Need proof that the BBC really doesn’t need to be more competitive? Take a look at the Baftas
Last night’s Bafta awards came in the midst of a befuddling few months for Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. After weathering mass public snittering over his haphazard love life, yesterday evening’s Bafta ceremony saw the BBC’s prime time output win a glut of trophies. Wolf Hall, Poldark, Doctor Foster and host of their other top shows took away the prizes.
This at a time when Whittingdale is expected to publish a White Paper prohibiting such excellence. It rankles competitors, you see?
So, no more of the likes of Mark Rylance’s gorgeous, measured brooding as Cromwell on Wolf Hall – for which he won Best Actor in a category that pitted him against Britain’s most precious exports Idris Elba, Stephen Graham and Ben Wishaw. No, no more of that.
And how curious to think that the Best Scripted Comedy, Peter Kay’s uniquely observed Car Share, may not have been commissioned at all. Because why, one supposes, should the BBC have access to Kay in prime time? Perhaps the comedian should have been forced to take Car Share’s subtly evolving love story, played out over 12 car journeys and umpteen regional roundabouts, to Amazon Prime?
As yet, mercifully not. Car Share on BBC1 was a perfect fit; not since Victoria Wood’s As Seen On TV have we seen dialogue – with its quips about Basra, cheeky Vimto, dogging and death by trolley stacking – that so tenderly represents the everyday working class status quo.
John, if you reading this, it’s really not that easy to win a Bafta. I say this having sat on judging panels in previous years. The sessions are tricky. The debate is volatile, due to one’s fellow panellists being an accomplished, erudite and, frankly, annoyingly opinionated bunch. No one at the Royal Festival Hall last night won a Bafta because they’d make a nice photo on the red carpet – even if Michaela Coel, who won Best Female Performance in a Comedy looked utterly sublime in a frock cut from Kente cloth.
Coel won her accolade for starring in E4’s Chewing Gum, which she also wrote. But we also know her from her screen-grabbing power in BBC2’s intensely intriguing London Spy and E4’s dystopian romp The Aliens. She is about to star in a forthcoming episode of the new series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, which was once the pride of Channel 4 but has now been whisked off by mega-budget content provider Netflix. Coel’s stellar career alone is a neat parable of the vibrant competition already alive and well in modern British television without Whittingdale’s meddling.
Last night’s awards celebrated the mass appeal of ITV2’s Celebrity Juice, which began as late-night bawdy froth but has grown into swaggering comedy juggernault. Bafta also tipped its hat to two unforgettable examples of prime-time factual television both made by Channel 4 – the compelling brilliance of The Murder Detectives and the jarring sadness of My Son The Jihadi. Placing some sort of regulation onto the BBC so it cannot compete with the likes of rival commissioners seems to me little short of spiteful.
But I suspect the gongs which may sting the most for Whittingdale is the one for Best Entertainment Programme which was scooped by my mother’s beloved Strictly Come Dancing. Or “The Dancing” as she calls this simple format sealed in her heart – and millions across the country – as the epitome of Saturday night joy.
It’s big and it’s not remotely clever, but sometimes we simply need television to soothe us. Shows like The Great British Bake Off, which won Features award, are the essence of a warm duvet.
The BBC, much like all large modern companies, has its faults, its faffing-abouts and its managerial brain-farts, but beyond doubt it excels at inventing these sorts of simple and cheap to produce TV formats.
It may find itself under attack from a small corner of Westminster, but last night underlined the fact that British TV is booming and that, far from being uncompetitive, the Beeb already gives its rivals a bloody good run for their money.