Part Four

Graham Kibble-White takes on BBC1

First published August 2001

Then came the wild cards …

1. The government doesn’t give approval for BBC3 and BBC4. BBC Choice and Knowledge are closed down.  Which programmes do you take for BBC1?

I found this question quite difficult to answer, simply because I didn’t feel the above scenario would actually impact that strongly on BBC1. The channel’s remit, as far as I saw it, was to cater for as wide an audience as possible, whereas the digital channels were all addressing different niches. Thus, I felt that it would be more the job of BBC2 to absorb any programming the BBC particularly wanted to keep hold of.

2. Prince Andrew is killed in a bizarre shooting accident at Balmoral. The news comes through at 2pm on Wednesday. How would you change your schedules to react?

This was a question that at first glance seemed to present a load of problems for the scheduler, but in practice was actually quite straightforward to answer. Wednesday at 2pm would find us ready to handover to Andrew O’Connor and Word Up! however in light of the news we’d instead cut to BBC News 24, who’d be entrusted to take us through the rest of the day. By Thursday, however, some of the normal programming would start to creep back into the schedules (Neighbours, EastEnders etc.). Come Friday and BBC1 would almost be business as usual (no HIGNFY however), until the day of the funeral, when we’d defer to a rolling coverage of this solemn occasion.

3. The BBC obtains live coverage of a crucial world cup qualifier (England vs Spain) on a Saturday night.

Hardly a problem, I thought. We’d simply clear the decks and run with the game (with a football-themed Win, Lose or Draw preceding it, natch).

4. Due to technical problems, the government announces they are to cancel the National Lottery for 6 weeks.

I didn’t consider this overly vexing, either. The format that BBC1 had come up with for Bob Monkhouse was such that the actual drawing of numbers was the least of its appeal. Instead, here’d be a great opportunity for Bob and the production team to push the boat out with a big gimmick or production number at the end of each edition of Bob’s Lucky Lines. In fact, so heartily did I think this turn of events would be embraced, that I feared once normal service was resumed, the lottery would be reintegrated back into the show with some reluctance.

After the wild cards, we were afforded time-out to discuss with our colleagues any possible conflicts or overlaps in our schedules, and to make any changes as a result of feedback around the table. In consultation with Channel 4, I agreed to release David Aaronovitch from The Culture Vulture in return for acquiring the talents of Sascha Baron Cohen, who I was to find a vehicle for at 11pm on Friday nights (replacing the fifth episode of Take Me Home). Johnny Vaughan was given Aaronovitch’s chair, thus pacifying those who felt the BBC hadn’t done enough to exploit his talents.

I swapped Pithead (Thursday) with Paddington Green (Monday) to prevent a surfeit of drama on a Thursday night, and meanwhile Channel 4 kindly agreed to move Phoenix Nights from Wednesday nights, where it would stand to inherit an audience from Kay Mart which was scheduled to finish just as it began.

I was concerned that Channel 5 were touting a series that sounded almost identical to At Last – Friday! and so negotiated with Steve for them to drop it. The price – a “name” to host their new series of The Mole. I offered him Ulrika Jonsson and the deal was done.

With my schedule slightly altered I faced the regulators for their closing comments. After some general comments to all of us on the reliance of stranding, they expressed concern that my BBC1 didn’t cater for deaf viewers, and suggested that I ran some subtitled repeats before cutting to News 24. They didn’t buy my idea of running Take Me Home across the weeknights, and thus I was made to promise that I would replace it with new, different programming. There was also concern about the lack of films on BBC1, which I agreed to rectify.

Overall their comments were fair, and required from me only minor tinkering with the channel I had created. I accepted all of their recommendations without quibble (unlike the stand-up debate that occurred when ITV took its notes!)

In the final analysis, I felt that perhaps I hadn’t invested sufficient thought in the creation of my BBC1, but overall I reckoned I’d got it roughly right. Despite the tough time I’d had of the Q&A I got the impression that no one really had that big a beef with my vision of the channel. In fact, my Saturday night was commended by one rival (OK, Jack at BBC2) as being the strongest of the lot. Buoyed up with that thought, I spent the rest of day badgering the C4 Chief Exec (who by general consensus was the overall “winner” of the day) about the nine (count ‘em!) ex-music journos he’d found jobs for on his channel.

<Part Three