The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has issued its response to today’s announcement by Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC.
Statement by Bernie Corbett
General Secretary, Writers’ Guild of Great Britain
In eight plain words – “The BBC should not attempt to do everything” – Mark Thompson has overturned a philosophy that has been central to the BBC since it was founded 87 years ago.
If it sticks, the new policy that the BBC can no longer provide something for everybody but must instead concentrate on high quality and areas where others can’t or won’t provide, will have profound implications.
We are suspicious of a policy change which is the result of pressure from commercial broadcasters (particularly the Murdoch empire). We take no pleasure in the abolition of Radio 6 or the Asian network (both of which are the very kind of high-quality services that no other broadcaster provides). We are particularly worried by proposals - like dropping the Asian network - which throw the BBC's commitment to diversity into reverse. And of course we support our fellow entertainment unions in their battle against job cuts.
If the changes do genuinely release £600 million to go into more and better programmes, we have some immediate suggestions as to how some of that might be best spent.
Original drama: For several years everyone has been asking why Britain can’t produce brilliant series like The Sopranos, The Wire, etc. Here is a chance for the BBC to create its own in-house HBO.
New writers: Fresh talent and new ideas don’t have to be developed to death – here is an opportunity to take some risks. Five out of every six TV drama scripts commissioned and paid for by the BBC never get made – now that ratio can be radically improved.
Make me laugh: We long for brilliant new sitcoms. Use some of this money to give them room to grow. Many of the true greats were into their second or third series before they achieved classic status.
Something for the kids: Build on the success of CBBC and CBeebies by reinventing real, meaty drama and comedy for kids – there is more to children’s TV than running-around-shouting-and-playing shows and endlessly repeated animations – brilliant though they are.
Rescue radio: A tiny fragment of the money would not only restore but reverse the shameful cuts in BBC Radio drama that in recent years have seen the abandonment of World Service drama, the crazy cancellation of terrific soaps like Westway and Silver Street, the imminent demise of the Friday Play and the dumbing-down of the Woman’s Hour drama slot into little more than a reading with interludes of dialogue.
Comedy: While we’re at it, let us have the reintroduction of topical sketch shows like Week Ending or the News Huddlines – these shows have enabled generations of brilliant writers to get started and write their way out of their bedsits and into the ratings.
Britain’s broadcasting heritage: At long last here is a realistic source for the huge sums required to digitise the BBC archive and put it online, where everyone can access every TV or radio show that was ever made in the UK (or at least, those that still survive). And please will the BBC not give our heritage away for nothing, but charge a reasonable pay-per-view or subscription price. Doing so will avoid the iPlayer mistake of setting up impossible competition for other, commercial providers, and it will bring in revenue to fund even more programme making and to ensure fair payment for the writers and other creators who made those shows. Never forget, the BBC did not buy or pay for these rights at the time the programmes were made and it cannot rewrite history now.
Update: More about the Strategy Review from the BBC.