Jack Thorne, writer of Channel 4's Help and The Virtues, has said he fears for dramas that tell "specific British" stories as UK broadcasters cater more for a global audience.


Speaking at this year's Edinburgh International TV Festival, Thorne explained that rising production costs mean that the majority of British drama now requires investment from outside the UK, which means series have to serve viewers worldwide.

"In terms of drama in particular, all these companies have descended on our country and are making a lot of shows, which has meant the cost of shows have gone up and up and up, because skilled labour – and it's a wonderful thing – has become more expensive," Thorne said.

"So every show now, really, needs co-production money – you can't make a drama just with British money, or it's very, very hard to make a drama just with British money, so you are starting to see 'worldwide' being a thing that we all have to worry about."

Sean Bean in Time
Sean Bean in BBC One drama Time BBC/James Stack

Thorne singled out 2021 three-parter Time, written by Jimmy McGovern and starring Sean Bean as a prison inmate, as a "distinctively British" series that might not have been made if all drama had to be commissioned with a global audience in mind.

"My worry in that respect is with things like social realism," he said. "When you're making a show like Time... [my worry is] how those shows, which are very specific British – what was [former media minister] John Whittingdale's phrase, 'distinctively British' – how those shows are going to be made at all.

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"So this is a worrying moment for all those sorts of reasons. It'll become even more worrying if Channel 4 is got rid of and sold [...] and even worse if the BBC gets cut to pieces, as seems likely."

Jack Thorne, Armando Iannucci, David Olusoga OBE, and Dorothy Byrne attend the Edinburgh International TV Festival 2022
Dorothy Byrne, David Olusoga OBE, Jack Thorne and Armando Iannucci attend the Edinburgh International TV Festival 2022

Thorne was speaking at the MacTaggart Legacy panel which saw the BAFTA-winning writer appear alongside writer/director/producer Armando Iannucci, British historian and broadcaster David Olusoga OBE, and Channel 4's former Head of News and Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne, with all four revisiting the MacTaggart lectures they'd each delivered at previous editions of the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Following Thorne's comments, Iannucci urged British public service broadcasters to remain distinctive, arguing that this is what allows them to secure co-production deals and get programmes made.

"The reason these production companies – the HBO's and Netflix's – come here, and do co-productions with the BBC and Channel 4 and ITV, is that the reputation of the BBC and Channel 4 and ITV is so immense," he said.

"They want to have that label at the end of the show, saying it's a co-production. But if you say, 'Channel 4 should be more like Netflix', you're actually destroying that brand, you're destroying the essence of what makes it so valuable internationally. You're ruining its reputation."

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