BBC sets out to offer `something for everyone'

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The Independent Online
The BBC hit back strongly yesterday at reports that it viewed itself as "boring" and "litist".

Publishing People and Programmes, an 18-month review of corporation output and audience attitudes, John Birt, the director-general, said: "Everyone pays the licence fee. Every household, every individual in Britain must get something back from the BBC. In this world of broadcast plenty, that cannot mean we use public money to supply services which duplicate or replicate what is readily available in the marketplace."

Mr Birt added: "At our best, we achieve creative heights unimagined by any other broadcaster in the world. We aim to keep it that way."

Reporting of a leaked version of the review suggested Mr Birt believed the BBC had become "boring" and "litist". Neither charge appeared in yesterday's finished document.

Instead, Liz Forgan, managing director of BBC network radio, said that "audiences, for the most part, are extremely happy with the programmes and services they get from the BBC". Nevertheless, more attention had to be paid to the young, the less well-off and people living outside the South-east of England, who felt the BBC could do more to reflect their lives and concerns. In recognising those weaknesses, she said the BBC was being nothing more than "utterly honest and self-critical".

Alan Yentob, controller of BBC1, who, along with Ms Forgan, led the review, said the corporation had to offer "range and variety", ensuring "something for everyone in the best of all possible worlds".

The £2m review found programming had to respond to a strengthening in regional and ethnic identities, a revolution in leisure and an increasing appetite for knowledge.

Although some of the review's initial findings have already shaped parts of the schedule, for example, the decision to launch the BBC1 current affairs programme Here and Now, and the thinking behind Radio 5 Live, the BBC announced the release of £85m from production savings to finance more than 350 new programme ideas arising from the report.

These include People's Century, a £13m, 26-part history series looking at social and political change in the 20th century. Mr Yentob said the drive to satisfy hunger for knowledge would achieved by dragging subjects out of the "education ghettos" of schools programmes and the Open University. A BBC Science Week would run across television and radio on everything from Panorama and The Late Show to slots on Radio 1FM. To answer charges of a south-eastern bias, there will be an extra 20 minutes of regional news each week, as well as a higher proportion of drama commissioned and based in the regions and outside England. The Hanging Gale, a BBC1 drama set around the Irish famine, will be made by BBC Northern Ireland, while BBC Wales produces Oliver's Travels, a new drama series by Alan Plater.

In recognition of the increasingly important role the arts plays in leisure time, Mr Yentob said there would be less emphasis on generic arts programmes and more on individual pursuits such as cinema and theatre. He acknowledged popular drama was a weak area but the BBC would continue to produce series in the successful mould of Chandler and Co, Roughnecks and Common as Muck.

Ms Forgan said that unless the BBC stayed in touch with its audience it ran "the risks of self indulgence, litism and, in the new age of broadcasting choice, irrelevance".

8 People and Programmes; The BBC Shop, PO Box 1QX, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE99 1QX; £8.00 plus £1.95 pp.

News analysis, page 15

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