Sarah Trigg gets emotional as she counts down to the launch of BBC One’s regional current affairs show We Are England.
It’s launch week. It’s January. So, no sharing the love and stress of such events with like-minded buddies in the office. Instead, it’s a weird dichotomy of a high-speed roller-coaster ride – but from the comfort of my front room/office.
Our talented 50-plus We Are England team (as the Ronseal name alludes to) spans the whole of England, from Newcastle to Leeds, Birmingham to Norwich and London to Bristol. Lockdown working practices have been the unanticipated saviours of our schedule and sanity.
Tasked with launching a brand new, 60-part current affairs series for BBC One in a world without Teams chats and virtual whiteboards, in less than nine months, would have been virtually impossible pre-Covid. We naively cheered: “Bring it on!” – back in sunny July 2021.
I love nothing more than the “sizzle” stage. We check in with the fabulous BBC England press team. Given our series tag line, “Our Voices. Our Stories”, the spoken word is a no-brainer to bring it to life: we engage the super-talented Birmingham Poet Laureate, Casey Bailey.
This should be a breeze, with 60 half-hours (not quite finished) brimming with emotive actuality and stories of uplifting triumph over adversity to get inspired by. Casey, do your stuff. The result was a goosebump-inducing 1'30" trail that squeezed the heart of our new series into one piece of content. I’m bursting with pride.
Day two. I have five viewings lined up – all of which will “hold up the edit” on top of the plethora of Teams meets, so I crack straight on with a quick start-up script meeting with one of the new directors to roll out the series style and tone. We have mashed up reality-TV sensibilities and glossy SVoD documentaries into the world of traditional, issue-based programming. The premise is somewhat simple – give back the mic wholeheartedly to people with a story to tell.
Midweek means more launch planning meets, hub meetings and our “ideas rumble”, a weekly cheer-up for our country-wide team to get together and bounce about stories for series two. Audience research are in the house, sharing some brilliant insight into serving the nation. It’s never the same in 2D but, with some breakout-room banter and fresh ideas in the ring, we all come away enthused and almost over the hump.
Today I’m in tears – in a good way, and more than once. I view a film called Night Nurses, which is due to transmit on 2 February, and is on the BBC iPlayer box set, The Night Shift.
It champions those who keep our country going while we sleep. This one chiefly follows three intensive care unit nurses at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham. It’s customary that people are “inspirational”, but these Brummie women are bossing it. Heart-wrenching and heart-warming in the same sentence. I’m smiling, crying and laughing through writing my (very few) notes.
Next, a film authored by Leicester-born actor Jassa Ahluwalia, asking “Am I English?”. As a parent of mixed-heritage Black-Caribbean/British children, his expression of raw compassion has me going again, it’s a beautifully filmed, poignant and revealing watch.
Launch day and there’s a flurry of emails with the rocks of our production – the production managers. The coverage so far has been strong, so collaborative calls with BBC marketing, press and local news teams has taken up most of the morning.
The onlines are coming thick and fast; I’m annoyingly super scrupulous. The distinctive style and look of the series were instrumental to our approach, so it must be right – our graphics guys, Heavy Object, have triumphed and I feel the rush of seeing something perfect in full HD glory.
Finally, a check-in meet with the BBC tech teams pressing the all-important buttons simultaneously at 7:30pm to transmit six episodes in one hit. I can’t quite believe we’ve made it, it’s magic. My mum calls to say she’s even skipped Corrie to watch, so it must be good. I’ve never been so proud of a team as this lot: what we’ve achieved together is tremendous.
Sarah Trigg is executive producer of We Are England.
Photo credit: BBC