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29 October 2014
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Stuart Murphy, controller of BBC3
Stuart Murphy, controller of BBC3

Stuart Murphy Interview

By Oonagh Jaquest
BBC3's Yorkshire-born boss came to Sheffield to see his channel stage a Flashmob Opera in a shopping centre. We caught up with Stuart Murphy to find out why culture doesn't live in London and why Sheffield shoppers won't be brassed off by opera.


Sheffield's Meadowhall Shopping Centre is buzzing with the final preparations for BBC3's live performance of Flashmob The Opera.  Opera singers with seriously big voices run around the concourses belting out some well-known arias, which have been incorporated into a contemporary take on the classic Faust story, whilst shoppers look on.

We caught up with an ebullient Stuart Murphy to find out why he decided to commission an opera to be performed in Sheffield's temple to shopping.

Going nuts in Meadowhall

BBC SY: So Stuart, Why Meadowhall

I think, I'm from Leeds and when I was growing up I used to come to Meadowhall quite a lot and I was quite keen to do something outside London, because whenever there's massive cultural events it really annoys me when it's just in London. So I wanted to do something out of the capital that felt a bit nuts and in a really incongruous setting.

Flashmob The Opera presenter Patrick O'Connell
Flashmob the Opera presenter Patrick O'Connell.

BBC SY: What was the reaction like to the first Flashmob The Opera at Paddington?

It was good actually. It was mixed y'know. There were some people who were there crying, some drunks, two gay blokes propositioned the presenter live on air, but I don't think that'll happen in Sheffield somehow, and some people were just opera buffs. There were a lot of people who kept missing their commuter trains just to keep with it - which was sort of the response I'd hoped for, y'know as a commuter I think there's nothing more boring than just going on the same train every single day, do you know what I mean? People really got into it, yeah. It was really good.

Sophisticated Sheffield

BBC SY: Do you think that Flashmob The Opera coming to Sheffield will add something to the cultural life of the city. Quite famously we're the only major city without a major orchestra for example...

I mean I hope so. I think there's a certain cultural snobbery in Britain that people often assume London's the kind of pulsing heart of culture. And actually that's just rubbish. Most provincial cities are pretty sophisticated and London is no longer, I think, the kind of magnet for cultural geniuses in the country. I was quite keen to come to Sheffield because of The Crucible.

"There's something about a Yorkshire mentality that thinks "Bugger it, I'll just give it a go". People are more willing to join in."
Stuart Murphy, Controller BBC3

 I thought, y'know,  there've been documentaries in the past where brass bands or people who work in factories have taken part in opera and stuff. And I just sort of think there's something about a Yorkshire mentality, not to over-romanticise it, but there's something about a Yorkshire mentality that thinks "Bugger it, I'll just give it a go". I think people are a lot more willing to join in.

BBC SY: Is that the Brassed Off mentality for you?

[Laughs] Sort of. But then you don't see many people "Dahn t'pit" in Meadowhall. I just think in enormous cities like Birmingham or London people tend to be quite dismissive of eccentric, bizarre things. So if you saw someone in their underpants playing the tambourine at the end of your road, you'd tend to just sort of drift past them. Whereas whenever things have happened like that - obviously not exactly like that - but whenever things have happened like that in Leeds or other places people are a lot more willing to give it a go.

Drama Up North

Shoppers watch Flashmob opera performers
Shoppers watch Flashmob opera performers

BBC SY: We know that BBC3, along with other channels, has a target to be moving out of London in a few years and be moving up to Manchester. Can we expect to see more programming that's actually rooted in the regions between now and then?

Yeah, I hope so. Already on BBC3 all our dramas are made outside London. So Bodies, which is a really sick, compelling drama is made opposite the comprehensive I went to school at in Leeds. Conviction was made in Manchester, this big drama, and Casanova was also made in Manchester.

So there's no kind of legal requirement to make all our dramas outside of London but actually I think it's part and parcel of what the BBC ought to be about. When I was growing up it used to irritate the hell out of me when newsreaders on local news didn't sound like they were from the local area.

And I don't want to do the reverse snobbery thing. But I do think it's important that if everybody pays for the BBC you ought to get the sense that it's intimately linked to your life and it understands what you're about. It's not just a southern, white, male, predominantly gay institution.

To listen to the interview with Stuart Murphy and see more features about Flashmob The Opera in Sheffield, click on the links on the top right hand side of the page.

last updated: 12/04/05
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