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Producer to quit as BBC's head of drama in Northern Ireland

The man who oversaw award-winning dramas Five Minutes Of Heaven and Occupation is to step down as the BBC’s head of drama in Northern Ireland.

Patrick Spence, who took up the job in 2004, has been behind some of its most successful and high-profile dramas to date.

His departure will coincide with a shake-up of the drama department in Belfast and a new position will be created. It is understood the focus will be on the creation of more indigenous drama, such as Five Minutes Of Heaven which explored the province’s past.

Spence is expected to announce a new role before the end of January. Sources say it could be with the BBC in London or Wales.

Five Minutes Of Heaven, which starred Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, won Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009.

Occupation, which also starred James Nesbitt, traced the lives of three British soldiers from the invasion of Basra in March 2003 to the present day, revealing how the lives of the men were shaped and transformed by their experiences in Iraq. The vast majority of the drama was shot on location in Belfast. Occupation won Best Serial at the Prix Europa last year.

Other BBC NI credits under Spence include the BBC4 film Hancock And Joan, which was nominated for Best Single Film, Best Actor (Ken Stott) and Best Actress (Maxine Peake) at the 2009 Baftas, the relaunch of Murphy’s Law, Heidi Thomas’s adaptation of Noel Streatfeild’s classic Ballet Shoes and BBC1 hit Messiah, starring Ken Stott and Marc Warren.

His final production will be Bringing Down The House, about the MPs’ expenses scandal.

Peter Johnston, Director, BBC Northern Ireland said: “Patrick’s legacy of high-profile programmes speaks for itself. He has been incredibly successful in recent years in attracting high quality drama projects to Northern Ireland including the acclaimed Five Minutes Of Heaven and Occupation.

“In this way he brought creative and economic benefit to the sector here and secured Northern Ireland’s role as a centre of excellence for drama production.”

Patrick Spence said: “I have incredibly mixed feelings about leaving BBC Northern Ireland. It is here that I have worked on a large number of superb dramas with a large number of superb teams, both inside and outside the BBC, and it is hard to give up that opportunity. I am truly envious of whoever is given that opportunity within a special department, and a special place.”

Belfast Telegraph