Entertainment in the firing line: The departure of Jim Moir from BBC Light Entertainment marks the end of an era, but does it mark the end of Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Savile and cheap 'n' cheerful television? James Rampton canvassed opinion

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The Independent Culture
SHOULD the BBC forget altogether about three-piece suites - both as game-show prizes and sitcom settings? This is perhaps the most pressing question for BBC executives in the run-up to the Charter Renewal in 1996. In many ways, the BBC Light Entertainment Department is the field upon which the battle for the soul of the Corporation is being most keenly fought. The BBC has cornered the quality end of the market: authoritative current affairs, rigorous documentaries and meticulous drama. It is LE where the BBC most obviously strays into ITV territory - and where it looks most insecure. Should the BBC abandon the foothills of game shows, variety acts and formulaic sitcoms to the enemy and scurry for cover in the 'Himalayan' (that favourite Birtian concept) heights of highbrow comedy? Have we seen the last of Davro and the dancing girls?

In the wake of Jim Moir's departure as Head of BBC Television's Light Entertainment Department, a selection of media professionals tell us what they would do in the job.

DENISE O'DONOGHUE

If I was offered that job, I'd take poison as quickly as possible. That's a measure of how much I don't want it. I'm a member of a small, select club in the business who haven't been offered the job.

I think high-quality BBC sitcoms should be more widely represented than they have been recently. I would also like to see some good drama-comedy. Drama-comedy doesn't fit neatly into either the Drama or the LE Department. There's no specific person responsible for it, so - apart from the odd Screen Two - it's fallen between two stools. It's an area in which the BBC has an opportunity to show its distinctiveness and excellence.

Denise O'Donoghue is Managing Director of Hat Trick, which makes 'Have I Got News For You', 'Harry Enfield's Television Programme', 'Clive Anderson Talks Back', 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', 'Brain Drain.'

SEAMUS CASSIDY

Ultimately all these jobs are about getting the best people and the best atmosphere for them to work in. I have a sense from writers and producers that that doesn't always happen at the BBC. There are a lot of good people in the BBC, but morale seems to be tremendously low there. They've got to de-institutionalise people and make them feel more entreprenurial. For instance, there is an institution of script editors who wield an awful lot of power. Experienced writers distrust that. Also, they have thrown away some wonderful talent from radio. They should use radio not just for Research and Development, but to enhance their esprit de corps. It's not good enough just looking at radio and nicking. We call some of their output Jurassic Park around here. Something like The Main Event is a dinosaur of an idea. And Bobby Davro's just crap.

But there's a future for anything that's good - like French and Saunders or Absolutely Fabulous. And when it comes to naturalistic, intelligent sitcom writing, the BBC are streets ahead. I'd like to see what they've got to replace Only Fools and Horses and One Foot in the Grave. Innovation is often turning the gem so that the light hits it in a different way.

Seamus Cassidy is Commissioning Editor for Entertainment at Channel 4

VERITY LAMBERT

Rather than do that job, I'd shoot myself. You're always looking for innovation, but it's not that easy to find. If you're running an LE department, the other problem is that you've got to have something for everyone. You have to strike a balance, have middle-of-the-road as well as more off-beat material. There has been a tendency to fall back on slightly conventional things, but some programmes should be conventional.

The large-scale variety shows have gone, so I'd like to see lots more of the Harry Enfield / French and Saunders kind of comedy. Also, strong sitcoms like One Foot in the Grave. Victor Meldrew is so wonderful because he does and says things we'd all like to but daren't. We watch open-mouthed and say, 'I wish I could post the rubbish through the neighbour's letter-box.' Sitcoms have to be character-led, and if the central character is a little bit monstrous, that doesn't hurt. We like to see the dark side exposed.

Verity Lambert runs Cinema Verity and executive-produces 'May to December' and 'So Haunt Me'.

MAURICE GRAN

If I were offered the job, I would immediately bring back Terry and June and the Potter's Wheel.

No one gave better lunch than Jim Moir, but his department was a throwback. Light Entertainment - what's that? And what's drama, then? Heavy Entertainment? These categories are such a pain. Some people in TV are getting paid for jobs that just don't exist. That the Head of Game Shows should also be the Head of Comedy Dramas is ridiculous. It just shows the old-fashioned complacency of television. The Bafta Light Entertainment nominations every year are Richard Wilson, Dawn French and the bloke who reads the captions on The Golden Shot. (That's coming back, I believe. Bob Monkhouse will be the target, just to liven it up.)

I'm not interested in anyone who hasn't got 75 per cent of his own hair; there just isn't a market for variety shows anymore. Programmes like The Big Breakfast serve that purpose now. But the real problem confronting LE is, how do you make new stars? You can get anything made with John Thaw, David Jason or George Cole in, but those guys aren't going to live forever. You must give people who aren't stars a chance to fail.

What Alan Yentob (Controller, BBC1) should do is give BBC1 a hipper brand image. He should bring over those people who were once thought of as alternatives, give them a 9.30pm slot on BBC1 on a Saturday night and say, 'Rik, Ade, Ben, do what you like.'

Maurice Gran is co-founder Select TV and co-creator of 'Birds of a Feather', 'The New Statesman', 'Get Back', and 'Love Hurts.'

JONATHAN JAMES-MOORE

I'd turn the job down, because we have much more fun in radio. We have many more hours to fill and more programmes to make. And we don't have to take responsibility if the stars burn out in orbit. Anyway, I don't think the BBC could afford all the letters for my name on the door.

I'm a fan of Jim Moir. He's done a lot of stout work for comedy. All the plans have been laid, and I don't foresee a great exodus of Jim's charges. The BBC's aim has always been to nurture talent. My interest is in the way that talent's nurtured.

We have just appointed our first two 'bi-media' producers. In the past, at the very mention of the password 'Yentob', producers would immediately abort all radio activity. Now we're working both ends of the flyover. Comedy stays in-house, rather than ending up on independent screens. There's no reason now why we can't interleave a longer radio life with TV stuff in development.

Jonathan James-Moore is Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Radio.

GARRY BUSHELL

The BBC seems to be most concerned with getting another Absolutely Fabulous or French and Saunders, which are good shows, but too elitist and inward-looking. There's nothing wrong with popular entertainment that makes people laugh. It's a peculiar form of snobbery that says that comedy has to be challenging and radical. What did we do with Les Dawson for his last few years? Some papers criticised Bobby Davro, calling it 'end-of-the-pier humour' - as if end-of-the-college-term humour was innately superior. The BBC are very happy with the alternatives (though it's archaic to call them that now), but there's a disdain for what the mass of people enjoy. We should get a chance to see what's making people laugh at Butlin's or Pontin's. Blackpool is sold out for 22 weeks this summer.

Garry Bushell is television critic of 'The Sun.'

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