The riots across England in August 2011 should need no introduction. Following the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a peaceful protest in Tottenham developed into explosive violent disorder.

Over five days trouble spread across the country with people looting, setting fire to property and attacking the police.

Actor Youssef Beruain playing a rioter

Five people died and over 2,500 shops and businesses were damaged. To date 1,290 rioters have been sent to jail.

After those shocking days the media erupted with politicians and commentators discussing what had happened and why.

But nobody was hearing from the people directly involved in the disorder to find out what they had to say about their behaviour. Why had they acted like they did? Were they sorry or would they do it again?

One reason for this silence is that those who had been caught were mainly in custody. Those who hadn't been caught didn't want to appear on camera for fear of public judgement, reprisals or arrest.

There was no government inquiry into the causes and consequences of the unrest. Into this void stepped Reading The Riots.

Conducted by the London School of Economics and The Guardian, this social research project interviewed 270 people who were involved in the disorder.

The interviews were conducted anonymously to allow those involved to speak more freely.

The BBC didn't get involved until after the interviews were completed, so the production team played no role in the decision to grant anonymity to those the researchers spoke to.

As a TV production team, we were faced with the decision whether to use this important and illuminating piece of work, even though it granted anonymity to criminals.

In our view it was justified because of the insights it provides into why and how the riots had happened. Even we, the programme makers, were never to know the true identities of the people featured in the research and subsequently, The Riots: In Their Own Words.

As the assistant producer I worked with my colleagues to think about how the research could be brought to life on television and accessed by a wider audience.

The original interviews had been recorded as audio files and this led us to approach the dramatist Alecky Blythe.

Youssef and Alecky Blythe

Alecky creates plays from real interviews - mixing journalism with drama to create what is called verbatim theatre.

She uses a performance style called recorded delivery, requiring actors to wear earphones.

The cast don't learn any lines. Instead they listen to the recording and talk a few seconds behind, mimicking the tone and pace of delivery so that they capture the essence of the person and the intention of the words as they were first spoken.

The result is a very naturalistic and believable performance.

We were excited about the potential of this delivery for television because we felt it would give veracity to our dramatisation.

Working with Alecky, we selected 11 interviews to recreate extracts of. Hopefully viewers would experience the original interviews in a manner as true-to-life as possible, while we could maintain the anonymity of the interviewees.

The dialogue is startlingly candid and confiding because neither the interviewer or interviewee are presenting themselves to the public, but engaging in a conversation protected by anonymity for the purposes of social research.

Whilst we are able to listen in to these accounts to garner fresh insights, viewers may feel frustrated or even angry because the tone of the interviews is very different to what we might expect from BBC TV: as journalists we challenge our interviewees and ask them to justify their words, but we can't here.

Similarly we can't elucidate what our characters say or ask them to explain references that they make.

Some speak in a street vernacular that is likely to be unfamiliar to many BBC Two viewers and some of the nuances and context of what they talk about are in danger of being lost.

To balance viewpoints over the two-part series, episode two features testimony from police officers who were on the frontline during the riots and offers a very different perspective upon what happened on those nights.

Alecky's method presented a new challenge to us in translating this technique from stage to screen.

Actor Calum Callaghan wearing an earpiece

On stage the headphones can be visible and accepted as a stylistic device. On screen we wanted naturalism so camera, sound and make up all worked together to ensure the earpieces were invisible at all times.

Each actor was given one tiny earpiece that could be disguised by hair and make up and one larger earpiece that would be hidden by the camera angle.

Many of the actors thrived using the technique and if anything, the challenge will be reminding the audience that they are watching actors and not documentary footage.

The actor Calum Callaghan said to me: "It felt fresh and was such an electric way of working. It's also surprising how informative someone's voice is - I could imagine how he would sit and what he'd be doing with his hands. You just let go and trust what you hear".

Nicola Cutcher is the assistant producer of The Riots: In Their Own Words.

The Riots: In Their Own Words was originally scheduled for Monday, 16 July but was postponed after a judge overseeing a riot-related trial in Birmingham issued a court order preventing it from being broadcast.

The trial has ended and the first programme will now be shown on Monday, 13 August at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 39. Posted by Shep

    on 3 Sept 2012 03:58

    how long ???????????????


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  • Comment number 38. Posted by Shep

    on 3 Sept 2012 03:42

    Hello, i am not surprised by this blatant misportrayal of the riots.

    at the end it suggests that no conclusion has been reached by the program; this does not suprise me either.
    The government uses the media to bend the truth and the police to enforce their truth.
    The progam was put together in order to demonise the young generation and distinguish the debate that the rioters felt needed raising.

    you are fuelling the fire....

    i wonder whether this will make it on to the page at all

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  • Comment number 37. Posted by CLK

    on 22 Aug 2012 21:42

    Watching the second installment from the perspective of the Police angered me more than the first instalment from the rioters' perspective. It angered me to see what horrific circumstances the Police had to work under - they were essentially dealing with animals. They were criticised for not employing the right tactics and taking too long to get the situation under control. Just imagine the reaction they would have received had they employed rubber bullets and water cannons. They were never going to win. What the programme did well to demonstate was how terrifying their position was. The Police deserved our thanks at the time, not our criticism.

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  • Comment number 36. Posted by flopsy41

    on 21 Aug 2012 08:18

    Finally the riots from the point of view from the Police. I have every sympathy for people who really feel disenfranchised and abandoned by people who should be there to help them but last nights programme made me feel sick. The Police ARE NOT miracle workers and did the very best that they could under terrifying circumstances. My partner is a policeman and we were on holiday at the time of the riots. Without hesitation he called in after watching Tottenham on fire on that first night and asked if he needed to come back on duty knowing full well what he was walking back into as a public order trained officer and how bad it was going to be. Sending someone off to work after gathering up their riotgear is absolutely terrifying. NO-ONE had the right to behave as they did towards the police and no-one should go to work in fear for their life. As for the comments that we are still on a high because of the Olympics and questioning whether the programme should have been shown - My answer is this: The Olympics were great but they aren't over yet and the police operation to ensure that everyone is safe and it goes well is on going and will be for a good while yet. Police leave is cancelled and has been since May. The aftermath of the Riots is on going and they are dealing with the Olympics as well. The police aren't perfect just like every other organisation but they do hold the line when everyone else wants to run the other way. They worked for hours with no idea of where and when they would be able to grab anything to eat, sleep or drink and then were expected to be back on shift at the normal time when it was all over - They are people too and deserve our respect and thanks.

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  • Comment number 35. Posted by gotthehump

    on 21 Aug 2012 07:43

    The second programme - police perspective - was much more befitting of the BBC in my opinion. During this programme you began to highlight the common denominator in all our woes -SHODDY GOVERNMENT. That commanders trying to deal with this situation on the ground have to be thinking in terms of the financial implications of overtime made me as livid as your embellished first programme. That David Cameron had the cheek to complain about "too few police" and "police tactics" from the safety of the House of Commons, whilst overseeing so many cuts to public services, should be your third programme in this series. Like i said before, most people see it from both Police and Rioters perspective. Well done to the brave police officers who defended the streets during those days and the Gold commander who refrained from rubber bullets. They all deserve our thanks and a medal. Come on Britain lets make things better now. We are all in this together, apart from Dave and his crew. PEACE believe in the future 2012.

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  • Comment number 34. Posted by Hyacinthbouquet

    on 20 Aug 2012 16:51

    Firstly, I agree with much of what hannydra wrote almost spot on apart from laying some of the blame at the Politician's door.
    Most of the people interviewed seem to have a reason for their actions or rather an excuse i.e. their mental health, they were drawn into the situation, peer pressure, curiosity etc. Excuses, excuses! I was told as a child that all actions have consequences, if you do something wrong, live with it.
    My son is a serving Police Officer and was called to work on the night of the riots, leaving his heavily pregnant wife alone at home and his whole family knew he was there with his colleagues doing the best that they could. A worrying time for all of us especially watching the situation unfold live on the TV. All of the officers on duty that night were there because it's their job to keep the public safe but their actions are controlled by their senior officers; they are told when to wear specific uniform so as not to incite riot or look threatening to the public, when to take action and how to behave on a certain day according to whether it's a march, protest or football match. The indiviuals just do their job as they are told, they don't have a choice. The Rioters however had a choice, they chose to "protest" they chose to loot, steal, cause criminal damage, attack Police Officers and they chose to cause criminal damage so they must live with the consequences regardless of their race or background. I just hope that the woman who commented that she was OK to see the Police getting attacked, never needs to rely on the help of a Police Officer as she clearly feels they deserve a good beating. She needs to spend a night in London and see what the Police see, the drunks, the druggies, the raped, the abused, the dead on the tracks of the railway and the elderly victims of crime.
    I look forward to the next episode to hear the side of the Police, but like one of the other bloggers commented, I feel that the Police should also be portrayed by Actors to protect their identity.
    Thank you BBC

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  • Comment number 33. Posted by gotthehump

    on 16 Aug 2012 11:02

    @ Nicola Cutcher

    Thank you for your partial reply to my comments. I love the fact that we have free speech and grown up debate in this country, so to get your reply was very encouraging.

    On the weed man... who actually counted over a hundred bags of weed ? i doubt the researcher did because that would be illegal no ?
    On the stereo-typing... were the 3 black men in the car part of the research too ? i didn't see a researcher in the car. There was some subliminal messages there for sure.
    On the stereo-typing... you say yourself that 6 white people were included but i say again... where were the white, MIDDLE CLASS london rioters in your show ? Just vague talk of a straw hat and flip flops from my recollections. Almost endearing eh ? I remember the first court cases and there were many employed white people involved.
    On the "production values"... First you claim that "actors did not EMBELISH in ANY WAY". That's impossible because "hearing noises" and interpretation were at play here. Of course EMBELLISHMENTS occured. These people were actors ! it was NOT VERBATIM.
    On the "production vales" say you did not invent DETAILS "as that would be irresponsible, inaccurate and totally inappropriate". I would suggest that EMBELLISHMENTS are DETAILS and therefore your totally inappropriate programme has been exposed. Here we see, what people on the street see as INSTITUTIONAL RACISM (but class is at work here too).
    I hope this helps your understanding of much angst caused by BBC vis a vis "race and class in our society".

    My friend and i won a competition at the BBC last year to make TV programmes... We entered 6 ideas- from XENOPHILE NATION (exploring positive race relations to build hope) to MUSICpeople ( encouraging musicianship and exploring BANDCRAFT...possibly leading to a JAM via the TV across the NATION). Guess what idea won us our 3 weeks work placement ?

    I end with a note of LOVE. It is hard, nay impossible, for you to make everyone happy ALL THE TIME. But please understand your power and value it. Multi-cultural Britain can be the most amazing place if we build like our forefathers and respect like our mums. Thanks alot for your reply tho. We are all in this together should me an what it says. PEACE believe in the future 2012.

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  • Comment number 32. Posted by Phat Phrequency

    on 15 Aug 2012 13:39

    I'm not best impressed with this 'dramatisation' of rioters interviews. I does nothing to tackle the underlying issues and simply trashes the interviewed. The BBC have managed to produce a program barely worthy of Sky or 5. The young black actor playing the 'weed dealer' could hardly have rolled his eyes or pouted his lips more. WE'VE BEEN 'BAMBOOZLED'.

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  • Comment number 31. Posted by Nicola Cutcher

    on 15 Aug 2012 12:50

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback. I thought I'd try and answer a few of the questions that have been raised.
    There have been some comments about the timing of this programme coming the day after the Olympics closing ceremony. The film was scheduled for broadcast on the 16th July but the BBC received a court order at the last moment preventing the film from being shown until a riot-related trial had finished in Birmingham. This film is the first of two - the next episode on Monday 20th August focusses on the experience of police officers during the riots - and both films were intended to be shown before the Olympics. The BBC also wanted the films to go out as close as possible to the anniversary of the riots.

    @Georgia To answer your question about how the interviews were chosen - we selected and dramatised 11 interviews from the 270 conducted in the original research. It was very hard to choose a few to represent so many as every interview was different. When selecting interviews, we were trying to reflect the range of characters and opinions in the original research as broadly as possible but we were also looking for people who were memorable and distinctive characters who described their actions and feelings clearly. 
    In terms of the race of interviewees - the Reading the Riots research recorded the ethnicity of their interviewees as 47% Black, 26% White, 17% as Mixed/Other and 4.5% Asian with the remainder not self-declared. We tried to broadly reflect this when choosing 11 interviews from the 270 interviews conducted in the original research. In the final film there are 5 interviews with black interviewees out of 11 interviews. @StealthDiamond there were 6, not 2, interviews with non-black interviewees. There is the middle-aged white Mum in Tottenham who goes out with her daughter, the teenage girl in her kitchen, the boy in prison with mental health issues, an Eastern European man in prison, the Salford man sitting in a pub and the boy in an office chair who was glad to see everything on fire.

    @gotthehump You make the point that you feel our programme stereotyped people. As @WillOnTheHill commented, and my blog above explains, the actors were performing whilst listening to the original interviews and repeated what they heard word for word. Alecky Blythe was very strict, when directing these performances, to ensure that the actors replicated what they heard faithfully and did not embellish the text or delivery in any way. So this was how the real interviewees spoke. 
    We also tried to recreate the setting and context of the real interviews as faithfully as possible. The original recordings give you lots of clues - for example, you can hear when people are smoking or eating - and then we got the exact details from the researchers who conducted the interviews. So the boy who was ill in bed was indeed eating pizza and chips and he did tip over a hundred bags of weed out of his backpack at that moment in the interview - that's why the interviewer reacts with such surprise. We didn't invent these details as that would be irresponsible, inaccurate and totally inappropriate but we also didn't shy away from representing the reality for fear of how that might be interpreted.

    @whatusernameisnotalreadytaken The programme doesn't portray that the riots were created or caused by gang members. This would certainly be inaccurate as no credible research suggests that gangs played a significant organising role. In fact, one of the things that I found most surprising whilst researching the programme was how many of the rioters described the riots as 'peaceful' and a time when they felt happy and safe, precisely because usual gang hostilities (such as the postcode war) were suspended during the riots. For people interested in reading more on this theme, I recommend this article analysing the Reading the Riots research findings:

    @hypocrites I heed your point that "when you interview young angry people you usually get what's on the surface and it isn't a representation of the deeper human". The National Centre for Social Research noted this problem in their own report in the riots. I recommend reading pages 11 and 12 of their report:

    @haringenho All of the archive footage is real archive from the riots - we have not invented any of it. Our archive researcher gathered material from all the media organisations, CCTV and lots of user-generated content that people had taken on their own cameras and mobile phones and was sent in to media organisations or posted on Youtube and other video-sharing websites.

    There are links to further research under 'Related Links' on our programme page if you are interested in deeper analysis:

  • Comment number 30. Posted by daddywasaminer

    on 15 Aug 2012 10:21

    I think the BBC missed an opportunity here. There was a story to tell, but the use of actors was immediately off-putting. Silhouetted figures telling their own stories would have worked much better.
    Also running it as a two-parter is a mistake. The rioters' voices and the police voices should have been alternated. In addition, these accounts must have been selected from hundreds, so why on earth did they allow the inclusion of the woman saying she wanted to see the police 'battered', and 'a bloody good hiding' and loads more along those lines.
    I don't agree with censorship, but I am a Londoner, and was scared during those few days. There was one point when we felt like everything was falling apart, and my friends, black and white, wanted the protection of the police. I know the police have a lot of questions to answer over Duggan and many other issues. Allowing the advocating of this kind of hatred isn't that helpful though, is it?
    Quite frankly, this programme made most of the people involved look like total inarticulate idiots.

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