Part One

Graham Kibble-White takes on BBC1

First published August 2001

Being assigned BBC1 was a mixed blessing. Here is a channel that holds the heartlands of British television, with the state of BBC1 going a long way to define the state of television as a whole. Surely no other channel could be as satisfying to schedule, and yet no other would be as closely scrutinised? More than any other, I believe BBC1 provokes strong feelings of ownership in its viewers, in part because it’s the most obvious beneficiary of the licence fee and in part because it’s assigned to take up the middle ground. Everyone, quite rightly, has a say in BBC1.

But what of the channel as I came to consider it in July 2001?

Despite feeling great affection for BBC1, I rarely watch it. This realisation was a mild shock to me. However, a glance over the current schedules showed that I was roughly familiar with the actual programming, with only Children’s BBC consistently falling off the radar (what’s Gadget Boy?) Even if the channel wasn’t doing too great a job in enticing me to watch, its publicity was on form in keeping me informed about what I was missing.

Before I could commence with the actual business of scheduling I had to decide what BBC1 was for. As I’ve indicated above I believe BBC1′s main function is to take up the middle ground in broadcasting. This doesn’t mean it has to be mediocre, but that – in general – it’s programming should speak to as broad an audience as possible. BBC1 is an inclusive channel, a national conduit for discussion and entertainment. With that in mind I decided that my most important audience would be the family. That’s not to say that my BBC1 would necessarily advocate the concept of mum, dad and two kids, but that its programmes would speak to the broadest possible audience in terms of age. That was the plan, now to execute it.

Looking over the current BBC1 schedules nothing especially jumped out as being “wrong” with the channel, however the whole is decidedly lacklustre. BBC1 Controller Lorraine Hegassey seems to be simply hedging her bets, commissioning programming that’s much of a muchness. Currently (and we should bear in mind that at the time of writing we’re in the always lacklustre summer season) there’s very little on BBC1 that can be considered appointment telly. My plan, then, was to try and add a little more definition to the schedules. I was going to build in more “must-see” moments and amass sections in the TV day where the sequenced programmes would build up a head of steam, all the time weighting the content in favour of that family audience.

In terms of competition, I remained especially mindful of ITV, but decided that my BBC1 shouldn’t be built wholly in reaction to Britain’s most popular button – it should have the confidence to present its programmes in a format that would serve them best, in their own right. Nevertheless, I did still consciously schedule what could be termed as “alternative viewing” in the slots that would compete against Coronation Street. Here I’d pencilled in my lower-cost ventures. As it happens, my candour about this in subsequent discussions with my fellow controllers would cause some of them to baulk, but why bother talk-up your viewers’-access programme as a Street beater? We all knew the game we were playing.

I perceived Channel 4 to be of no real concern (bar the possibility of a crossover between the personnel employed on both C4 and BBC1) in that it was almost attempting to do the opposite of BBC1; presenting its programming in separate chunks, serving disparate sections of the audience. Similarly, Channel 5 didn’t loom large in my thoughts. I did, however, decide to try and keep an eye on BBC2, firmly believing that BBC1 and 2 should act as complementary services.

As I approached the task of filling up my schedules, I became aware that there were certain timeslots, certain parts of the schedule, which were crucial to the success or otherwise of the channel. I had to get these absolutely right if I was intending to provide a realistic – let alone good – service. I reckoned these were: Saturday morning, Saturday nights, Sunday nights, weekday mornings and Friday nights. Much of my time was spent trying to get these areas right.

Thus I’d worked out the place my BBC1 was taking in the firmament, I had a fair idea how it was to relate to its “rivals”, and I’d identified the killer slots in the schedule. Now to get to work.