Friday, July 14, 2006

All change at the top of BBC NI

BBC Northern Ireland’s Controller, Anna Carragher, is retiring in October.

A graduate of Queen's University, she joined the BBC in 1970 as a studio manager. In her long career with the corporation, she was worked as a producer on the Today programme, lived in New York, helped launch on Breakfast Time (remember Frank Bough’s dazzling jumpers?), before switching to the other end of the day for Newsnight and Question Time.

Anna returned home to Northern Ireland in 1995, becoming BBC NI Head of Programmes, and was appointed Controller in September 2000. She’s a Trustee of the Grand Ole Opera House, which is currently in the middle of a major building programme.

And it’s not the only of change for the BBC locally at Ormeau Avenue.
With the transition from the long standing BBC Governors structure to the new BBC Trust, only three of the current eleven governors (along with the chairman Michael Grade) have a place in the new organisation. So Northern Ireland’s Governor - Prof Fabian Monds - will not move to the new body.

So both the head of the operational organisation and the local point of accountability will both switch.

You’ve missed the closing date (26 June) for responding to the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) advert for a Trustee for Northern Ireland. But you’ll soon catch the Controller’s job being advertised as the BBC seek to fill the vacancy in the run-up to Anna’s departure.

Whether an internal or external appointment, whether a local or national/international figure, it will be interesting to see the effect of a new Controller on the local programming.

One of the issues facing the BBC in Northern Ireland at the moment is the lack of locally-produced programmes reaching a national network audience. Most of the entertainment/drama produced through BBC NI, is either filmed in the UK mainland under supervision of NI producers (eg, Murphy's Law, or is handled by local independent production companies like Wild Rover (Just for Laughs).

So other than financial control and senior producers/directors, there is in fact little local involvement. Ballykisangel is probably the best known BBC NI network drama - and back in 1996 it was filmed in Wicklow and Dublin. And although we used to dominate the national news programmes with NI reports for all the wrong reasons, that too is in decline.

BBC NI only contributed 26.9 hours of output to Network Television in 2005/6 (compared to the 627 hours shown locally). Facing the Truth with Desmond Tutu was perhaps BBC NI's highest profile national network production, shown on BBC2.


John Self said...

Those I know at BBCNI will not be sorry to see her go, though I don't know if that's representative.

I have a bit of a thing about BBCNI anyway. For me the problem is not the lack of local programmes shown nationally, but the excess of them shown locally. Or perhaps I should qualify that by saying it's not the existence of the local programmes I hate (I can ignore them easily enough), but the way BBCNI shifts national programmes to make way for them.

I have lost count of the number of programmes of the type I like - Room 101, Have I Got News For You, Jonathan Ross, The Armstrongs - that are routinely moved or sometimes abandoned altogether in favour of Season Ticket or some local 'comedy' or docusoap. This policy gives the impression that BBCNI is moving programmes with a vaguely 'alternative' bent in favour of sponge-cake telly for the superannuated. I wrote to Anna Carragher about this a number of times and never had a response. In the cases of Room 101 and The Armstrongs, these programmes were actually moved or taken off altogether in mid-run to make way for local shows. It's this sort of unprofessional behaviour which lends BBCNI a second-rate air generally, which is a shame because of course their news and current affairs is probably the best of all the regions in the UK. The reason I don't have digital is because on digital, there is even more of this sort of second-rate substitution.

Argh. Rant over.

Anonymous said...

Good riddance to this woman, but I can't see things getting any better.

Apart from a little radio output BBCNI has little homegrown programming that could cut it at a national level. The local shows depend very heavily on a regional celebrity cult, if you can call it that. Thus, for example, when the likes of Gerry Anderson move to Radio4 he is met with horror by mainland listeners because they are not privy to the joke that is Gerry Anderson.

BBCNI has no dramatic output on TV worth speaking of - this isn't because of a lack or writers etc. It's simply because they refuse to make an investment in dramatic talent when they can roll out another generation of in yer face presenters to make the lunch hour in Morrison's an event. Peter Hain recently talked about BBCNI needing a Dr Who type success - can you see any of the people currently lording it at Ormeau Ave taking a risk on drama, never mind SF?

Sack them all.