Executives at the BBC have pledged to “celebrate” production in the Midlands – despite making no prime-time television shows here.
The broadcaster has come in for criticism for re-investing just 8.5 per cent of the £942 million Midland families paid in licence fees last year, which has seen television and radio production dwindle in the region.
But Peter Salmon, director of BBC England, and BBC Birmingham director Joe Godwin have each pledged to “build more awareness” of the city’s output and “refocus” the Mailbox headquarters so “licence fee-payers feel connected to the BBC”.
However, Mr Salmon said there were no plans to recreate a “BBC-owned facility like Pebble Mill” – which closed in 2004 – eventually taking prime-time production in the Midlands with it.
Instead, he said he wanted to build Birmingham’s reputation for daytime drama production, with shows like Father Brown, Doctors and WPC 56 the major feathers in the city’s cap.
In a letter to the Post, Mr Salmon said: “We want to build a new level of awareness of BBC Birmingham and renewed confidence which over time can create even more activity and production.
“And a big part of this is acknowledging and amplifying the production we already do in this region. Whilst some critics may sniff at the daytime drama Birmingham is already famous for, we want to build on our reputation as a centre of excellence in that genre.
“I know Joe Godwin is already working with commissioners and controllers to celebrate our network TV and radio drama story more.”
Mr Salmon was responding on behalf of director general Tony Hall after Post editor Stacey Barnfield and Birmingham Mail editor-in-chief Marc Reeves outlining concerns about BBC investment levels in the region.
The Post has launched a campaign calling for half of the money invested in the BBC by Midland families to be reinvested in the region – as it is in all other BBC regions.
Last year, the corporation invested just £80 million across the region last year – less than it spends in London in 12 days.
For every family paying a licence fee in this region, the BBC spends just £12 while it invests £80 in the North, £122 in Wales and £757 in London.
Mr Salmon said there were plans, which are still at an early stage, aimed at “rebuilding sustainable and solid activity and investment” in the Midlands.
His letter came just weeks after a blog by Mr Godwin – which was almost identical in parts to Mr Salmon’s correspondence. It stated: “I want to build on Birmingham’s reputation as a centre of excellence for broadcasting so I am already working with commissioners and controllers to celebrate our network TV and radio drama story more.”
Mike Bradley, chairman of the Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands , which is calling for the broadcaster to invest more in production here, said he was surprised it felt there was a story to celebrate.
He said: “It is hard to know what there is for the BBC to celebrate about its production in the Midlands.
“Is it celebrating its prime time output – which is zero? Or its production for BBC Two or BBC Three – which is zero? Or its production for Radio One, Radio Two, Radio Three or Radio Five – which is zero? That seems an odd thing to celebrate to me. In the Midlands, they do the bare minimum the charter demands of them.”
A BBC spokesman said the production team for BBC Two’s current hit, The Game, was based at BBC Birmingham for the duration of filming in the city. He added: “Joe Godwin is working closely with Peter Salmon so it’s not surprising that they’ve both said that BBC Birmingham’s excellence in drama should be celebrated and share aspirations for this to lead to further opportunities for in-house and indie opportunities in the city.
“BBC Birmingham’s slate of drama output made out of the BBC Drama Village in Selly Oak produces over 120 hours of drama for BBC One every year, including BBC One’s Doctors; Father Brown, starring Mark Williams – a hit all over the world; WPC56 and our latest commission - The Coroner.”