Woodbridge man television's ambassador

Fomer Woodbridge School pupil Wayne Garvie has just been appointed to one of the top jobs in the BBC. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to him about how he sees the future of broadcasting.

By Andrew Clarke

Fomer Woodbridge School pupil Wayne Garvie has just been appointed to one of the top jobs in the BBC. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to him about how he sees the future of broadcasting.

He was the architect behind such TV hits as Strictly Come Dancing and Honey, We're Killing The Kids - now Suffolk man Wayne Garvie is going to be the BBC's ambassador to the world.

Wayne who has been head of entertainment for the past four years, boosting the BBC's rating with a host of hit variety shows, has just been appointed director of content and production and will working with BBC Worldwide to boost co-productions and selling BBC shows and formats to other countries.

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Mr Garvie, 42, who was born and raised in Melton, near Woodbridge, has returned to live in Suffolk after moving away to university and starting his television career in Manchester.

In his new job he will be seeking to boost the BBC's profile around the world - particularly in American, Canada and Australia but he's also got an eye on India, China and Russia which he believes can offer a whole world of opportunity.

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It's not just selling existing programmes but it's selling ideas and formats which local television stations can adapt for their own audiences. He said that the BBC is also now being paid to make programmes for foreign markets. The BBC has sold Strictly Come Dancing to ABC in America but they make the American version of the show as an independent producer. Wayne will also be developing more co-productions between the BBC and other broadcasters which led to high budget television blockbusters like Rome and Band of Brothers.

He's also keen to commission some more classic novel adaptations after the huge success of Bleak House - again featuring some top notch casts. “There's a huge demand for quality series like these and a tremendous opportunity for the BBC to strike up international partnerships and to sell them abroad.

“It's a fact of life now that if you work in television, work in the media, you are working on a global basis. I have a production team working in London, Manchester, New York and Los Angeles - that's a fact of life now. BBC Worldwide is all about returning as much of the licence fee as possible back to the BBC so we can reinvest it back into programmes that the licence payer wants to see.”

Wayne started his television career working for Granada TV as a researcher in the sports department. He said that his arrival in the world of television was almost a happy accident - having been quite an academic at Canterbury University. “I did a history degree and I also did a history Phd, I was quite interested in academia but then I realised that academia was … I was going to say it was quite boring but that's not it,” Wayne searches for the right word before finally settling on: “it was too repetitive. There weren't too many jobs which required that discipline, so when I was doing my Phd in Sheffield, I did some radio work and I got quite interested in the media and I thought this would be quite exciting, fun, glamorous and of course it's not all that, it's work like everything else but after I finished university I sort of wandered into it.

“I applied for some jobs. I tried to get into the BBC but I didn't get that but I landed a post as a sports researcher at Granada TV. I finished my Phd on a Friday and literally on the Monday I started work as a sports researcher at Granada.”

He said that the first job he was given was supplying information about a bowls tournament. He worked at Granada for ten years from progressing from the sports department to documentaries and then became producer for Richard and Judy.

“I enjoyed my time at Granada. I did factual shows as well as entertainment. I did Paul O'Grady and The Krypton Factor. I did lots of different things which I think has stood me in good stead.” He said that Granada was a perfect training ground because of the scope of the material they produced. They were the only production centre outside London that produced documentaries, comedy, soap opera, games, variety and drama. “I remember my first day at Granada, I was walking along a corridor and there was Jack Duckworth holding a door open for me. I was so excited that I had phone up my Mum and tell her.

“In those days everything was made in Manchester, you had World In Action, Coronation Street, big entertainment shows like Stars In Their Eyes - if you are interested in show business it was hard not be intoxicated by it.”

He said that Granada thought it was the BBC of independent broadcasting. There was a very political background to the company. They really valued current affairs shows like World In Action - unfortunately that culture doesn't exist any more. There was an intellectual underpinning of the business of show business.

“They did Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett which was a huge hit, when I arrived they had just done Jewel In The Crown which they were very proud of and while I was there Cracker happened.”

He said that part of his success and Granada's success was due to being in the right place at the right time. “When I was there the fortunes of Manchester changed. The football team suddenly became really, really good and the whole city started to turn around. It became a very vibrant, exciting place where things were happening. In the world of comedy we had Steve Coogan and Caroline Aherne, Peter Kay and the music scene exploded - there was Tony Wilson and Factory Records, Oasis - the whole city changed.”

He said that he was happy at Granada but was head-hunted by the BBC in August 1998 to go and run their Manchester operation and was made director of broadcasting. He said that although he was happy where he was, looking back it now, he realised he needed a new challenge.

“It was a big decision at the time but moving to the BBC was the best thing I ever did. I was able to play in a completely different world. I think if you are interested in broadcasting in this country then at some stage you have to work for the BBC.”

He said that he was lucky because he took over the Manchester operation when it wasn't performing as well as it could. “I was very lucky because the BBC gave me a tremendous amount of freedom to do what I wanted to do. So when an organisation believes in you that's great. What's really interesting is that towards the end of my time at Granada we weren't making programmes for the viewer especially, we were making programmes that would drive advertising revenue and push up the share price. You could have a very successful show but if it wasn't reaching the right demographics for the advertising market, it wouldn't be seen as a success.

“I found that quite difficult, particularly when I was director of broadcasting in charge of scheduling and on-air promotions. There were tough decisions to be made about regional programmes and World In Action. I would ask: 'why aren't we trailing World In Action?' And the answer would come back because we have this new drama with this popular star and we think we're going to sell shed loads of advertising - to me that's quite unpalatable.”

He said that within the BBC there was still a certain amount of purity of spirit when it came to the commissioning of programmes. “The great thing about the BBC is that the shareholders are the public - the viewers - I think you are answerable to everyone. I always tell my producers if you go over budget you have just cost the corporation 100 licence fees. If I meet programme-makers who have a cavalier attitude to budgets I say you have just taken money from 100 people and wasted it.”

But this doesn't mean that programmes are cheap. He said they have years of budgetary experience to call upon to ensure that programmes are made cost-effectively without cutting corners. “If you look at Strictly Come Dancing - that is a quality piece of entertainment. It's well packaged, the contestants are dancing to a proper orchestra, they are not dancing to cheap, pre-recorded tracks, the money we spend on the series is up there on the screen for the licence fee payers to see. The thing that obsesses me more than anything else is quality…it should run through BBC programmes like lettering in a stick of rock.”

He said that the success of Doctor Who last year was an excellent case in point. He said that Dr Who managed to over come the rose tinted nostalgia of yesteryear. “The public perception of television is that nothing is as good as it was and yet Doctor Who proved that today's programmes are better than those that have gone before. It is far better acted, directed, scripted, produced - it is a world away from what Dr Who used to be like. Technology has allowed us to do a lot more than we used to. Special effects are moved on in leaps and bounds. People are used to big budget cinema films and DVDs and expect television programmes to come up to those standards - Dr Who did that.”

As far as the ratings war goes Wayne believes it is a no win situation. If the BBC produces a show that is hugely popular then they are accused of dumbing down but if they put out a programme with limited interest or fails to capture the audience's imagination then they are accused of being elitist. “You are damned if you do and damned if you don't.”

He said that scheduling is extremely important. “If you have a schedule that has Strictly Come Dancing, Bleak House, Panarama and the latest Attenborough - that is a fantastic portfolio, there is something there for everyone. Those successes mean that you take a take a risk on something else - perhaps an entertainment show that is slightly off-beat perhaps, something that may take a while to bed in. If you look at the BBC1 schedule over the last year, it has become a lot healthier because of that mix.

“Panarama is key to what the BBC does. You don't find current affairs at peak time at 9pm but we are finding that people are now watching television very differently to the way they were even five years ago. People with Sky Plus or Tivo boxes don't watch television in the same way as those with just five channels. Very shortly everyone will soon be digital and will be consuming TV in a completely different ways. The old idea of the schedules as they were are going to change but the latest research shows that there has been an upsurge in shared family viewing or viewing among groups of people. They want programmes that families or groups of friends can sit down and watch together. This is what Strictly... X-Factor and Dr Who have all tapped into. People want to watch TV with their friends - the other stuff you will still watch as and when - when it suits you.”

Wayne also takes issue with former Channel Four comedy controller David Liddiment who presented a programme over Christmas that declared that the British sitcom was dead. “I reject the whole basis of David's thesis really. First of all you have to define what a sitcom is. I would include Hyperdrive the new BBC2 science fiction series, Peep Show on Channel Four that's a fanastic piece of work, there's Extras and The Office - there's a lot of fantastic comedy out there at the moment, that's the important thing. I don't think you got as much comedy in the old days as you get now - DVD sales is almost entirely driven by comedy.”

He said that the BBC is delighted with the role of Jonathan Ross who forms a bridge between comedy and the chat show as well as linking both BBC1 and Radio 2. There is also going to be a new mid-week chat show with Davina McCall.

“We have wanted to have something on a Wednesday for quite a while now - mindful of the Des O'Connor Show which used to run on ITV for many years, which was great entertainment but we wanted a woman to front it because all these chat shows are always hosted by men. We did a pilot which was great. It was a much better show than I thought it was going to be. We were very lucky in the pilot because we had Paul O'Grady, Peter Kay and Charlotte Church. The interesting thing is that they did it because they wanted to do it for Davina because they like Davina. Having a woman do it gives a different electricity to it.

“But we are going to have to commit to it because chat shows take a long time to develop. You have to win your audience over. Many people forget now that when Jonathan's show started, it didn't get great ratings but it's now one of the biggest shows on the BBC.”

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