Peter Salmon: Defying Gravity - BBC North One Year On

Date: 16.05.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.16
Category: BBC North
Speech given by Peter Salmon at Manchester Business School on Wednesday 16 May, 2012.

Good evening. If you’re a ‘blues’ fan you must still be buzzing from Sunday. It was the final goal of an incredible season we loved covering. I just hope I don’t have to wait 44 years to see my own team Burnley lift another trophy.

I would like to thank Professor Michael Luger and Manchester Business School for inviting me to speak tonight. Coming exactly mid-way in this year’s series of lectures I have noticed that all the speakers – Stephen Hester, Tim Steiner and in the next few weeks Simon Bowen and Allan Leighton – are each addressing different, if related themes around change.

Of building, or rebuilding companies.

Of leadership in difficult times.

Of responding to market change.

Even before the first stone was laid at MediaCityUK, these themes have been individual chapters in our story at BBC North. And I have no doubt that they will continue to determine our evolution for years to come.

This is simply because nothing as bold, as ambitious and on such a scale has ever been attempted before. Not by the BBC. Probably not by any other broadcaster in the UK. Or anywhere in fact.

BBC North today

Almost a year ago today, the BBC Philharmonic were the first to arrive in Salford. Only weeks after returning safely from earthquake-hit Japan, these 90 professional musicians took up residence in their purpose-built rehearsal, performance and recording space in the studio block.

And it was exactly a year ago today that the first wave of staff joined them from London.

Since then we have had 36 weeks of continual migration into our three buildings. We have moved our teams from London – in some cases with their families – to the North of England and staff from our old base on Oxford Road. Every Monday saw a new influx of people arrive onsite, settling into their new office environments and starting work immediately having only been at their old desks the Friday before.

The final piece of this complicated jigsaw slotted into place when BBC Breakfast went live just after Easter.

Now that we are fully operational, we are the BBC’s second biggest creative hub.

The biggest news centre outside London.

The home of six of the ten BBC Future Media’s major online projects.

And most importantly we are the new home of some of the biggest brands that the BBC owns across sport, children’s and entertainment.

Around 2,300 BBC staff now work at MediaCityUK. Approximately a third moved from London; a third were already based in Manchester and we also recruited 700 new people – the biggest recruitment drive in the Corporation’s history.

Over half of those new people – 320 to be exact – were recruited from the North West and 235 of those from Greater Manchester alone.

This injection of new blood into the BBC can only be a good thing. Not only in terms of bringing a new perspective to our programmes but also – and just as vitally – bringing an ‘outsiders’ view of the BBC into the BBC itself. Sometimes we can forget that there is a world outside the BBC, so every new recruit adds their fresh perspective into the mix.

And all our staff are using the latest digital technology to make programmes and content for television, radio and online as well as developing the next generation of technology to ensure that audiences can enjoy the BBC however they access it.

It is no understatement to say that an amazing array of new technology has been installed in our buildings with some teams learning up to seven completely new systems.

Our staff have been through the most rigorous and intense training of any BBC employee. That training has been a combination of traditional classroom method and then training in production environments during both the testing and proving stages of installation.

In the last year alone we have provided over 4,000 days of training. A decade’s worth in a year.

And that training is on-going.

This is a major feat if you step back and think about the upheaval and change that staff were simultaneously going through in their private lives while at the same time learning a whole new way of working and getting the day job done as well.

And it is amazing that to everyone’s credit – bar the smallest of technical glitches – every deadline was met, every programme went to air on time and the audience did not notice the gargantuan effort that was going on behind the scenes.

So in a way it is hard to believe that the first phase of the BBC’s move to the North of England is now complete.

But it is and I am incredibly proud that not only that this has been achieved completely on time but also that we have delivered the project under budget.

The initial estimate for BBC North was £200m. Last year we reforecast that it would cost £189m. Tonight I can tell you that the total cost of BBC North will be around £180m.

That is 10% under the original estimated cost.

Why BBC North?

But before I go any further it is worth reminding everyone about the ‘why’.

No one can have missed everything that has been written about this project in the last few years. Everyone has – and is entitled to – an informed opinion about the BBC. That is only right because the BBC is paid for by everyone.

But sometimes and for whatever reason, the stories have been distorted to custom-fit a particular media organisation or individual’s point of view.

At times it has surprised us how strong, how loud and how persistent that negative reaction has been.

And some of the stories have been absolutely absurd. Chips. Chairs. Cheese. Type BBC North and any of those three words into a search engine and I guarantee we feature pretty high up in the results.

I am also in no doubt that some of that negative criticism is set to continue.

Sadly more often than not it is written by people who haven’t even travelled to Salford. They’ve just not bothered to make the trip. Rather it seems that they take for absolute truth what they find during random uninformed searches on the web or what is said through social media. They are armchair critics of the digital age, never leaving the comfort of their sofas or offices to see for themselves.

Yet a handful of journalists have made the journey up to MediaCityUK to take a look. And they have been impressed. I can’t say that they have been converted – if that’s the right word – but simply seeing the scale of what we are doing has – I hope – helped them to be more objective.

But why in the North? Why build something in the shadow of Old Trafford, across the canal from The Lowry Theatre and The Imperial War Museum, in a city made famous by LS Lowry himself?

This region has always had a strong connection with television. Granada has had a substantial base here for decades, making some of the best dramas, factual and entertainment shows that have defined broadcasting – from World In Action to Brideshead Revisited, Stars in Their Eyes to Cold Feet. And of course two of the UK’s most popular and enduring soaps – Emmerdale and Coronation Street – are made up here too. In fact Corrie – and the rest of ITV currently based in central Manchester – start their own move to MediaCityUK later this year.

Our decision to increase its presence in the region will only add to the already incredibly rich heritage – a heritage that extends far beyond television.

I’ve mentioned LS Lowry and ITV but let’s not forget Morrissey, Johnny Marr and The Smiths at Salford Lads Club and ‘Madchester’. Musicians, poets, artists, composers, actors and writers as varied and acclaimed as Shelagh Delaney, Harold Riley, Albert Finney, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Burgess, Trevor Griffiths, Ewan MacColl, William Walton, Jack Rosenthal, Howard Jacobson and Paul Abbott. So many great names, so much creativity. We are standing on the shoulders of giants – and I don't mean the Oasis album by the same name.

And never mind those two giant football clubs – more world class activity from the North West.

Salford, Manchester, Greater Manchester and the entire North of England has always been bursting at the seams with imagination and daring. This region has always had the balls to take risks and do things differently in every single sphere - from music to television. From architecture to fashion. From science to engineering.

Manchester-born Jeanette Winterson has recently been appointed Professor of Creative Writing here at Manchester University. Following in the footsteps of writers such as Martin Amis and Colm Tóibín, she will teach and inspire generations of students.

And two of your own colleagues – Professor Andre Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov - were recently awarded the Nobel Prize for their pioneering work with the world’s thinnest material, graphene.

This means that The University of Manchester now boasts four Nobel Laureates. Later this year BBC North is paying our own tribute to one of your old boys, Professor Alan Turing. We are naming a floor in our own technology building after this brilliant mathematician, computer scientist and wartime cryptanalyst who famously broke Germany’s codes.

Your work inspires us all. And the creativity of this city, of this entire region inspires us as well.

So if this is the right region why did the BBC undertake the biggest and most ambitious project in its history in the first place? Not only in terms of logistics but also in terms of recognizing that building a new base in the heart of the UK would provide a unique opportunity to change the BBC itself?

As I have already said, it is because the BBC is paid for by everyone who lives in the UK. That means that everyone should be served equally and that the licence fee should be spent more fairly across the entire country.

It’s no secret that the further you travel from the South of England the less some people appreciate and value the BBC. Some feel that it isn’t for them and isn’t relevant. Maybe they still identify with those old north based ITV companies?

We believe that putting ourselves at the heart of the region and the community is the clearest and most definite way we can convince audiences from Liverpool to Hull and from Sheffield to Newcastle that the BBC is serious about tackling this perception. Once and for all.

From our base in Salford we are making a serious commitment to reinvesting more of the licence fee across the entire North of England. Not only in terms of commissioning programmes from independent production companies and helping to support the local and regional creative industries, but also by having a real impact in terms of both direct and indirect employment, as well as training and development both in companies as well as in schools, colleges and universities.

For instance tomorrow over two hundred delegates, mainly students, will attend the One World Media Festival on our site. In partnership with Salford University, this event follows in the footsteps of the Developing Talent Conferences we have previously held in UCLAN in Preston, John Moores University in Liverpool and Teeside University in Middlesborough.

This entire region is rich with ideas, talent and companies that we want to work with.

Take Merseyside, for example.

Recent programmes from that region include Angels of Mersey from Religion & Ethics, CBBC’s Young Dracula - which has been recommissioned – and Liverpool's Titanic Girl about the Sea Odyssey, a weekend-long theatre production inspired by the Titanic.

Looking ahead there is Stephen Buchard’s Good Cop drama series to look forward to and in the pipeline a city-wide photography project with Liverpool Museums.

Last year we announced The Digital Fiction Factory. This multi-million pound partnership with Liverpool’s Conker Media will stretch the mould of traditional programme making by developing new digital content models in entertainment, drama and factual fiction that we will share with the rest of industry. And in that spirit of pan-industry collaboration, Channel 4 joined the BBC and Conker Media in the partnership a few weeks ago.

But it’s not only BBC North that is feeling the pull of the Mersey. BBC Worldwide – our highly successful commercial arm – recently hosted their first ever Showcase event in the city. The start, we hope, of a long-term relationship, it is the BBC’s biggest annual sales convention and around 650 international buyers descended on Liverpool to view and purchase the very best content from the BBC as well as other UK broadcasters and generated revenues of around £50m.

Or look to the North East.

Only last weekend working with BBC Wales, the final of Young Musician 2012 was held at The Sage Gateshead.

A slew of children’s dramas are being made across the region.

Hebburn – the first sitcom to be made in the North East since The Likely Lads – is currently in production with a cast including Jim Moir, Gina McKee and its creator, stand-up comedian Jason Cook.

We have held two successive years of Jesting About – a grass roots comedy initiative in Newcastle.

And tonight I am incredibly proud to announce that The Paradise, a major eight-part drama for BBC One and made for by BBC Drama Production is due to start filming just outside Durham soon. Set in the 1890s, it’s been written by Bill Gallagher and has a cast including Elaine Cassidy, Emun Elliot, David Hayman, Matthew McNulty, Sarah Lancashire and Joanna Vanderham.

So even in our first year we are beginning to see a shift. In simple financial terms we are witnessing an incremental increase in the amount of network television programme spend in this region. In 2010 this figure was 7.7% and last year it was just above 9%. Over the next few years we expect this figure rise to approximately 20%.

And the impact is more significant when you factor in that for every pound of the licence fee spent it delivers two pounds to the economy.

What is BBC North?

Yet it isn’t as simple as building a new base and filling it with people. Critical mass is important, but getting the right mix of departments is vital as well.

In total there are twenty-four departments making a new home for themselves alongside the Manchester Ship Canal. And they are the right departments.

There is BBC Children’s, BBC Learning, the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Sport, News & Current Affairs, Religion & Ethics, Research & Development, Comedy & Entertainment, Marketing & Audiences as well as satellite departments for drama and BBC Radios 3, 4 and 6Music.

But BBC North is far greater than the sum of its own parts. It also provides a beachhead for the rest of the BBC to collaborate.

Take The Preston Passion at Easter as an example. With the direct support of BBC North, this moving public event in central Lancashire formed an important part of BBC One’s Easter programming. It had music, drama, worship and several thousand local participants marking the Preston Guild, an amazing expression of civic and community spirit that has been held every twenty years since 1179. The BBC One live broadcast would never have happened had we not arrived North recently in strength.

The Preston Passion is just the latest example that stretches back to our first large-scale live event, Frankenstein’s Wedding…Live in Leeds. There was Elbow’s gig for BBC Radio 2 in Manchester Cathedral – the band incidentally have also written and produced the BBC’s 2012 Olympic theme featuring the BBC Philharmonic – as well as dramas such as United about the 1958 Munich air disaster, Eric & Ernie about the early years of that eponymous comedic duo, and the drama serial South Riding based in South Yorkshire.

And our individual divisions have also begun to invest in the regional creative industry.

BBC Children’s has had a connection with the North since Byker Grove but now there is a renewed commitment across the region.

BBC North and BBC Children’s invested half a million pounds in five digital companies in the region. Numiko and Brass in Leeds, The Workshop in Sheffield, Th_nk from Newcastle and Amaze from Manchester have made content ranging from a joke factory to resources for parents with young children.

And children’s drama continues to flourish.

Tracy Beaker Returns was filmed in the North East and while the heroine of the title is moving on, CBBC is making a new drama based on Dame Jacqueline Wilson’s fictional care home called The Dumping Ground.

WolfBlood is a brand new supernatural drama currently being filmed in Rowland’s Gill and The Knot, set in the Lancashire Fells, right in the geographical centre of Britain, is being made by Lime Pictures of Liverpool.

And of course Blue Peter and Newsround remain a constant, as relevant today as they were when they first started. It is hard to believe that Newsround, now in its fortieth year, remains the only daily provider of news specifically for children, or that Blue Peter can still inspire and excite generations of children.

But they do.

And for younger children there are programmes like the phenomenally popular Justin’s House and the joyful new series, The Rhyme Rocket.

BBC Learning is also in the business of inspiration - inspiring people of all ages to learn. As well as the amazing Stargazing and their on-going work on media literacy, they are playing a central part in the BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked season. Their partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company, for example, has reinterpreted the BBC’s Reithian values for today’s young audience.

And in terms of our news and sports coverage, BBC North packs a punch.

BBC Radio 5 live, the home of twenty-four hour breaking news and the best radio sports coverage, is reaching out to listeners across the region while keeping its national focus.

This was recognized on Monday night at the Sonys when the network picked up eight awards including four Golds. The Drive programme won the News and Current Affairs award and Stephen Nolan, Danny Baker and Victoria Derbyshire each won their own presenter categories. All this in a year of transition. Incredible.

And this summer it is the only destination if you want complete coverage of both the Olympics and Paralympics on the radio.

They have also commissioned a slate of programmes from Northern-based indies. From a heart-rending documentary from The Christie Hospital, to a programme marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Maradona’s ‘Hand Of God’ moment, Radio 5 live is tapping into a rich mine of stories for their listeners across the UK.

And as for BBC Sport, the summer that we are all looking forward to says it all - the European Football Championship, the Olympics, the British Grand Prix, the Open Golf and Wimbledon.

Events like this bring the nation together like no other.

But why did you move BBC Sport to Salford? It’s a question we get asked all the time.

Because the base we have built here takes us way beyond this summer. We simply couldn’t provide the quality and breadth of coverage for any of our sports – let alone the Olympics – using the old technology in London.

What we have in Salford is a massive investment in kit and connectivity like nowhere else that will keep the BBC at the leading edge of sport production for years to come - into and beyond major events such as the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Winter Olympics in Sochi and the World Cup in Rio all in 2014, and the World Athletics Championships in London in 2017.

Transformation and reinvention

Most weekday mornings I take a run around the docks in Salford and Trafford. While pounding the pavement I am reminded of one thing. There's a plaque on the dockside that spells it out – communities aren’t built of bricks and mortar alone. They are brought to life – made real and vital – by people.

BBC North wasn’t simply about moving people into new buildings. In a sense that was the easy part.

What BBC North is attempting to do is help create a new BBC. Mark Thompson – a tireless supporter of this entire project – had repeatedly said that if you want to see what the future BBC will look like, then ‘visit Salford’.

For any organization change is essential. But as other speakers in this Vital Topics series will have stressed, change is dictated as much by internal forces as those from outside.

In our case the relentless march of new technology, increased choice and the ever-increasing expectations of the audience because new technology gives them ubiquitous access as well as control, means the BBC has to change.

We need to stay fresh, alert and most importantly for the audience, at our creative best.

But we haven’t ripped up the rulebook. Rather we have redrafted it. Change has to be sensitive to the heritage from which it is born.

And the way we want our staff to work is the foundation of any change.

Anyone visiting our new buildings will immediately be struck by how different they look and feel. I don’t only mean the ‘thought’ or ‘hamster’ wheels that the press once obsessed about.

I mean the entire environment.

Everything is open plan.

No one has an office. Not even the senior management team.

Seventy per cent of staff use laptops. More than double the number of any other part of the BBC.

No one has an allocated desk or fixed telephone line. Departments have bases but staff are free to work alongside those colleagues – irrelevant of which department they are from – that they need alongside them to get the job done.

We think that this physical sense of openness translates into a more open mental attitude as well. That's what we learned on an early trip to some of the big successful media players in Silicon Valley. Everything about their buildings – furniture, receptions, communal spaces, kitchens, canteens as well as the production areas – were designed to encourage collaboration and creativity.

We have mimicked some of those ideas. One member of staff was recently showing her teenage kids where she worked and they remarked – “Hey mum, when did you get cool enough to work here?”

I love that because no one ever said it about any other BBC buildings I have worked in. Cool!

And the way we exploit technology is the other important cornerstone in changing the way we work.

BBC North aims to be completely tapeless, digital and HD. It’s a massive ask of our staff. Not only in terms of training but also in terms of patience. In some cases it has been a case of trial and sometimes error but ultimately it will create a more effective and seamless, efficient and creative programme-making environment. And what we are doing with technology here will influence how it is rolled out across the entire BBC.

A good example of this is the new ‘BBC Sport Centre’ on the ground floor on Quay House at MediaCityUK. For the first time the overwhelming majority of our sports journalists are all in one place. In Television Centre in London they were spread across multiple floors and often had to run tapes – actual physical tapes – between departments to get the news to air.

Not any more.

Now all sports content is immediately ingested, tagged and logged digitally. All the teams for television, radio and online – domestic and international – sit within talking distance of one another and they can access and share this material at the touch of a single button. And this brilliant collaboration across BBC Sport was in evidence most recently when teams worked superbly together to cover the controversial Formula One race from Bahrain.

Over one hundred million people around the world are watching, reading or listening to the output from the BBC Sport Centre.

And there are other examples. Our newsgathering operation now works across all platforms and programmes and for the first time our network and regional teams are fused. BBC Breakfast and North West Tonight not only share a studio but they also share operational teams including graphic designers and editors.

There is now one meeting of all the news teams including Sports News and Newsround as well as a shared newsdesk and a joint planning desk.

And our specialist newsgathering correspondents – covering the arts, entertainment and health – increasingly work on BBC Radio 5 live and network programmes.

And while this ultimately means that the delivery of our content to audience is suddenly much more seamless, instantaneous and cost effective. It has a deeper impact.

It frees up the flow of ideas and gives staff the chance to move away from traditional and entrenched thinking and has enabled us to ask teams to embrace a different approach to working, to be bold enough to take creative risks that have resulted in some truly unique collaborations.

Just take the BBC Philharmonic.

Last summer they worked with Radio 5 live as well as the other national radio networks to create BBC Philharmonic Presents – two weeks of free live concerts in their studio. As well as the 3,000 people who attended the live performances, the concerts were listened to by millions of people across our radio networks and on the red button.

BBC Children’s and the BBC Philharmonic (again) were major contributors to the Manchester International Festival, alongside BBC Wales and Doctor Who.

Our Research & Development team also teamed up with the orchestra and Manchester-based magnetic:North to create Virtual Maestro. This enables anyone to conduct the orchestra in front of a virtual set and it has been nominated for a Webby and a Design Week Award.

This kind of new thinking across traditional programme making frontiers is happening everywhere. Children’s are working for the first time with Radio 5 live on a programme for the Olympics.

And what we are doing at MediaCityUK is being seen as a blueprint for the rest of the BBC.

On the most basic level, all new staff that join the BBC now come to Salford for their induction wherever they are based.

And those in charge of the BBC’s move back into Broadcasting House in central London and the new drama village in Cardiff have taken more than an active interest in what we have been doing and are applying our learning to their own new enterprises.

For our own staff we also recognized that if we were asking them to make changes to the way they work, we need to give them the necessary tools to consider changing their behaviours.

It’s common sense. If you create the right environment, and I don’t only mean tables, chairs and thought-wheels, but a place where you encourage a keen, enthusiastic work culture, people will feel more engaged and involved and the whole place becomes an engine for creativity.

So a few weeks ago we launched The 3MEs – a new approach to staff training and development. It brings together in a simple and clear way the career, creative and social aspects of working at BBC North.

Don’t misunderstand me. We are not reinventing the wheel here – we are making it stronger. The 3MEs builds on the BBC’s existing training and creative opportunities but adds some fresh, new ideas.

And because change can’t be imposed or mandatory, staff decide how much they want to get involved. There’s no roadmap. People choose how much or how little they do and inevitably involvement will vary. But the more staff put in the more they should get out.

We are already seeing some positive results. Just under a thousand people have enrolled and participation – in everything from creative workshops and brainstorms to football and yes, even knitting – is increasing. It's fun and it's collaborative. And a whole creative community is emerging, not a workforce of 2,300 isolated, individual staff members.

I believe that The 3 MEs should make BBC North a more rewarding place to work and ultimately help us better serve our audiences. And we are already being asked by other divisions across the BBC how they can adopt it for their own staff.

‘Defying Gravity’

While at The Lowry Theatre recently a bunch of school kids were getting off a coach. One of the pupils turned to his teacher and said “I thought the BBC was in London?” to which the teacher replied “No son, the BBC is everywhere”.

For the general media this might sound like omnipotence gone mad but for me it demonstrated that even after a single year we might have started to shift perceptions ever so slightly – moving people away from the idea that the BBC only exists in the capital.

Defying gravity, I call it. Believing that creativity lives everywhere across the UK and isn’t unique to the South East.

As The Chairman of the BBC Trust just said, we are the British Broadcasting Corporation.

We all know that there has always been a vibrant, healthy, creative industry outside the M25. Our long-term investment will enable the BBC to increase the scale of its activity across the region and make an even greater, more impactful contribution that will continue to help shift perception about the creative life and contribution of this region.

In fact I think that there are concrete and substantial signs that there is already a shift in the balance of creativity in favour of the North of England. Look at television drama – it seems to be going through a kind of northern Renaissance. From The Syndicate to Prisoner's Wives, Anthony and Cleopatra to The Village, In The Flesh to Lady's Paradise, Good Cop to The Fuse - never mind Scott and Bailey and Shameless. All made in the North, but enjoyed by the whole UK.

Don’t get me wrong, London will always be very important but it shouldn’t be a case of ‘either or’ but rather ‘London plus’. London shouldn’t be the single focal point around which creativity, careers, choice or opportunity should revolve.

London might be the birthplace of traditional media but what we are beginning to witness is more media companies – in television, radio and digital – across this region defying expectation and moving against the traditional gravitational pull of the capital.

In a sense the persistent sniping of certain quarters of the media has inadvertently helped our determination to defy that gravity. We are harnessing the negativity and criticism and demonstrating through action and programmes that BBC North is making a difference alongside everyone else here. It's made us more determined to be successful.

Perhaps I should thank the Daily Mail? Maybe not.

We want to make BBC North sing. We will not be either complacent or self-satisfied – our challenge moving forward is to keep the energy and excitement levels high.

You might think this makes us zealots but when people first arrive at our new offices – be they broadcasting legends like Peter Allen or Gordon Burns, or the newest fresh-faced rookie on their first day – we tell them the same thing. That they are pioneers – making a fresh start, making content with the latest technology, smashing traditional silos and mindsets, making new friends and forging new partnerships, leading the way forward for the rest of the BBC by example.

The future

Of course this might all seem like empty rhetoric if I couldn’t point to examples I have already mentioned as well as plans for the future.

Having principles and ambitions is one thing. Delivering on them is an entirely different matter.

Some people live under the misconception that because we have ‘landed’ in Salford everything would blossom and flower overnight – increased investment, more jobs, increased audience approval.

It’s completely naïve that any company – even the BBC – can change the world overnight.

BBC North is about tempered, thoughtful, strategic progress.

Ambition – to be ultimately successful - is rarely on a grand scale or about the grand gesture. It’s a more gradual, slower process often on lots of levels that can take years to take root and show long lasting results.

It is what Dave Brailsford, Director of Performance for Manchester-based world cycling champions Team GB calls “the aggregation of small things”.

His team was one of the first I visited when I took this job nearly four years ago. And they inspired me.

And in our first year we have had those successes – that aggregation of small things - that are providing the firm foundations for future growth.

Take Frankenstein’s Wedding…Live In Leeds for example. Thousands of people turned out to be part of this thrilling night. Not only was it a successful live event but it was also a huge success for BBC Three and has been recognized with awards.

Without everything we learned from Frankenstein’s Wedding in terms of bringing people together, working within the community and simply trying something that hadn’t been tried before, we might not have embarked on The Preston Passion. But we did.

And without the success of Jesting About in Newcastle – now in its second year – we might not have realized the full power of comedy, mined its rich heritage here in the North and hosted the very first Sitcom Showcase that resulted in two commissions for the BBC – Citizen Khan and Hebburn.

And over the next two to three years we will continue this cautious advance. Increase the momentum.

Sitcom Showcase will return later this year and we are also looking at what other genres we can build similar industry-wide events around.

In less than two weeks BBC Radio 5 live’s Colin Murray will hold the biggest ever Fighting Talk live broadcast from the Britannia Stadium in Stoke. And we have plans to take the whole of BBC Radio 5 live out to another city in the North of England this Autumn.

The BBC Philharmonic will build on the success of their first ever BBC Philharmonic Presents season this Autumn.

And this September BBC Religion & Ethics with the support of BBC North will host a festival at MediaCityUK. Designed for anyone involved in religious and ethical broadcasting, it will explore the issues of faith, philosophy and ethics.

Each of these projects – and all the others that will follow - help redefine how we want to work and more importantly how we are trying to establish a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our audience.


Last year I said that if BBC North was a barge on the Manchester Ship Canal it would just have reached Barton Lock - a few hundred yards away. A year later I would say that we may have travelled a couple more miles towards the sea. Steady progress.

We still have a long way to go but we launched and we launched well.

BBC North has an initial 20-year lease on the three buildings at MediaCityUK. In twenty years when that lease needs renewing, Sir Alex Ferguson will be ninety. If I was a betting man I would say that he will probably still be managing United and will still be playing ‘Fergie Time’ at the end of most matches. And Ken Barlow will still be pursuing women the length and breadth of Weatherfield – though by then of course on a set alongside the Manchester Ship Canal.

What people need to realize – and in some cases learn to accept – is that BBC North is a long term reality.

We have opened on time and UNDER budget.

Thousands of people have moved in and are making some of the very best programmes for the BBC using the latest technology.

Those same people are on a journey of discovery. Not only creatively but also in terms of relationships amongst themselves and the wider community.

Our increased investment in the North of England is for the future of the BBC and for our audiences.

In Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark, when someone wonders why people don’t recognise the magnificence of Glasgow, the character Duncan Thaw replied that it is because nobody imagines living there.

He says: “If a city has not been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.” That creative clarion call has been my mantra from the start.

This great city has been imagined by creatives for decades. BBC North has been imagined for some years now too, though it lived first in spreadsheets and in computer-generated images.

But it also lived in the hearts and souls of a bunch people – not only at the BBC by the way, but our great and loyal friends in this region - who were determined to make it a reality. Now our imaginations are being fed by new, great content and the communities around us.

And there have been some good omens along the way. All sorts.

The Archbishops of York and Canterbury came and prayed for the entire venture. They prayed that we would all make a positive difference and they even opened a beautiful bridge – the one across to Coronation Street – itself an omen. Certainly symbolic.

Manchester United and City went to the top just as Match of the Day moved in.

Her Majesty The Queen and I had the same colours in our outfits when she officially opened our buildings in March.

Blue Peter has doubled its audience.

The Dragons – Duncan Bannantyne, Hilary Devey, Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis – made a record number of investments in their first week on their new set here in MediaCityUK.

Last week, punk poet John Cooper Clark, brilliant actress Maxine Peake and exciting new pop star Ren Harvieu each appeared on the BBC Breakfast sofa on consecutive days. Veteran and new Salford stars on the network at breakfast. Lovely.

Even Doctor Who has been here. Twice.

In a way we were drawn to the North because we firmly believe that we can make a difference. Not only to the 17 million who live across the region but to the whole of the UK.

We are all confident that this will work. It’s about scale and creative ambition. About anchoring BBC North in fact and deed.

But we are only part of what is fast becoming a real media city. We share a plot with some powerful and visionary neighbours – Salford University, ITV, Peel Media and the many small and medium sized companies on the campus. They are also developing talent and harnessing the latest digital technology to unlock the full potential of this region for the entire UK.

Together with them and partners across the North of England we will continue to make this the best, the world-class place it has always and will continue to be.

But before I answer your questions I just want to remind you why we are here. To make great content on every platform for everyone.

Thank you.