Saturday, June 6, 2015

Story time

It's not yet published - presumably still chuntering through the spell-checker - but I'm privileged to bring you sections of Alan Yentob's midweek Charles Wheeler lecture, thanks to the high quality and resourcefulness of my readership.

The theme was apparently storytelling. Quite useful for Al, as he recycled more chestnuts from his repertoire than Ken Dodd; less entertaining for the coterie of chums (including lead heckler Boris Johnson) in attendance. And on the spelling, your hero is Huw Wheldon. And the big country you like visiting is not Amercia.

So we had watching the tv in Manchester with Uncle Isaac, growing up with The Woodentops, Hancock and Quatermass, the trauma of the Munich air crash, and the old bit of Alan's BBC application form: “Although possibly not a significant qualification for entry to the BBC, my dramatic debut at the age of nine as Mistress Page in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ was greeted with a gratifying critique by one of my contemporaries – ‘You ought to be a film star ‘cos you’ve got smashing legs.’”

There was more flesh on his start as BBC graduate trainee in Bush House, which takes on a condensed glamour that might surprise World Service contemporaries. "In the morning I might phone the French student leader Danny Cohn-Bendit for an interview, indeed I did, or give Idi Amin a ring. He returned my call incidentally. In the afternoon I’d get Harold Pinter in for a programme, and Noel Coward. At the weekend I would set off with my tape recorder to gather impressions of Grimethorpe Colliery for my listeners in Bali or Bangalore." Those were the days someone should have been hacking his phone.

Then there are sections on the talent Al has nurtured. "James Marsh, once a producer on ‘Arena’, now the Director of The Theory of Everything, getting Oscar nominations in Hollywood. It always amazes me that although there is some much coverage in the media nobody mentions that two young BBC producers Paul Telegdy and Paul Lee, both of whom worked for me, both of whom worked in arts programming, two creative leaders who are very close to running the two most important networks in Amercia - NBC and ABC."

"....And where is our friend Ben Stephenson now? Ben Stephenson ran drama for us for 10 years. Well I can tell you – sitting on a beach In Santa Monica having a Campari with JJ Abrahams." [You can get reasonable odds in the tv drama community on that relationship not lasting long]

"....And I am proud to say if you look at the creative leaders of Sky, ITV, Channel Four, Shine and Endermol, they’ve all spent time at the BBC, and shared our values and our vision - and it seems that we are now a feeder for Apple too, and if global companies like Apple also see the value in BBC skills and know-how then so be it. "

The future ? - Alan pins his shirt on myBBC. "We need to help people mark out their own territory and find new enriching content, new ideas and opportunities through myBBC. The start of a real transformation – the myBBC revolution. An attempt to reinvent public service broadcasting through data. Not telling you what customers like you bought, but what you would love to watch and need to know. That’s the next chapter in this awfully big adventure".

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