The future of British television comedy in the north

Wednesday 12 October 2011, 13:24

Peter Salmon Peter Salmon Director, England

Tagged with:

Eric Morecambe, Glenda Jackson and Ernie Wise in 'Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show' (1972)

Eric Morecambe, Glenda Jackson and Ernie Wise in 'Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show' (1972)

'Hello, my darlings'. The first television words I ever remember. Spoken by the pint-sized comic Charlie Drake. It could easily have been Captain Mainwaring's 'Stupid Boy', courtesy of the immortal Arthur Lowe or something from Hylda Baker. And let's not forget that other Hilda, Coronation Street's Hilda Ogden - my nomination for the funniest performance on British television for 50 years.

Catchphrases and comics lit up my childhood and now we are searching for next generation comedy artists. And the North is a great place to start looking.When we think of great, iconic comedic talent, a whole host of Northern names immediately spring to mind. From classic entertainers like Morecambe and Wise, Les Dawson, and of course Hylda Baker, we can chart the history of comedy through the likes of Victoria Wood, Vic and Bob, Caroline Aherne, Peter Kay to performer including John Bishop, Lee Mack, Ross Noble, Sarah Millican, and the extraordinary Steve Coogan.

It continues to provide a rich seam of new talent like promising North East comics Jason Cook and Chris Ramsay. Both of them will be in action at the Sitcom Showcase this week, where six new sitcoms will get their first outing in front of a live audience at MediaCityUK.

But it's not just on-air that the talent flourishes in the north. There are the writers as well. Great writers such as the three Alans - Bleasdale, Bennett and Ayckbourn -as well as Willy Russell, Tim Firth and John Godber to name just a very few. Some funny, others with a blacker sensibility.

Even the soaps here have humour at their heart - look at the differences between Corrie and EastEnders for example. You could never imagine someone on Albert Square proclaiming "Hey Stan look, we have two taps." God bless Hilda Ogden, they were her first words and established her life- affirming character for the next twenty-three years.

So, why is television comedy so important to people? It's simple. It makes us feel better. Cheers up the nation. Sometimes, I think it should be prescribed by the NHS!

BBC research shows that audiences in the north see humour as their 'default' setting - it's part of who they are and how they get through every day of their lives. Not an add-on or luxury item. Memorable sitcoms like Open All Hours, The Likely Lads, Bread, The Royle Family, Phoenix Nights, Dinnerladies and The League of Gentlemen, were amongst the many sitcoms with a strong Northern flavour. Yet for the BBC, comedy is the very thing that audiences we don't naturally attract, love to watch. It gives the corporation a warmth that our Reithian traditions sometimes frustrates.

So investing in comedy is one route to appeal to some parts of the UK and licence-payers we can struggle to reach. In fact, ambitious UK comedy - especially on BBC One and BBC Three - has a major role to play as part of the BBC's editorial priorities moving forward. While we meet the challenge to find the recently announced 20 percent cutbacks, we will ensure that comedy remains a priority for the BBC.

Of course the BBC doesn't have sole claim to entertaining audiences with unforgettable comedy. Granada Television in Manchester has been the home to terrific comedies across the years with shows like Nearest and Dearest, Wood and Walters and Surgical Spirit. Whilst over the Pennines, Yorkshire Television enjoyed success with the much-cherished Rising Damp as well as A Bit Of a Do and Hallelujah.

No one should underestimate the debt owed to Coronation Street here. The rich tradition of comedy characters from Ena, Minnie as well as Hilda and Stan, through to Jack and Vera, Percy and Phyllis and latterly Becky and Steve and Roy and Hayley, and Blanche of course, delivered hilarious comic dialogue amidst the pathos.

Following stints on Corrie, a number of their writers then set their sights successfully on narrative and in some cases, typically Northern bawdy and larger-than-life comedy. Paul Abbott joined Linda Green to create Shameless, Jonathan Harvey gave us Tom and Linda in Gimme Gimme Gimme and as well as the characters in Beautiful People and Carmel Morgan worked on Drop Dead Gorgeous and The Royle Family.

Other Northern talent took a different route. Victoria Wood, Steve Coogan, Peter Kay and Paul O'Grady with his alter ego Lily Savage added to the mix with their big, warm characters. And even before them, let's not forget the likes of Russ Abbott, Cannon and Ball and even the Grumbleweeds .... All part of a broader northern comedic culture.

But while it's good to reminisce and celebrate the North's comedic heritage, we also need to look forward and nurture and support emerging talent to find the next laugh.

For us at the BBC it means replacing long- runners from Last of The Summer to Two Pints of Lager. While Northern comedy is still going strong - from ITV's Benidorm to Shameless and Sirens on Channel 4 and the very promising Trollied starring the multi-talented Lancastrian Jane Horrocks on Sky - a raft of new and emerging comedy productions will also be making an appearance on viewers' screens.

We'll be making a pilot of Pearlygate, a new sitcom directed by David Jason here in Salford, and later this week we will announce and pilot six studio comedy pilots, some of which may be broadcast on BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Three. And given that comedy has a natural home here in the north, I would be incredibly chuffed if Salford became the new home of great British comedy production. As we open our big studios for business, Coronation Street moves cobble by cobble to our site and The Comedy Carpet gets rolled out at Blackpool, maybe its time got a lot more northern funny business again.

Peter Salmon is Director of BBC North

Tagged with:

Comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 
 

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Previous
We Tell Ourselves Stories

Monday 10 October 2011, 10:21

Next
BBC Genome update: Search, discovery & access

Wednesday 12 October 2011, 17:32

About this Blog

This blog explains what the BBC does and how it works. We link to some other blogs and online spaces inside and outside the corporation. The blog is edited by Jon Jacob.

Follow About the BBC on Twitter

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

External links about the BBC

BBC Three online proposals set out as relaunch scheduled for autumn 2015 (Digital Spy)
"This is not moving a TV channel and putting it online. This is new. We are the first broadcaster in the world to propose something like this."

BBC Three to cut Don't Tell the Bride and other reality TV shows when channel moves online (Independent)

BBC theme park featuring Doctor Who and Top Gear set to open in 2020 (Telegraph)

JK Rowling's Cormoran Strike crime novel The Cuckoo's Calling will be turned into BBC series (Daily Mail)
"With the rich character of Cormoran Strike at their heart, these dramas will be event television across the world."

Yentob leads the BBC fightback: we're being smeared for exposing Fake Sheikh (Independent)

BBC Makes Unprecedented Counter-Attack To Sun Editorial Accusing It Of Left-Wing Bias (Huffington Post)

Serial podcast set to air on Radio 4 Extra (Radio Times)
"We know we already have tons of Serial listeners in the UK but we love that the BBC will help us reach many, many more than we ever could with podcast alone"

BBC iPlayer launches on Xbox One (Broadband TV News)

BBC ‘a great British company, not a government department’: Danny Cohen (Guardian)
"I ask you to stand by the BBC in the year ahead. Support it, make the case for it, speak up for it, celebrate its achievements and help us make sure we can keep offering such an extraordinary range of programmes for all audiences."

See Doctor Who, Miranda, more in BBC Christmas trailer (Digital Spy)

The BBC is right to point out failure on debt. Osborne is wrong to complain about it (The Spectator)

Chris Morris returns to airwaves with new sketch on BBC 6 Music on Sunday (Guardian)
"Blue Jam and On the Hour satirist’s first radio sketch in 15 years will be broadcast on Mary Anne Hobbs’ morning show"

BBC releases game maker kit for kids (Ariel)

BBC Music Sound of 2015 longlist revealed (Guardian)
"Solo artists such as James Bay, George The Poet and Raury make up most of this year’s list of musicians tipped for big things in 2015"

Why Gillian Anderson is the new Helen Mirren (Telegraph)

War and Peace to take over Radio 4: Ten-hour production of Tolstoy's novel to be broadcast on station on New Year's Day (Daily Mail)

Sherlock returns: BBC confirms special with picture of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back filming (Mirror)

The Reith Lectures explain why doctors fail (Telegraph)
"Dr Atul Gawande delivered an excellent first lecture on the fallibility of medicine, says Gillian Reynolds"

Nine-year-old Katie Morag star on winning BAFTA award and juggling TV series with school lessons (Scottish Daily Record)

Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Same-sex couple dance received positively (Metro)

Doctor Who, Andrew Scott and Sir Ian McKellen up for BBC Audio Drama Awards 2015 (Radio Times)
"Maxine Peake, Marcus Brigstocke and Toby Jones also scoop nominations for their work in audio drama"

Last updated Thursday 11 December 2014

Blogs from across the BBC

Selected by the About the BBC Blog team.

Making radio [BBC Outreach & Corporate Responsibilty]
Award-winning research [Media Action]
BBC Online Briefing Winter 2014: keynote [Internet]
Booking agents: how they can develop your act [BBC Introducing]
Introducing Emma Smith one of our new 2015 Fellows [BBC Performing Art Fund]


MatOf ThDay At 50: onic theme even has a banjo [TV]