Tom Wrathmell: Our Friend Across The Regions

Tom Wrathmell: Our Friend Across The Regions

By Tom Wrathmell,
Wednesday, 3rd April 2024
Tom Wrathmell poses in front of the camera
Tom Wrathmell on getting out the city (credit: BBC)
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Tom Wrathmell highlights the progress of a BBC initiative to forge stronger links with audiences outside London.

Over the past year or so I’m sure many of you reading this have enjoyed the likes of Blue Lights, The Responder, Happy Valley and The Way. All huge BBC dramas. They have something else in common – they’re rooted in towns and cities across the UK.

This is no accident. In March 2021, we laid out our “Across the UK” blueprint for the BBC’s biggest transformation in decades, designed to move more of our programming and decision-making across the UK. The goal: to bring us closer to our audiences.

Three years on, we’ve delivered significant change and economic impact. The programme aimed to invest an extra £700m outside London by 2028. We’re on track to exceed this and to date have delivered more than £200m additional investment.

In 2022, 58% of BBC network television spend was invested outside London, which is more than £500m in total. We’re now looking at this reaching 60% by the end of the BBC’s Charter period in December 2027.   

We committed to delivering, within three years, more than 100 drama and comedy series set across the UK, telling the stories and showcasing the accents of those areas, particularly in the Midlands and North of England and the devolved nations. We expect this target will be exceeded. We hope almost a third of these series will be produced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Our high-end dramas set across the UK not only smash viewing records. They also prove that audiences respond to seeing their own lives represented on screen. Blue Lights was watched by 40% of adults in Northern Ireland.

Happy Valley was the biggest drama in 2023 and had a 46% share of viewers from Yorkshire alone. This isn’t just about making audiences feel represented. These prime-time television moments have a real impact on the areas where they’re set.

After Happy Valley aired, Halifax and the Calder Valley saw a boost to their economy and Disney/Marvel was encouraged to film there.

It’s not just about drama. Some of the BBC’s most-loved programmes, such as The Traitors in Scotland, Gladiators in Sheffield or Morning Live in Manchester, are based outside London and make a difference.

Of course, there’s still more work to do. We have outstanding partners across the nations and in the West Midlands and North East supporting the creative industries and growing significant creative clusters. We’re also working together to increase investment in skills and training to ensure the infrastructure is there to support productions and supply chains.

In the West Midlands, we’re working with Banijay to move MasterChef to Digbeth, creating 130 jobs and supporting the growth of Digbeth Loc studios as a major regional production base.

As part of our drive to grow skills and opportunities across the UK, we’ve relocated more than 350 roles outside London so far, across TV, radio and news. We’ve doubled our apprenticeship commitments and now have 600 in-house apprentices, 60% of whom are outside London.

We can’t do this alone. We’re delighted to see others joining us by investing more across the UK, whether it’s an indie such as Spun Gold relocating to Birmingham, or others such as Fullwell 73 investing to deliver the world-class Crown Works Studios in Sunderland, which will be a game changer in the North East.

This activity supports growth for the creative sector, widens access and opportunities for the best creative talent and storytellers, and ensures that the UK continues to punch above its weight globally. 

Tom Wrathmell is Director of the BBC’s Across the UK programme.

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