Bored with TV? Blame the 'M' people

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Media Correspondent

Janet Street-Porter, former head of BBC youth programmes and now managing director of L!ve TV, last night launched a withering attack on Britain's television executives accusing them of being an inept band of "M" people - "male, middle-class, middle-aged and mediocre".

Delivering the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, the creator of ground-breaking shows such as Network 7, The Vampyr and the Def II youth strand said that British television had been pushed to crisis-point by management incompetence.

The onslaught - every bit as direct as her programming style and wardrobe - immediately had industry delegates casting around the lecture room at the Kirk of St Cuthbert for suspects.

Ms Street-Porter left the BBC last year to head up the Mirror Group's cable channel L!ve TV, where she has regularly clashed with Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun and now overall head of Mirror Group Television.

Mr MacKenzie was not present last night to hear Ms Street-Porter question men's executive dominance of British television. "Does managing entertainment require testosterone over and above any other talent? Does understanding what makes a good gameshow need a lot of jangling of coins in the pockets and rounds of golf with the lads? Is dealing with creative stars from Lenny Henry to Michael Barrymore to Jennifer Saunders a task that requires a willy?" she asked.

Talent was deserting the industry, "frustrated and fed up", while morale had "never been lower". Talent, she said, "is being squished out of existence in the accountant's neat management structure which is currently paralysing British television".

The time it takes for decisions to be made, she said, had grown in parallel with the number of people employed in scheduling, planning and research. "A terminal blight has hit the British television industry, nipping fun in the bud, stunting our growth and severely restricting our development. The blight is management ... management with few notable exceptions have always been 'M' people - middle-class, middle-brow, middle-aged, male and fairly mediocre."

Where once television had been run by a "Masonic men's club", it was now the preserve of accountants and consultants to the detriment of programme makers.

"TV executives have been captured lemming-like by the language and mentality of the management consultant ... The BBC threw out the bath-water when the notion of 'objectives' replaced the notion of 'ideas'," she said.

And in a further veiled attack on the management initiatives introduced under John Birt as BBC Director-General, Ms Street-Porter added: "Management of a creative industry like ours is about more than landscape presentations and flowcharts. It's about leadership, vision, confidence-building, knowing how to deal with the insecurities of talented people."

Talent vs television, page 15