Armando Iannucci to U.K. Politicians: Leave the BBC Alone

EDINBURGH — British satirist Armando Iannucci — the creator of HBO show “Veep” and co-creator of Alan Partridge — has warned that the British government risks undermining the U.K. TV sector through its sustained attack on the BBC.

He urged U.K. politicians to stop ignoring the TV production sector and called on the British television business to become more commercial overseas.

Delivering the MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Intl. Festival, Iannucci, who was born in Scotland, said that Americans to whom he’s spoken think the British are “going mad” as they read daily stories of “powering down” the U.K.’s television service.

Dismantling the BBC is “madness,” said the program-maker, who has spent the majority of his career working for the public broadcaster, and to which he said he owed his professional life.

Repeating his view that the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, should be privatized, Iannucci warned that the new U.K. Conservative government risked sapping the strength of a world-class content industry.

He said politicians “talk of cutting (the BBC) down to size, of reining in imperialist ambitions, of hiving off, of limiting the scope, with all the manic glee of a doctor urging his patient to consider the benefits of assisted suicide.”

Iannucci recommended that “if the (BBC) license fee is under strain, then let’s supplement it, not carve it up, by being more commercial abroad.

“Use the BBC’s name, one of the most recognized brands in the world… to capitalize financially overseas, be more aggressive in selling our shows, through advertising, through proper international subscription channels, freeing up BBC Worldwide to be fully commercial, whatever it takes.”

He added: “Protect public service broadcasting at home by displaying the arrogance of our convictions abroad.”

The feeling that the British TV community felt under attack was compounded by “foreign owners… buying into our networks, when we should be beating the world with our shows.”

He criticized the British government for “lopping 20% off (the BBC’s) budget without discussion,” and claimed that domestic politicians had got the British TV industry “completely wrong.” This was because they saw it through “the filter of their own prejudices.”

Iannucci said that “British television needs to be at its strongest. With a big global fight ahead, we need to consolidate all our talent and expertise.”

“Despite changing ways of consuming, people still hunt out quality shows. It is therefore more important than ever that we have strong, popular channels, highly respected for their quality, that act as beacons.

“Our program-making skills are not just a vague part of our heritage. They are the primary economic component of our success,” said Iannucci.

Economically, Britain’s creative industries were bigger than “the car and oil and gas industries put together” — representing nearly 8% of GDP. Yet “the panel of experts” recently appointed by the government to look at the BBC as part of its review of the BBC’s Royal Charter contained not a single person from “the cast and crew list.”

Iannucci wanted to know why British politicians routinely ignore creative talent, unlike in the U.S., where, when shooting “Veep” for HBO in Baltimore, the state governor visited the set.

He praised HBO for “placing the creative voice front and center” and for its lean management structure, which involved him dealing with one or sometimes two execs.

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