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Pandemic does mean repeats and ‘mixed schedule’, say BBC bosses

James Purnell said the corporation is working to get filming off the ground again.

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BBC bosses have said the broadcaster will have to air repeats and the pandemic’s effect on schedules will be starker next year (Aaron Chown/PA)

BBC bosses have said the broadcaster will have to air repeats and the pandemic’s effect on schedules will be starker next year (Aaron Chown/PA)

BBC bosses have said the broadcaster will have to air repeats and the pandemic’s effect on schedules will be starker next year (Aaron Chown/PA)

The BBC will have to air repeats and the pandemic’s effect on schedules will be starker next year, bosses at the broadcaster have said.

James Purnell, director of radio and education, said the corporation is working to get filming off the ground again.

“Yes, we are going to have to have some repeats. The main thing driving that is it’s very hard to film right now,” he told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“On the television side, in children’s, we have had to cancel quite a significant proportion of the dramas and comedy we were planning to film over the summer.

“We’re working very hard with the industry and the DCMS (Department For Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) to get television production back up and running as soon as possible.

“With radio that’s a bit easier”, he added.

There had been speculation that the BBC might have to revert to a news-only service in lockdown “but the vast majority of the service was up and running”, he said.

Of coverage to mark Glastonbury, which has been axed this summer, Purnell said: “It will be repeats, but it will be an incredible archive.

“The same with the Proms … It may not be the Proms we have been used to but the Proms we need right now and the Proms we can do.”

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James Purnell (PA)

James Purnell (PA)

PA

James Purnell (PA)

Asked if viewers would “see endless repeats”, Clare Sumner, the BBC’s director of policy, told MPs: “I really hope not but … the schedule is going to be mixed.”

She added: “I think, for us, it will particularly get thinner next year because of the way that production falls.”

Earlier this year, BBC boss Lord Hall said the broadcaster’s priority was to keep “our services going”.

Dramas filmed amid the pandemic include a new version of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, and Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Staged, while EastEnders is preparing to resume filming.

Shows like Springwatch have adapted, with presenters filming from different locations.

Purnell also denied that Emily Maitlis’s Newsnight monologue signalled a shift in the BBC’s style of journalism after being asked by the committee if it was the “new norm”.

“There has been a huge amount of information, news broadcasting in this period … I wouldn’t accept your premise that there has been a shift overall in our journalism,” he said.

“In that particular example, we got the balance wrong and therefore corrected it very quickly.”

But he said there are “thousands of hours” which “don’t result in clarification of that kind”.

He said that “to the best of my knowledge” nobody from the Government contacted the BBC about the monologue.

Purnell said it was right that restrictions on BBC broadcasters tweeting their views on politics should not apply to employees like Gary Lineker, outside the world of news and current affairs.

“It doesn’t feel we could apply (those rules) to people who work outside our news and factual programmes,” he said.

Sumner said that news jobs – put on pause in the pandemic – will still go at a later date.

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon later told the committee that all broadcasters will have to show more repeats.

“There will be, for broadcasters, slightly more repeats this year and that is because it is difficult to produce things, not just because of cost-cutting,” she said.

“But of course a repeat is only a repeat if you haven’t seen it before. So for some people, they haven’t seen those shows.

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Alex Mahon (House Of Commons/PA)

Alex Mahon (House Of Commons/PA)

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Alex Mahon (House Of Commons/PA)

“We’re finding, even with repeats, they’re attracting huge numbers. People are coming to the familiar and what they know as a source of comfort in this time.”

She said of filming: “The biggest blocker is that people can’t get production insurance.

“We need help from Government to make sure they get that in place. I know that the Treasury and DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) are looking at that, that would make a difference.”

Ms Mahon also defended Channel 4 News after Conservative MP Philip Davies told the broadcasting chief: “I must commend you for keeping a straight face when you were talking about the impartiality” of the programme.

Asked about presenter Jon Snow being accused of shouting a four-letter “anti-Tory” remark at Glastonbury in 2017, Ms Mahon said: “I don’t think there’s any proof of what the presenter did or didn’t say at Glastonbury.

“But it’s our job to make sure we have an impartial team and they fairly and accurately report.

“To my knowledge there is no proof either way of what was supposedly said.”

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