Rhodes to nowhere: BBC's epic tale flops
Thursday 26 September 1996
Viewing figures reveal that the pounds 10m epic on the British empire-builder Cecil Rhodes is fighting for an audience. Only 4.8m watched the second episode on Sunday, down from 7.6m for the opening instalment.
The nine-hour series, starring Martin Shaw as the Victorian tycoon who became the wealthiest man in the Western world by the age of 30, is one of the BBC's boldest gambles.
A high-powered publicity campaign touted one of the most expensive British productions of all time. It took a decade to make, cost more than pounds 1m per screen hour and employed 10,000 extras.
But the makers failed to make the programme truly accessible. Viewers complain of a difficult plot, centring on a man whose dream of extending the Empire from the Cape to Cairo left a million square miles of Africa coloured pink, and who inspired a country almost the size of Europe - Rhodesia - to be named after him.
Part of the problem is that the series assumes prior knowledge. And such are the intricacies that the BBC has issued a 32-page explanatory bookletwhich it advertises at the end of each episode. But the pounds 4.95 guide from the BBC Education Information Unit will not be available for another fortnight - by which time the series will be half over.
By then it may be too late, as the rival London's Burning continues to lure viewers. And word-of-mouth, not to mention the critics, condemns the series.
It will be deeply embarrassing for the BBC if it fails to recoup its investment (with WGBH of the US, CBC of Canada and SABC of South Africa) through overseas sales.
BBC Worldwide Television, however, remains bullish. "It's obviously very disappointing about the ratings but it doesn't really affect international sales. Overseas broadcasters ... tend not to go on what critics say here," a spokeswoman said.
"A lot of programmes which haven't gone as well as we hoped ... have sold quite successfully internationally."
A drama spokesman was also quick to defend BBC1's bold epic. "It's not regarded as a flop by the BBC. Frankly, if it were, we'd hold up our hands and say we got it wrong," he said.
Sales are thought to be approaching pounds 2m so far, and Rhodes will be shown to buyers in Cannes next week.
Roasted by the critics
Rhodes, the epic story, started with everything against it and then they made it all worse - A A Gill, Sunday Times
The BBC's Rhodes is a man who cannot take a leak without the assistance of the Berlin Philharmonic - David Aaronovitch, Independent on Sunday
It was very odd - Lynne Truss, The Times
In nine tendentious hours, Rhodes is to be presented as a corrupt and greedy money-grabber, a racist and paedophile, whose disgusting passion was to get his hands on young boys ... the BBC has spent pounds 10m of our money putting together a farrago of exaggerations and smears about this great man - Paul Johnson, Daily Mail
- 1 The difference between a migrant and refugee, in one sentence
- 2 Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
- 3 Celebrity Big Brother 2015: Tila Tequila kicked off show after 'describing Hitler as a good man'
- 4 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 5 iPhone 5c to be discontinued, no iPhone 6c to replace it
Spain accused of 'provocation' after letting Russian submarine refuel off Gibraltar
The difference between a migrant and refugee, in one sentence
Allonautilus scrobiculatus: World's 'rarest' creature spotted for only the third time ever
Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
Bangkok Bomb: Thai police name Adem Karadag as suspect arrested over blast that killed 20
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...
£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...
£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...