Our Friend in the Midlands: Kully Khaila

Our Friend in the Midlands: Kully Khaila

Wednesday, 1st February 2023
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Kully Khaila hails local training initiatives but urges all concerned to keep investing in tomorrow’s talent.

The year 1983 was a year rich in history for British television. It was the year Blackadder, Blockbusters and The Bill began… and there were many shows not beginning with B, too. One television start-up that became a stalwart that year was The Television Workshop, an institution from the Midlands that has been responsible for shaping the careers of so many talents on screen today.

A galaxy of stars, including Samantha Morton, Jack O’Connell, Vicky McClure and Felicity Jones, has exploded from this drama training supernova, which began life as the Central Junior Television Workshop in Nottingham. As it comes to its 40th rotation around the sun, The Television Workshop is marking its progress with a year of celebration and a film festival this summer.

Like its fellow 1983 debutant The Bill, the workshop has given many emerging talents their big break. They include Bella Ramsey (now dodging zombies in The Last of Us) and Anjli Mohindra (last seen stopping an extinction-level event in The Lazarus Project). But, unlike the police drama from Sun Hill, The Television Workshop just kept on going.

The RTS in the Midlands will join those celebrations and assist in bringing more of the region’s fledgling talent to our collective attention.

Helping to break new talent has become part of the region’s DNA. This summer, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, known as the Rep, is teaming up with Sky Studios for a comedy writing talent scheme that will see rising stars showcase their work.

From the last cohort, twins and writing duo Mari and Lowri Izzard were commissioned by Sky Studios to write more scripts. Mentors this year include Sanjeev Bhaskar and Morwenna Banks.

Birmingham is the home of the BBC Academy, the learning arm of the BBC, which also delivers industry-­focused events such as Production Unlocked to engage new talent. 

These three-day events, held across Britain, share skills and support aspiring talent. I will be hosting a session on behalf of the RTS at Production Unlocked in Birmingham this month, partly to speak more about discovering and growing talent.

The BBC has also piloted its first Apprentice Hub in the city to help place 50 young people in relevant apprenticeships. The BBC Academy is providing the training for the scheme.

The RTS also works with Create Central, an industry body that convenes and connects the creative ­sector. Throughout the year, the team at Create Central delivers bootcamps around drama, scripted, production, development and researching to help bridge that gap between learning and opportunities.

These immersive camps build on the work of the many new screen schools that have been launched in the region over the past 18 months to address the skills gap highlighted by new studios and facilities opening in the Midlands.

The BOA Stage and Screen Production Academy opened its doors in the city’s Jewellery Quarter in 2021, as did the University of Wolverhampton’s Screen School. The Screen and Film School opened in Digbeth, Birmingham’s emerging creative quarter, joining the BCU School of Games, Film and Animation. The region’s future hasn’t looked this bright for many decades.

This catalogue of initiatives and enterprise is welcome at a time when ScreenSkills estimates 20,000 new full-time roles will be needed in ­television by 2025 to keep up with demand. Even with all this investment, it will be challenging to maintain our momentum.

At the RTS Midlands Awards in November, acclaimed actor Adrian Lester was awarded the Baird Medal. In his acceptance speech, he spoke passionately about the places in ­Birmingham that supported him as he forged his career. Acknowledging the huge strains imposed on organisations by the cost of living crisis, Lester urged us all to “keep the doors open… especially now”.

Whether it is prolific on-screen talent being nurtured at The Television Workshop or exciting new writers being showcased by Sky Comedy Rep, we must keep investing in new talent and supporting organisations that do so. Keep those doors open.

Kully Khaila is Chair of RTS Midlands.