First female BBC1 controller plans more 'EastEnders'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The new controller of BBC1 - the first female controller in the channel's history - looks likely to give EastEnders an extra episode each week, then take the troubled channel upmarket.

The new controller of BBC1 - the first female controller in the channel's history - looks likely to give EastEnders an extra episode each week, then take the troubled channel upmarket.

Lorraine Heggessey, giving her first thoughts on BBC1's future yesterday, hours after officially replacing Peter Salmon, said she wanted to see more science, factual and high-class drama programmes on BBC1.

But she did not deny one of her first projects was likely to be giving the popular drama EastEnders a fourth episode a week to dent ITV's superiority in the ratings.

Ms Heggessey, 43, a former head of children's television, is best known for her public sacking of the Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon because he had taken drugs. But inside the corporation she has established a reputation for children's dramas and science programmes and was the editor of QED, BBC1's flagship science documentary series, as well as creating Animal Hospital. She was also executive producer of the science series The Human Body.

The new controller, candid and with an engaging personality, was refreshingly honest on her feelings for the job, saying she had wanted it for years. "I've had a dream for a long time that I might one day be controller of BBC1 - for the last seven or eight years maybe, thinking, 'Is it possible, can I do it?'," she said.

Her appointment means that both the main BBC channels are run by women, with Jane Root at the helm of BBC2. Ms Heggessey, who is married with two young daughters, said she thought women could bring a different perspective to programme commissioning saying, partly tongue in cheek: "Obviously I think women are better than most men." But she added: "The most important thing is what kind of life you have, is it a rounded life, are you in touch with the viewers?"

Announcing the appointment, the BBC's director of television, Mark Thompson, said she would bring "tremendous energy" to the channel. "She is a programme maker through and through and has a great knack of recognising the original idea and making it work," he said. "I think she will build on Peter's many achievements with skill and imagination."

BBC1 was criticised by the corporation's governors in the annual report earlier this year and by the director general Greg Dyke over the past few weeks. This week's appointments, with Mr Salmon becoming the corporation's director of sport, will be seen as a signal that a process of renewal is under way. Ms Heggessey said yesterday: "My job will be to arrest the decline."

Giving an indication of hertastes, Ms Heggessey cited the classic drama Wives and Daughters, the factual landmark series Walking With Dinosaurs and the programme Zoe, A Child Of Our Time as among her favourites. She added: "I am passionate about science on television." But she did say a priority would be to commission popular dramas that would capture audiences in the way that the hospital drama Holby City had done.

Ms Heggessey joined the BBC as a news trainee in 1979. After a spell making current affairs programmes for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 she worked as a producer on Panorama. After the success of Animal Hospital she was appointed head of children's programmes.

During her time in that role she made a famous appearance on screen to apologise for the behaviour of the Blue Peter presenter who had been exposed as a cocaine user. "Richard has let himself, the team andall of you down," she told theaudience.

Last October she was appointed joint director of factual and learning programmes.