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The Writers' Guild of Great Britain has added its voice to growing calls for a rethink of the BBC’s proposed near-abandonment of Birmingham in favour of Bristol, Cardiff and Salford.
The Guild welcomed a House of Commons motion tabled by Steve McCabe, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, and sponsored by seven other West Midlands MPs. The motion protests against BBC plans to move much of its work away from the West Midlands. The Guild and its West Midlands Branch added their support to a campaign by the actors’ union Equity for the BBC to reconsider its plans to move all BBC factual and most network radio programming out of the region.
Writers’ Guild President David Edgar, a member of the Guild’s West Midlands Branch who has written several radio plays produced at the BBC's Birmingham Mailbox studios, commented:
'If the BBC's plans go ahead, a proud tradition of drama production in the West Midlands will be narrowed down to The Archers on radio and Doctors on television. The BBC lost its last one-off drama producer earlier this year, on top of the axing of the Asian soap Silver Street. Many Birmingham writers – along with producers, technicians and actors – will no longer be able to work in their region, and one of the best radio drama studios in the country will lie idle for most days of the year. The opportunity to write for the BBC in Birmingham has made an important and irreplacable contribution to what has hitherto been a lively and growing writerly community in the region. The BBC should think again.'
Women in the UK radio industry are significantly under-represented at senior levels, according to a new report produced by Skillset for Sound Women, a new organisation dedicated to highlighting the issues faced by women in the radio industry.
The report, Tuning Out – Women In The UK Radio Industry, shows that just 17% of people operating at board level are female, and 34% are senior managers. This compares poorly with the TV industry, where 29% of board members are female, though still just 37% of senior managers are women.
This correlates with a dramatic drop-off in the number of women in the more senior age brackets. Only 50% of women working in radio are over 35 years old, compared with 60% of men. This drops to 9% in the 50-plus age bracket, compared with 19% for men.
Tuning Out also shows that women are under-represented in technical and studio-based roles. Just 1% of radio editors, 9% of people working in engineering and transmission and 10% of studio operators are women.
With only 16% of women in the industry having dependent children living with them, compared with 25% of men, it seems apparent that many women are choosing to leave the industry when they decide to start a family.
Sound Women is a network of more than 200 women working in audio that is committed to raising the profile of the women who work in the radio and audio industry.
Skillset’s executive director, Kate O’Connor, said: 'We hope that this report will stimulate debate around the issue of female representation in our industry, and are extremely pleased to be working as a founding member of Sound Women to highlight these important issues.'
The shortlists have been announced for the annual Tinniswood and Imison radio drama awards
The Tinniswood Award honours the best original radio drama script. The shortlist this year (for drama broadcast in 2010) is:
- The Climb, by Andrea Earl
- Sarah And Ken, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
- Setting A Glass, by Nick Warburton
- Gerontius, by Stephen Wyatt
The prize of £1,500 is donated by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, and the judges were Robert Bathurst, Paul Donovan and Nell Leyshon. The Award was established by the Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and is administered by the Society of Authors.
The Imison Award honours the best original radio drama script by a writer new to radio. The shortlist this year (for drama broadcast in 2010) is:
- Atching Tan - A Tober Of Loki Nogo, by Dan Allum
- The Pursuit, by Matt Hartley
- The Barber And The Ark, by Marcia Layne
- Amazing Grace, by Michelle Lipton
The prize of £1,500 is donated by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation. It was founded and judged by members of the Society of Authors’ Broadcasting Committee (Alison Joseph (Chair), Mike Bartlett, Lucy Caldwell, Nazrin Choudhury, Christopher William Hill, Karen Liebreich, Sue Limb, Karl Sabbagh, Colin Teevan and John Taylor).
The presentation of the awards will take place on the evening of Sunday 4th December at a private reception at the Radio Theatre, London.
The Writers’ Guild has agreed increases of 2 per cent in the minimum fees for BBC radio writing – in line with the salary increase for lower-paid BBC staff.
The new rates (pdf), which took effect from 1 August 2011, bring the key rate for writing original radio drama to £89.05 per minute, or £5,343 for a one-hour play (two transmissions), and £892.50 per episode for The Archers. Our agreement with the BBC provides a sliding scale for other types of drama: pre-existing format 90% (£80.15 per minute); dramatisations 85%, 75% or 65% (£75.69, £66.79 or £57.88 per minute) depending on extent of work required; semi-dramatised narrations 55% (£48.98 per minute).
Minimum rates for short stories and abridgements are also increased. The attendance payment remains at £60. The rates were agreed in negotiations between the BBC, the Guild, the Society of Authors and the agents’ trade body the PMA.
Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett commented: “With the BBC agonising over yet more cuts, we must be grateful for even a small increase in writers’ fees, even though it is below inflation. But it is worrying that the number of plays commissioned is declining year by year, and Radio 4 is axing at least a third of its short stories. The Guild will continue to fight all such cuts.”
Higher minimum rates for BBC Radio Features and Talks Contributions (pdf) have also been agreed.
Writers' Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said:
'Here is yet another meaningless cut that will save Radio 4 in a whole year less than the cost of a single coat of paint on the shiny floor of a TV talent show. For six months the BBC has been endlessly “consulting” on its next round of cuts, named without apparent irony Delivering Quality First (DQF), necessitated by the six-year licence fee freeze agreed with the incoming coalition government without any public consultation at all.
'Every time DQF is mentioned we are told that the days of “salami-slicing” under which every BBC service has to deliver the same percentage cut, are over and from now on the BBC will have to concentrate on the areas that no commercial broadcaster is interested in. Short stories, that literary endangered species, would appear to be exactly the kind of material that should be protected.
'The new Controller of Radio 4 has finished her honeymoon period. Now it is time for her to beat down the door of the Director-General and inform him that Radio 4 – and more to the point the listeners of Radio 4 – will simply not put up with any more of this pointless cultural vandalism.'
Update: The Society of Authors has published actions that people concerned about the cut to short stories can take.
Update ( 20 July 2011): In today's Daily Telegraph, in an article called Why Radio is the Ideal Home for Short Stories, Allan Massie largely agrees with Bernie Corbett's fury and argues that if the BBC offers fewer examples of the art of the glimpse, listeners as well as writers will have the right to feel cheated.
Update (8 August 2011): Gwyneth Williams, Controller of BBC Radio 4, revealed a partial climbdown from her plans to axe two-thirds of Radio 4’s short story output when she met Writers’ Guild General secretary Bernie Corbett at the end of July.
There was outrage when a BBC press release stated that 'from next spring, the number of short stories will be reduced from three to one a week on Radio 4'. An internet petition quickly gathered more than thousands of signatures, including many wellknown writers and performers. Williams, however, told Corbett the figures 'were not precise' and that she would be cutting the number from 144 to 102, most of which would be broadcast first on Radio 4 with 'a small number' premiered on digital Radio 4 Extra, but repeated on Radio 4 later. In addition, more short stories from the BBC archive would be repeated on 4 Extra.
Corbett warned Williams she risked a perception building up that Radio 4 would drift away from creative, cultural and literary writing and instead focus on news, current affairs and international coverage. Sacrificing short stories to make room for an extra 15 minutes on The World At One seemed to confirm this view. Williams countered that she was scrapping Americana and would replace it with a new Sunday night comedy.
The change in policy on short stories has failed to satisfy campaigners who demand that the full 150 per year should be retained – pointing out that until recently there were five per week, or more than 250 per year. They also believe that the new slots on Sundays and Fridays are less user-friendly than the mid-afternoon slots on weekdays.
Jake Yapp gets to grips with writing topical sketches for BBC radio
Listen to the sketches mentioned in this article:
It is 8.26 am and I am trying to think of something funny to do with the Archers and young people. And I have another half an hour or so before the sketch I haven’t yet written will be played out on national radio.
It’s a faintly nerve-racking job. I mean, it’s not like working in A&E, or, far worse, doing supply teaching, but it’s fairly hairy at times. My job is to make sketches for the BBC 6Music Shaun Keaveny Breakfast Show. And I make them fresh on the morning of broadcast, each one-two minute sketch delivered from scratch in about an hour. Here’s how it works.
My alarm goes off. I try to crawl out of bed without disturbing my girlfriend Lucy – although Maisie the cat sees to that. Depending on the weather, and how cold the flat is, I pull on my usual classy work attire: tracksuit trousers, a t-shirt, socks and a dressing gown. It is a hot look. And it screams ‘Media Professional’. I traipse downstairs to the spare bedroom, and sit down at my laptop. It is already on – it came on several minutes ago. It’s on a timer thing. This whole job relies on streamlining and systems – partly because of the fast turnaround, partly because I am a lazy sod.
The Email arrives from the 6Music production team. They have been up for ages, bless them, in Western House, scouring newspapers for stories for the show: ‘Morning. Found this story of the new Archers spin-off for “youngsters”. We were thinking of some crunk version of the theme tune then some kids saying “blud” quite a bit. Something like that? And a podcast trail pls. Thanks Jake!!!!’
This is my brief for the day. There’s a link in the email to the news story, about the launch of the new youth-oriented spin-off from The Archers, Ambridge Extra. My mind starts churning. I decide to go for a straight spoof. But it will take time to do it right. So I decide to do the podcast trail first, and save the Ambridge Extra spoof for later.
I start thinking about the podcast trail. There’s a daily Shaun Keaveny podcast, and pretty much every day I am asked to make a trail to promote it. It’s a really broad brief. I can do it about pretty much anything I like, as long as I crowbar in some reference to the podcast.
I find this harder in many ways, than the sketch. I like having a brief – the more restrictive the better, in many respects. The vast, wide expanse of ‘anything’ makes it almost impossible to write. How do you choose the best idea when the ideas are unlimited?
William Gallagher (left) and Jason Arnopp discuss their experiences writing Doctor Who audio dramas produced by Big Finish
Jason Arnopp: I'd always admired Big Finish as a fine example of a company which grew itself from scratch, pulling off that tricky combination of fannish enthusiasm and real professionalism, while building an empire of spin-off full-cast audio drama. I'm a lifelong Doctor Who fan and was interested in audio - in particular, the atmospheric possibilities of that medium. So I contacted Big Finish script editor Alan Barnes, told him about the films I'd written before and threw an outline idea for a story at him. It was the creepy, Blair Witch-esque affair that would become the title-story of the anthology The Demons Of Red Lodge & Other Stories. To my delight, he not only liked it, but didn't want any changes to that outline. How did you get the job yourself, William?
William Gallagher: It sounds quick and obvious in retrospect, but I was working on a BBC drama project and got the chance to write for Moray Laing, editor of Doctor Who Adventures magazine. You can't have a good lunch with me without gathering somehow that I am a drama nut and that I adore radio drama, so shortly after I started there Moray introduced me to Alan Barnes at Big Finish. I pitched a couple of ideas and though I think it must've taken a couple of years, one of those fitted what he was looking for in this CD and I was commissioned to write Doing Time last January. And I tell you, the day I wrote my first line of dialogue for the Doctor I genuinely got a shiver. I didn't expect that. What is it about Doctor Who?
Jason: Doctor Who is absolutely ingrained, hard-wired, into so many people's childhoods. It probably made many of us want to be writers in the first place - that was certainly true for me. And I think that when you find yourself writing for an incarnation of the Doctor with which you grew up (in my case Peter Davison), that Doctor's voice comes quite easily, if not effortlessly, to mind. But yes, I definitely felt that shiver. After that, you just get on with the business of serving the story and the characters and the audience well, don't you? You'd written radio drama before, whereas I had worked in radio sketch comedy, so had a few new things to learn, particularly when it came to making scene transitions clear. It's easy enough to do it, but harder to do it without shouting exposition at the listener and starting each scene with "Doctor, look - we've walked into a forest at night, with dense trees!"
William: Scene transitions were easy for me because I hear the story that way: not as a sequence of separate scenes but one whole. I started out in BBC local radio producing packages and learnt to build sequences. I enjoy knowing just when to cut and just when to linger. Plus, radio audiences are very, very fast at picking up the tiniest clues and I am that audience myself: I've heard gorgeous plays where scenes change mid-syllable and I've heard plenty where they don't. But then in post-production Big Finish added a piano piece to the end of a particular scene and it was exquisite. Just a perfect transition. I will ask for them in all future scenes, everywhere. The much harder, newer thing for me was that it's not Doctor Who unless you have a monster: I believe fervently that the best monsters are people. So I did write a roaring monster but I made him a side character while I concentrated on a very human villain. You're a horror writer, did you find monsters easier than I did?
Jason: I do like a bit of horror – all right, a lot of horror – and so monstrosities tend to parade from my brain with some ease. I do believe that Doctor Who always needs a monster and these generally must be as menacing and alien as possible. I take your point, though, that sometimes a human(oid) villain such as The Master or Davros can be more interesting – there's certainly more of a debate to be had between them and the Doctor. Happily, the show often enjoys the best of both worlds, with seemingly human villains who transform into all kinds of abominations, and I follow that tradition in The Demons Of Red Lodge. I'm certainly glad we both got to visit Big Finish's studio on the day that our stories were recorded. I had a great time watching Peter Davison (The Doctor) and Sarah Sutton (companion Nyssa) saying my dialogue – how did you enjoy the experience?
William: It was embarrassing. I've just produced a Radio Times video that involved filming a clutch of star names and I was entirely blasé (or, as I believe others call it, professional). But standing there in Big Finish's studio I think I convinced Peter Davison I was a starstruck fan – because as we first shook hands I spotted Sarah Sutton behind him. I had such a crush on her when she was Nyssa in the TV show and when I was somewhat younger than I am. Such a crush that the studio day ended with her saying ‘Thank you for a lovely script’ to me and my replying, quite suavely ‘Gibber’. Otherwise it was perfectly normal. To be serious, it's a smart production and I am enjoying working with them, enjoying getting drama on its feet and collaborating not as the writer who never shows up but all of us together and hands on.
Jason: I must also confess to a little gibbering in that studio. There, that feels better. And yes, Big Finish is great for encouraging that collaborative process. In the world of film, I've been lucky to form an alliance with the brilliant director Dan Turner. After making a couple of shorts and developing various projects together. we shot a horror film called Stormhouse last year, on which I was writer and executive producer. The latter title, in this case, basically means I have much more creative input and control than the average writer. I must admit that, while writing audio, I often miss that ability to tell all with a single image. Audio and audio/visual drama are very different beasts, but with equal strengths. Chief among the audio medium's advantages, of course, is unlimited visual budget.
William Gallagher can be found on Twitter as @wgallagher.
Jason Arnopp on Twitter as @jasonarnopp.
The Demons Of Red Lodge & Other Stories is out now on CD and download from Big Finish Productions
The Writers’ Guild has signed off on a revised version of the BBC Radio Drama Agreement, which covers commissions for Radios 3 and 4. This formalises a number of changes that have been negotiated and agreed over the past few months. These include:
- A new form of special abridgement combining elements of abridging and dramatisation. This is already in use for some Woman’s Hour dramatisations and could be used for other drama slots. The minimum commissioning rate is 55 per cent of the main RDA rate.
- A concession allowing the Woman’s Hour slot to be commissioned at per-minute rates for the actual length of each episode, currently 13 or 14 minutes, instead of the “slot-length” commissioning that applies to all other drama and comedy slots. The minimum for Woman’s Hour is 10 minutes per episode.
- Plays on Radio 3 and 4 can now be made available as podcasts. A small additional fee of 1 per cent of the original fee will be paid to the writer. The BBC has just started podcasting a Play of the Week, available for seven days following transmission. The Guild hopes that before long most radio plays will routinely be podcast in this way.
- A growing catalogue of archive radio plays and other material is being made available in a download-to-own format. These are available from www.audiogo.co.uk – formerly the BBC audio books service, now a separate company. The normal list price for a play is £3.69, although most titles are currently offered at half-price. Writers receive the same royalty as applies to releases on CD or tape cassette. New titles for download are being added at the rate of about 25 per month.
As reported a few weeks ago, the annual update of BBC radio minimum fees has now been implemented. This happened four months late because of disputes involving other unions and discussions are continuing over backdating the increases to August 2010 or making a compensatory adjustment at the next review in August 2011.
The Radio Drama Agreement is jointly negotiated by a Forum comprising the Writers’ Guild, Society of Authors, the agents’ trade body the Personal Managers’ Association, and the BBC. Repeats and commissions on BBC Radio 7, shortly to be relaunched as Radio 4 Extra, are covered by a different agreement which is due to be revised later this year.
Update (21.04.2011): In response to a question posed via Twitter here is an explanation of the new rates for Women's Hour
The Woman’s Hour drama will be paid “per minute” instead of “slot length” which means that the writer will receive 13 or 14 times the per-minute rate, not 15 times as per the notional “slot length”. (Slot length payments remain for all other BBC radio drama). This was (reluctantly) agreed in return for the creation of a new minimum rate for the “special adaptation” technique used in some (but not all) Women's Hour drama, in which a book is basically abridged but with some scenes dramatised. This is cheaper to produce because it takes up less acting and production time. The new rate is 55% of the basic rate for original drama, whereas prior to the new agreement these commissions were outside the Radio Drama Agreement and paid at ultra-low abridgement rates, with only the actual drama scenes enhanced to RDA rates (possibly as little as one-third of the commission). The 55% rate is available if the same hybrid technique is used for other slots, but as far as I am aware this has not actually happened yet.
Jane Berthoud, the Head of BBC Radio Comedy, and writer Dave Cohen discuss the state of BBC radio comedy and the opportunities for writers
What sort of health is BBC radio comedy in?
Jane Berthoud: I think it is in very good health actually. The figures on Radio 4, which is where most of our stuff goes, are going up, particularly the figures at 6.30pm. We’ve also launched a Radio 4 Comedy Of The Week podcast and that went straight to the top of the iTunes charts. And Gwyneth Williams, the new Controller of Radio 4, has announced a new slot for comedy that will start in October on Sundays. So, generally, yes, I’d say we are in pretty good shape; though that’s not to say there aren’t places that we need to make improvements.
And Dave, as writer for radio comedy, what’s your perception of how things are at the moment, and how things have changed over recent years?
Dave Cohen: BBC radio continues to make shows by very well known people that are very successful, so in a good way it hasn’t changed at all. I think the big change is that in the past there were more routes for people to get into comedy, but BBC Radio is now almost the only place for writers starting out.
And what about the kind of comedy output that BBC Radio is doing now?
Dave: Over the past 20 years, with the rise of stand-up, the writer-performer has become much more important. When I started in the early 1980s, there were a few of us who were writing and performing, but generally the writer was king.
Writers' Guild disappointed by 'complacent' attitude to drama
The BBC Trust service review of Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 has concluded that the challenge for all three stations is gradually to extend their ‘core appeal of audiences without jeopardising their distinctiveness.’
There is relatively little criticism of the stations in the report and, while the Writers’ Guild’s submission to the review process is cited a number of times, little or no account seems to have been taken of the objections raised.
On last year’s decision to axe the Friday Play, for example, while objections from the Guild, the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and RadioCentre (the trade body for commercial radio) are noted, the report concludes that ‘the members of the creative community that we spoke to felt that the loss of the Friday Play would not unduly affect Radio 4’s ability to deliver a range of high-quality and distinctive drama.’
Speaking after publication of the service review, Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said that the approach to Radio 4 drama in particular was ‘remarkably complacent, with serious concerns simply brushed aside. While more thought seems to have been given to comedy, no particular conclusions are reached.’
Corbett continued: ‘The vandalism of axing the Friday Play, and the inexorable year-on-year drop in the number of hours of radio drama produced, are both glossed over in a few lines. The Guild will continue to campaign for these dismal trends to be reversed.’
Drama on Radio 3 is defended in the review. In its submission the Guild pointed out that the kind of cutting-edge drama often found on the Radio 3 is increasingly rare on Radio 4, and though the review does not explicitly accept this it does say that the Trust expects ‘Radio 4 to maintain a wide variety in terms of subject matter, formats and the tone of its drama.’
On comedy the review asserts the importance of finding new talent. ‘We believe that having a healthy mixture of established and new comedy in both the early and late evening slots is important to the overall Radio 4 offering. We encourage Radio 4 to continue to take risks and generate fresh and new ideas with its comedy programming and accept that some of the new comedies may not always succeed.’
Radio 7 receives a great deal of praise in the review. ‘Evidence from our audience research, public consultation and Audience Councils reveals that listeners have a great affection for Radio 7. In our public consultation, the majority of respondents thought that the speech programming on Radio 7 was of very high quality, with comedy and drama praised most often... although there was some concern about the level of repeats.’
BBC Radio has increased its rates for Talks and Features with effect from 1 February 2011.
The rise is 1.26 per cent, in line with staff increases, bringing the key rate for a radio feature (seven minutes or less) to £292.18.
The increase was delayed because of the BBC’s disputes with the NUJ and BECTU and the BBC has undertaken to take this into account at the next fees review, due in August this year.
Read the full details of the new rates for BBC Radio Talks and Features (pdf)
The Society of Authors and Writers’ Guild would have issued a reminder that submissions for the Imison and Tinniswood Awards must be received by 4 February 2011.
The Imison Award (£1,500) encourages new talent by rewarding the best original radio drama script by a writer new to radio. The work must have been first transmitted in the UK in 2010, and must be the first dramatic work by the writer(s) that has been broadcast.
The Tiniswood Award (£1,500) honours the best original radio drama script broadcast in the UK in 2010.
Further details, including application forms, can be found at www.societyofauthors.net/prizes-radio-drama-broadcast.
Why BBC World Service drama must be saved, by radio drama producer Gordon House
Given that I spent much of my professional life working initially as producer and then as Head of the small BBC World Service Drama team, it is hardly surprising that I feel so dismayed by the announcement that from April next year World Service will no longer be broadcasting drama in their schedules. Well, that’s not strictly true; they will still transmit the winning plays in the biennial World Service play competition, but how can these prize winners feel valued in splendid isolation, with no regular output of drama against which to compare their work?
The World Service management has decided ‘with a heavy heart’ that finances are so precarious, drama must be sacrificed. I sympathise with the predicament faced by Craig Oliver, the English Controller of Global News. (Not a title, incidentally, to inspire those working under him in non-news areas!) For too long programme budgets have been salami-sliced to spread the misery evenly amongst different programme areas. While an entire year’s World Service drama budget would hardly keep the National Theatre open for a week, drama – because of its talent costs – is expensive in pure radio terms. How tempting it must be for a Controller reviewing a financial spread sheet to think of it as an expendable luxury in these cash-conscious times.
But does that justify killing off a whole genre?