Sunday, February 19, 2012

Last Monday Jon Jacob spent an adorable hour with Joe Godwin and Claire Rainford. Here is Mr Jacob's fifteen minute interview with Mr Godwin


00'00" Joe Godwin: I'm Joe Godwin, and I'm the Director of BBC Children's. Which means I run the division of the BBC that makes all the services for children. That's two television channels - CBeebies and CBBC; two fantastic websites, and the CBeebies grown-up website. So basically anything apart from the learning and schools' stuff that the BBC does for kids, this department does it. And I'm the boss of it!

00'24" Jon Jacob: Day to day, though - I mean I understand the idea of what you're saying - but day to day what does that entail?

00'30" Joe Godwin: It could involve one of a squillion things. It could be having a meeting with people in the department about our strategy and our plans, whether it's channel controllers or heads of production. It could be working with other bits of the BBC on policy matters or BBC governance matters. It could be working with external people, whether it's politicians or pressure groups. Or it could be - as I've done this morning - going to check that they're building the Blue Peter garden properly. So a real range of stuff, which is why it's such a fascinating job.

01'00" Jon Jacob: And are they building the Blue Peter garden correctly? When can we see that happen?

01'05" Joe Godwin: Work is underway. There are men with diggers and trowels doing it at the moment. So what we've done is we've carefully removed Percy Thrower's Italian sunken garden from the former garden in Television Centre. It's been carefully brought all the way up the motorway, and it's being reconstructed as we speak. Of all the things people have talked to me about over the past year - about this great, historic move of one of the BBC's key departments to Salford - the thing most people have wanted to ask me is about the Blue Peter garden. And I'm pleased to say it's actually started to appear here in MediaCity in Salford.

01'39" Jon Jacob: Is that .. that very question .. I can understand why people are asking that question .. is there a little bit of you that feels a little bit frustrated about that? Do you feel a certain responsibility to that which has gone on before? Or is this .. by coming to Salford, is that a fresh start?

01'58" Joe Godwin: That is one of the key complexities of the role. That the BBC is funded on the whole by our audience's parents - not by the children who watch it. And we have a responsibility very much to them, as well as to their children. The heritage of BBC Children's is also very important because we're the trustees of this sort of national treasure, which is Blue Peter. I think the most interesting and relevant thing for me about it though - which is why it's important, and why we must remember these things - is it reminds you why children's programmes are so important to people. Because the programmes we watched when we were kids - and I watched John, Val and Pete bury the box for the year 2000 in the Blue Peter garden - and the fact that people of my age and older are still talking about it, still interested and still concerned, as well as being fantastic in terms of the general public appreciating what we do for children, just reminds me that programmes you watch when you're little on television can have a huge lifelong impact on you.

03'01" Jon Jacob: Is that why you decided .. or is it that point in time that you decided that you wanted to work at the BBC? Because I understand from some research that you knew pretty early on that you wanted to work in production, and work at the BBC.

03'13" Joe Godwin: I don't think as a young lad I was quite clever enough to have worked out the sort of philosophical reasons for the importance of public service broadcasting, or the meaning of high quality programming to kids.

03'24" Jon Jacob: But was it appealing though? I mean I understand you wouldn't necessarily have done that. Neither did I. But I wonder whether there was a certain appeal about the BBC because of the likes of Blue Peter?

03.35" Joe Godwin: I think that's an understatement. I think it would take a psychologist or a hypnotist to work out the true reasons. But from quite a young age I was a great fan of the BBC and BBC children's programmes, and again at quite an early age decided that's what I wanted to do. So to go from being a little boy in a small town in the Midlands who didn't even know anybody who worked in any sort of media to being the head of the children's department at the BBC is fantastic. It's like a boy growing up wanting to play for Manchester United and ending up as captain.

04'10" Jon Jacob: That wasn't the first job you had at the BBC though. You didn't sort of graduate and then become head of children's TV? You started in .. you started working on Blue Peter itself, didn't you?

04'21" Joe Godwin: No, I actually started working on South Today, the regional television news programme for the south of England. When I left university - I went to university in Manchester - I wrote thousands of letters, 'cos we didn't have email in those days, to people all over the BBC. Some of whom kindly replied, some of whom gave me job interviews. And I eventually got a job at the BBC in Southampton working on South Today as a station assistant. And then quite soon after that I got a secondment to the children's department as a trainee. And I first worked on Record Breakers, which a lot of people will remember as a fantastic long-running programme with Roy Castle, about Guinness World Records. And that was my first taste of actually working in children's programmes, was going all over the place with Roy and Cheryl Baker making fairly daft films about people doing fairly daft things. And then I moved on to working on a programme called Going Live, which was a very popular Saturday morning programme, where I learnt to be a studio director on live programmes. And then I moved on to Blue Peter when it went three times a week in 1995, as the producer of the new third edition. Then I had a few years working for one of our competitors. And then came back. Yeah, so it wasn't an overnight success - it's taken me about twenty-three years to get to this.

05'38" Jon Jacob: You said in another interview that your work on Going Live as a studio director was what made you go "right this is it, this is what made it all worth it."

05'46" Joe Godwin: I think I already knew that that was what I wanted to do. I think probably once I was working for children's programmes I realised the absolute unique satisfaction of making programmes for that audience. They're the most discerning audience, they're the most responsive audience, they're the audience most likely to turn over if they don't like something. Which is why the quality of what we do has to be so high. I think the excitement of directing a live three hour television programme with eight cameras, two live pop groups unscripted - it's probably like landing a jumbo jet with your eyes shut in terms of the risks and the thrill of it. And I think it was what first made me appreciate just how exciting what we do can be.

06'30" Jon Jacob: Am I right in thinking that there's no actual .. now I come to think of it .. there are no programmes like that on television now - live unscripted for three hours?

06'41" Joe Godwin: There aren't any programmes that are live for three hours unscripted. I get a lot of people saying to me "ooh why don't you bring back Saturday morning television?" And I'm afraid my answer is "it never went away, you just stopped watching it." I think with the fragmentation of audiences - because when I worked on Going Live there were three choices on a Saturday morning - watch BBC One, watch ITV, watch Channel 4 or go outside - four choices. I think now there are over thirty children's channels and countless other things to take up people's time, the days of those huge everybody-watching-the-same-thing experiences have probably gone. But we still make fantastic entertainment shows, sometimes on Friday evenings, sometimes on Saturday mornings. It's still there, but because it's largely on the CBBC channel, where it does fantastically well, a lot of adults - because viewing habits have changed - just aren't as aware of it.

07'30" Jon Jacob: So tell me something about the new premises that you're in now. You moved to Salford in July/August time, is that right?

07'40" Joe Godwin: I moved up here in May. So I'm now living in Manchester, although as I said, I lived in Manchester before when I went to university. And then we took best part of nine months to move the whole department up - the two channels and all the people who make programmes for it. Numbers about 350 - 400 people. So we came in groups by areas. And we all finally got here in November, when Newsround arrived and started broadcasting. So Salford Quays, MediaCity is now the home of BBC Children's. The great thing about it - obviously it was complicated moving, and complicated for individuals and their lives and their families. But from a work point of view this superb purpose-built broadcasting production centre for the Internet age - and as I've said before Television Centre in London, which I have a great fondness for and a lot of people have lots of nostalgic thoughts about it - but it was designed in the 1950's. It was built before colour television. It's not the easiest place to make modern content, web content, IPTV and all the exciting things that are coming. So in terms of how we do our work, this place is just brilliant. In Television Centre the department was spread across twelve fairly pokey floors of a ramshackle office block.

08'59" Jon Jacob: That was the East Tower, wasn't it?

09'01" Joe Godwin: The legendary East Tower. And now here in MediaCity the whole department is on two great big open-plan floors. So what that's meant for how we work is that people who wouldn't have bumped in to each other before or accidentally got chatting - somebody might have been in CBeebies web team, somebody else might have been on Newsround - and they would never have .. their paths wouldn't have crossed. Here we're already seeing, because the way people move about, and the open-plan setup, is a lot of conversations and collaborations that wouldn't have happened before, are happening. And that generates new ideas, new thoughts about how to do stuff. And similarly with departments like BBC Sport, who we previously wouldn't have had a lot to do with, I now know all the key people in sport. We talk about collaborating on ideas like the Big Splash and the Sport Relief stuff. And so creatively the buildings actually lend themselves to people being more creative. And the other great advantage of the building, which is a difference to Television Centre is, as you may have seen when you came in, the piazza is full of families and kids wandering around, going to the Imperial War Museum, having days out. And they can literally come up to the window of where we are. I overheard some little kids in the piazza saying they'd just seen Andy from CBeebies walking across the piazza. You couldn't have done that at Television Centre because you couldn't have got in to Television Centre. So we're physically much more open and welcoming, which is part of the reason we came here - to connect more closely with audiences in the north of England.

10'38" Jon Jacob: It is an odd thing, coming from London, as I have today, it's an odd thing approaching those buildings and seeing staff members sat at their desks right up against the window. And there's a little bit of me that fears that. Because I think I'm not entirely sure whether I'd want to be on display that way, but I see the advantages of it. I just wonder whether there's a .. I know when I work in different buildings or when I go into different BBC buildings there is a sort of a physical response to the different working space. I wonder whether you experience that still, or whether you've sort of gone past that now?

11'15" Joe Godwin: Do you mean to this space?

11'16" Jon Jacob: Yes

11'17" Joe Godwin: I think everybody still is very excited. I mean I've been here best part of a year now. But everyone's still excited by the facilities, the clean and tidiness of it. I mean we could do with a cashpoint a bit nearer, but I'm sure that's coming. But no it is very exciting and I get a real thrill from .. because we have three buildings here, and when you walk from one to the other I'm always bumping into members of our audience who are very excited they can actually come and see the BBC. And going back to what I was saying about growing up in a small town in the Midlands, I think if I'd been able to see the BBC and get this close to it, it would have really made me think well people like me can work for the BBC - we can be involved. And obviously a big part of what we're doing here is saying to people "you don't have to go to London to work for the BBC." I mean you never did have to, like I didn't. But actually this is a really big statement - that big important parts of the BBC with lots of opportunities have come to you. I think the memories, as I said earlier, I think the memories of things that mean something to you and imprint themselves on you when you're young can stay with you forever. And those are about finding out about the world, being inspired to do things, seeing exciting things and role models. I think all those things come in the best children's content. And that was the best children's content then, and we still do that - Blue Peter: Helen Skelton has just made her way to the South Pole. I mean what a fantastic role model for all of our viewers, to inspire them to achieve things. Not necessarily that, but maybe inspire them to do something about the environment or to go on some sort of adventure. So we're still doing that fantastic, really exciting, way of opening kids' eyes to new experiences and new places.

13'06" Jon Jacob: Is there a motivation when you're making children's programmes as well, that that thing you've described of being inspired as a kid when you watched something? As a producer, as a children's programme maker, is there a bit of you that thinks "I want to do that for you, for this generation, I want to make something that will inspire you," or is it just about making good entertainment?

13'31" Joe Godwin: I think it's a lot more than that. In fact that's all we think about, and I'll explain why. Our sort of internal mission statement, which we have, just to remind everybody what we're here for, what the licence fee payers are paying us to do, is to create unforgettable content to inspire all children across the UK. Now that may sound a bit grand, but everything we do, whether it's - let me sort of characterise it as, you know, say ChuckleVision at one end, and Newsround at the other, on this huge spectrum of stuff we do - everything we do has got the potential to inspire people. Now that could be watching a Newsround Special about what it's like to be a child in Kabul. And that could inspire you to think differently about things; it could inspire you to to do something. I think entertainment has been part of the BBC's remit since 1922, and I think it's very important to entertain children. Because being a kid can be quite tough. Getting home from school is a time when children often want to do something other than think about facts and figures. And so entertainment is important. But I think that in itself is inspiring to children, whether it's inspiring them to think how they can entertain other people, whether it's inspiring them to have a different view about stuff because of something that's made them laugh or they've seen someone do a performance and thinks "well actually I'd like to do that." So I think everything we do can inspire people. The thing about making unforgettable content to inspire people is to remind us all - as if we need reminding - that the best programmes, the stuff our kids will be talking about in thirty years' time will be the best quality stuff. It'll be stuff like Horrible Histories. It'll be stuff like Tracy Beaker and Sarah Jane Adventures. Stuff like Justin's House and ZingZillas. Of the highest quality, written with the best performers. And I know kids will be saying to their children in thirty years' time "Oh when I was a kid there was this brilliant thing on the BBC called Alphablocks, or The 4 O'Clock Club. So I think it's that quality that makes things unforgettable. And as I say, I think everything we do has some potential to inspire children.

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