The man transforming the BBC's film-making

Future documentaries will have the appeal of hit films, Alan Hayling tells Meg Carter

Four months into the job as head of the BBC's documentary department and Alan Hayling has already transformed the place. He has persuaded BBC1 to show an unprecedented pre-lunchtime documentary series, called
All in a Day, telling life-changing stories that happen in the space of 24 hours. He has begun production of
The Regiment (detailing the experiences of a British army unit on a tour of duty in Basra) and - in a co-production with the American broadcaster HBO - he plans to tell the story of the Beslan massacre.

Four months into the job as head of the BBC's documentary department and Alan Hayling has already transformed the place. He has persuaded BBC1 to show an unprecedented pre-lunchtime documentary series, called All in a Day, telling life-changing stories that happen in the space of 24 hours. He has begun production of The Regiment (detailing the experiences of a British army unit on a tour of duty in Basra) and - in a co-production with the American broadcaster HBO - he plans to tell the story of the Beslan massacre.

This - on top of a commitment to Hayling from the BBC 2 controller Roly Keating to show 16 90-minute narrative documentaries in weekday 9pm slots from next summer - is important and heartwarming news for programme makers who had started to despair of the BBC's attitude towards the genre.

Hayling, who arrived at the BBC from the independent production company Mentorn Barraclough Carey and spent a decade working at Channel 4, pulls a sheet of A4 from the bottom draw of the desk in his office in White City. This was the hit list he drew up just after starting his new role.

"I want to raise the profile of the documentaries department to give it a sense of itself - because for two or three years before my arrival there was no departmental head, and no clear leadership or vision - to expand its output across all channels," he explains. "I want to champion the single documentary; to develop more documentary drama by fostering a higher production value sensibility within factual programme-making; to do more international co-production; to encourage more innovative pre-watershed documentaries; to do more biography; and to encourage more authored documentaries by securing the best talent from within and outside this department and allowing it to grow and develop a voice."

For Hayling, authorship is a particular passion. "Although the essence of documentary-making remains the same, television audiences seem to be developing attention deficit syndrome en masse, which means we have to try harder to ensure that what we do really stands out," he says. "For a while, documentary-making at the BBC had no clear sense of direction or leadership. At the same time, Channel 4 moved decisively into 'soft documentary' formats such as Faking It and Wife Swap. BBC 2 wasn't a particularly friendly place for documentaries at the time. And so documentary-makers lost both their voice and confidence."

Roly Keating's switch from BBC 4 to BBC 2 shortly after Hayling's arrival marked a turning point. Keating's record proved his commitment to single documentaries. Meanwhile, channel heads and commissioners were waking up to the audience pulling power of documentaries on television and at the cinema following the success of Touching the Void, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Bowling for Columbine. Hayling is well-positioned to exploit this. He started out as a BBC trainee, spent 10 years at Channel 4, latterly as editor of nations and regions, and more recently worked at Mentorn, where he was development director.

He believes the current popularity for feature-length documentaries - on television, where a growing number of broadcasters are committing budgets of more than £1m to "super documentaries" such as Channel 4's forthcoming drama documentaries about Krakatoa and the Blitz, and at the cinema - can only work to his advantage.

"I can now say to film-makers: 'OK, you're making this for BBC 1 at 9pm but imagine it's for the cinema and you have to persuade someone out of their home on a wet February night to pay £8 for a ticket and at the beginning of the film everyone will see the word 'A film by... So, how would you approach this differently?' That's the kind of film-making I want to foster here - not documentaries with niche appeal, but films able to attract and maintain a big audience."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
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

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower