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BBC drama: left-of-centre or just left field?

Poor Ben Stephenson, he’s probably sitting in his controller of BBC drama commissioning office (door open, naturally), head held wearily in his hands.

But then, everybody at the BBC is probably doing that right now, given that a day doesn’t go by without somebody having a go at the Corporation (some with good reason, most without, in my humble opinion of course). But Stephenson seems to weathering a particular storm at the moment (even from within the Beeb itself). It started with veteran TV producer Tony Garnett having a pop at the ethos operating within BBC drama right now (covered on TV Today last week).

And so, as you’d expect, Stephenson invoked right of reply, and also sat for an interview for the Guardian, which surfaced yesterday (and seems to paint a somewhat cautious portrait). But it seems that some of Stephenson’s words from his first response piece have got some danders up, words which in retrospect might have been misjudged (if totally innocent).

“And with passion comes debate, discussion, tension, disagreement. If we didn’t all think differently, have different ideas of what works and what doesn’t, wouldn’t our lives, and more importantly, our TV screens be less interesting? We need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncracy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking.”

It’s the reference to “left of centre” that has upset people, particularly the Conservatives (well there’s a surprise.

“No journalist or editor should be following a political agenda, let alone someone as senior as a controller,”

Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said in the press (and trust the Daily Mail to pounce on this one with such gusto). But let’s pause to consider that Stephenson was not speaking politically here - in fact, it makes more sense to assume he wasn’t speaking politically.

I mean, why would he be speaking from a political viewpoint? I would think it more likely Stephenson means “left field”, to be radical or experimental. Yes, “left of centre” sounds political if you want it to, but it doesn’t make any sense given context of the debate here.

That’s my reading of it anyway. Not that it would be like a politician to get all sweaty palmed and go tilting at windmills when there’s some quick political point scoring to be had - especially when the BBC are concerned.

Whatever you think of Ben Stephenson’s stewardship of BBC drama (and he’s barely been in the job a year), can we at least give him some credit for not being that stupid.

Or am I being na├»ve and tilting at my own windmill here? This one, clearly, could run and run…


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Absolutely - much ado about nothing. A slip of the tongue / semantics issue - he just means he wants people to (in management speak) 'think outside the box'. At least, that's how I'd read it.

I read it as I think it was meant: commissioning that sought to stray from the status quo (police and nurses). Maybe Mr. Hunt could have given Mr. Stephenson a ring before seeing red. And blue.

C'mon, people. "Left of centre" is clearly a political term. It is quite strained to try to say he meant to say "left field". Moreover, "coming out of left field" wouldn't even make sense in this context as it has a pejorative connotation (e.g. "why did he make that strange comment? That really came out of left field")
This incident wonderfully encapsulates the highly insulated atmosphere in which the "left of centre" BBC types live. They think that there is an automatic association of idiosyncracy and stubborness with left wing thinking and view themselves as the heroic provocateurs fighting the inert, conservative masses and the status quo.

You know and I know perfectly well that he meant 'left field' - though the fact he mixed up his metaphors so badly says all you need to know about the man!

Think more perfect please:

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