Armando Iannucci: BBC were going to get Alan Partridge wrong

Beeb tried to tinker with Mid Morning Matters and are losing talent to creative freedom of Sky, says writer

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Armando Iannucci: BBC were going to get Alan Partridge wrong
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Radio Times staff

This year's fabulous Alan Partridge specials were shown on Sky because of the creative freedom the satellite broadcaster offers, according to the character's co-creator Armando Iannucci – and because BBC2 did not think the Mid Morning Matters series merited a primetime slot.

Speaking after delivering the annual Bafta lecture last night, Iannucci said the BBC were interested in broadcasting Mid Morning Matters – a series charting the latest phase of Alan's radio career, on local station North Norfolk Digital – but wanted to show it late on BBC2 after Newsnight because it had already premiered online.

While Sky Atlantic simply packaged up the webisodes into six broadcast episodes before commissioning a new series of their own, the BBC also wanted to interfere with the format of MMM by venturing outside the North Norfolk Digital studios – something Iannucci felt it was "essential" to avoid.

"We didn't take [Mid Morning Matters] to Sky because they offered more money," Iannucci insisted. "We took it to Sky because they said they would leave it alone, they wouldn't interfere.

"Sky were very enthusiastic: here's our plan about how we can promote it, here's how we can give it profile, it would be great if we could get Alan to do a tour of Norwich. It had that creative buzz."

Sky's original comedy output, under the stewardship of former BBC head of comedy commissioning Lucy Lumsden, has scored a series of critical and ratings successes at a time when the BBC's comedy output seems to be stagnating.

Rich in laughs: how Sky took over British comedy

Iannucci said the BBC's comedy executives were now starting to realise that the creative freedom offered by Sky and other broadcasters was tempting writers and performers away from the BBC, which should be their natural home. "Hang on, scripts aren't coming in any more, he's gone to Sky. Hang on, why's he doing a Channel 4 show?"

In the lecture itself – entitled "Fight, fight, fight!" – Iannucci called on the BBC, under incoming director-general George Entwistle, to be more bullish in response to attacks from politicians and the media.

"Governments, whether right or left, have become commissioners in chief, nudging and cajoling networks into preferred business models without the slightest sensitivity or awareness of what the public wants or the TV industry is capable of," Iannucci said, observing that this had left programme-makers "disarmed and confused".

In response, Iannucci argued, the BBC should be shameless and bold in promoting the quality of its content, and in making money from it.

"The BBC brand is up there with Apple and Google," he said. "I want it to go abroad and prostitute itself to blue buggery in how it sells and makes money from its content… There is still an element of the BBC that feels it is somehow wrong, or it will be open to criticism if it makes more money.

"I want to encourage us to be more aggressive in promoting what makes British TV so good. Be ambitious, arrogant even, in how we sell it to the world."

Iannucci added that the Corporation should point to its coverage of the Olympics as an example of what it can do when it allows its ambition full rein – and that it should stand up to the current government and the right-wing press, both of which are ideologically opposed to public-service broadcasting.

"The great unspoken support of the BBC is the viewing public," Iannucci said. "The BBC seems to forget that, but is continually aware of bad headlines in the Daily Mail. It's a strange dynamic. What's wrong with having criticism in the press?"

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