Bodyguard should be a blueprint for the BBC’s future success

With streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon pouring huge sums into glossy international productions, the BBC needs to embrace co-productions, but also stick to what it does best - and the audiences will follow, says Ben Dowell

Richard Madden in Bodyguard header shot

Bodyguard may be a tense and complicated thriller – but its success story is a very simple one.

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A British-made, British-funded drama, with a British writer telling a very British story. And it’s attracting in excess of ten million viewers – with even more expected to tune into this Sunday’s finale.

Well done everyone involved, from writer Jed Mercurio to the excellent cast of Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes and company and the skill of the production team. I have also seen the finale and – spoiler alert – it doesn’t disappoint.

So it’s worth considering Bodyguard when you think about the BBC’s present worries.

Whenever you listen to BBC chairman David Clementi and director general Tony Hall talk these days all you ever seem to hear are hand-wringing anxieties about painful decisions.

Will it launch a global iPlayer? Join forces with ITV and Channel 4? How does it combat the threat from the powerful streaming services like Netflix and Amazon? How can its annual funding of £3.8bn compete with the big boys – according to reports, Netflix alone may well spent £9.85bn ($13bn) on content in 2018.

Well, yes, they are very big concerns, but the simple formula of a show like Bodyguard shows that well-made content, which has the courage to tell British stories with style and verve, will maintain its relevance. The audience will follow – and so will the foreign sales.

Where it seems the BBC has gone wrong in the last twelve months is when it loses sight of this, especially with some of its internationally funded and internationally cast shows.

Yes, it’s true, the BBC can’t afford to make fully-funded drama of the scale of The Bodyguard in every slot of the week, every week of the year.

And yes, dramas with big budgets and foreign money can attract stars with international reputations – and it’s why we get actors of the calibre of John Goodman in Black Earth Rising and the mesmerically good Australian star Toni Collette in Wanderlust.

Both are critically acclaimed, but neither are doing the same business as Bodyguard when it comes to ratings, and it’s unlikely they would even if they were moved into the plum Sunday night 9pm slot.

And then consider the flops. Troy: Fall of a City, the dramatisation of the Homer epic written by David Farr was a lavish Netflix co-production but also an international pudding of a drama that didn’t really know what it was about – except, it seems to me, attracting the global audience it never got.

Similarly, Hard Sun, BBC1’s bold and brash apocalypse thriller starring Agyness Deyn and Jim Sturgess and made with US streaming service Hulu also had a lot of money pumped into it. It was axed after one series, not unfairly in my opinion.

Bodyguard, by contrast, is the BBC’s biggest hit for years. And it’s a show which has strong convictions, doing what the BBC has done best for so long.

Let’s hope the Corporation are emboldened by its success and make more of the same – and keep doing so for a very long time…

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The Bodyguard finale airs on BBC1 this Sunday at 9pm