Rhodri Talfan Davies looks ahead to the impact of a new strategy for writers
Last Friday, more than 150 writers gathered at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff for a new festival that sits at the heart of the BBC’s plans to improve the way we reflect the whole of the UK on screen and on air.
For two years or more, the policy debate around the BBC’s new Charter has swirled around both Westminster and Cardiff Bay. But on Friday, the focus at last switched back decisively to the creative community.
The festival marked the launch of BBC Writersroom in Wales – the establishment of a new team set up with the aim to work with new and established writers to developing scripted comedy and drama for the BBC. The peerless Andrew Davies was there to share some of the secrets of his global success.
Writersroom has been established at a UK level for some years – dealing with over 10,000 scripts each year – but the BBC’s determination to improve the way Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are reflected on screen has led to the creation of dedicated teams based in each of the nations. The task is to identify and develop unique new voices that can fire the imagination of audiences both here in Wales and far, far beyond.
The potential is huge. First and foremost, Writersroom will be based alongside our own local commissioning teams and − once appointed − the new network Drama Commissioner for Wales, supporting a daily conversation about emerging new talent. This will enable the team, led by Rachel Williams, to respond rapidly to commissioning briefs, and ensure their work directly supports our own programming plans.
The team will also support and enrich our existing talent development efforts – working with Casualty and Pobol y Cwm, running writing workshops for It’s My Shout (which already enables hundreds of people across Wales to experience their first taste of television production each year), and working intensively with writers already identified though our biannual Wales Drama Award. The team is also partnering with National Theatre Wales to run a 10-week development programme for new writers called Welsh Voices.
Of course, what makes the development of Writersroom so exciting, and so timely, is that BBC Wales is now able to turbo-charge its commissioning of new television comedy and drama.
Earlier this month we announced that direct funding of English programming would increase by some 50% over the next three years, and in areas such as comedy and drama we expect investment levels to potentially double or treble. In turn, this will enable us to partner more proactively with other producers (including S4C, international co-producers and network colleagues) to deliver projects with greater scale and impact.
All in all, this is a wonderful creative opportunity – and Writersroom will be a critical partner in realising our creative ambitions.
We are already developing plans for a step-change in our development of comedy ideas (both long-form and short-form) and we are building an exciting drama slate that will provide myriad opportunities for new writers. And with a new Drama Commissioner for network television, the foundations are being laid for future success.
Over recent years, Wales has of course become the envy of many parts of the UK through its creative success on screen. Pound for pound, it has become the high-end television capital of the UK. Our Roath Lock Studios are the largest TV drama production facility in the UK, Pinewood is attracting international business, and Bad Wolf is busy developing its own giant studios just a few miles away.
The economic and skills dividend for Wales has been huge for the best part of a decade. The cultural dividend is now within our grasp too.
Editorial note: The IWA is holding its 3rd Cardiff Media Summit today, 29th March. Follow #iwamedia for more.