BBC TV Drama Writers Festival 2011. Part 2


Two sessions in this post:

  • Controversy and getting into hot water
  • Jimmy McGovern in conversation
  • related links


Chair: Jack Thorne. With Tony Marchant, Jeff Povey, Claire Powell (Chief Advisor, BBC)

JT: what is controversial TV? Do you know when your writing is controversial?

JP: No. Just writing drama, relationships. Not aware of controversy. Got to keep pushing people. Knew it would upset people. Gripping beautiful drama, wanted it to be dramatic (distinction between dramatic and controversial).

TM: What affect does it have on you? If it’s now truthful the writer is copping out. Didn’t think about other people, controversy. Thought about relationships and drama. Unpopular message is important to get right. Find a story about  that is very specific and universal. (TM’s The Mark of Cain is set in Iraq – not just about war but about the friendship between boys, rite of passage.) Someone being threatened by the truth. That’s what drama should do.

CP: Writers aren’t controversial enough any more. How do you make something tough about Iraq without harming our boys? [see Telegraph link below] Have to have a strong storyline, much-loved characters.
Sensitive times. It’s difficult for writers to do something really controversial.
Continuing drama is in the moment.

(the film The Accused was mentioned)

JT: Who decides what the controversial thing is? Mumsnet? Murdock? Media?

On viewer comments: they (viewers) talk at you. People are writing in [to the producers and writers] demanding answers from you all the time (but not waiting for any reply or explanation). Which means that some good films don’t get shown again after complaints, even after one single complaint from someone.

TM: Can’t be a piece of ideology dressed up as drama. Has to be drama first.

From the audience: other mediums can’t show the level of reality TV can (for example, theatre).



in conversation with Kate Rowland

This was all in a humorous tone, so don’t take things too seriously!
Kate Rowland is BBC’s Creative Director of New Writing and heads the BBC Writersroom.

Americans are thick. (on why they don’t watch British imports)

He writes about what it means to be a human being – compassion, especially forgiveness.

You have to have passion about the story, it’s got to drive you. Feel angry, feel it’s funny, etc.

On Sunday which is based on the events of Bloody Sunday: bad journalism created a need for a story.  Newspapers painted a very distorted view of what was going on. JG went to Derry for 4 years, interviewing people. People tell their story through you. It has to be empowerment. He got it right because he spoke to the people who were involved in it.

On Accused: ordinary people in extraordinary situations. We confuse law and justice.

Conflict of humanity and the need to kill (men were forced to kill while their superiors held them at gunpoint – kill or be killed). Young men are killing other young men.

Doesn’t feel he’s ever gone too far, offended anyone. Scripts are thought through, plus there are others (producers etc), he’s not alone. (when dealing with stories based on true life)

Other thing he wouldn’t do is hurt his mum. Other family members are fair game (laughs). Use anything!

If you don’t need a psychologist, you’re failed as a writer. (laughter)

Employ your brain and your heart. You get right into the characters, you have to strive to write a great drama.

When someone else’s TV drama comes out, nothing makes him happier than realising after 10 minutes it’s crap (laughs).

Think about different options how a scene could work.

Every white person thinks they’re racist deep down. In Australia he felt like he was an aboriginal as well – in England, as a scouser.

Inspiration: Jim Allen “The Spongers” (part of BBC’s “Play for Today”)


Related links:

The Guardian Are you sitting comfortably? (Dec 19, 2005)
‘Television drama should offend its viewers more often.’

Tony Marchant interview in The Guardian Portrait of the artist

BBC Writersroom interview with Tony Marchant

Jack Thorne on Twitter

BBC Writersroom interview with Jack Thorne

Wikipedia on Jimmy McGovern

On both controversy and McGovern BBC’s refusal to drop McGoverns drama is an insult to our brave soldiers (Telegaph)

BBC Writersroom interview with Jimmy McGovern

Hannah Billingham’s notes on the Jimmy McGovern session

BBC Writersroom on Twitter

On this blog: BBC TV Drama Writers’ Festival, Part 1 (Writers to change the world?; Bio-Pic)

BBC TV Drama Writers’ Festival, Part 3 (John Yorke on theory and practice)

BBC TV Drama Writers’ Festival, Part 4 (Launching a series; Thrillers; Adaptation)



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