Peter Salmon: BBC making great shows in North East and there's more to come

The director of BBC England writes for The Journal on the corporation's plans for the North East and says there is much to look forward to

Peter Salmon, the new director of BBC North
Peter Salmon, the new director of BBC North

The big billboard overlooking New Bridge Street in Newcastle has in recent months shouted about BBC Children’s top shows made in the region; the Great North Run, brilliantly covered by BBC Sport for over 30 years; and soon it’ll feature Inspector George Gently, Durham’s 1960’s police drama series for BBC1.

The billboard reflects the fact the North East now provides a number of BBC network hits, alongside key local coverage from BBC Newcastle and Look North.

It’s been six months - on the eve of our major Easter BBC1 broadcast partnership from South Shields, The Great North Passion - since I last wrote about the BBC’s work here. I am in Newcastle today to talk to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and it’s great to update you on new developments too. The BBC has not being standing still – far from it.

It’s been a big year for BBC Children’s in the North East. In May, CBBC Live in NewcastleGateshead featured some of the channel’s biggest programmes and stars in three days of fun and live broadcasts. More than 35,000 visitors came to shows such as Blue Peter, and met Sam and Mark and Hacker T Dog live on the Quayside.

It was a huge collaboration between BBC North, NewcastleGateshead Initiative, Gateshead Council and Newcastle City Council and was completely free to attend - an example of collaboration and participation at its very best.

Some of BBC Children’s most popular home-grown dramas have also been filmed in the region in recent months. CBBC’s World War One drama Harriet’s Army was on location from Beamish to Stanley. World’s End – which will hit our screens next year – is a fast-paced drama which is filming at the moment. It tells the story of a group of children who find themselves in a remote castle and at the start of a roller coaster adventure. It’s shaping up to be an explosive series.

Ciara Baxendale as feisty Harriet Grange in Harriet's Army
 

CBBC drama Wolfblood - which is filmed in and around Rowlands Gill - is back on our screens this week for a thrilling third series and it is accompanied by several online-exclusive episodes as well as an app for viewers to download so they can delve even deeper into the Wolfblood world.

North East England has a long tradition of making great kids’ TV of course - from the Tyne Tees’ stable to Byker Grove. BBC Children’s has built on those strong foundations and it feels like the sector is thriving, with several titles in the pipeline or currently on the box.

Straight after Wolfblood left Rowlands Gill, our teams began filming a new series of The Dumping Ground in the same area. This award-winning CBBC drama is set in Jacqueline Wilson’s fictional children’s home. Elsewhere we’ve just filmed an innovative documentary series Our School in Teesside, currently on CBBC, following a group of youngsters making that big step into secondary school.

On that same theme, CBeebies has also been in Northumberland for its fly-on-the-wall series Time For School, following children during their first term at primary school; and we’ve just commissioned a brand new film for our award-winning My Life documentary strand from indie MCC Media in Sunderland.

It’s impossible to be ambitious without strong local partnerships and we’re lucky in the North East to have built great relationships. I mentioned The Great North Passion earlier and I’m pleased to report that a third of the people watching TV in the North East at the time of the broadcast were watching it go out on BBC1.

This ambitious re-telling of the Easter Passion story saw us work in partnership with The Cultural Spring and we used locations throughout North and South Tyneside, from schools and colleges to a fish quay, community centres, a dance studio, churches, Sage Gateshead, Sunderland Minster, a town centre and even a cliff-top lighthouse.

Great North Passion event at Bents Park, South Shields
 

It was an inspirational project touching all corners of the region.

In the sporting arena - topping off a fantastic summer of sport - just over a week ago 57,000 people pounded the region’s streets in The Great North Run.

The BBC has worked closely with the Great North Run for many years and we also featured the City Games on BBC1 the day before the race. It says a lot for the closeness of our relationship that so many of BBC staff also ran, particularly BBC Breakfast with Middlesbrough’s Steph McGovern leading their team, raising money for the show’s late editor, Newcastle-born Alison Ford.

The list of great North East productions goes on.

BBC1 drama series Inspector George Gently is filming its eighth series around Durham right now too. It’s a gripping series full of warmth and humour and sees Martin Shaw (Gently) and Lee Ingleby (Bacchus) return to their winning police partnership.

Talking of Durham, I hope some of you made it to Durham Cathedral earlier this month, when Fiona Bruce and the Antiques Roadshow were there.

Now in its 37th series, the Roadshow is a gem in the BBC Sunday schedule (sorry, I couldn’t help myself there) and the Durham programme will be shown in the new year on BBC1.

On the radio just this week, Radio 4’s ‘The Educators’ series focused on Newcastle University’s Professor Sugata Mitra.

His famous Hole-in-the-Wall experiment inspired the film Slum Dog Millionaire, and he’s been spending some of the prize money he won last year on developing Self-Organised Learning Environments in schools in the North East.

Coming up, Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival returns to Sage Gateshead from 31 October–2 November for a weekend of provocative debate, new ideas, live music and performance.

Peter Atkinson Photography The Sage Gateshead
 

This year the festival is focusing on the theme of ‘The Limits of Knowledge’, with lectures and discussions on subjects including the role of the imagination, self-knowledge and the mysteries of the financial world. Events are free and for more information visit: www.sagegateshead.com/freethinking

All year round of course, the BBC’s local and regional programmes continue to perform exceptionally well, with Look North the most watched news programme in the North East and Cumbria and Inside Out our most watched in terms current affairs series.

The BBC is key to holding local opinion makers to account on all the burning issues and also in championing the region, just as BBC Newcastle and Look North did recently with their coverage of the Great North Run Opening Ceremony and the Sunderland Air Show.

This year we also staged an evocative event called World War One at Home where thousands learned first-hand what being at war was like. It’s three years now since we boosted the BBC’s presence in Northern England with a new HQ and a mission to strengthen audience appeal and support the creative economy outside London.

So, have we seen a positive outcome for our increased effort around the North East? Our research tells us that we are gradually strengthening support for the licence fee here but that there is still a good deal of work to do.

I believe the BBC is still delivering great content for audiences right across the country for just 45p per day per licence fee payer. The summer was packed with major sporting events on the BBC from The World Cup in Brazil to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. We also celebrated the arrival of a new Doctor in the form of Peter Capaldi, we’ve all been watching Great British Bake Off in our millions and we’ve seen even more great British original drama made in the north, with the likes of In the Club and Our Zoo.

As the nights draw in, we have bumper weekends in store with Strictly Come Dancing back on BBC1; and BBC Sport is serving up the FA Cup on TV after a 6-year absence with 16 live matches and highlights of every round.

Let’s just hope we get the opportunity to feature some strong North East teams for Alan Shearer and co to analyse.

We want to continue to create more strong partnerships and more innovative events in the North East so we can keep telling the story of this vibrant region, with its beautiful towns, cities, countryside and coastline, inspiring culture and people. All ideas welcome and gratefully received.

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