Armando Iannucci slams politicians’ anti-BBC agenda

Armando Iannucci at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Picture: PA
Armando Iannucci at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Picture: PA
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ARMANDO Iannucci, one of Britain’s leading TV producers and comedy writers, has launched a scathing attack on political meddling with the BBC and spoke out against the “madness” of dismantling the corporation.

Delivering the James McTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Iannucci warned industry colleagues that politicians would become their “masters” in future if they did not speak out “loud and clear” about the future of the BBC.

Writer and director Armando Iannucci delivered the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture to an audience in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

Writer and director Armando Iannucci delivered the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture to an audience in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

Glasgow-born Iannucci said the BBC’s worldwide reputation was already being damaged amid widespread of predictions job cuts and slashed services.

He said some politicians had forgotten about the huge impact British television had had overseas, adding: “The best US shows are modelling themselves on what used to make British TV so world-beating.”

UK culture secretary John Whittingdale announced a full-scale review of the BBC - including what it does and how it is funded - last month. He told MPs that a decision had to be made on whether the BBC should try to be “all things to all people” or become more “precise” in its remit.

Iannucci told the Edinburgh International Television Festival that the licence fee should be supplemented rather than “carved up” and called for public sector broadcasting in the UK to be protected by a more aggressive overseas sales strategy for shows made by the BBC shows, “one of the most recognised brands in the world.”

Cheaper, user-friendly technology means we’re living in both the golden age of TV and a global bucket of swill. For every Sherlock and Breaking Bad, there’s a billion more people filming their brother squirt baked beans from his nose and anus. It’s more important than ever that we have strong, popular channels, highly respected for their quality

Armando Ianucci

Instead, he said, the BBC is under threat from an “extremely manufactured set of question marks against public sector broadcasting.”

Iannucci accused government ministers of a “creeping imperial ambition” that would do “international harm” to an industry that it should be championing and expanding.

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Iannucci said Britain boasted the “best audience in the world” for television but had a government which constantly talked of “reigning in our greatest network.”

He said pressure was being applied from on high for the BBC to “conform to the political norms of the party in power, no matter how slim its majority, or how low its share of the vote.”

But he also predicted ministers would have to flee the country if they continued to interfere over the future of what he described as “one of the best fixtures of daily life.”

Iannucci said the television actors, writers, directors and special effects creators were internationally renowned, but under-valued at home, and said his colleagues needed to find a voice as loud as the car manufacturing and oil industries before it was too late.

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He said: “Ministers have come to see broadcast, those on the executive branch of television, as the only group to talk to, marginalising the creative community that drives production, and which I believe is actually the core strength of British television.

“If we don’t do something to redress the balance, to allow the voice of the creative and production community in TV to be heard loud and clear, the politicians will become our masters rather than partners and supporters.

“Acting as if they alone are the experts. It will be a distracting interference and ultimately harmful to British television.”

Iannucci added: “Everyone wants to make television. Cheaper, user-friendly technology means we’re living in both the golden age of TV and a global bucket of swill.

“For every Sherlock and Breaking Bad, there’s a billion more people filming their brother squirt baked beans from his nose and anus.

“So, in this cacophony, it’s more important than ever that we have strong, popular channels, highly respected for their quality, that act as beacons, drawing audiences to the best content available, and providing a confident home for the best programme-makers.

“Faced with a global audience now, British television needs its champion supporters, it needs its cheerleaders.

“Who will they be? The government? Not while they consistently talk of reining in our greatest network. The broadcasters? Not while most of their energies are dissipated fighting off political attacks on their impartiality or finances.

“Now, of course, our friends in Whitehall would argue that, as the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal, it’s important to see how the Corporation can operate even more effectively.

“I’d argue back that starting a debate on how the BBC should be funded just days after lopping 20 per cent off its budget without discussion, seems pretty much to me like shutting the stable door after the horse has been bolt-gunned.”

Iannucci said politicians should “openly say what they believe” about the BBC and whether they trusted the corporation or not.

But he added: “The British are very good at calling out nonsense.

“So if the British public feel they’re being bullshitted at, if they get the slightest whiff that what’s being done to the BBC is purely political, then I urge the relevant ministers to leave the country for they really don’t know what’s about to hit their fan.”