Drama chief quits BBC as new ways make his life a misery

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The Independent Online
BBC spin doctors have gone into a tailspin over the comments of the corporation's head of drama serials who is poised to quit over what he calls "rampant commercialisation". Rob Brown,

Media Editor, reports.

If only the BBC could make a drama about its own drama department, whose perpetual internal tensions yet again exploded into public view yesterday.

The man credited with some of the corporation's finest creative successes is poised to quit. Michael Wearing, head of drama serials, who brought Boys from the Blackstuff, Our Friends in the North and Pride and Prejudice to our screens, along with Common as Muck and House of Cards, claims that it is "creatively impossible" to remain in his post because "rampant commercialisation" has made his life "a misery".

His scathing comments instantly sent the drama department's spindoctors at Television Centre into a spin. They did everything in their power to limit the damage, claiming that Mr Wearing was annoyed because the new controller of BBC1, Peter Salmon, had refused to commission a project on which he was keen - an adaptation of a crime novel by Janet Neel.

Whilst acknowledging that he is the doyen of television drama, they pointed out that he is 59 and has lined up other work outside the corporation. They issued a terse statement: "Michael is due to retire next year and is obviously discussing his future plans outside the BBC, so he may have to go sooner rather than later."

BBC bosses are obviously starting to find Mr Wearing's outspokenness more than a bit wearing. "I think the most significant point to note is that his comments were made at a party," was the response from a spokesman who obviously doesn't need any lessons from Peter Mandelson in the black art of character assassination.

The Stage, the actors' trade paper, reported Mr Wearing's comments which were made at a recent party to celebrate the British presence at the forthcoming Banff International Television Festival in Canada. But several other (apparently very sober) leading television dramatists were swift to echo his damning criticisms yesterday. Trevor Griffiths told The Independent: "Michael Wearing is in the great tradition of BBC drama producers. The thought that he's been driven out of the corporation by its new commercial ethos is appalling."

Mr Griffiths, it should be said, crossed swords with BBC apparatchiks himself recently when his drama commemorating the anniversary of Nye Bevan's birth was downgraded to a graveyard slot on BBC2. The legendary Labour politician was portrayed by Brian Cox, who was so incensed by the treatment of the film that penned a powerful polemic for The Independent on Sunday denouncing the "dumbing down" of BBC drama.

Michael Wearing was given a special Bafta award last year in recognition of his outstanding creative contribution to television. Even the BBC spindoctors acknowledged yesterday that "the shows he makes cause waves and create talking points". They must be praying that one project he doesn't have in mind is a drama about the BBC drama department.