Myth of BBC's 'made in Scotland'

THE BBC has been accused of perpetrating a sham over the number of Scottish programmes it produces.

The corporation was attacked for artificially inflating the figures to help prove its case that more programmes are being made outside London.

In one example, the TV drama Waterloo Road is claimed as a Scottish "strand" simply because the producer of the Manchester-based show moved north of the Border to take up a senior position with BBC Scotland.

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Other programmes, including Film 2008 and the children's shows Raven: Secret Temple and Shoebox Zoo, are also classed as BBC Scotland productions, despite a tenuous connection.

The practice of over-inflating the figures came in evidence to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, which yesterday published "key points" from its inquiry so far. It said: "There is a practice of labelling some network programmes as 'Scottish productions' when there is very little financial or creative connection to Scotland."

The producers' trade association, Pact, identified 18 programmes which it classed as London productions yet which had BBC regional offices credited in the end titles.

The programmes, which are not filmed in Scotland and bring little financial benefit to the nation, often have only nominal involvement from BBC Scotland employees. But if these are in executive positions, the programmes are badged as BBC Scotland "strands".

The trend has been branded a "sham," by broadcast union officials, but BBC Scotland claims it allows programmes to serve as vehicles for up-and-coming Scottish talent and to hone skills.

The commission's interim report also revealed that ITV executive chairman Michael Grade, who appeared before the inquiry, believes the Scottish broadcasting sector is lacking talent because the best individuals go to London.

Meanwhile, it emerged that network production in Scotland fell from 6 per cent of the UK total in 2004 to 3 per cent in 2006.

One programme criticised for a lack of transparency over where it was made is Waterloo Road, the hit drama series starring Denise Welch and Neil Morrissey. Set in Rochdale, it is produced in Manchester by an independent company, Shed Media, which despite having strong Scottish connections, is based in London.

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Nonetheless, the drama is branded as by BBC Scotland because Anne Mensah, the corporation's head of drama in Scotland, is its executive producer.

The programme's controversial claims to Scottishness have been discussed by the commission and Mark Thompson, BBC director-general.

Transcripts released yesterday by the commission show Mr Thompson defending the process, albeit admitting it could be seen as "contentious".

Addressing the commission in private last month, he said: "I believe that when there is authentic, creative leadership in the executive production from a nation, the fact that a programme is made elsewhere in the UK should not exclude it."

However, Blair Jenkins, chair of the commission, said the BBC must change its policy regarding the attribution of programmes. He said: "There is quite a strong sense within the industry that there are being attributed to Scotland (shows] which have very little financial or creative connection to Scotland."

Ted Brocklebank MSP, the Tory culture minister, said: "This suggests there has been a deliberate attempt by networks to distort the true facts about what is 'Scottish' to disadvantage broadcasters north of the Border."

Pact listed ten Jonathan Ross programmes said to have been made by BBC Scotland over the past five years. Others with dubious BBC Scotland connections include two children's series.

It is understood that a number of episodes of children's show Raven: Secret Temple, a BBC Scotland production ordinarily filmed in Argyll, were filmed at an Indian studio, with BBC Scotland staff flown out to take part. Another show, the children's fantasy Shoebox Zoo, partly filmed in Canada, is also classed as a BBC Scotland production.

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Union representatives have already raised the issue. Giving evidence, Lorne Boswell, the Scottish secretary of Equity, said: "Film 2008 is a BBC Scotland production. But where's it filmed? Who's in it? What's it got to do with Scotland? Next to nothing. I mean, there's no reason why it couldn't be Scottish, or couldn't be filmed up here. But there's no economic benefit to Scotland for badging that as BBC Scotland."

He added: "BBC Scotland has a dishonourable record of saying something is a BBC Scotland production when it's simply line-managed by one person or maybe a few people. But it doesn't happen in Scotland, it doesn't involve Scots people, its location is outside."

Paul Holleran, Scottish organiser of the National Union of Journalists, said the trend was not isolated to the BBC. He said: "In Grampian Television, STV does this all the time. They'll drive someone all the way from Aberdeen to work on a programme, just so they can say this is partially made by Grampian."

A BBC Scotland spokesman last night pointed out the network success of Waterloo Road had allowed Shed Media to produce Hope Springs, an upcoming series to be located in Scotland.

He said: "Across the BBC, not just Scotland, there have been instances where commissioning of continuing series follows the executive production talent, as with Anne Mensah bringing Waterloo Road when she was appointed head of drama at BBC Scotland.

"It is proving to be a vehicle for the development of Scottish scriptwriting, editing talent and production talent. These opportunities would not have arisen if there was not a synergy between all of our shows, and a major series such as Waterloo Road will continue to provide opportunities for creative talent in Scotland."

Regarding the Jonathan Ross Film programmes, he said: "BBC Scotland bid for and won the tender to make the series in 1999. It makes logistical sense to film it in London because that is where the previews of cinema releases take place, but it has been a very important building block for the development of BBC Scotland factual staff's expertise."

He added: "A raft of drama commissions are contributing to this year's substantial rise in BBC Scotland's network output – an increase which has reversed last year's decline.

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"Ofcom (the telecoms watchdog] and the BBC have different ways of defining output. Ofcom would not count Shoebox Zoo or Raven India as Scottish productions because they were made outside Scotland. But they were made by BBC Scotland staff and involved Scottish talent, and we believe it was valid to count these against our output."

Talent brain drain 'benefits Scotland'

BROADCASTER and journalist Stuart Cosgrove insisted yesterday that Scotland remains a force within the UK media, despite a "talent drift" to London.

Cosgrove, who is the Head of Programmes (Nations and Regions) for Channel 4, said he believed Michael Grade's comments were not wholly representative.

"Perhaps there are sectors where we don't have the depth, and I think we're punching beneath our weight in terms of contribution to the network," he said.

But Mr Cosgrove felt that devolution had coloured London media's perception about Scotland. He said: "There are some who think that Scotland has gone its own way and makes television for a Scottish audience; therefore Scottish subject matter travels less well internationally."

He said, however, that there was a new confidence in Scottish media circles, and that meant criticism could be taken constructively: "Scotland is doing significantly better than north-east England, chunks of East Anglia and Northern Ireland.

"Let's not lose sight of the fact that Michael Grade, Mark Thompson and Andy Duncan have attended the Scottish Broadcasting Commission. They didn't get on a plane and fly up to Glasgow for fun. They came here because they know it's a serious media centre."

Referring to Mr Grade's comments that the only option for ambitious Scots was to go to London, Mr Cosgrove said that was not necessarily a bad thing: "I think Scotland and other small nations invariably suffer from 'talent drift', where generations of talent leave the country for opportunities elsewhere.

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"In small nations you'd be naive to think that there aren't bigger stages," Mr Cosgrove said. "It's a good thing to move around.

"If you take the example of the tennis player Andy Murray. We want him to succeed internationally and to do that he has to go to America, Europe and Australia. If he was to only play in Scotland, he'd never be known. It's the same with music."

Media 'suffers talent exit' as creative minds head south to London

SCOTLAND'S broadcasting industry is faltering because potential talent is continuing to relocate to London, according to one of Britain's foremost media figures.

Michael Grade, the executive chairman of ITV, said the "brutal truth" was that Scotland suffered from a "talent exit problem", a view expressed by other major media companies in evidence to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission.

Mr Grade, a former chairman of the board of governors of the BBC, said he had been coming to Scotland for two decades, but found anyone with talent had moved south to further their career.

His candid views were published yesterday in evidence released by the commission in its ongoing inquiry into the future of the industry.

Addressing Blair Jenkins, the chairman of the commission, last month, Mr Grade, also a former chief executive of Channel 4, said: "You need a couple of hits and that cures everything. How do you get there from here? You've got years of decline and, almost, neglect."

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He added: "I think you have a talent exit problem. There's no shortage of very successful creative Scottish writers, directors, producers and executives in broadcasting around the rest of the UK, particularly in the metropolitan London area."

His comments formed part of a frosty response by ITV to the commission, with the commercial broadcaster claiming it was not obliged to source network programmes from Scotland at all.

The firm said it operated in a free market for ideas and talent, and that Scottish producers simply did not succeed in capturing their interest.

The reason why Scottish creative personnel had been unable to make their name in their homeland, Mr Grade suggested, was "lost in the mists of time", but he suggested there was hope for the future, pointing to BBC Scotland's new headquarters at Pacific Quay in Glasgow.

He added: "The success of one or two independents up here will encourage talented people to stay and to show that it is possible."

Mr Grade said public intervention, including tax breaks, was one option, but difficult to justify, adding: "I'm sure there are bigger priorities in Scotland."

Mr Grade's views were echoed by Andy Duncan, Channel 4's chief executive. In his evidence to the commission, Mr Duncan said: "We haven't got strong drama-producing companies in Scotland who are pitching strong ideas, so even if we said we'd love to have a returning drama series in Scotland, there's just not the company there to do that."

Hamish Barbour, creative director of IWC Media, pointed to tax credit systems in Canada and Ireland as a way of boosting local broadcasting industries. He said such a system "would have a huge impact".

Slimmed-down Gaelic service to cost 20m

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MORE than 20 million a year is to be spent on a new dedicated Gaelic broadcasting service that will be accessible to just 1.2 per cent of Scotland.

The service, which was approved by the BBC Trust yesterday, will be launched in the summer to cater for the nation's Gaelic-speaking population of around 60,000.

But the service, which will cost licence fee payers an additional 3.5 million a year, will be a slimmed-down version from what was envisaged. It will launch on cable, satellite and broadband, but not Freeview, amid continued fears it may lack public value.

The BBC Executive and the Gaelic Media Service (GMS) applied to the BBC Trust to set up the service in July 2007.

It will cost 20.8 million a year, of which GMS will contribute 10.1 million and the BBC 10.7 million. The BBC already spends 7.2 million a year on Gaelic services.

The decision not to transmit the services on Freeview cut the cost by 4 million, the BBC said.

The trust warned in November that the BBC Executive and the GMS, who are behind the plan, still needed to prove its worth for the general public.

Yesterday, it said steps had been made in this direction – but indicated it was still not fully convinced. This led to the rejection, for the time being, of the Freeview option, which will be reviewed in 2010 to establish whether the service reaches a wide audience and has educational value for non-Gaelic speakers.

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The Gaelic Zone will continue to transmit on terrestrial BBC2.


1. BBC commissions Waterloo Road, drama series about failing comprehensive school. Set in Rochdale, it stars Neil Morrissey (from Stoke-on-Trent) and Denise Welch (from Co Durham).

2. Series produced in Manchester for BBC by Shed Media. Despite Scottish connections, Shed Media is based in London.

3. Anne Mensah is series' executive producer. She moves from north-east of England in 2006 to become head of drama at BBC Scotland.

4. Series then branded BBC Scotland "strand" on back of Mensah move. Few other Scots involved in the show.

5. BBC Scotland regards series as vehicle to which cast and crew of River City might "graduate". But Scottish writer only comes on board for Waterloo Road's 12th episode.

6. BBC director-general Mark Thompson defends practice. He tells Scottish Broadcasting Commission: "I believe that when there is authentic, creative leadership in executive production from a nation, the fact that a programme is made elsewhere in the UK should not exclude it."