Armando Iannucci urges BBC to monetise its programmes overseas and resist 'prejudiced' Tory attacks

'If the BBC were a weapons system, half the Cabinet would be on a plane to Saudi Arabia to tell them how brilliant it was'

Ian Burrell
Wednesday 26 August 2015 19:38
Writer and director Armando Iannucci at the 40th Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival
Writer and director Armando Iannucci at the 40th Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival

Armando Iannucci has urged the television industry to "argue back" against the "madness" of Government driven cuts to the BBC and demanded that the broadcaster takes a more aggressive commercial stance to fund its future from foreign revenue.

The creator of hit shows including I'm Alan Partridge, The Thick of It and HBO series VEEP, claimed that politicians were threatening the future of British television because "they peer at it through a filter of their own prejudices".

Delivering the annual MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Iannucci said he owed "my professional life" to the BBC and that American colleagues were aghast at attacks on the BBC. "To them it looks like we're going mad," he said.

British television has positively influenced television around the world, he told an audience of industry executives and producers.

"If it was a car industry, our ministers would be out championing it overseas, trying to win contracts, boasting of the British jobs that would bring. And if the BBC were a weapons system, half the Cabinet would be on a plane to Saudi Arabia to tell them how brilliant it was," he said.

"And yet, it's quite the reverse. They talk of cutting down to size, of reining in imperialist ambitions, of hiving off, of limiting the scope, with all the manic glee of a doctor urging his patient to consider the benefits of assisted suicide."

Iannucci urged the BBC to be less "icky and modest" about making money from its formats abroad, saying that a more aggressive commercial approach could take the financial "strain" off the British licence fee payer.

The BBC is under increasing pressure to cut costs

"The international market flatters us with imitation: now's the time to strike out not huddle down. If the licence fee is under strain, then let's supplement it not carve it up, by pushing ourselves more commercially abroad," he said.

"Use the BBC's name, one of the most recognised brands in the world, and use the reputation of British television across all networks to capitalise financially overseas. Be more aggressive in selling our shows, through advertising, through proper international subscription channels, freeing up BBC Worldwide to be fully commercial, whatever it takes, frankly, don't be icky and modest about making money."

He said the BBC should "monetise the bezeesus Mary and Joseph out of our programmes abroad so that money can come back, take some pressure off the licence fee at home and be invested in even more ambitious quality shows".

Calling on the whole British TV sector to form a united front in the face of the growing power of international media companies, he said: "With a big global fight ahead, we need to consolidate all our talent and expertise."

He said politicians had succeeded in dividing television executives from the people who make programmes, with the latter group being marginalised in the debate on the future of the sector. "If we don't...allow the voice of the creative and production community to be heard loud and clear, the politicians will become our masters rather than partners and supporters," he said.

Iannucci added: "We deserve to be at the top table, but instead, we're being told to break our table up for firewood."

He claimed that the Government was "falling into the trap of thinking that because they have won a parliamentary majority, they know how a majority of the public thinks".

Iannucci attacked the panel which Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has appointed to consider the future of the BBC, noting that it contained "not a single person who's made a classic and enduring television show".

He claimed that British viewers were "the best audience in the world" and would recognise that the arguments against the BBC amounted to an "artificially concocted zone of outrage". In a parting swipe at Mr Whittingdale, who was also at the festival, Iannucci said: "If the British public feel they're being bullshitted at, if they get the slightest whiff that what's being done to the BBC is purely political, then I urge the relevant Ministers to leave the country."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in