Page Three

Graham Kibble-White takes on BBC1

First published August 2001

After sitting through Steve’s enjoyable presentation on the merits of his new Channel 5, and the gentle Q&A session that followed, we took a quick break whilst I shuffled my papers, and readied myself to present the new BBC1 to my colleagues.

Was I anxious? Not really, only in noting that Steve’s presentation seemed to have an overall roundness and credibility to it that was perhaps missing from my BBC1. Would I be got up as a phoney? That aside, the mood at the table seemed supportive and enthusiastic. As it happens, my pitch would reverse that …

As I began, I took some solace from the fact that my gags seemed to be playing quite well (the billing for Vets in Practice: “Divorce proceedings are taking their toll, and a needless death inevitably follows”) however, I began to become accustomed to the sight of the top of Ian’s head, as the C4 Chief Exec furiously made notes across my schedule. In fact, everyone seemed to be taking notes this time around. A lot of notes.

We began the Q&A with an expression that my use of Flash Gordon and Zorro at 6am on Saturdays was simply slinging on old stuff thoughtlessly. Then, would people really want to watch a news-based programme at 7am on a Saturday morning? Could Jeremy Bowen really be persuaded to come in for an extra morning each week? Spot On, my SM:TV Live beater, came out of it relatively well, however, with my rationale for resurrecting Johnny Ball’s career seemingly accepted by all.

It was with another Johnny, however, that I faced further grilling. It was generally felt that I was throwing away a big talent by stationing him at 5.30pm on Saturday with Win, Lose or Draw. Impatiently, and already starting to feel under pressure, I explained that BBC1 were looking at redefining primetime on a Saturday, and thus Vaughan’s role was of vital importance, kicking the whole night off. Ian queried me about the timing of the new Doctor Who series, with the suggestion being made that perhaps it would be better off swapped with the Gen Game, and starting at 6pm. Although I definitely wanted the series to snare its traditional audience of younger viewers, I felt that times had changed since the series last played on a Saturday night. To nab ‘em now, it would have to go out a bit later than before. This explanation was deemed acceptable.

Amazingly, there was little comment about I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, although it was felt that by scheduling my following film at 10.30pm I was rather throwing it away.

Sunday provoked less comment, although it was noted that I did seem to be throwing in all my public service commitments here. Fair comment, really. Barney at ITV was concerned that I was wasting my new drama The Brentford Files at 6pm, and also seemed resistant to the notion of DIY programming going out on a weekend. It was noted by all, with raised eyebrows, that Panorama remained in its current 10.15pm slot.

My new weekday flagship PS didn’t seem to excite the troops, much, and the repeat run of Living in the Past didn’t go down particularly well. With Watchdog followed by Talk Back Barney helpfully highlighted the fact that Monday evening contained an hour of moaning, and an increasingly grumpy C4 seemed to consider it outrageous when I admitted that BBC1 didn’t expect Talk Back to be watched by many. Similarly, no one really seemed to like my stranding of Take Me Home and Doctors throughout the week (particularly Jack at BBC2, but that was more because he’d gone for a similar strategy). I particularly struggled to justify why I felt Doctors deserved a second airing, and failed to win over anyone with that, I fancy. Additionally, there was also general concern at how early BBC1 was ending each night.

My modifications to Grange Hill seemed to go over rather better, however, but Barney was almost apoplectic about the streamlining of EastEnders, considering this to be a totally “unrealistic” move. I explained my reasoning, here, but he countered that it was unlikely the general viewership would equate less episodes with better quality. I stood my ground to little effect bar some silent nodding from the regulators at the other end of the table.

Then someone pointed out that I’d pencilled in Horizon at 9.30pm – wasn’t this a BBC2 property? Urm, yes it was. I’d meant QED. There was some concern over whether a live phone in with the likes of Wheatus on Inside TOTP on Wednesday would really be primetime stuff, however everyone bar Channel 4 seemed to buy the fact that Peter Kay was ready to go primetime, and that Kay Mart was the right vehicle. One of the regulators even went so far as assert that a second series of Phoenix Nights wouldn’t really work anyway. A point in my favour, then.

ITV were back again with another dig to my ribs, making the point that it’s unlikely Superstars would nowadays be able to feature the cream of current sporting talent, who would most probably shy-away from competing in a programme that wouldn’t be playing to their strengths and was, in the final analysis, just a bit of fun. Good point. Improvising on the spot, I countered that the programme would be featuring more of your “personality” sportsmen who were still well known, but past their best. Bring on your Gazzas et al!

As I’ve already indicated, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em was not considered a welcome addition to Friday nights, however the rest of my line-up escaped any real savagery. The biggest ire was saved for my slogan – “The Home of British Broadcasting”. I’d hoped this would remind people that, essentially, broadcasting in the UK began with the BBC, and it was still the heartlands of British TV and radio. Wouldn’t the term “British” deem to be racist, asked C4? The BBC’s conception of “British” encompassed all nationalities and cultures that made up the British Isles today, I replied. What about the Republic of Ireland asked C5′s controller, Steve. Hmmm.

My slogan was changed to “The Home of Broadcasting”.

Overall, my conception of BBC1 was given a rocky ride. I could perhaps console myself a little, however, in recognition of the fact that everyone around the table actually cared very deeply about what happened to the channel. Maybe it was unlikely that I’d come up with a schedule that would satisfy all. Or maybe I just wanted to believe that as I licked my wounds.

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