Award-winning broadcaster, author and podcaster, Louis Theroux, has spoken out about the need for more broadcasters – including the BBC – to take more risks.

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Theroux delivered the all-important MacTaggart speech at this year's Edinburgh TV Festival. The flagship address of the festival has been delivered by the likes of Michaela Coel, David Olusoga and Emily Maitlis, but this year, the well-known documentarian led his very own lecture on the 'Risk of Not Taking Risks'.

In the lengthy speech, Theroux spoke about the state of television and reflected on his own career as a journalist and broadcaster, becoming known for series like Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends.

Theroux discussed "the importance of dark and troubling programme making" and the fact that "it’s understandable that mainline programme makers may see risk in taking risks".

Louis Theroux gives the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival 2023
Louis Theroux gives the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival 2023

He explained: "From working so many years at the BBC, and still making programmes for the BBC, I see all-too-well the no-win situation it often finds itself in. Trying to anticipate the latest volleys of criticisms. Stampeded by this or that interest group. Avoiding offence.
"Often the criticisms come from its own former employees, writing for privately owned newspapers whose proprietors would be all too happy to see their competition eliminated.

"And so there is an urge to lay low, to play it safe, to avoid the difficult subjects."
He added: "But in avoiding those pinch points, the unresolved areas of culture where our anxieties and our painful dilemmas lie, we aren’t just failing to do our jobs, we are missing our greatest opportunities."

Speaking about making two films which centred on disgraced broadcaster Jimmy Savile, Theroux said: "It’s been fascinating and a little dispiriting, but maybe not that surprising, to see how the right and especially the far-right, even in America, have attempted to use Jimmy Savile, cynically, to tarnish the BBC.

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"In the fever swamps of the Internet, Jimmy Savile has become a meme. A convenient and easy shorthand to discredit and besmirch the BBC and anyone who works there."

Theroux added: "It isn’t brave and risky to be inflammatory. What is brave is to not get swept along. Not to jump to conclusions, not to cast blame too broadly, not to pander to prejudice, to resist the easy wins of playing to an angry crowd."

The beloved broadcaster also took the opportunity to publicise his production company, Mindhouse's, latest project, Tell Them You Love Me, stating that it's "exactly the kind of project I hoped I might be involved with when I set up Mindhouse".

The new documentary will land on Sky and is set to explore one of recent history's most polarising criminal trials and the case of philosophy professor Anna Stubblefield.

The documentary film will examine the controversial relationship between Stubblefield, a married female professor at the time, and Derrick Johnson, a non-verbal Black man with cerebral palsy.

In his MacTaggart speech, Theroux reveals that after finishing Tell Them You Love Me, the film was turned down by many and made "some of them nervous". He says: "There is risk in taking risks. For programme makers. For channels."

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Watch a clip from Theroux's MacTaggart lecture below:

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