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What’s wrong with the programmes we have?
26
What’s wrong with the programmes we
have?
I asked programme-makers to describe what they saw as being wrong with the
output at present and what they feel is missing from the National Conversation
as a result.
We are always having to reinvent the wheel
As an industry, broadcasting is focused on the “new” and has little memory of
achievements in the past. Even the current glut of TV nostalgia programmes
ignores the chequered path of cultural diversity in broadcasting. Excellent
programmes that appear to epitomise cultural diversity come and go without an
understanding of why they worked and how to transfer that learning to other
programme-makers. Many of my interviewees were deeply sceptical of what the
broadcasters saw as progress: “We’ve been here before, they just don’t
remember. Several of my interviewees quoted examples of what they had
thought were pioneering programmes from previous decades.
We had Raspberry Ripple with disabled characters, that was in 1988.
Then there was Skallagrigg in 1994 - everybody got very excited
about that. And then it takes another ten years before we get
another drama with disabled people in it (Every Time You Look at
Me). You can’t call that progress. - Producer
Black and Asian producers also recalled television and radio drama dating back to
the 1970s, for example, the programmes from the BBC Drama unit in
Birmingham such as Empire Road which were seen as providing more authentic
representations than today. Long before BBC1’s recent successful adaptation of
Meera Syal’s novel Life isn’t all ha ha hee hee, Radio 4 featured a series that
revolved around the life of a group of middle-class Asian women friends.
Girlies was really groundbreaking. It was extraordinarily successful,
a really good example of giving voice to the way that our community
was evolving. It was about this interface of middle class and Asian-
ness. I think people just accepted four Asian women who would
argue about everyday stuff such as being in a mixed marriage while
on the way to a party, that’s how it happens. It’s not a huge
polemic, and we covered it all in Girlies. - Writer
The problem with the lack of industry memory is that broadcasters rarely
consolidate, develop talent or move forward on their portrayal of minorities.
Programme-makers don’t imagine culturally diverse audiences
? Making the connection
When there is a human tragedy such as an earthquake somewhere else in the
world, news programmes are increasingly acknowledging that there may be
relatives of those affected, watching in the audience in Britain. It has now
become almost standard practice to feature interviews with people from those
British communities. (But it doesn’t always happen immediately, as the 2004
Boxing Day tsunami demonstrated. The initial news focus was almost entirely on
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