Journalists are already speculating that the appointment of the next Director General of the BBC is the most crucial decision facing the BBC Trust since the 1920s, not only as it’s necessary to address the massive BBC deficit (approx 20% of its annual budget), but because of the challenges facing the Television sector as a whole.

In many ways Mark Thompson has been a good Director General, not outstanding, certainly not visionary, but a safe pair of hands nonetheless. And for the past eight years the BBC has successfully navigated some tricky moments, from his appointment following the Hutton report to Sachsgate. But now we stand firmly somewhere within a revolution of technology that is advancing so fast that a safe pair of hands is not enough. The BBC needs nothing short of a revolution of its own. And so I’ve put together a manifesto of my own for the position of Director General.


I know it’s easier said than done for the BBC to resolve its ongoing union issues, but the BBC needs to remember that attracting and continuing to attract the most talented, the most innovative, the most creative people is key to its survival. Quite often the creative industries under-pay their employees, knowing that to a degree they will work for the love of their art; but talent should be rewarded appropriately, and conditions of work must be acceptable to reflect the socially aware organisation that the BBC must be. The BBC is a brand recognised world-wide as providing excellence in entertainment and current affairs– but this image has been neglected through the years, and like Television House, the BBC is in a shabby and slightly neglected state.


And when I say restructure I don’t mean automatic job cuts– I mean a full review of staff and their skill set, identifying what they feel their key skills are (what they really are), identifying the corporate need and directing their work accordingly. It’s a massive undertaking but a necessary one. Creativity needs space to flow, it also relies heavily on a positive, creative environment. The BBC should scrap focus groups and establish an environment not totally dissimilar to Pixar and their creative hub. Red Tape is undoubtedly a problem, and it has risen from the culture of political correctness that exists within the BBC; this is arguably the real cause of problems such as Sachsgate, as more outspoken  TV personalities (Ross, Clarkson, Brand), are seen by the public as a breath of fresh air– that is until, in reaction, they go a step too far. Of course, fire guards need to be kept in place to protect the BBC from legal action, but equally important is the flow of communication.


I agree with Jeremy Paxman that the decision to sell off Television Centre, built in West London on relatively cheap land, instead of the lesser used Broadcasting House in W1, was a misguided one. Worse than that was the decision to move much of BBC production to Media City in Salford. Decentralisation is never a good idea. The Irish Government tried and failed, and the BBC is in danger of following suit. No further department should move from London; and I say this as a proud Northerner. I do not believe that the world should revolve around London.  But in order for the BBC to both communicate and be innovative, it needs to pool its staff in one place. Great though it is, Manchester is too far away from anywhere to allow the BBC to achieve its maximum reach. Current affairs (and I include Breakfast and Sport in this) would struggle to provide the in-depth analysis it currently provides if it were based outside London, and it seems completely illogical to have moved BBC Sport the year before the London 2012 Olympics.

The BBC must reverse its decision to sell off Television Centre. It’s an iconic building with a phenomenal amount of broadcast history attached to it. However, it is also neglected. Walking through the corridors yesterday there was a definite sense of sadness– Radio 5 Live desks empty, whole corridors full of empty offices. The BBC must turn this atmosphere around and redevelop the Television Centre. A TV Centre should be a hub of innovation, a modern building that provides a facility that reflects the BBC’s past, but embraces the future. Refurbishing the Television Centre, and turning it into a building of research and development, where the very best creative minds develop new TV formats, new experiences for audiences and the way in which TV is made, can meet and work together to reinvigorate the BBC, and through export help it on its way to greater sustainability. The BBC can provide an iconic building should be the beating heart of the BBC’s revolution. I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘speculate to accumulate’; yes refurbishing and retaining TV Centre is expensive, but the BBC should, whilst living within its means, be driven by creativity and excellence not driven by rationalisation and austerity.


Political neutrality is central to establishing trust with the viewers, so curbing the political opinions of current affairs presenters is important.  Equal time must be given to all legitimate political spheres.

The BBC needs to generate more of its own income, BBC Vision is already a key part of this, though definitely has room for expansion. Further thought must be given to opening the BBC Archive to provide a pay per view service. Aside from this, further money must be secured from central government. The Department for Culture Media and Sport directly funds key cultural organisations such as The Royal Opera House. The BBC has a much wider reach than the ROH and therefore is entitled to money from the DCMS in addition to money already received from the licence fee. With the rise of iPlayer and the internet, the BBC must lobby central government to secure an additional household tax that covers this.

As the National Broadcaster, the BBC should have a permanent member of staff within DCMS in order to provide government with information on a daily basis, to help give a clearer view as to the workings and cost of TV.


The structure of TV programming has changed very little since the BBC began. This must change. TV controllers are competing not only with hundreds of other TV stations, but on-demand services, the internet, games. Innovation is desperately needed. A new type of TV, not just occasional flag-ship shows, but refreshing, engaging TV. This would be the key responsibility of the innovation department. Mark Thompson, and likely every candidate who will be interviewed for the position of Director General will fail to understand that without radical change to programming and TV format, the BBC will fail. Small change is no longer enough– radical redevelopment is needed to ensure that the BBC, arguably the most influential and important organisation in Britain, continues into the future.



Rescuing RTE…

Posted: May 10, 2012 in Arts Politics, Development, TV, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

My love for RTE is difficult to explain. To me, it’s like a child dressing up in mum’s lipstick and heals, trying to be a grown-up organisation. Inevitably, the lipstick ends up all over its face, the heals snap and the child tumbles; it may seem sweet, but it has a lot of growing up to do.

RTE, or to use its full name Raidió Teilifís Éireann (the Irish equivalent of the BBC, for those who are none the wiser), is currently at the lowest point in its fifty-two year history. With staff morale equally low, senior management are attempting a very irrational rationalisation– you know the type– where they change all the things that don’t need changing, while plastering over some suspicious cracks.  RTE is not only suffering from a lack of vision and money, but a serious lack of functional infrastructure. A plan to  completely rebuild the Montrose HQ in Dublin appears to have been shelved ‘in light of the current economic downturn’– and this isn’t the only important plan to have been shelved. RTE also put to bed a subscription channel dubbed ‘RTE International’, that would serve the vast Irish community in Britain, and others around the world. Brand awareness obviously isn’t a priority at RTE.

So how can we help this cranky toddler?  Essentially, we need to encourage it to grow– up and out:


– Sell international broadcasting rights for programmes such as Fair City.

– Integrate the production arm (vision, post production etc.) and offer a full production service. Target international production companies, market the service alongside the attractive lower corporate tax rate in Ireland.

– Bring more services in house. Create ‘Picture Grading’ and ‘Outside Broadcasting (OB)’ sections.


– Remove mid-programme commercial breaks to boost audience retention and thereby sell end-of-programme advertising at higher costs.

RTE is by no means a rich organisation: expansion has been slow and without any real planning and it desperately needs a Director General who will shake the company up, find a real solution to problems rather than merely cutting the payroll. Unlike theatre, music, and film, TV seems incapable of meeting the threats of the digital age. Rather than embrace technology and shake up programming and the commissioning process, broadcasters (RTE in particular) are running the same tired programmes.

Audience development is important not only because it’s vital to the survival of theatre, but also because it completely effects the theatre-going experience.

Last Friday, I went to see Much Ado About Nothing by the RSC  in their shiny new theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I expected, rather naively on reflection, that the audience would reflect the very modern design. Sadly not. It was like waking up in the 50s next to the Jonses and their new Teasmade.  I have absolutely no problem with people of any age or background going to the theatre; what I have a problem with is people who feel they should go to the theatre because that’s what middle class people do. Why bother? Surely just stay at home and watch Coronation Street if that’s what you’d prefer? People need to have a REAL reason to want to go to the theatre– not just because they feel they should.  I’ve noted before the over-funding that this causes in the world of opera and other socially-enhancing-art-forms, and the RSC and National Theatre aren’t exempt from this. Their cuts in the Arts Council RFO portfolio were minimal, and Artistic Director Michael Boyd said that they’d cope… not the reaction of hundreds of other organisations crippled by the cuts.

But, I’m going over old ground… the real point is that the RSC should not be complacent about audience development, and should always seek to find ways of attracting new and future audiences into the theatre, while not forgetting those who have always been loyal. To do this theatre practitioners need to take a step back and look seriously at what they’re competing against, both in terms of successful commercial theatre and other entertainment sources: cinema, TV, games etc.  Admittedly the RSC has taken the brave step of once more delving into the world of musical theatre– presenting Matilda in London– and I suspect that this was largely a well crafted way of generating income, one that should be applauded nonetheless. But, producing musicals will not alone solve the problem of attracting future theatre audiences; I’m referring to the hard to reach audiences, people who have never been into a theatre, people who have always thought that theatre ‘wasn’t for them’. Intelligent producing and clever marketing can help attract these people. Practitioners should look at what makes West End shows appeal: theatre technology, visual effects and the universal language of music. Riverdance, to a cerain extent, achieved this in the 1990s– it put together a series of elements that were perfect for the love of neoliberalism and Postmodernism that we saw in the 90s. Which brings me to my final and most important point: Reinvention (with a capital R). I don’t believe that theatre should be created in the style of a long dead playwright. Each generation should endeavour to reinvent their theatre environment in a continual cycle of progression and modernisation; just as technology and time never stand still neither should theatre.

Matilda is opening on Broadway in 2013! Excellent news! Really hope the RSC will be producing… can’t really see why they wouldn’t. A friend at the RSC tells me that Tim Minchin wrote loads more songs -so many apparently that the producer told him to stop. I’m very interested to see whether any of them make it into the show. I expect that the West End cast will stay in London… I’m specifically referring to the wonderful Bertie of course… He’s in workshops for the upcoming Bridget Jones Musical playing Mark Darcy, and will presumably take the role when (/if) it enters production… Would be good to see Bridget here in time for London 2012… IF for no other reason than to prove Lord Lloyd W wrong, that tickets will sell and (despite the huge damage to arts infrastructure that the olympics has caused) will actually be good for London and the arts… for a few weeks anyway…

Andrew Lloyd Webber has been claiming for months that the Olympics will be a time of catastrophically low attendance in the West End, this demonstrates yet again how out of touch he is with the current theatre going public… In fact theatre in general…

The fact is that the West End has progressed significantly since the 1980s, but Andrew Lloyd Webber hasn’t. He has written a series of flops since 1990: The Beautiful Game (2001), The Woman in White (2004), Love Never Dies (2010), Of course it’s true of any successful person that keeping success up is very difficult, and in the 1980s and 90s Lloyd Webber was at the height of his success, along with other musical theatre composers such as Boublil and Schonberg, but then with the creation of jukebox musicals the West End has shifted towards a more modern spectacle, with the music bearing a closer correlation to current popular music.

I think the Olympics will be a boom period for the West End; with a massive influx of tourists, and most having only one ticket for an Olympic event, tourists will make the most of other London attractions, and seeing a West End show is one of the ‘must do’ attractions for tourists visiting London.

Original BBC article:

Let me be quite clear, that ANY money spent on local TV is wasted money. Local TV has been tried again and again and again but simply doesn’t work. In an age where local papers don’t make money, struggle to create enough copy to fill a newspaper, and where increasingly people turn to the internet for news, information and entertainment, there is no market for a ‘self sustaining’ local TV station.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has treated the Arts & Culture portfolio as a springboard in order to gain a more prominent position in the next big cabinet reshuffle, all I can say is that I hope he gets it, before he decimates the arts further. It’s important for MPs to understand that Arts and Culture is not something that can be measured in pound signs (Although the arts generate a colossal amount of money in tax and tourism annually), arts must be measured in the enrichment of lives, not just in terms of entertainment but participation. And so the BBC must be protected, ring fenced infact. The Tory government has already pitted itslf against the BBC, slashing their budget recently by 20%, The BBC produces thousands of hours of content each year, selling it abroad, making it the most successful and diverse broadcasting organisation in the world. It is the envy of Rupert Murdoch’s News International conglomerate. Before the explosion of the hacking scandal, his son, James Murdoch called for the BBC to charge for its news service, saying that it was crushing competition, I note he didn’t call for The Guardian to shut down it’s free online coverage, or The Telegraph, ITV news or RTE news in Ireland, this is because BBC News 24 beams around the world, it’s simply unchallenged, more important than The Press Association and Reuters, in that it both breaks and reports news.

I’m not pretending that the BBC isn’t without fault: the drama department for example, seems to be able to only produce crime drama. Diversity is a buzz word that it would seem applies only to the ethnicities of the characters (which is great) rather than a diverse selection of the type of programme commissioned. I would love to see something on the Beeb that breaks barriers, really challenges people and maybe, just maybe, is a little bit naughty! But aside from this very minor criticism the BBC is an organisation central to British culture, Local TV will NOT ‘in time’ replace it in terms of influence and importance in people’s lives, instead the move distracts from focusing funds at building a stronger BBC, wasting money on a local TV project which like so many before, will fail.

I don’t review shows often here because I rarely see anything I enjoy enough. However:

I went to see Matilda the Musical at the beginning of November, I had been anticipating it for a while, and meant to see it at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon where it premièred last year, being temporarily immersed in Sligo (like water or mud) prevented me. Anyway. I arrived after a mad rush down Earlham Street, and took my seat very conscious that I could be soon very disappointed. I wasn’t.

Matilda the musical is the best night I’ve spent in the theatre, clever, entertaining, original and faithful to the book. It captured perfectly, Roald Dahl’s mischievous humour. I realise by this point that everyone has talked about Bertie Carvel but I have to as well. He turns Miss Trunchball into a fully rounded, utterly despicable, 3D character with every bit as much depth  as Hamlet. Unlike Hamlet, Miss Trunchball is a character you want to watch. Musicals with this level of intelligence and craft are rare, the West End is filled with plotless jukebox musicals, movie adaptations and outdated long runners. It’s great to see something original for a change.

I can’t list everything that I loved about this show, just go see it, I’d imagine it’ll be extending for a few years to come and I can’t recommend it enough.

I sincerely hope that Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly continue to work together, the West End is safe in their hands.

Last week I went to the Modeselektor gig at the Twisted Pepper in Dublin. I’ll admit that I knew only one of the DJs playing, Joy Orbison, who’s music I follow and enjoy.

I enjoy electronic music, but equally I know that my knowledge is very much limited to what I know and enjoy, as with many NORMAL music listening people, it takes time to discover music in a way that isn’t forced, but serendipitous. I’m not the type of person that sits on my computer all day trying to discover music, I have far too many things that I do, and I enjoy a healthy life away from my computer.

So the Modeselektor gig. Electronic music fanatics believe the electro scene is split in to two groups: them and ‘hipsters’, I had no concept of what a ‘hipster’ is and I’m still non the wiser. So this very black and white electro world apparently has no place for me, the fairly average guy who has many interests, but likes to go and see DJs now and again.

People behave in two ways when they meet people who share a similar interest to them: they continually struggle with that person to demonstrate their superior knowledge while outwardly being friends (like Verruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde), or dismiss their interest as feigned, merely trend following. And this happened at the Modeselektor gig I went to. The friend I went with is INCREDIBLY knowledgable and passionate about electronic music (I personally could not be arsed with that level of dedication) and he met a group of notably older electro fans there, I found their response a little bit surprising, immediately suspicious, immediately making sure it was clear that this was their exclusive club. How far removed this is from the early days of the electro scene fuelled by Ecstacy in an openly accepting environment. I’m not advocating drug taking, but it’s obviously still a large part of the scene, yet without the most essential benefit: acceptance. Like a giant comedown paranoia is seeping through the walls… See here for perfect example from Human Traffic… (Expect strong drug reference and strong naughty language)

I expect electronic music will reinvent itself as it has continued to do over the past thirty/ fourty years or so, and the previous generation will grow beyond a point where they can attend and police gigs in the fascist like manner they do at the moment.

I went to see an amateur production of The History Boys last week, I’d been to see it in Jan 07 at Wyndham’s in London… with Ben Barnes as Dakin… I enjoyed the first act, but the second I found completely absurd, the low point being the moment when Dakin asks the teacher if he wants to ‘suck him off’… I know Alan Bennett is gay, but is it really necessary to force homosexuality on an audience play after play? I mean fair enough if his plays were aimed at a mainly ‘gay audience’, but they’re not. His continual reference to homosexuality frankly wears thin.

Infact the only Alan Bennett play I’ve ever enjoyed was a touring production of Enjoy, which played at York Theatre Royal a few years ago. It was expectedly weird and fairly clever, but even still had a transvestite and gay character. I want to make it clear that I’m not homophobic in any way whatsoever, I just think that it is of no benefit to anyone to present gay/bi/trans characters in a non realistic way, the story (and I’m all about story) loses its credability, it doesn’t ‘normalise’ sexual diversity infact it alienates it further. His play for the National Theatre in 2010 was about an Oxford Don and a rent boy…

I think generally Bennett is overated as a playwright. I didn’t understand the hype that surrounded The History Boys, even when it originally opened. I think to an extent theatre appeals to middle class audiences because they think they have to like certain writers to be considered ‘cultured’, but what happened to the idea that ‘you’re only as good as your last play’? It doesn’t seem to exist with the big name playwrights (Aykborne, Godber, Stoppard included), excluding critics of course.

NB. I preferred the amateur production of The History Boys to the National Theatre production.

Regional theatre and new writing are inextricably linked. Compare for a minute that sort of theatre you see in London’s West End, to the theatre you see in Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and even Hull and Scarborough, these places boast some of Britain’s best contemporary playwrights: Alan Bennett, Alan Aykborne, John Godber. Would the work of these men have seen the light of day on a West End stage? What producer is willing to take that risk!? Regional theatre offers new writers an important opportunity to shine, and therefore holds a key position in discovering and developing the talent of tomorrow.

So. Ireland. I’ve ranted before about the lack of performance infrastructure, but there’s more to say. Where are the development plans for regional theatre? Where are the theatre in education departments? Do they exist at all!? Take my local theatre, The Hawkswell Theatre in Sligo. Last September the position for Director came up, I applied, having enough ‘senior management experience’ and skill to meet the requirement, obviously I didn’t get it (Arts in Ireland are very nepatistic) less than six months later it came up again. In my letter I mentioned briefly that audiences can be developed through building active relationships with schools and other institutions educational and social. I briefly outlined the benefits of working with third level institutions both in terms of reaching new audiences but also in presenting material. There is NO money and very little benefit in theatres operating purely as receiving houses in the regions, they just don’t create the community buzz that producing houses do. A perfect example of this is Druid Theatre in Galway an organisation that not only the city is proud of, but the country; They have an international reputation. Of course Druid is entirely producing, but Sligo needs a theatre that people can get excited about, theatre that attracts the student population, and producing in-house productions in association with Sligo IT, offers a real opportunity to generate income and develop links with education. Is this too progressive? It’s difficult to get people to think out of the box… particularly in the regions. Why is that? Is it all about empire building? Key players enjoy the control they have over organisations, they don’t want to relinquish their control and so any newcomer that has a good idea is an immediate threat. I really wish this wasn’t true, but it is, and when I was a teenager it was the reason I was so keen to get out of amateur theatre -apply a business model and flat corporate structure and like alchemy, theatre becomes a lot more creative and communication flows a lot easier.

Regional Theatres need to work together strategically, and on a more local level arts organisations need to collaberate more, create clash diaries, share marketing and where possible resources. Theatre in the regions will never be the money spinner that it is in the West End (no appropriate Irish equivalent) but it can become more economically self sufficient, more robust and most importantly, it can revitalise tired communities, generate income through cultural tourism and create employment. Win win.