David Olusoga’s powerful MacTaggart lecture contained uncomfortable personal resonances for Pat Younge
It’s been an unusually domestic and turbulent month. Covid-19 wiped out the idea of piggy-backing on my wife’s work trip to Tokyo, the family holiday in Greece and travelling to Edinburgh for the TV festival.
But it’s not been quiet, as the reverberations of the death in May of George Floyd, under the knee of an American cop, are still being felt in August.
It triggered an interest in race and race relations that we’ve probably not seen here since the New Cross fire and Brixton riots in 1981. And, after a lot of soul searching in the TV industry, the commitments have come thick and fast.
I’m old enough to have been here before, many times, so it was great to see a new generation of activists on the scene taking up the battle, such as Adeel Amini and the BAME TV Task Force. Let’s hope they will find the allies to get this done.
In May, along with Narinder Minhas, I left Sugar Films to launch Cardiff Productions. Early August saw the transmission of our first show, The Talk, a co-production with Whisper, which also part-funded the show.
It went from a casual conversation with Fatima Salaria at Channel 4 to broadcast in just six weeks.
Despite Covid-19 and the tight turnaround, all the talent in the senior roles was black, including camera, sound and editing. I guess it shows that where there’s a will…
We have a series in production, Am Dro!, for S4C, showcasing the beauty and characters of the Welsh countryside. However, because of Covid guidelines, we’ve had to review and rework everything from minibuses to toilets to packed lunches. It’s been an interesting creative and logistical challenge. So far, so good.
I just wish we could rework the bloody weather.
'A lot of my black and brown colleagues on social media used the same phrase: “Now I feel seen.”'
I thought this month would be a good time to start to learn the Welsh language. I studied in Cardiff for five years, support Welsh rugby and can sing the national anthem – but never learnt the language. Given our long-term commitment to Cardiff, and working closely with Welsh language producers and S4C and BBC Cymru/Wales, it seems like the right thing to do.
I took advice from Adrian Chiles, who’d been learning the language for an S4C show, and have subscribed to a tuition service. Come back to me next August to find out how I’m doing.
If it’s August, it must be the MacTaggart lecture, kicking off the Edinburgh International Television Festival. This year it was digital and delivered by David Olusoga. Wow! What a speech he delivered, not just deeply personal but also with some policy prescriptions that invited Ofcom to regulate diversity or step aside for someone who will.
A lot of my black and brown colleagues on social media used the same phrase: “Now I feel seen.” I understood what they were talking about, because David tackled head-on that hoary old race/class question and the pernicious ways race and class biases push you to the industry’s edges and often out of the door.
It happened to me, when I was a local news correspondent at BBC Newsroom South East. It was 1994 and I was taken aside by my boss and told that, “while your accent sounds just like most people in this region, it’s not RP and we have a lot of BBC senior execs who watch our show”. The solution was to enrol me, aged 30, in elocution lessons.
One night, it took me three hours to record a 40-second voice piece. It was confidence-sapping and soul-destroying. Luckily, I had producing experience from LWT and managed to get into an off-screen role and restart my career. Many didn’t have the opportunity of a second chance.
The month ended with our second broadcast, again for Channel 4, Peter: The Human Cyborg. If you wanted a film that showed you how technology could be a hedge against the worst impacts of extreme disability, and how the power of a positive mindset and unquestioning, devoted love could possibly conquer all, this is the film for you.
It is also a fitting tribute to the director, Matt Pelly, who died following a fatal fall during a filming hiatus, but who set the style and tone of the film. This one was for him.
Pat Younge, former chief creative officer of BBC Vision Productions, is Managing Director of Cardiff Productions.