Veteran diversity campaigner Baroness Benjamin shows that campaigning and creativity go hand-in-hand
We raise a glass to the late, great Victoria Wood. I succeeded Victoria as President of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and speak at its autumn lunch about my desire to see great parts written for women by women and, more importantly, more TV dramas for children.
I am still having flashbacks of euphoria about successfully getting my amendment into the Digital Economy Bill. The legislation means that commercial PSBs will be required to provide more UK-produced children’s content. It took all my dogged determination and powers of persuasion to achieve this. I worked with ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 and convinced them that it was a gift to all children and their future well-being.
A meeting with Sharon White to discuss how Ofcom is going to make this long-awaited change in legislation work. She is very positive.
So, I’m now waiting to hear from her team about their plans, following their consultations with all concerned. But, as an optimist, I believe that everyone will make my dream for more PSB kids’ content come true.
Mind you, there has been no talk about how the “contestable fund” will be used for children’s provision, so more anxious waiting time here, too.
There is no hanging around at Children’s BBC, though. The visionary Alice Webb calls me to share how she plans to use the £32m windfall that CBBC has received, and provides details of how her new commissioning structure will work.
I also meet Cheryl Taylor, the new overall head of children’s, now that CBeebies and CBBC are under one banner. It is easy to be blown away by her enthusiasm for high-quality, diverse programming.
I am so happy about the state of play at CBBC, especially after lobbying for years to have its budget ring-fenced. I’m beginning to feel like a guru for kids’ television.
On the Lords Communications Committee, we are involved in collecting evidence for an inquiry into the advertising industry. Falling revenue could have financial implications for the media. Without advertising revenue, high-quality content, especially children’s, could be in danger.
In between promoting the 20th anniversary of my book Coming to England (selected as a Guardian children’s book of the year 2016), I have written a sitcom. It is being developed with Endemol Shine, in the hope of getting even more positive diversity on our screens.
Fingers – and everything – crossed that a broadcaster will commission it. After campaigning for diversity in the media for the past 44 years, laying the foundations for change. I used to feel so alone, but I am so glad to see that others are now speaking out.
I was asked to go for a Channel 4 board position but didn’t even make the shortlist. Apparently, I wasn’t talented enough.
Shame, it would have been great to work with the dynamic Alex Mahon. We are kindred spirits when it comes to pushing diversity forward in a natural and sustainable fashion.
Just think, we could have made history at the same time, her as the broadcaster’s first woman CEO and me as the first black person on the board – perfect role models.
Happily, I did get asked to go to BBC Salford to record some Bedtime Stories. It was wonderful to be back in the studio, creating magic for kids and firing up their imaginations.
I must say I felt so at home. I didn’t realise how much I missed the creative adrenalin and excitement of performing, which is my dearest love.
Floella Benjamin, Baroness Benjamin OBE DL, is an actress, author, TV presenter and politician.