Fringe makes drama out of BBC Savile crisis

The production is inspired by the BBC Savile scandal. Picture: PA
The production is inspired by the BBC Savile scandal. Picture: PA
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THE fast-moving crisis that engulfed the BBC over its handling of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal has inspired a new production to be shown at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.

Comedians Phill Jupitus and Suki Webster will head the cast of Making News, which chronicles a chaotic 24 hours for the BBC when it is thrown into turmoil over a contentious story involving the corporation itself.

The writers, who were responsible for last year’s Fringe hit Coalition, about the state of the Westminster government, insist that they do not directly refer to Savile, one of Britain’s most prolific sexual predators, in the script.

However, the play involves a Panorama reporter frustrated about a story she can no longer sit on, a newly installed head of news who has to handle a breaking story about the corporation, and the fallout from the decisions taken that “threatens to bring down the BBC”.

In 2011, the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight conducted an investigation into the former Top Of The Pops and Jim’ll Fix It presenter after his death but it was never aired. When the allegations were subsequently broadcast on ITV, the BBC was accused of a cover-up and another Newsnight report wrongly implicated Lord McAlpine in the child abuse scandal.

George Entwistle, the BBC’s newly appointed director general, was forced to quit after just 54 days in the job over the corporation’s mismanagement of the affair.

The show, which will be performed in the main Pleasance Courtyard theatre in Edinburgh this August features a cast of comedians playing news presenters, producers and reporters, and is billed as “a funny and fast-moving satire”.

The playwrights, former university friends Tom Salinsky, an author and performer, and Robert Khan, a former lawyer who is currently a councillor in Islington, say they have interviewed current and former BBC staff as part of their research for the production.

Publicity material for the show states: “It’s the start of another 24-hour news cycle and Rachel Clarke has been suddenly promoted as the BBC’s newest head of news.

“When a crisis erupts, she has to confront rivals from within and without, as well as deciding how to report on the story that threatens to bring down the BBC itself.”

Jupitus’s character Roger Seabright is the BBC’s director general, who is described as “very much the old-school patrician, a safe pair of hands”. Other comics in the cast include Hal Cruttenden, Sara Pascoe, Liam Williams and Dan Starkey.

Salinsky told Scotland on Sunday: “We were actually looking at doing a play about newspaper journalism after Coalition, and we didn’t want to do anything party-political this year, but we changed it to look at a 
crisis within the BBC after everything that happened last year.

“We decided not to directly refer to any sex abuse issues, particularly as the play is going on at the Pleasance in the afternoon, so we are creating an entirely fictional situation for the plot.

“It’s really a look at how big institutions function and the way they are managed.

“The plot explores what happens when changes are made to news and current 
affairs within the BBC when suddenly it has to report on itself, and the impact decisions made during a 24-hour crisis have.

“It’s affectionate about the BBC, but it’s also biting the hand that we hope might feed us one day too. We pay for it, so we think we’re entitled to a right of reply.”

Anthony Alderson, artistic director of the Pleasance, who has already seen a rehearsed reading of the show, said: “It’s a very timely satire about something that is still happening right now.

“The BBC’s a national institution, but it needs a dig now and again. These are very talented writers and this is a subject they are clearly enjoying writing about.”

A spokeswoman for the BBC said: “This is not something we would comment on.”

The revelations about Savile broadcast by ITV sparked a wide-ranging criminal investigation and focused attention on what police described 
as five decades of predatory sexual crimes committed by the star.

An inquiry into Newsnight’s shelving of its report into sexual abuse allegations involving Savile criticised BBC management but found no evidence of a cover-up.

This year’s Pleasance programme also includes a Doctor Who musical, and a play about what happens when David Beckham, Prince William and David Cameron meet up in Zurich the night before launching England’s bid for the 2018 football World Cup.