Last week’s announcement that ITV is to close its studios in Leeds was a body blow for the North’s television industry.
Not only will hundreds of jobs be thrown onto the scrapheap already created by cuts in regional news, it now means that all studio production of what used to be called the best television in the world will take place in London or Manchester (which may as well be in London, it takes so long to get there on what is paradoxically called the “TransPennine Express”). Put simply, if any of our local producers were lucky enough to invent the next X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent, they would have to travel to London, Manchester or Glasgow to make it.
A couple of months ago I was talking to BBC Chairman Sir Michael Lyons about the state of our industry. He proudly pointed to the impending relocation of five BBC departments to Salford as an example of the corporation’s commitment to the North. He asked me if I thought it was a good thing. I replied that far from solving our problems, I feared that the stronger Manchester becomes, the more difficult life would be east of the Pennines. “Ah yes,” he said. “The East of the Pennines Problem. I agree it’s something we need to address.” Well, no time like the present.
From the day that Granada took over Yorkshire/Tyne-Tees, the death knell sounded for our region; it was inevitable that everything would consolidate in Manchester. Now the axe has fallen, the only way the North East’s producers will get a voice on our national television will be by commuting on National Express or British Airways – or joining the traffic jams on the M62.
But it’s just possible that some good may come out of last week’s dire news. For the death of Yorkshire Television affects such a huge region, we might just be able to harness the wrath of the white rose to our own end. Northern Film & Media’s campaign, launched in the Journal just two weeks ago, should now be expanded to a North-wide campaign for network television. We need an unholy alliance to wreak political havoc with the broadcasters’ plans.
It worked in Scotland. I was recently in London pitching a show to the BBC. The Controller appeared to like it. We started talking about budgets, which is always a fairly good sign. He then said, rather apologetically, “Is there any way you could shoot it in Scotland?” The BBC now has an obligation to the Scots to produce a proportion of all its programmes north of the Border, and the BBC has fallen short of its quota. Thinking we might find a warehouse just outside Berwick-upon-Tweed to stage the show, I agreed. Sadly that series isn’t going to happen. “We liked it, but felt it was too innovative for a BBC1 audience,” came the rejection.
If the power of the Scottish lobby could lead to the BBC’s massive investment in studios and resources in Glasgow, couldn’t the same trick work East of the Pennines? Scotland only has 5 million residents; the North West, where all studio programmes outside London are now to be made, has only 6.7million. Yet Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the North East have a combined population of 8.3million and not a single working television studio between them.
This could become a new cultural, political and economic battle and, harnessing the power of MPs from the Tweed to the Wash, we might just win it. Imagine if all British films were to be made in Hollywood – there’d be an outcry. So now’s the time to join the fight for local production. Write to your MP, write to Sir Michael Lyons at the BBC, put pressure on the Government and let the outcry begin.