Tim Loane, the Belfast writer behind Minder, has launched a stinging attack on the BBC for failing to commission new drama from Northern Ireland.
Loane, who made his name on Ballykissangel and was the creator of Channel 4’s Teachers in 2001, claims the corporation’s reluctance to represent Northern Ireland onscreen is in breach of its remit to reflect all regions of the UK in its drama output.
“Over the years it has been a continual disappointment to me just how hard — almost impossible — it has been to get a contemporary Northern Irish drama made on TV,” Loane told the Belfast Telegraph.
“The BBC might be the most likely to make one, you would think — it is part of their remit — but they won’t. They are not reflecting this region at all on the network, which is what we pay our license fee for.
“I have developed about five different series for BBC NI but I don’t believe for one second that the head of BBC drama wants anything that’s set here. I think they’re scared of it for some reason.”
Loane is unimpressed by the BBC Northern Ireland production credit on dramas like Messiah and Nice Guy Eddie, which he says have “no Northern Ireland identity at all”.
He confesses to feeling envious of Cardiff’s BBC drama unit, who produce primetime favourites like Merlin and Doctor Who, film regularly in Cardiff and employ a large percentage of Welsh actors, writers, producers and crew members.
He also points to Scottish fare like Sea of Souls, Monarch of the Glen and BBC Scotland’s Glasgow-based soap opera River City as chances for Scottish talent to flourish both regionally and at network level.
Loane also told the Belfast Telegraph of his frustration during the making of the BBC’s Eureka Street in 1999, which he recalls as one of the very few Belfast-based drama series made for the BBC network in modern times.
The series was based on the acclaimed book by Robert McLiam Wilson but was scripted by Donna Franceschild, an American based in Scotland, which Loane thought a curious choice. But when the BBC tried to get Loane himself onboard they were turned down in no uncertain manner.
“When they were making Eureka Street they called me in to audition — I did some acting back then,” he said.
He confesses to feeling envious of Cardiff’s BBC drama unit, who produce |primetime favourites like Merlin and Doctor Who
“But they quickly admitted they weren’t considering me for a part. They actually wanted me to be the director’s ‘local advisor’, to ensure its ‘authenticity’. I thought, ‘you want me to take the rap for the fact that you guys don’t know what it’s like to live in Belfast? You can shove that, no thank you’.”
Loane also described his disgust at the current trend for the “pornography of violence” which dominates primetime week night TV.
“I watched yet another horrible and bloody murder show on the BBC the other night,” he said. “There’s such a huge amount of this on television just now, I find it obscene.
“I can only assume producers are chasing big audience figures by trying to outshock each other with all those disgusting crime dramas, trying to see how filthy they can make humanity.
“Those shows don’t respect their audience, they’re basically totally misanthropic.”
A spokeswoman for BBC Northern Ireland said: “There has been a general recognition across the BBC that not enough network production has taken place outside London and a fundamental shift in this has already begun. At BBC Northern Ireland we have been committed to growing the amount of network dramas we produce locally and the amount of hours in other genres including current affairs. Next week, we in partnership with Northern Ireland Screen will launch a major new drama Five Minutes of Heaven starring Jimmy Nesbitt and Liam Neeson which will be screened at Easter.
“It will be followed by a drama on George Best written by award-winning writer Terry Caffolla and we have recently used the Paint Hall at the Titanic to recreate an Iraqi City for the three-part drama Occupation which traces the lives of three British soldiers in Basra.
“BBC Northern Ireland also produces over 30 hours of original readings, plays and short stores for radio drama including Radio 4's Echoes of War by local writer Gary Mitchell.
“While this represents a substantial investment in the cultural and creative industry in Northern Ireland we want to do more and are working with the independent sector and agencies such as Northern Ireland Screen to build a sustainable production base locally.”
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