BBC deal could be ‘monumental’ for North East creative industries

From a middle-aged woman solving murders in a floppy hat to hairdressers near the Metrocentre discussing life, love and beauty treatments, there is an unmistakable thrill in seeing people with Geordie accents on our TV screens.

From Vera and Angels of the North to Ant and Dec and the remarkable young people of The Mighty Redcar, the North East is these days well-represented on our tellies, a welcome change from a period around the turn of the century when production in the region all but vanished.

Now there are hopes that even more TV could be produced in the North East and sold around the world after the BBC announced a £25m investment – its largest in decades – into the region.

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The news came just a few days after production company Fulwell 73, whose directors have family roots in the North East, said they would be opening a studio in Sunderland, the city that inspired its company name.

It’s hoped that the two announcements taken together could help spark a boom in the region’s creative industries, a sector where workers have been particularly hard hit during the lockdown but which is judged as being ripe for growth.

And though smaller in scale than the BBC’s major shift of thousands of staff to Salford in recent years and Channel 4’s opening of a second site in Leeds, the BBC’s North East investment has been warmly welcomed by people operating in the region’s creative sector.

Tom Gutteridge, a veteran TV producer who is chairman of the industry group Northern Film + Media, said: “This is a monumental period for the North East screen industry. It will be transformational and we hope not only to increase the amount of large scale productions coming to the region, but also continue to work, support and develop local productions to ensure the North East voice is well and truly heard by global audiences.”

And Pat Chapman, vice principal of the Northern School of Art, which has recently opened a new campus in Middlesbrough for people wanting to go into the creative industries, said: “We are delighted with the BBC’s announcement to invest in the creative industries and training in the North East. We look forward to a region-wide partnership that will see the region take its rightful place on our screens.

“We know there is a wonderful community of amazing talent, creativity, ambition and a new generation of talented and skilled young people who are eager to make their mark in this region. This investment will further develop the essential infrastructure for the booming creative screen industries in the North East.”

BBC director-general Tim Davie announced the investment at an event at the Baltic centre for contemporary art in Gateshead attended by many of the local council leaders who had signed an agreement with the BBC to support independent producers to invest in talent, skills and infrastructure that support the region’s TV industry.

The BBC announcement highlighted new series of its North East-set factual series Ambulance and Angels of the North, plus a new daytime series set in the region.

Newcastle – home of The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet – will become the BBC’s first ‘city of comedy’ and the prestigious Reith Lectures, a centrepiece of BBC output since 1948, will be broadcast from the region this year.

BBC deal could be 'monumental' for North East creative industries

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The BBC announcement follows similar investments in Scotland, Wales and the West Midlands, and for Mr Davie it is part of the organisation’s remit to represent the whole of the UK.

He said “The BBC has got a simple model, which is everyone paying their licence fee, and we’re utterly focussed on making sure every household gets exceptional value from that. For me, it’s absolutely central that they see creative work happening close to home, that we’re an organisation based across the UK. Under my watch, we’ve been very clear that the BBC is more across the UK than ever before and the North East is a critical part of that.

“The biggest thing is that what you want, more than anything, is great, world-class creative work. At the heart of that is great writing and it’s got to have very high integrity.

“In some ways I don’t want to be prescriptive that it’s got to be this particular city or this particular script. But I do know that there’s no limitations to content that is anchored in a place. There’s no reason why a drama in Gateshead can travel the world and be relevant to everyone.

“That’s what’s really driving this, which is that creativity comes from everyone. Real stories and stories connected to community – people don’t necessarily have to always see themselves in a story. They like to see stories that connect to universal truths but are set in different cities, telling the story of different places, that’s important.

“What’s exciting about this is that it’s a partnership which is not just about the creative work that makes us laugh and cry. It’s also about driving economic growth. “The creative industries is a massive growth sector and we’ll see over the next few years, hundreds of thousands of jobs – high value jobs – created in the creative industries. The North East should be part of that.”

Some of the best TV stories of recent years – from I Will Destroy You and Fleabag in London to Normal People in Dublin and rural Ireland – have been deeply rooted in place.

It’s more than a quarter of a century since Our Friends in the North made the North East the centrepiece of a TV show that gripped the nation, and another decade before that when Auf Wiedersehen, Pet did the same.

Now the hope is that a new momentum in the region’s TV and creative industries can put new North East stories on the national and international stage.

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