Rhodes to nowhere: BBC's epic tale flops

The BBC's major drama serial Rhodes is in danger of becoming a flop as colossal as its hero's exploits.

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

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future