New controller of BBC1 promises no more soaps

The new controller of BBC1 has set out a vision for the channel that will see original drama and comedy favoured over soap operas.

The new controller of BBC1 has set out a vision for the channel that will see original drama and comedy favoured over soap operas.

Peter Fincham, who joins the BBC from the leading independent production company Talkback Thames, where he was chief executive, said yesterday it was "unlikely" that he would commission a major new soap opera.

The producer responsible for some of television's most popular shows, including I'm Alan Partridge, Da Ali G Show and Jamie's Kitchen, promised that BBC1 would remain a mainstream channel,but it needed to show "the full range" of drama, from original one-off pieces such as Stephen Poliakoff's acclaimed The Lost Prince, made by Talkback Thames, to popular continuing drama.

Mr Fincham praised Little Britain and said he wanted more comedy to come straight to BBC1. "It's terribly important for major channels to have their tent-pole comedy shows. My background before I did any other sort of programme was in comedy and that's something I want to bring a lot of focus to.

"Not for a minute am I thinking of taking BBC1 down a road that abandons the mainstream. Am I going to chase ratings? I certainly want to chase success. BBC1 needs to be a successful channel," he said.

He vowed support for EastEnders, which has suffered a fall in ratings, but did not rule out moving the soap to another slot. "We've got to find the right place on the schedule for EastEnders. We live in a moving world where all schedules move."

He added that he wanted to commission more special projects, such as the week of programmes devoted to Africa in July and an Egypt season in the autumn.

Mr Fincham, whose appointment was announced yesterday, defended Strictly Come Dancing against the criticism that the format has been over-exploited. He also described the comedian Graham Norton, who is tied to the BBC in a golden handcuffs deal, as "a great piece of talent" who would continue to play a central role on BBC1.

In a straight job swap, Mr Fincham is replacing Lorraine Heggessey, who announced last month that she was leaving to head his former company, Talkback Thames.

The BBC's director of television, Jana Bennett, praised the new appointment: "If there are maybe 10 people who have shaped television over the last decade, Peter is one of them. "He is known as someone who attracts the best talent, supports the best ideas and then backs them with tenacious passion."

The 47-year-old, who has four children, joked: "I once applied for a job as a researcher on The Late, Late Breakfast Show and was turned down, so it's taken me 20 years to get a job at the BBC ­ but what a job.

"I grew up watching BBC1 and the first programmes I made as an independent producer were for BBC1, so it's enormously flattering."

Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, Mr Fincham's Cambridge contemporary, started Talkback in 1981 as a radio commercials business in Soho's Carnaby Street. Mr Fincham joined Talkback as managing director in 1986, and in 2000 led the £62m sale of the business to Pearson TV.

The company now employs 800 staff, produces 850 hours of programming a year and made a turnover of £131m in 2003.

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