peers. Last weekend, the BBC ‘did good’ at the RTS North West Awards. In With the Flynns, BBC Children's and Football Focus all picked up trophies but special mention must go to our Religion and Ethics teams for their hat trick. On Sunday night they collected three awards - for Best Network Current Affairs Programme (Exposed: Groomed For Sex, BBC Three), Best Network Documentary (Hitler’s Children, BBC Two) and Best Live Event (The Preston Passion).


All these great programmes were made by talented, committed people and it is vitally important that we continue to nurture and develop future generations of programme makers in the north. To that end this week the BBC Academy hosted a huge Fast Train event at MediaCityUK, attended by over 300 freelancers and offering free training and seminars. Alongside the event, Creative Skillset announced a new partnership with the BBC and Channel 4. Open Channels – with £5m co-investment from the Employer Ownership Skills Pilot – will create a new end-to-end programme of training, work placements, internships and apprenticeships in production and technology in the broadcast TV sector.


These might be testing times for the BBC, but we should never forget that right across the Corporation the commitment to making great programmes and investing in people will remain paramount.


Peter Salmon is Director, BBC North

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