Things I learned today

It’s the Vision Forum at the Beeb this week: lots of tasty sessions with super-famous creatives and actors, discussing their work and generally adding to an atmosphere of grooviness. I went to three sessions today, on Being Human, The Cut and Psychoville. Among the things I learned:

  1. Being Human was originally conceived as a drama about university graduates living together. One was an agoraphobic, one was compulsively anti-social with rage issues, and one was a recovering sex addict. The monsters were added later: ghost trapped in house, werewolf, and guilty vampire. Neat, no?
  2. The Cut is written in five minute chunks to create a 25-minute TV broadcast once a week. It’s really good. What I learned from this one is how creative production crews are being when it comes to shooting stuff on low budgets. The Cut is all filmed within five minutes of the offices of BBC Switch, the assistant director is also a writer, and the script supervisor also works on the Switch website. Also, the teenage stars looked embarrassed and blushingly young all the way through the presentation, until the moment the microphone was passed to them and they switched, immediately, until professional mode. It was amazing and rather charming.
  3. When Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith started Psychoville, they had no idea when it would end. Also, while they were pushing to get it commissioned, they arranged an open readthrough/performance at Notting Hill which attracted an audience in three figures and which showed that the material was funny (the audience laughed) as well as horrific. And Psychoville is what they call Royston Vasey in Japan. Fact.

I would like to explain the gratuitous picture of Lenora Crichlow, who is beautiful in Being Human but mesmerising in the flesh. Not really a lesson, but interesting nonetheless.


Thompson on public space

Mark Thompson gave a punchy and coherent response to both James Murdoch and Ben Bradshaw today. Here was my favourite bit:

Wherever it can be – and certainly in the case of the BBC – public space is free at the point of use. And the more people who use it the better.

Consider the contrast between the availability of music and arts on Sky Arts and on BBC Television. Sky Arts is one of the most positive developments in multi-channel television. It has some brilliant programming. It extends the choice and range of music and arts available on TV. In a typical seven days, it reaches perhaps half a million people.

But arts on the BBC is simply of a different order. To quote just one statistic, this summer more than twelve million people in this country sampled the Proms on BBC Television before the Last Night. I’m not claiming any special credit for that, by the way – the BBC exists in part to make the arts universally available, Sky does not. Private space focuses on the minority who already have a taste for the arts, public space reaches out across the population.

In the case of the BBC, there’s another important characteristic. There’s no demand curve and no exclusion. You can’t buy a better service from the BBC no matter how wealthy you are. And you can’t stop people who are less well off than you enjoying just as good a service as you do.

Public space is shared space.

That’s why we will never erect a pay zone around our news.

That’s why we will fight tooth and nail to preserve our broad public remit – from Strictly to the Poetry Season.

And public space is independent space.

I got that from Mark Thompson speech | Tom Watson MP. And Tom applauds Thompson for coming out fighting. Having spent the last two days with young people who passionately believe in the BBC and passionately disagree with James Murdoch, I’m coming round to the idea that a good fight is maybe what we all need.

Join in our experiment

One of the projects that’s most excited me at the BBC is Lab-UK. Essentially, it’s a platform for doing mass-audience experiments which are scientifically valid (there’s other cool stuff going on under the hood, but that’s what we’re doing with it right now). Our latest mass-participation experiment is Brain Test Britain, which seeks to find out if “brain training” actually works, by getting people to play brain training games online and tracking their progress over time.

This is hugely ambitious, not least because we’re trying to get thousands of users to stay with a longitudinal experiment. But the designers of the experiment (Professor Clive Ballard of the Alzheimer’s Society and Kings College, London, and Dr Adrian Owen of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge) hope that by getting thousands of people to complete the experiments, we can get proper scientific papers and proper scientific understanding.

There are more Lab-UK experiments in the pipeline. Suffice to say that what with this and our Earth suite of products (Earth News, the just-redesigned Out of the Wild and Nature’s Library) there’s some fantastically cool stuff going on here. And none of it could happen anywhere else.


Peston v. Barclays

Out of interest, has any BBC journalist declared war on a British corporation in quite such a forthright way as Peston does on his blog this morning?

And don’t think this is about losses suffered by funny, remote people in the City with no connection to you.

It represents an erosion of wealth for millions of us saving for a pension, since most of our pension funds and life companies have an interest in Barclays.

You should be concerned.

Just asking.