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Greg Dyke


Speech given at the official opening of The Forum, Norwich

22 October 2003
Printable version

Press release

It's a great pleasure to be here today for the official opening of the BBC's move into this wonderful new building.

Don't you just look out of the window and go "wow"? It's even better in the evening with the lights on around St Peter Mancroft and the Cathedral.

Before I set off to Norwich this morning I was given a firm piece of advice:

"Greg, whatever you do, don't mention Alan Partridge." One of my golden rules about advice is to treat it as just that: advice. I happen to think Steve Coogan is one of our finest comedians. I also think Radio Norfolk is one of the BBC's finest stations – and I swear that there is no contradiction whatsoever between those two statements.

Steve represents a great and important tradition of comedy and satire in the BBC. Whether it's Morecambe and Wise, Only Fools and Horses, the Monty Python gang, Ab Fab or I'm Alan Partridge, it's about people and characters that become a part of our everyday lives.

Radio Norfolk is the same – and it's every bit as important to the BBC. Its presenters are a big part of their listeners' everyday lives – and every bit as important to them as those other BBC icons.

They tell them what is going on across the county – and of course it's their county and their home too – and they share its fortunes together, connecting people, day in, day out, for better and for worse.

That's what broadcasting at its best is all about. It's certainly what the BBC at its best is all about.

The staff of Radio Norfolk – and all the other BBC teams that work in Norwich – have been waiting a long time for the move to The Forum which we are celebrating today.

But this building is not, of course, just about Norwich – it's the hub for all the BBC's operations across East Anglia and the Eastern counties.

And across its region, BBC East is enjoying great success this year. Back in February it was Look East that won the BBC's regional television news programme of the year award – not least for the sensitive way that it handled one of the most difficult news stories of the year in Soham.

Then last week, in an annual ceremony we call the Gillard Awards in honour of Frank Gillard, the man who founded BBC local radio, I handed the Station of the Year award to Radio Suffolk after a cracking year of terrific programmes and record audiences.

Now I should tell you that I was in fact given a second piece of advice before I set off this morning – "On no account mention Ipswich Town Football Club or Suffolk". Well, I'm sorry, but I have to disregard that advice too – after all, I do have to remember my obligation as the BBC's Editor-in-Chief to be strictly impartial – an obligation I take extremely seriously except of course when I'm at Old Trafford.

So this really is a good time to come to the East. It shows what rude health the BBC is in in this part of the country.

But it's not enough for our programmes to be doing well. Up to now we've never shouted our presence around Britain in the way commercial TV often did. The BBC was hidden away on a split site – with TV in one building and radio in another. Ask anyone locally for directions and they'd say, "I think it's somewhere near John Lewis."

Well, not any more. Moving into The Forum is an important statement of intent by the BBC. Anyone left with the idea that the BBC's regions enjoy some kind of second class status should be invited here today.

We mean business in the nations and regions of the UK as never before – and there are three good reasons why.

Firstly – because regional programming now has a decidedly lower profile within ITV, and I cannot see that improving. I say this in sorrow, both as an ex-ITV man and because I believe competition is a good thing.

Secondly – because the BBC takes the licence fee from every city, town and village, indeed from every street of houses in the land, it follows that we have a public duty and obligation to provide every household with a service that is relevant to them and to the daily lives they lead in their community.

And to ensure that the service they get is just as good as that we provide to every other community.

And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly – because as our culture and our businesses become ever more global, all the evidence suggests – paradoxically – that people's focus on the local is becoming stronger than ever.

In other words, we're seeking to meet a demand that others aren't, that we ought to meet and that people on the ground are hungry for. You don't need a degree in rocket science to think that through.

So in the past two years, we've substantially increased our investment in local and regional programmes across the UK.

We've created new high profile slots on BBC ONE for our weekly local current affairs programmes - Inside Out - and our weekly local politics coverage – The Politics Show – and in each case audiences have more than doubled.

We've strengthened local radio programming and launched a whole series of local websites – under the umbrella heading of Where I Live sites – providing local guides to news, sport, weather and local events in every area, as well as giving people the chance to debate the issues that directly affect their lives.

And, as we can all see today, there's been another kind of increased investment – investment in updating the buildings we're based in and the equipment we need for modern broadcasting.

Norwich isn't unique - other major schemes are also under way creating new centres in Birmingham, in Glasgow, in Leeds, Hull and Leicester.

And because we want to continue to put as much of our income as we possibly can directly into programmes and services, we're increasingly setting up new kinds of financial partnerships to create new buildings where the BBC can be more welcoming and closer to where people live, work and shop.

Earlier this month two of our recent building schemes won British Council awards for new office buildings – The Tun in Edinburgh and the Mailbox building in Birmingham.

We're proud of these awards which show the scope of our ambitions.

We care about buildings. We care about the space we give our people. We care about architecture. And nowhere in the country is there a better example of us meeting all these criteria than here in this terrific new building, The Forum.

As The Big Read comes to BBC TWO this very week – a major project to encourage people to spend more time reading and enjoying books – what could be more appropriate than to be here in a library?

A library. I don't know what you think of when you normally think of libraries, but I bet you don't think of one that looks like this. What a great vision for this community to replace its dire 1960s building with this soaring architecture of glass and metal that links so beautifully with the history that makes Norwich such a great city.

It seems a natural fit for the BBC to be here too. We're here to entertain but we're also here to inform and to educate.

In a room across the way there's a display all about The Big Read project.

Downstairs, as you can see, is a fantastic venue for holding larger events. The one on today is all about a new BBC campaign called Talking Teenagers, which I guess explains all the unmade beds. Don't know about you, but I normally come to work to get away from that sort of stuff… It's part of a week of programmes and events for teenagers and their parents, trying to improve our understanding of the issues and problems they face.

The great thing about this building is the new opportunities it creates at a stroke for the BBC to interact with more people in these kinds of ways.

We plan to do a lot more events of this type with the local community and our partners at The Forum. Through our phone-ins, websites and outreach activities we also aim to share some of them with people across the whole of this big region.

On the monitors you can see some of the historical highlights of Look East down the years. And I'm pleased to see they've left in some of the best cock-ups.

I've been told that Ian Masters, who used to present the show, has made more money selling that infamous out-take where he ends up dropping someone's treasured ship in a bottle than he ever made from presenting the programme.

Look East is a programme with a long history and a good number of famous faces have passed through.

Delia Smith learnt to cook on the telly appearing on the show. She says that never knowing whether she'd be given three minutes or eight minutes in advance was a great way to learn. Certainly it doesn't seem to have done her any harm.

Martin Bell started here too. Then he became a correspondent. As he puts it, a correspondent is simply a reporter who stays for lunch. But he learnt his trade here before becoming one of the BBC's best known and bravest newsmen.

Today the programme's in top form with around a million viewers tuning into Look East bulletins in the course of an average day.

Radio Norfolk's attracting more than a third of all adult listeners across the county and remains Norfolk's number one radio station.

I believe that this new home gives them the perfect platform for the new century and I would like to pay a sincere tribute to everyone at The Forum Trust, at Norfolk County Council and Norwich City Council, and at the BBC who has made this possible.

And finally to thank all of you for taking the time to come along here today.

Thank you.

Notes to Editors

Greg Dyke opens new BBC Norwich studios and visits Talking Teenagers event (22.10.03)


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