Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
TUESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2005
Mr Pat Loughrey, Mr Mark Thomas and Mr Martin Brooks
Q600 Lord Maxton:
That is not the point I am making. The point I am making is it
is not a Welsh drama programme in the way that Rab C Nesbitt
was a Scottish comedy programme which was actually very popular
even though large numbers of people in London could not understand
a single word of what was being said! You have got to make it
clear that if you are doing regional broadcasting you can base
your programmes on the region but if you are broadcasting national
programmes they have got to appeal to where that largest proportion
of the population resides which is, unfortunately, in the South
East of England.
Mr Loughrey: I think we sometimes underestimate
the dexterity and openness of the audience. There is no more authentic
voice of this part of the world in contemporary comedy than Peter
Kay. He plays (sadly often on the other side) to a very strong
audience right across the United Kingdom. Quality wins. Billy
Connolly is compelling, Max Boyce in his day was compelling, Peter
Kay in this day and age speaks to audiences wherever they are.
A lot of it has to do with social demographics and class issues
Q601 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
As you said at the beginning, certain types of programmes are
being moved up heresport, new media, children's programmes.
You have also talked a lot about ideas. Is there not a concern
that the BBC will be reduced to just producing those types of
programmes and that the more idea-led type of programmes like
the drama and so on will be driven out of this area of the BBC,
Mr Thomas: I do not think so. I think the opposite
could happen. At the moment when the BBC produces drama here,
a significant number of crew actually come up from London because
there is not a sustainable production base here of sufficient
size and scale to actually keep people living in the region. Obviously
there are some but not enough. Potentially with the model we are
describing now there is going to be that sustainable production
community across us, across ITV, and across the independent sector.
I think, if anything, if this works in the way we are talking
about, it is going to attract more production here, not less.
Q602 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
As a witness earlier said to us, there is a problem of "out
of sight out of mind". He was asking for a channel to move
here because for certain types of television you still need to
be in that bit of London where everybody is eating in the same
restaurants and reading the same books.
Mr Thomas: I think I tend to agree with I think
it was Lord Peston who said that if you are the commissioner you
are chasing the really good talent wherever it is. Frankly, what
you do not want is the best programmes to end up on the other
side. Whether you are an independent or whether you are a programme
maker in an in-house department, there is this view that even
if technology would allow you to communicate with a commissioner
down a bit of wire, you need to be in the same room breathing
the same air. I think that is a comfort zone. I think it is also
how buying and selling is done. You are always going to get those
people wanting to travel to each other. Nobody ever has enough
time with commissioners, particularly the channel controllers.
There are only 24 hours in any day and there are hundreds of companies
which would all like to have lots of time with them. I think everybody
always feels aggrieved in that situation. I think in terms of
what we are proposing here, as we have indicated, we have brought
two children's channels here and a channel of radio. They have
commissioning power and the commissioning power is based here
so that side of things is going to work. Even if you moved another
commissioner and that meant somebody did not have to travel up
here, then a number of people in London or Glasgow would still
have to travel to Manchester. There is no way of being omnipresent
in this kind of scenario.
Q603 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Just a final question, and maybe this is to Mr Loughrey, why were
these particular activities chosen to move here? Is it both radio
and television that are moving?
Mr Loughrey: Yes to the second part and if I
could connect your previous question with this one. Children's
television is a marvellous opportunity because it is multi genre.
It includes drama, documentaries, features and news, with Newsround.
It builds the industry across the genres, albeit for a very specific
audience. It therefore is real nutrition to the industry and provides
a core brief but (and Mark used it earlier) the vision we had
and the simple sentence we used to describe it was "audiences
and services of the future". It is not difficult to spot
the complementarity between new media, learning and Five Live,
for example, and children's programmes. They connect in a particular
way, a direct inter-section with the audience. Five Live is the
most interactive of our radio stations connected to audiences
and it is of course a very natural bed fellow for sport, which
in turn is pioneering new forms of technology in outside broadcasts
for example and research and development. Career paths are clear
across them and there is a connectivity. I believe also that together
they can form not just the basis of a thriving internal ecology
but be part of a very strong external ecology.
Q604 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Picking up on sport, is there a problem about the fact that we
got the Olympics and they are going to be in London?
Mr Loughrey: I do not think so. I think we managed
to cover the Commonwealth Games in Manchester without moving the
department for that and the Olympic Games in Beijing without moving
the department for that. I think those glorious couple of months,
if it is that long, will be easily covered from a base wherever
You said a very interesting thing, Mark Thomas. You said basically,
as I understood you, that Manchester is not self-sufficient for
staff which is rather contrary to what was being indicated this
Mr Thomas: For drama. When the BBC comes up
here with a major drama production, and it is certainly backed
up by North West Vision because they talk to us about it all the
time, there are not the crews and everything rooted here in the
locality and available because there is not enough work.
That is interesting. It was not quite the flavour I got from the
evidence earlier this morning.
Mr Loughrey: Over the next months, maybe years,
I think we could see a significant shift in BBC drama's mass full-time
engagement with this part of England. The controller of television
drama has said publicly that there is a cost premium to producing
network dramas in the North of England for the reasons that Mark
has described. Recurring dramas like Coronation Street of course
have their own dedicated facilities but for the occasional six-part
series or one-parter it is quite difficult to find the mobile
resources to deliver those. They do tend to cost a premium. We
need permanent production to sustain a total base.
What is the total staff employed by the BBC in the United Kingdom?
Does anyone know?
Mr Loughrey: 24,000. We have just experienced
a value-for-money exercise which reduced that number significantly.
And how many are employed outside London?
Mr Loughrey: 6,000 within my division of the
Nations and the Regions, and then a furtherand I need to
come back to you on these numbersprobably couple of thousand
in the network production centres, this one, Bristol and Birmingham.
So it is heavily London-centred at the moment?
Mr Loughrey: Yes.
And in Manchester we have got 1,200?
Mr Thomas: 800.
Mr Brooks: 760.
Q611 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Unlike the ITV Granada answer, when you say staff are you are
also counting in people on long-term contracts?
Mr Loughrey: On long-term contracts, not short-term.
Chairman: These are people who are permanently
employed, these are not the people you hire in?
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: They
do include long-term contracts.
Q612 Lord Peston:
Long-term contracts is just a tax dodge, is it not?
Mr Loughrey: It depends how you
describe freelance staff.
Lord Peston: That is what I have just
described them as.
Chairman: We are almost at our end because
we need to get our plane to Belfast, so long as the fog permits.
Has anybody got any further questions? Lord Maxton?
Q613 Lord Maxton:
The only question I would like to ask is I did screw my face up
a little when Mark said 25 or 30 years down the line. In the modern
world, that is being really, I would have thought, optimistic
if you can forecast the future that far ahead. Most of us now
are at the pointI am being a technical nutof putting
off buying almost anything because I know it will be cheaper and
newer and better six months down the line.
Mr Thomas: I think you are absolutely right,
that is why we are seeking the partners, in terms of the media
zone, who are the most forward-thinking because you are right
an element of this is about flexibility, which is why we do have
some nervousness, and I know you touched on it earlier, around
the 3sixty model. Those studios are already as old as our studios
in London. That is not necessarily where we need to be going.
You only have to look at how production is moving away more and
more from studios to on location, so I think it is about creating
the right media zone with the right people running it with the
right vision that allows us to be future-proofed over 25 years.
You are right that is not about knowing what it is going to be
like in 25 years' time but it is having the right people in the
media zone that are going to keep refreshing it and be focused
on the future.
That seems to me a very appropriate point at which to stop. Thank
you very much indeed all of you for your evidence which was very
clear and very interesting and thank you also for the discussions
that we have had before this meeting for which we are very grateful
indeed. Perhaps if we have any other questions we could send them
Mr Loughrey: And I will come back to you, if
I may, with more precise answers on the numbers.
Mr Thomas: We will come back to Baroness Howe
on the link between why it is a third on one and a half on the
Chairman: We wish you good luck in your