Media: Why Will Wyatt thinks big: Maggie Brown meets an old-style corporation man who is leading the hunt for the mass audience

Will Wyatt, the quietly effective, unflamboyant managing director of BBC Television, declares that his primary goal for 1994 is 'to make sure that the BBC flourishes as a creative community'. With the serialisation of Middlemarch glueing the middle classes to their sofas on Wednesdays and Mondays, and the glow of television managing to convert the grisly Casaubon into something of a pin-up, there are signs that the havoc wreaked on the BBC by the implementation of Producer Choice is being replaced by a new concentration on us, the audience.

After disappointments such as Scarlet and Black, Lady Chatterley, The Riff Raff Element and the awful Headhunters (currently dragging down Sunday nights), it is a relief to find that, under the right conditions, and just as the Government is drafting a White Paper on the BBC, the corporation can fire on all its Reithian cylinders.

The long overdue retirement from BBC 1 of embarrassing old warhorses such as Jim'll Fix It and That's Life point to the gradual, but painfully slow, upgrading of entertainment output promised by the Director-General, John Birt, in the BBC's blueprint for the future, Extending Choice. How Do They Do That?, which started last night, a series in which Desmond Lynam reveals the secrets behind great achievements (such as piecing together the suitcase that contained the Lockerbie bomb), is one of the first of a new generation of entertainment programmes rushed on to the screens by David Liddiment, the recently appointed head of entertainment. He was recruited from Granada because of his record in spotting ideas that would be mass hits, such as You've Been Framed.

'Anything as big as Producer Choice is difficult,' says Mr Wyatt. 'It's like learning to drive a car: first you have to do it, become capable and then pass your test. That's the stage we are at. I am confident.'

However, problems remain: staff facing the latest application of pay cuts and performance-related pay are on the edge of revolt; and the financial experts of the Independent Television Commission calculate that the BBC is still making programmes far more expensively than ITV. They say that when it comes to the crunch, ITV gets more bangs for its bucks.

An old-style corporation man, but one of the first to defend Mr Birt during last year's tax-avoidance uproar, 51-year-old Mr Wyatt has survived into the new era, and is now benefiting from its return to basic worries about accessibility - how to satisfy all audiences, not just the 'super-served' up-market ones that naturally love Middlemarch.

Since he took on his present position two-and-a-half years ago, there have been dramatic changes at the top of the television service: he produces a sheet of paper with new members of the top team marked in yellow: 19 out of 32. One of the most important is John Smith, the financial controller, who had to sort out the discovery in 1992 of a pounds 60m overspend by the television service.

Charles Denton, head of the company that made Inspector Morse, has also been brought in from the independent sector, as head of drama, to reverse the BBC's poor record in popular drama. As Mr Wyatt is candid enough to say, the BBC needs more hits. The energetic Mr Denton has completely reorganised the department, to the bafflement of producers: but until the new series start to flow in 1995, his effectiveness will be hard to judge.

One of the key tasks, Mr Wyatt says, is to monitor constantly, to spot gaps and any failure to grasp opportunities: 'to make sure we do the big things, in drama, in documentaries' - projects in the BBC's heartland, such as Life in the Freezer and the forthcoming serialisation of Martin Chuzzlewit.

There is no doubt that the organisation was severely shaken by the public's reaction to last summer's grim diet of repeats, reflected in the plunge below the critical 30 per cent audience share for BBC 1: under the competitive Alan Yentob, Mr Wyatt's firm choice for the job of controller of BBC 1, it is making programmes and plotting its schedules for the summer to ensure this never happens again.

Equally, Mr Wyatt is worried about how to communicate a rather sophisticated message: that ratings aren't everything, and that delivering a wide range of programmes - Timewatch, Thatcher: the Downing Street Years, a new programme on books - is incompatible with crude weekly measurements of audiences.

In fact, last autumn there were signs of a fightback, after a ropey first eight months during which the BBC was too feeble to exploit ITV's switch to new franchise conditions. From September to December, BBC 1's share of the terrestrial audience rose one percentage point on the same period in 1992, from 35.1 per cent, to 36.1 per cent, while ITV's fell back slightly, from 43.6 per cent to 43 per cent (though BBC 2 also fell back, to 9.9 per cent from 10.4 per cent). This is partly thanks to the axe falling on Eldorado, but it is also the result of a few smart scheduling tricks, such as running old but watchable family movies at 7pm on Wednesday nights, and just making better daytime programmes.

As yet there are few new successful programmes in either entertainment or drama to point to a sustained revival, but the glee with which the BBC audience fell upon To Play The King and Absolutely Fabulous shows that there is everything to play for.

Using some of the BBC's mighty resources to go for mass audiences is also very much part of the exhaustive review of programme strategy that Liz Forgan, managing director of BBC Radio, and Mr Yentob are now carrying out.

This spring, Mr Wyatt promises, will see the start of a third episode of EastEnders, to match the thrice-weekly Coronation Street, though he is evasive about its day and time.

Mr Wyatt has started a series of meetings at Television Centre in west London for programme-makers to get together to debate practical production problems. 'This is really a massive group, the biggest and most terrific group of programme people in the world, and I want to make sure they all get as much from each other as possible.'

He is scathing about the possibility of London-based, high-profile production being dismembered and distanced from national institutions and the media industry's centre (Mr Birt ordered a decentralisation study, nearly complete, which may, for example, see Radio 2 move to Birmingham). 'There are real advantages, competitive advantages, in having significant groups of people together to make programmes,' Mr Wyatt argues.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

PPC Account Managers

£25k - £30k (DOE): Guru Careers: Two expert PPC Account Managers are needed to...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor