Some thoughts on the war being waged on new writing in the UK.

There is a war being waged on new writing in the UK.

The latest casualty is BBC Three.

Today, the BBC announced plans to close the television channel BBC Three. A cost-cutting exercise. Some of the BBC Three budget will be put into BBC One. But BBC One and BBC Three are very different. BBC Three is a pathway for new writers of Drama and Comedy to get their work made. By "new writers", I mean both experienced and emerging writers writing new work. Writers often 'graduate' from BBC Three, to BBC Two, before being deemed suitable for the massive syndication of BBC One. By funding extra drama for BBC One, instead of new work on BBC Three, a whole new generation of writers will not have access to develop new drama and comedy.

BBC One cannot take risks in the same way as BBC Three can.  The programmes developed, piloted and then (sometimes) made by BBC Three are able to appeal to diverse, largely young, audiences because the nature of risky programming means that it won't and isn't expected to speak to everyone. Recent new writing drama and comedy shows that received critical and public acclaim like Uncle, Being Human or Him & Her might never have been made if it weren't for BBC Three. The schedules would be a weaker place without these programmes. Yes - BBC Three programmes will now be distributed by BBC iPlayer, but without a budget to produce these programmes, the quality of new creative work will suffer. And ultimately audiences - licence fee payers - will suffer. 

Right now, theatres and cultural organisations across the United Kingdom are closing literary departments, and commissioning fewer writers of original performance. These institutions are staying with what and who they know, eschewing risky commissions and projects. But creativity is inherently risky. We need some risk. Risk creates innovation. Innovation makes us flexible so we can think creatively and respond to change in our world. Risk, innovation, creativity and new writing encourage us to challenge and change our world for the better. 


A war on new writing is a war on voices. A war on voices is a war on ideas. It is a way of silencing us and of suppressing different visions for how the world could be. With less new writing, with less support for writers to develop and earn a living wage, with fewer accessible routes for writers getting work produced, there are fewer diverse voices and stories. It makes us greyer and quieter and more invisible. 

 

The war on new writing is a war of attrition, in which "a belligerent side attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and materials. The war will usually be won by the side with greater such resources". 

... usually ...

So, as writers of new performance, as artists collaborating with writers, as directors and executives of core funded cultural organisations entrusted with the UK's cultural wealth, we all need to be UNUSUAL. To be unusual we must be risky, innovative, unexpected, creative... We must win this war because we cannot live in a world without ideas. Ideas make us human. As writers and artists, we have resources and networks to fight back. We need to be loud. We must not be afraid, embarrassed or intimidated. We need to participate in public consultation: with the BBC, with city councils. We need to be naughty. We need to support initiatives that operate on different scales to support, develop and produce new writing.

In the first instance, we need to speak out, recognise and name what is happening in the war on new writing in the UK: this is the first step towards making a difference.

And we can make a difference. Remember when we all hash-tagged #SaveBBCFour when they threatened to shut down that cultured channel and take away our Scandi Noir? The campaign won a reprieve for BBC Four, so we can now continue to watch Simon Sebag Montefiore stare up at the Sistine Chapel.

We need to raise our voice as loud against every single battle.

You never know. We may then win the war.

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Comment by Adam Somerset on March 11, 2014 at 10:00

Hi, Catherine

Too true. The day you wrote it this was circulating in west Wales from a company with a BBC commission-

"The programme will help people who would like to locate an important person from their past to finally say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’ where they’ve not had the opportunity before. It will help people try and make amends for something that they have done or express their gratitude to someone that has changed their life.  For many people it is often not possible to do this themselves – the person they want to thank may be a stranger and they don’t know how to find them – or perhaps they can’t find the courage to make an approach alone. With a team of professional mediators, psychologists and experts in tracing people, we aim to put these people in touch, help them find a gesture or gift that represents their feelings, and support them through a meeting.

 

We are currently looking for people who might need our help to say sorry or thank you.

"The programme will help people who would like to locate an important person from their past to finally say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’ where they’ve not had the opportunity before. It will help people try and make amends for something that they have done or express their gratitude to someone that has changed their life.  For many people it is often not possible to do this themselves – the person they want to thank may be a stranger and they don’t know how to find them – or perhaps they can’t find the courage to make an approach alone. With a team of professional mediators, psychologists and experts in tracing people, we aim to put these people in touch, help them find a gesture or gift that represents their feelings, and support them through a meeting.  We are currently looking for people who might need our help to say sorry or thank you."

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