It was a remarkable moment in British TV, when two men skated on to the ice to perform together in a prime-time show. Hearts melted across the nation, from the Dancing on Ice studio to millions watching at home.
When Famalam came to our screens in 2018, British television was ready and waiting for a high-profile comedic exploration of the contemporary black British experience. It tapped the same vein as Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum and the 1990s ensemble show The Real McCoy – and another hit sketch show was long overdue.
Covid-19 has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people in the UK to date, and almost shut down the TV airtime advertising industry. Across April and May revenues dropped by more than 50%.
Most citizens were locked down in their homes with their children homeschooled – or not – for close to four months. The world seemed to have gone mad. Worldwide, the message was to wash your hands, wear a face mask, socially distance and pretty much hope for the best.
Few media initiatives during the pandemic have been as successful or as significant as the expansion of the BBC Bitesize education service. For parents attempting to homeschool their offspring while also working from home, having famous faces such as Marcus Rashford or David Attenborough helping children with their lessons was nothing less than a lifesaver.
It was easier in the old days – if a show was good enough, families in their millions watched it from their living rooms. But as choice, channels and platforms mushroomed, finding an audience for a programme became more complicated. The fight to be heard now requires broadcasters to break out to digital platforms, mobile devices and new audiences – who increasingly receive their recommendations from social media.
The thought, back in January, that 2020 was going to be a challenging year now feels like the understatement of the century. Shortly after the pandemic took hold in the UK, we slammed into lockdown and everyday life as we knew it was upended.
Covid-19 dominated every headline. Viewers tuned into the news in record numbers as reports of its merciless spread and millions of victims shook us to the core. But then came the horrific story of another victim who was also shown no mercy. The deplorable killing of George Floyd, in May, sent shockwaves through our society.
Making successful factual TV drama is fraught with difficulties. The stakes are even higher when programme-makers tackle real-life events – and no more so when they are as recent and raw as the ones depicted in the summer hit BBC One’s three-parter The Salisbury Poisonings.
For many of us, starved of enjoying a real performance in a theatre or a concert hall these past months, watching Sky Arts in lockdown was a revelation. Most of us knew about its flagship shows Urban Myths and Portrait Artist of the Year. We were less familiar with the service’s sheer eclecticism, which encompasses everything from ballet to the blues and Bono.
From staging the Battle of Waterloo for the ITV adaptation of Vanity Fair to recreating trench warfare for the Oscar-winning 1917, Paul Biddiss ensures that battle scenes in TV and film are as authentic as possible.
What does the job involve?
My job is to support the director and make films realistic from a military perspective. On Sam Mendes’ First World War movie 1917, I was running up and down the trenches with 500 men, checking they were holding their weapons and equipment the right way.
‘It’s a false sense of entitlement that we have to get rid of, because it can have catastrophic results. This is a story that recommends modesty. I think arrogance was the main problem and it’s big a problem today in the way things have been handled recently in this country.”
Screenwriter Christopher Hampton, who has adapted The Singapore Grip for the small screen, clearly sees recent parallels to the tale told in JG Farrell’s last novel.