BBC North - bringing it home
It's been a bitter-sweet time recently.
I don't think anyone with a heart can not have had it broken by the terrible scenes from Japan. Our news outlets continue to report from the region, with Shelagh Fogarty's Radio 5 live reports poignantly capturing the concern and shock. It really brings it home when our own BBC Philharmonic Orchestra was caught up on the fringes of it all in Tokyo. Their tour has now been cancelled and they have returned home, safe and unharmed, to be reunited with their families in the North West.
Closer to home we continue to forge a path towards opening the doors of our new home at Salford Quays. The journey hasn’t been without its challenges but if I look back over the last few weeks, there is so much that we have achieved that we should all be proud of.
It’s a story of future opportunity, new content, two Archbishops and a hat trick.
Just today we announced the launch of a new apprenticeship scheme at BBC North. In the next three to four years, we will offer one hundred apprenticeships across the departments that are moving to Salford Quays. We are fulfilling an important pledge about jobs for the local community. These are deliberately not jobs for graduates, but rather for people in the Greater Manchester area with few or no qualifications or experience, or indeed who might not have thought of the BBC or the media generally as a potential employer. From September this year when we welcome the first wave, they will get on-the-job training, receive coaching and mentoring. Not only do I hope that they will realise that the BBC is as much a place for them as for anyone else but for the BBC it is a significant and important commitment to diversity and difference. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about changing the DNA of the Corporation itself. And that change will start at MediaCityUK.
Just over a fortnight ago, with my colleagues, I was at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston at the BBC’s biggest training conference organised by BBC North’s Developing Talent team. The theme was “Talent & Technology” and it gave us a chance to express our thoughts and hopes alongside those of the hundreds of students who attended. Better still we were able to tempt Britain’s most Oscar-laden film-maker, Nick Park as well as Victoria Wood, the star with most BAFTA awards, to share a few home truths with us too. Nick told the audience – “I didn't think Preston boys like me went to The National Film-school" and Victoria thanked Rochdale Council for her break into teenage drama. Almost 400 hundred delegates attended workshops on Radio 1 with Andy Parfitt, the booming games sector and CBeebies production hits and I think they dreamed – like the younger Nick and Victoria did – of big careers and some glittering awards. All in all, it was a great day, particularly to hear from the students themselves about what they wanted from the future as well as from the BBC and I got a real sense that they will play an important part in the future of the region.
And lest we forget, the move to MediaCityUK in Salford has never just been about the North West. It's about the whole region thriving in the digital media age with some help from the BBC.
So it is terrific to celebrate a series of new programmes across the region. From BBC Daytime comes yet another new drama that is being filmed in Liverpool and Manchester. The Case tackles the thorny issue of assisted suicide. It’s been written by David Allison and will continue to build on the terrific fiction - like The Indian Doctor, Moving On, Missing and Land Girls – that has become a signature theme of BBC Daytime. Incidentally The Case is made by Merseyside's Lime Pictures who, through their digital media company, Conker Media, is our partner in the Digital Fiction Factory.
Last weekend at the North East RTS Awards, held in the remarkable Gateshead Sage Centre, I announced that CBBC will make a fresh batch of Tracy Beaker Returns locally this summer.
Also, just down the road in Durham, 1960's smoothy Inspector George Gently returns home later this year for four more specials for BBC One.
And this weekend, the big television event of the Spring - Frankenstein's Wedding… Live in Leeds. Coming on top of BBC One’s recent and beautifully-made South Riding, it helps mark a bit of a creative Renaissance for our Yorkshire-based output. And Frank – as we affectionately call him – is a ‘monster’ partnership too: The Phoenix Dance Group, Welcome to Yorkshire, Leeds City Council plus our very own BBC Wales, BBC Learning, BBC Yorkshire and BBC Three have come together with 9,000 wedding guests for a wonderful gothic celebration brokered by us.
And the two Archbishops? Those gentle men of Canterbury and York toured Greater Manchester at the beginning of March and visited MediaCityUK to ask the simple but probing question – Can there be faith in a MediaCity? The resounding answer was ‘yes’ but there was an acknowledgement that there would be challenges, but challenges that could be met and overcome if we all work together.
And that challenge includes moving forward creatively in the uncertain times that we all face.
Though we have made our big public commitment to Out of London production and our state-of-the-art Salford base – in the shape of a 20 year lease – we are not immune from the speculation and indeed the potential impact of Delivering Quality First to budgets and output from 2013. There's been a lot of speculation in the newspapers about Radio 5 live, local radio, daytime programmes and sports rights – and nothing is either firmly on or off the table whatever you may have read.
However, a great deal of planning and thought went into deciding which departments would move to Salford Quays and we have made a long-term commitment to the North of England to build and develop a workforce in Salford that is among the best trained and most flexible in the media. That is our best safeguard in these tough financial times.
Looking back on all this and looking forward to Leeds this weekend, I have to admit to feeling just a little weary. Or perhaps that is the result of the fund-raising football match I played at the weekend. Against the odds, this 50-plus striker scored his first-ever hat trick of goals in a 5-4 win. But that final ball in the net landed me with a slipped disc.
Perhaps I should have stuck to some advice I once received – Stick to making content, Salmon.
Quit playing – while you are even vaguely ahead...
Peter Salmon is the Director of BBC North