We have to fight for British TV drama says Crown producer Andy Harries

Image above: Andy Harries speaking at the Broadcasting Press Guild awards; photopgraph Alice Aedy

If we don’t support British local drama we will lose our own cultural heritage and just become “a first class, top-end service industry to the US”

Original British television drama is under threat because of the lack of investment going into it, TV producer Andy Harries told the audience at a gala lunch on Thursday (21 March) at The Royal Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall.

The co-founder of Left Bank Pictures and Executive Producer of The Crown, who lives in Chiswick, made the remarks as he received a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the television industry at the Broadcasting Press Guild (BPG) awards.

READ ALSO: Andy Harries OBE to receive lifetime achievement award

He said:

“Despite all our success, I am worried that the very heart of our UK business – our public broadcasters – are increasingly looking vulnerable with ad money now draining from ITV and C4 to Amazon and Netflix, and the BBC’s licence fee falling far short of the rate of inflation.”

The Crown is one of the most expensive TV series ever made and has won numerous awards, including a Primetime Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Drama Series’ and two Golden Globe Awards for ‘Best Television Series – Drama’.

“The Crown would never have been made if Netflix had not bought it”, he said. “They had the money – they shared our ambition for it and they always understood the brand value of the … royal family”.

But he said, global streaming companies were not looking for dramas which were about subjects which were either very local or contentious politically.

Mr Bates vs The Post Office was a timely reminder of the impact and importance of a show about a specific British scandal. But it was touch and go on the budget before it was greenlit, and I understand all the actors were paid scale- i.e. they took a pay cut in order to get the show on air.

“A couple of years ago when we made Sitting in Limbo, a BAFTA-winning single film for the BBC about the Windrush scandal, we had to make a decision at Left Bank that if we were going to make it – we had to do it for cost. More recently – with co-pro monies drying up in the US – I have heard of many uniquely British shows that simply can’t be financed at all.

“So I ask – would Boys from the Blackstuff, Hillsborough, or Our Friends in the North be made these days? How about Five Daughters, This Is England, The Deal, Longford or even The Royle Family? I am not so sure.”

“Unless we put money into British drama ourselves, we are in danger of ending up as “a first class, top-end service industry to the US at the expense of our own experiences” he said.

“Perhaps the answer lies in extending the 40% tax allowance recently introduced in the last budget for British movies to single films and limited series on TV that are specifically British.”

Image above: Andy Harries; photograph Alice Aedy

Time to stop chipping away at the BBC

Andy Harries urged the audience of TV professionals – actors, writers, production teams, executives and broadcasting press – to think about how we can go about protecting original British drama on ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC.

“Let’s talk for a couple of minutes about the future of the BBC. Surely, it’s time to stop chipping away at it or giving oxygen to those who constantly call to cut it to the bone – this is NOT the answer.

“Do we want it to go the way of collapsing local councils like Birmingham, or the tragic chaos of the NHS, or the failure of our railways to get people where they need to go?

“How many British institutions do we want to take the wrecking ball to?”

He said if Labour wins the next election Sir Kier Starmer and his Cabinet should commit to increasing the licence fee – “show it the love, and secure its long-term future, once and for all.”

“The streamers NEED the competition. Our industry needs a healthy BBC, and the BBC keeps us British – its role in our society is unique and unifying.”

The Licence fee should be reinvented as a ‘cultural subscription’ he said, “very comparable to each of the streamers these days, which gives every British citizen access to its extraordinary range of TV shows, radio, podcasts, orchestras, and music in all its forms.”

Images above: Sarah Lancashire, photograph Richard Kendal; ‘Movers and Shakers’ contributors

Sarah Lancashire and Happy Valley lead the awards

The BBC’s drama Happy Valley won ‘Best Drama Series’. Its lead actor Sarah Lancashire won ‘Best Actress’ and writer Sally Wainwright won ‘Best Writer.’

Cast members Toby Jones and Monica Dolan were among those from the production team of Mr Bates vs The Post Office at the awards to receive the BPG Jury Prize for TV / Streaming. They received a standing ovation from the audience for their achievement in capturing the injustice done to subpostmasters and mistresses.

‘Best Actor’ went to Gary Oldman for Slow Horses. ‘Best Comedy’ was won by BBC production Ghosts. David Jonsson won the ‘BPG Breakthrough Talent’ award for his role in Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy. The BBC production Time won the ‘Best Drama Mini-Series’ award.

In the documentary categories the BBC’s Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland won ‘Best Documentary Series’ and Channel 4’s Despatches programme Russell Brand: In Plain Sight won ‘Best Single Documentary or Mini-Series’.

In the audio categories BBC Radio 4’s programme The Briefing Room won ‘Radio Programme of the Year’, while Movers and Shakers won ‘UK Podcast of the Year’ and Ken Bruce won ‘Audio Presenter of the Year’ for his show on Greatest Hits Radio. Goalhanger Podcasts won the BPG Jury Prize for Audio.

The ‘Best Entertainment’ award went to Squid Game: The Challenge on Netflix. The ‘BPG Emerging Creators Award’ went to GK Barry.

Andy Harries won the ‘Harvey Lee Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting’.

Image above: Rebecca Frayn, Andy & Jack Harries; photograph Alice Aedy

There to support Andy were his wife Rebecca Frayn and son Jack Harries. They were not the only contingent from Chiswick at the gala lunch. Also there were Will Wyatt, formerly managing director of BBC Television and Chief Executive of BBC Broadcast; Sally Osman, former Director of communications for BBC, Sky, Channel 5, Sony and HM the Queen; and David Liddiment, former director of programmes for ITV, now Creative Director of the independent production company All3Media and member of the BBC Trust.

Torin Douglas, known best in Chiswick as the Director of the Chiswick Book Festival, and formerly Media Correspondent for the BBC, has been on the organising committee of the Broadcasting Press Awards for 30 years. He won a special award this year for all his work for the BPG, as he is stepping down this year.

Image above: Torin Douglas at the Broadcasting Press Guild awards; photograph Rebecca Frayn

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