Drama heavyweights attack BBC `dilution'

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The Independent Online
Some of the biggest names in British drama have joined forces to attack the director general of the BBC, John Birt - accusing him of diluting BBC drama "for commercial expediency".

The playwrights Harold Pinter, Alan Ayckbourn and Willy Russell; Ray Galton, the co- writer of Hancock and Steptoe and Son ; the Dad's Army creators David Croft and Jimmy Perry; the comedienne Victoria Wood and the dramatists Jack Rosenthal and Alan Plater have signed a letter condemning Mr Birt's reorganisation plans.

Writing on behalf of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain they say: "If the range of voices on the BBC is diluted for commercial expediency, the country will be the poorer. The BBC will have lost its distinctive remit, there will be no need for the licence fee and public service broadcasting will be dead."

Mr Birt announced last week the most radical programme-making change in the BBC's history with the main aim of merging radio and television programme-making. A new single bi-media drama department will be responsible for output as diverse as Casualty, EastEnders, Saturday Night Theatre and The Archers. It will initially be headed by Alan Yentob, the former controller of BBC1.

The writers complain, in a letter to the Guardian, that this involves a division between the editorial, commissioning and scheduling department, and the programme-making department.

The main aim of the whole process they claim is "to enable the BBC to grab the commercial pickings of digital broadcasting... The emphasis is on delivery rather than content."

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