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How The Brits Rocked America

Ben Whalley | 13:51 UK time, Wednesday, 25 January 2012


‘Behind the scenes’ blogs can follow a format. They usually start with the programme maker’s initial delight with the commission tempered by just how daunting a prospect it is. Then the odyssey is embarked upon. There are peaks and troughs. The jeopardy of the quest. Finally, just when it all seems to be doomed- success!

‘How The Brits Rocked America’ loosely followed this tradition but what I really want tell you about in this blog is how the programmes were made and the talent, passion, craft, enthusiasm and hard work of the people who worked on it.

How The Brits Rocked America started and ended with Executive Producer and Creative Head Mark Cooper. The series was Mark’s original idea and his major input as exec typically comes in the cutting room when he views my rough cuts and rigorously examines the ideas, content, structure and script as they approach completion. There can be many viewings and they can be intense sessions often with lengthy discussions...but the programmes always benefit fantastically from Mark’s incredible musical knowledge, inspiring passion and sympathetic eye. How The Brits Rocked America is no exception and I am really grateful for his wisdom and trust in me.

Jeannie Clark, Archive Producer, had the job of sourcing the archive footage and negotiating licences. It was an immense job and one that could not be done without great skill, a contact book built upon years of experience and empathy for the subject. This mass of footage had to be logged and collated shot by shot before it could be meaningfully used. The quality of the footage in the series is absolutely amazing and is testament to Jeannie’s craft (not to mention her patience with me!)

Assistant Producer Laura Kaye had the daunting but hugely inspiring job of researching the series, writing treatments scripts and questions, discussing themes and ideas, sourcing contributors and setting up complex filming itineraries. Her enthusiasm, skill and the astonishing ease with which she accomplished these massive tasks and more was inspiring and is reflected in the scope of the series and its great cast list.

The final key in the editorial chain was Bradley Richards. An editor combines both a technical and editorial ability to put the programmes together. While most people have the capacity to learn the technical side (ie. what the myriad of buttons do), the actual art of editing is much more difficult. Understanding how pictures, sounds, ideas, structure and pacework is a real craft and my editor Bradley Richards was a true craftsman on all three programmes. It was also a huge task for the both of us. Two grown men alone, sweating away at the mantrols in a darkened room for 18 weeks is not an easy image… so let’s not go there.

The final and indispensible team member was Jo Sinkins. A Production Manager who watches the spend, pays the bills, plans the production schedule, hires crews and post production facilities, makes sure that the team is running smoothly, oversees paperwork, ensures you are safe and happy on location and occasionally has to have the tough conversation is an essential part of all production teams and Jo was all these things and more. For a role that is traditionally seen as tight with the purse strings Jo was possessed of the most generous spirit.

All these people went above and beyond the call of duty for this project and I am very proud of the series. My hope is that it is in the best of Reithian traditions; educative, informative and entertaining.
Before I turn it over to you I wanted to leave with a little caveat...

I always enter the professional blogosphere with slight trepidation as music evokes partisan passions. Despite my best intentions, writing on the internet about a project where fifty years of transatlantic rock traffic is condensed into three hours is effectively placing my head on a chopping ‘blog’.
Previous entries by colleagues on such projects have engendered indignant litanies of,‘how can you ignore X’, ‘you forgot Y you chump’ or, ‘how dare Z not be included in this series?’

The truth is always otherwise. We didn’t forget or ignore purposefully. The programmes are not completest, nor could ever be. They are combination of raw research, ideas and responding to the best material available.

I hope you enjoy them. And if you don’t, please don’t be too harsh!


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For more programme information, see: How The Brits Rocked America


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for article - Thoroughly enjoyed the programme

  • Comment number 2.

    America loves the British invasion - try this song
    Title: Silly Of Me
    Singer: MATELL

  • Comment number 3.

    How could you give the DC5 such a passing mention? They were there at the same time, if not a little earlier than the Beatles and had HUGE success. Look at Tom Hanks inducting them into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 - tells you all you need to know. Glaring Oversight.

  • Comment number 4.

    But DC5 have had very little impact since 1965. The same can be argued about The Yardbirds too but they were the breeding ground for Eric Claptout, Jeff Beck & Jimmy Page.

    My biggest beef with the show (apart from the voice-over) was that it was stated as fact that ALL American pop music pre-the British Invasion was awful. I'm sure there was a lot of tat there but to include The Beach Boys? Idiocy.

  • Comment number 5.

    Thanks for a very enjoyable couple of programmes so far, and for not taking the usual snarky attitude towards prog bands like Yes, ELP and Jethro Tull. British rock ruled in the 70s with Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. We should be proud of this and young bands should try and be as good as they were to emulate their success!

  • Comment number 6.

    Cannot believe you make a programme about Brits in America and completely miss out The Clash. Criminal!!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Great programme Ben but as a Dublin viewer I was very disappointed to see U2 described as "British" by one of your american contributors. In my opinion that is very sloppy of you to have left that stand.

    Indeed given the subject matter of the programme I would think that U2 who are 100% Irish and NOT British, they should not have been included in the programme at all (albeit in your narration you did mention U2 as being from the British Isles which of course is geographically correct).


    Brian in Dublin, Republic Of Ireland (Hometown of U2)

  • Comment number 8.

    1. What no Clash!!! THE UK band with the biggest UK vs US conflict not worth a mention? Especially given their out stripping the legacy of other seventies / eighties flavours of the month (and not just Flock Of...) - see Hall of Fame; Man on a Ledge; Slumdog etc.
    2. Also U2 "British" insult - what about the ongoing "secret" that they are 50% English!! The Edge for UK PM!!


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