Forty-seven years after beginning his career at the BBC, film director Ken Loach has attacked current television, describing it as the "enemy of creativity".
Delivering the keynote speech at the London Film Festival on Thursday, Loach, who directed the seminal TV drama Cathy Come Home and films including Kes and Looking for Eric, said: "Television began with such high hopes; it was going to be the National Theatre of the air. It was going to be a place where society could have a national discourse and they've reduced it to a grotesque reality game."
He also welcomed recent cuts among top executives at the BBC. "I'm pleased to see, I guess we all are, that one or two top-ranking BBC people are going to lose their jobs," he said. "About time. It takes £1m to get them out of the door ... but nevertheless they're on their way, great, good riddance. Maybe a few more will join them. But let's start cutting further down."
Though Loach acknowledged that there were many talented and creative people working in the British television, he took aim at the executives who run the industry.
"Television is in the hands of these time-servers who should be got rid of," he said. "Work is produced beneath a pyramid of producers, executive producers, commissioning editors, heads of department, assistant heads of department, and so on, that sit on top of the group of people doing the work, and stifle the life out of them."
The director, 74, also attacked Hollywood's dominance of television and cinema screens. "It is an industry which is owned and controlled by vast financial empires whose sole concern is the corporate balance sheet and the dividend.
"Successive governments, commissions and committees have uttered pious hopes about the industry's future and its potential," he said. "In spite of this, only minor readjustments have ever been enacted and the very timidity of these measures have made them futile."
The director, who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2006 for his film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, argued that those working in film and television should be challenging and critical, and he also had harsh words for some of his contemporaries.
"I would like to ask those colleagues, good people who have knelt before the Queen at some point in their lives, really, what are you doing?" he said. (Loach declined an OBE in 1977.) "The woman you're kneeling before represents all that is, most of what is wrong with this country, inherited wealth, inherited privilege, the apex of the class system. Let's have a bit more dignity than crawl before that woman, please."
Despite the wide-ranging criticisms in his address, the film-maker concluded the question-and-answer session with some hopeful and defiant words: "This is an extraordinarily, brilliant, wonderful, creative medium we work in. We nowhere near realise its potential and we really have to cherish the medium, work together, just build it better and we can, we can, but not if we're in the grip of this machine. So stay hopeful, stay angry."
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