RTS Jimmy McGovern/Sita Williams Tony Wilson Lecture

RTS Jimmy McGovern/Sita Williams Tony Wilson Lecture

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Thursday, 13th December 2012

BBC North Director, Peter Salmon interviews Jimmy McGovern and his drama partner Sita Williams at the RTS North West Tony Wilson lecture


Our Friend in the North

Imagine a podgy bank clerk, accidentally married to Sophia Loren in the mid 1960s, then suddenly asked for a critical appraisal of her beauty live on Italian TV. He wasn’t going to say she had a big nose.

Which is how I felt, as a last-minute fill-in at the Westminster Media Forum on the future of Channel 4.  This is one of our most valued clients, so the most attractive option was obsequious verbosity, on Blackadder lines.

But you have to say something in a speech, so I took the regional angle, my reassuringly safe specialist subject for all matters DCMS, OFCOM etc.

I built on the point that producers had been punching the air in Manchester after Channel 4 programming boss Jay Hunt’s inspirational visit a couple of months ago to launch a search for new suppliers. 

And I asked: if you launched Channel 4 tomorrow, aiming to bring real diversity to Britain’s TV screens, would you even locate all of its commissioning editors in Westminster in the first place ?   

Or would you actually leapfrog the BBC - to a more diverse diversity ? 

Might Channel 4 one day eschew even Manchester, and locate commissioners in a Yorkshire town with a big Asian population, or rural North Wales, or Hull ?  Could making Londoners get on the train to Bradford perhaps have a future cultural value to the nation ? 

Already big in the North, meanwhile – Jimmy McGovern, author of Cracker, The Street, Acccused, Hillsborough and much more.

He was guest in Manchester for our annual RTS Tony Wilson memorial lecture on creative inspiration.  A lot of people came to hear it, and fellow writer/superstar Paul Abbott, who currently has Shameless in production in both Manchester and Los Angeles, actually flew in specially.

Jimmy didn’t disappoint.  He was an all-action aphorism machine.

SSuccessful drama has to appear effortless.  Most of the work goes into making it look like there wasn’t lots of work.S

SDon’t be a team player !T he warned the many soap writers in the audience. SParade your talent and use every script to prove what you can do.T  He recalled instances where he had ignored the mandated storylines for his episodes on Corrie and Brookside, shafting the next writer with an entirely unexpected starting pointThere must be a great theatrical farce in that idea.

For barely a minute of the ninety that Jimmy and Sita Williams, his long-time producing colleague, were onstage with Peter Salmon, did he did not say something I could have put into the next edition of the Penguin Anthology of Hollywood.

A blank sheet of paper was liberation for him – a boundless opportunity.  The more he wrote Cracker, the more he became the character.  He was proud of his failures.   SI’ve written some crap in my time, but I’ve always tried and it’s never been down to lack of effort.T

The one subject on which McGovern was coy was the new, potentially long-running Northern soap he’s writing.  Commercially and creatively, when that rolls out of his printer, it will be a hot, hot script.  But he wasn’t telling.  I’m guessing it won’t be set in a yacht club.

"If you are a writer,T said Jimmy at the end, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: SYou want to succeed, and every other writer must fail."

None of the writers in the audience believed him.  He was far too inspirational and self-deprecating for that.  It was everything a good RTS event should be.


Alex Connock founded Ten Alps and Pretend.  Twitter @mralexconnock 

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