In part 1 of the blog I promised I'd explain how the BBC has significantly weakened kids' TV. For an idea of what things used to be like in the 1980's, take a gander at this excerpt from the BBC Four miniseries Children's TV on Trial. Controversial issues were faced head on until about five years ago. For example the feature below is taken from Grange Hill's website, as it appeared in 2002:
I am 15 years old. I am an ordinary student here at Grange Hill; yes here at your school. Some of you know me; others don’t; some think you do. What none of you know is that I had sex with an older boy from this school; and I did not want to have sex.
It happened to me on an ordinary Saturday night at an ordinary party with someone I trusted - trusted until this happened that is. And I had loved him too; yes loved him. I won't go into details: that's not what this is for. Enough to say that we went to a room, things got out of hand and went too far. All of a sudden I was in a situation that I didn't want, hadn't planned and couldn't control.
Why didn't I say anything? Why didn't I scream? Why didn't I call out to my friends? They were only downstairs. The answer's not an easy one to put into words. I was frightened; I thought that maybe I'd led him on; maybe he would just stop. And I wasn't brave enough to say no.
He too was nervous, embarrassed and uncertain of what we were doing. And so he said nothing to me about what we were about to do; nothing about what he wanted or thought or felt; nothing about why we should do this thing. And then it happened. Continued/...
Article 17 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to the important role of the mass media in disseminating information and material of social and cultural benefit.
What motivated the changes to Grange Hill, which everyone must have noticed by 2006? And what motivated those people who formulated Creative Future to come up with this policy:
"...Kids & Teens: All children's output including radio, online and learning will eventually be consolidated under the CBeebies and CBBC brands which will be given tighter audiences targets – up to 6 and 7 to 11 years respectively. Create a broadband based teen brand aimed at 12 to 16 years, including a high volume drama, comedy, music and factual content."
On 03/12/2007, Richard Deverell explained:
Prior to 2006 CBBC did not, to the best of my knowledge, have a clearly defined demographic target. This was identified as a problem in the "Creative Futures" work done in late 2005. That project recommended a target age range of 6-12 for CBBC (CBeebies for under 6s and Switch for 13-17 year olds). This change was approved by the Executive and the Governors in early 2006.[see also blog entry Thursday 8 May 2008] I wrote back to Richard Deverell on 5th December 2007 ...
I'm still rather unclear about what has happened.We can only speculate on the motivation and on the innermost workings of BBC bureaucracy, but I'll hazard a guess .. the combination of Jana Bennett's prudishness and Mark Thompson's religious fervour led inevitably to a neo-Victorian perspective. There is an alternative possibility, and that is a 'runaway train' mentality took hold whereby people just didn't think what they were doing. However that latter possibility is negated, to some extent, by the deliberate weeding-out of older kids' feedback to Newsround.
As long ago as 2003 the BBC Statements of Programme Policy contained the following channel information:
BBC One a broad range of high-quality, popular British programmes
BBC Two innovative, challenging television programmes for a wide audience
BBC Three delivering news, information, arts and entertainment to a young audience
BBC Four the most intellectually and culturally enriching channel on television
CBeebies educative and entertaining programming for children under six
CBBC interactive, mainly UK programming for six to 12 year olds
So in reality there was no difference in the CBBC target age range after the announcement of 'Creative Futures' in 2006.
In May 2006, when Byker Grove was axed as one of the last remnants of the BBC's service to all kids, you said the BBC had identified a gap in services for older teens. Shortly afterwards CBBC began to further exclude that very age group (by dropping Newsround interviews with them etc) - this was more than a year before 'Switch' had launched.
At a time when the BBC is striving to save money, the idea of starting another kids' brand because of the BBC's own policies seems an unnecessary and completely avoidable waste of resources - though it's obvious that little funding goes on programmes for 13-17 year-olds compared to that spent on 6-12 year-olds or under 6 year-olds. For a guess, I'd say the BBC spends ten times as much on CBBC programmes as it does on older teens' programmes.
If I was one of those older teens I might well feel the BBC had something against me.
Richard answered questions from Newsround viewers after the announcement that Byker Grove was to be axed. He said at that time there were no plans to axe Grange Hill. So how come it was axed less than two years later? Mr Deverell is recognised in the Corporation and outside as a person of integrity, so I don't doubt there were no secret plans to axe Grange Hill when he answered Newsround viewers' questions.
I mentioned earlier that there were changes to Grange Hill which everyone must have noticed by 2006 -- those changes were certainly noticed by Grange Hill fans who wrote to the BBC protesting at the persistent dumbing down of storylines. It later transpired that Phil Redmond was engaged on a long-term project to revitalise the programme. He became so exasperated with the BBC's attitude that he thought they'd strangled his show. Redmond said: 'I think the BBC are downplaying the 30th anniversary of the hard-hitting, socially relevant, rites-of-passage teenage show. That's the brutal reality. It will be a different beast. My preference would be for it to have a new name because it is a new show and a new format.'
Phil Redmond is not, at present, listed amongst the attendees to the Children's Media Conference 2010.
Grange Hill was voted best ever children's TV show in 2008, and last March it topped a poll of kids' shows which most adults want to return. At the time of its axing Anne Gilchrist said "Part of CBBC's reputation for reflecting contemporary Britain back to UK children has been built upon Phil Redmond's brilliantly realised idea and of course it's sad to say goodbye to such a much-loved institution. The lives of children have changed a great deal since Grange Hill began and we owe it to our audience to reflect this."
In part 3 I will show how things have gone from bad to worse with the new leadership in BBC Children's.