Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dave and Sue

I'm no expert in these matters, but when newspapers serialise books, they generally put the best bits first. Old BBC chums are surprised that former colleague Roger Mosey, whose autobiography entitled "Getting Out Alive" is running this week in The Times, has been so discreet. Many imagined Roger to have several self-storage lockers, real or virtual, of informed gossip; so far, there's little sign of Auntie's hidden underbelly, as promised in the book blurb.

Some fun has been had with "Dave and Sue" and local radio. Let's go back a little and look at their beginnings. When plain-speaking Greg Dyke arrived at the BBC in 2000, he came with initiative frenzy. We had "Just Imagine", a sort of Appreciative Inquiry programme; "The Big Conversation", revealing a new leadership course for 700 people, and "One BBC - Making It Happen". Many thought it was management bollocks, but few were prepared to say so.

One big leadership event was at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. Part-way through the day, real viewers and listeners appeared on the balcony, and then came down to tables of managers to explain what they liked and disliked about BBC output. Scary, and sadly, entirely new for some present.

One of Greg's favourite companies was Human Capital, who helped come up with the event. Audience profiling - putting more flesh on the stale socio-economic classifcations of ABC1,C2, D and E - was a buzz in commercial tv and radio.  "Dave and Sue" were part of a suite of creations that were designed to help BBC programme-makers think more intelligently about the interests of their current and potential audiences.

Roger Mosey was one of Greg's favoured leaders. In 2002, he got charge of one of many workstreams coming from the initative frenzy. "We are the BBC" was supposed to find ways of removing an internal blame culture and getting more managers to take personal responsibility. Then Rog became the BBC's very first "Head of Values". and, after a suitable gestatory period, number 2 was revealed as "Audiences are at the heart of everything we do", and printed on the back of every BBC ID card.

Dyke left, but another of his footsoldiers, Andy Griffee took the "Dave and Sue" bit of the audience research out to BBC local radio.  In 2005, their composite profile was circulated. Dave and Sue are in their fifties, growing up in the Beatles generation; Dave is a self-employed plumber, Sue a school secretary. Both have grown-up children from previous marriages - one of whom is now in a mixed race marriage. They shop at Asda, wear fleeces and t-shirts, go to see ABBA tribute bands, drive a second-hand Ford Focus. Dave's dad Wilf is waiting for an operation. They are "deeply suspicious" of politicians, think the world is "a dangerous and depressing place", and are consequently always on the lookout for "something that will cheer them up and make them laugh".

A leaflet reminded producers they lived in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Britain. “Dave and Sue live and work alongside and socialise with people from different ethnic background. They are interested in and open-minded about adapting aspects of other cultures into their own lives — in entertainment, medicine, belief, food, clothes and language. Their community-minded attitudes mean they are interested both in projects which advance social cohesion in this country and in international development issues.” Roger writes mockingly in his book "It must have been something of a shock to the writers of this leaflet when many real-life Daves and Sues joined Ukip."

Mr Griffee fingered suitable staff to portray Dave and Sue photographically, and then appear at local radio gatherings. This rather narrow use of what was quite a wide, sensitive and useful tool was charmlessly called Project Bullseye, and was seen as yet another command and control exercise from the top. It confused staff into thinking they shouldn't put pensioners on air in phone-ins, which was just daft. The previous "bullseye" for station managers was indeed older, less affluent C2DEs, as Radio 2 sought a younger audience. None of this thinking allowed for the difference in audience composition, say, between Radio Leicester and Radio Cornwall.

Martin Kelner says "Dave" was killed off, spookily around the same time that the employee who made him flesh died, but way before the UKIP surge.  "Sue" survived on her own for a while. .

It would be useful, perhaps, to analyse whether, since 2005, BBC local radio is reaching a more diverse audience. I suspect not.

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