Media: New Deal's cool by me

Simon Watson had a bright idea for rock TV. Now he's a shining example of New Labour's back-to-work ethic, writes Paul McCann

It is a tale to warm the cockles of a New Labour heart. It has everything: the Cool Britannia totems of rock bands and television; young unemployed folk managing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps; and, most important of all, a New Deal success story.

Simon Watson is a 23-year-old from Rotherham who had a very good idea for a television programme. But, unlike everyone else who has a good idea for a television programme, he actually did something about it.

His idea was to have a TV music show that would travel across Britain looking at the music scene in each city. As well as retrospectives, clips and interviews about all the big bands that came from each week's host city, there would also be live music by the current up-and-coming outfits, even those without record contracts.

As a physics graduate whose experience of television amounted to doing volunteer work for film students - largely making sandwiches - initial efforts to get the project off the ground were predictably shaky.

Sheffield Council has been trying to encourage the creative industries to set up in town and to that end created a media village and administrative centre to help people like Simon out. At first funding bodies and advisers in the city pretty much laughed him out of their offices.

To add insult to injury, his job centre would not countenance giving him benefits if he was working to set himself up in business rather than out looking for work each day. "Instead they told me to take a job collecting glasses in a nightclub."

Then things changed. He got a partner with film industry experience and, instead of talking to Yorkshire's various film and television quangos, talked directly to record companies.

This was another very good idea. "We are always screaming out for exposure for new acts," says David Wibley, head of A&R at Richard Branson's new record label V2. "At the same time there are plenty of parts of the country that, even with the best will in the world, you just don't get to, so the record industry will just eat this programme up."

As well as record industry encouragement, Simon's relentless search for funding, advice and support garnered him some friends. Ian Anderson, the designer of album covers for Pulp, Supergrass and the Shamen, agreed to design the programme's look for free. Film students from the Northern Media School - where Simon made those sandwiches - helped with the making of the pilot. Workstation, part of the Sheffield media village, gave him office space, and The Leadmill, Sheffield's long-established nightclub, let him film a pilot in the club for nothing.

"I think people just liked the idea of the programme." says Simon. "Why else would they rally round for total unknowns?"

Steadily, a pilot budgeted at pounds 70,000 - "I think the most I'd ever had to my name at that point was pounds 100," says Simon - was being made for pounds 5,000.

But real help came in the form of Daryl Deaton his so-called New Deal Adviser. Under the Gateway part of the Welfare to Work legislation introduced by the Labour government, it was not only possible for Simon to receive benefits while trying to get his programme made, but he was also put on business courses and given advice to set himself up as a limited company.

Never one to miss a trick in pursuit of publicity and friends, Simon then used his New Deal experience to write to Education and Training Secretary David Blunkett, singing the praises of the scheme. Blunkett passed his letter to Andrew Smith, Minister for Employment, who called to wish him luck with a screening of his pilot and promised to keep an interest in the project.

Simon is genuine in his praise of the New Deal, but his story still sounds like it was written by Alastair Campbell, the PM's top spin doctor. So it shouldn't be too surprising if Simon and his programme end up in a promotional video or election broadcast. Simon, you suspect, would lap up the publicity.

Last week he gave the first screening of his pilot to the record industry and independent producers in Sheffield. "I was worried that it might be embarrassingly amateur," says V2's David Wibley, "but it could easily have been broadcast. It has some flaws and could do with more history and less of the new bands. Bizarrely its history of the Sheffield music scene didn't mention Def Leppard."

But Wibley is convinced that the show is much better than most music formats currently on television, and he thinks Simon has what it takes to get it made. "He is infinitely polite, yet also incredibly pushy. He has an iron fist in an incredibly velvet glove." Something else that ought to endear him to New Labour.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - OTE £37,000

£16000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The ideal candidate will want t...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor