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24 September 2014
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Jane Root

Controller of BBC TWO

Speech given at the Television from the Nations and Regions Conference, Salford

Wednesday 27 November 2002
Printable version

I've heard it can be tough being the BBC representative at this conference: but hey I've spent 3 years negociating with Anne Robinson…

And anyway, I think I've picked a good year to come to talk about the BBC and our approach to TV production in the UK's nations and regions.

We've talked for a long time at the BBC about acting globally, nationally and regionally but I think it's fair to say that it's only in the past two years that Nations and Regions have come in from the cold and taken their place at the real heart of the BBC.

Personally, I date this to the period when Greg Dyke first came to the BBC.

In his first few months he undertook an extended visit around local radio stations - a trip only partly motivated by the fact that John Birt was still sitting in his office at Broadcasting House at the time.

I think it's fair to say that Greg was simultaneously impressed and concerned by what he saw.

Impressed by the level of commitment, the closeness to audiences, and the strength of the role the BBC played in the communities they exist in.

And while he was deeply impressed by the value for money he saw - and never stopped telling Network television that they could learn lessons from how television in the Nations and Regions did it - he also saw some examples of underfunding that frankly appalled him.

I don't know what happpened to him when he visited the Asian Network at Radio Leicester, but it's something that left an impression.

Since then, a lot of things have changed.

More and more of the licence fee is being spent on programmes and more and more of that is spent outside London.

In the last 2 years, the value of network programming commissioned from the Nations has almost doubled (from £55 million to £95 million) and we are investing in big, brave new shows for the nations like Scotland's recently launched soap, River City.

And in the English regions we're taking our services closer to the communities they serve.

It's a paradox of modern life. On the one hand you want bigger scale and on the other you want things that are smaller, more intimate and bespoke. Even Mcdonald's is now retreating from its one size fits all strategy.

- On TV, we have broken up some of our larger regions to provide a more local news service: viewers now prefer our 6.30pm local news in 10 of the 11 regions;

- On radio, we have also split some local stations so they can be more in touch with local issues and audiences;

- And online, we have created some 40 "Where I Live" websites, providing local news, history, what's on guides and so on.

And now that ambitious plans to refurbish local radio buildings throughout Britain is underway, the BBC is committed to not going back to those dark old days again

Instead, we want to stake our claim as Britain's best broadcaster serving the English regions and the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is going to be even more important now that ITV's traditionally powerful commitment to the regions comes under threat.

But as more and more people express concern about ITV's commitment, both in production and in network scheduling, the BBC's willingness to invest in these areas is increasing.

This session is called opportunity knocks.

I remember 8 years ago when I was running Wall to Wall with Alex Graham, I experienced at first hand just how hard it can be to create a talented team, train them to high standards, then hold on to them when better offers come knocking.

I tried to persuade Conrad Green that he'd found his niche working on reception, but hey, he had greater ambitions.

It was hard in Kentish Town, but really hard when we tried to open offices in Glasgow and Birmingham.

When you are running an office you need a big pool of really great people around. You want your best people to leave, work with other great people, then come back - not go off and work in some other city.

That's why I'm so pleased with that the BBC is the premier investor in training in the broadcasting industry today, and shows no sign of letting up. We invested £40 million last year.

- The BBC Talent scheme is scouring the country, auditioning in 21 towns and cities for tomorrow's sitcom writers, sports reporters, producers and children's presenters, offering them their first break into the industry;

- The BBC Northern Exposure scheme has worked in partnership with regional theatres to help 4,000 aspiring writers;

- But most important for me as someone who wants really great programmes and wants them right now, is the Producer Development Scheme.

And I can announce today that we will be repeating our unique year-long Producer Development Scheme to develop the next generation of experienced programme makers available to the BBC and independent producers across Britain:

It is open to independents, freelancers, as well as BBC staff and will now cover England as well as the Nations.

The most recent intake were surprised to discover from the BBC2 scheduler, George, that there is a science to scheduling - I think most people assume he just pulls names out of a hat!


Training is all very well, you might say, but what use is an independent company without comissions.

Well, a major proportion of the additional spending we are making in the regions benefit the independent producers outside London.

Two-thirds of the network shows produced in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently come from indies.

So do about one-third of productions in the English regions.

The creation of new channels will further increase these opportunities.

But the indies themselves have to be in a position to deliver the goods. They need to be of a scale which makes them competitive in a tough market and must also have the flexibility to pitch ideas across genre boundaries.

And the BBC needs to make sure that it has a better relationship with the indies than it has done to date and make it easier to navigate a way round the organisation … which is why we are putting in place a new senior executive early next year to take on that responsibility.

The role, which will report to Jana Bennett, the Director of Television, will focus on improving two-way communication, on helping indies find the right person to talk to in the BBC and will also specifically look at helping indies in the Nations and Regions.

The bottom line is that we just want the best programme ideas.

It's our aim to make great programmes which enrich people's lives. Everything I've talked about today is about achieving that goal.

I've never met the viewer who turns on to a programme because it filled a nice little box on a form.

Of course we will strive to meet or exceed our quotas - whether on indie production or the Hatch 33 per cent for nations and regions.

But what motivates me as a commissioner of programmes is ideas borne of creativity and innovation which will delight and engage the audience.

I will look for those programme ideas anywhere I can find them. And I know I can find them in every corner of the UK. Inside the BBC and from independent producers.

I'm never one to miss a chance to promote my own channel, so here just a few of the highlights we've had on TWO from the Nations and Regions in the past few months.

There was Flesh and Blood, the brilliant one-off drama from Red Productions. If that doesn't feature in the BAFTA and RTS lists then I’ll be very surprised.

Half my drama comes from Scotland: right now we're in the midst of making Frank Deasey's Real Men from Scotland's in-house department

And Donna Francheschild's The Key from Little Bird.

And from Wales last year we had the BAFTA nominated drama Pleasure Beach from Blast. The same team are developing new things for me right now.

We're also making The Floor Show, a new live Saturday night entertainment show presented by Sean Locke.

I accidentally called this the 'Live Bed Show' when presenting some stuff to the BBC Governors, but we won't go into that here…

But before I finish I'll briefly mention another project I'm very excited about. It's called Restoration - it's a rather brilliant idea from Endemol Scotland.

It's a ten-part series where you get to vote for which historic building you think should be restored with a special fund we've got together from the heritage bodies across the whole of Britain.

It's both huge and very local which almostly completely sums up what we're hoping for from the BBC's new Nations and Regions strategy.


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