Friday, November 13, 2009

Phil Redmond's RTS lecture - part 2 of 2

In January 2008 Phil Redmond was interviewed by Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian -

Stuart: What would you be doing if you weren't working on this [organising the Liverpool City of Culture events]?

Phil: I was going to say I'd be driving through Grange Hill's 30th anniversary celebrations, but that wouldn't be true. The BBC has abandoned what Grange Hill was about in order to attract viewers aged six to 12 rather than its traditional 13-plus constituency, so there's nothing to celebrate.

Stuart: Do you feel as though the BBC has strangled your baby?

Phil: I do. The most irritating thing is I'm not surprised. It once provided a rites-of-passage touchstone that parents and teachers could use to start conversations. Children under nine can't really have the discussions about the moral issues that Grange Hill was about. It's a shame it's become about ratings. Culture should be about more than that.

A few weeks after the interview Anne Gilchrist axed Grange Hill claiming, untruthfully, that CBBC's audience overwhelmingly supported her decision.

Towards the end of 2008 Phil Redmond spoke at the Media Festival in Manchester. He said "Broadcasting is completely disconnected from the cultural life of the nation."

Phil talked more about the disconnect affecting children's TV in his RTS lecture in September 2009. Referring to the BBC's lack of provision for teenagers Professor Redmond charaterised the BBC Trust as finding Channel 4 cool, in contrast to the BBC - uncool. He lamented the fact that more of the BBC licence fee wasn't made available for children's television.

Phil: Teenage eyes, sensing a lack of local opportunity, role models or relevance ... they start to drift from their set texts as disinterest, disillusionment, detachment and disenfranchisement sets in - and in some areas antisocial behaviour becomes the comfort blanket. .... where are the cultural touchstones for those all-important rites-of-passage years? They're not on television. Because our broadcasters and regulators have decided that childhood ends at 12 ...... I suppose what really happened with Grange Hill in hindsight was that we highlighted, and then fixed the disconnect from Wheldon's world. Instead of a distant, structured, almost cosy world, we put on screen a life that most children would actually recognise. It was a reinterpretation of public service television for children. And in our fast moving digital environment it is even more imperative that we constantly re-examine what we mean by that term "public service broadcasting."

Phil: We cannot think about the future of children's TV without thinking about the BBC itself, and its licence fee. Why? Not just because it's now the only UK broadcaster still actively originating programmes for children. But more fundamentally, if you've downloaded a copy of the BBC Trust's Review of children's services and content from February of this year, the first line reads: "The BBC Trust believes that children's broadcasting is at the heart of the BBC's public service remit." We should stick it on a T-shirt and we should all wear it. The last line of James Murdoch's Mactaggart lecture reads: "The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit." These two lines from opposite ends of the broadcasting spectrum explain why our commercial broadcasters, ITV, Five, Sky and even the publicly subsidised Channel 4, have retreated from originating children's programming. And why the BBC alone stands. It's the reason why Grange Hill was produced at the BBC only after all ITV companies had turned it down ... the publicly funded broadcaster had taken the risks. In a world driven solely by profit, who makes the leaps of faith? Who takes the risks?

The full lecture can be viewed on YouTube

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