To coincide with her Sheffield Doc/Fest panel session today, Clare Sillery, the BBC’s Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion has announced three new single films and three new series.
The new commissions are being made by Expectation, Optomen, Daisybeck, Rogan Scotland, Twenty Twenty and Minnow. See the full programme details below.
Clare Sillery says: ““It’s a really exciting time for documentaries at the BBC with recent highlights such as Uprising, House of Maxwell, Our Falklands War, Then Barbara met Alan and Gazza demonstrating our commitment to telling distinctive British stories and bringing viewers new perspectives on recent events.
Growing and developing new talent is incredibly important to me and I’m delighted to be announcing three impactful new single films from female directors, underscoring our commitment to 50% representation of women directors. Niamh Kennedy, who directed the award-winning Abused by My Girlfriend, is bringing us the story of an ordinary family who found themselves at the centre of a scientific breakthrough in Family 23 while Jemma Gander has unprecedented access Inside AA.
In addition, Imogen Wynell-Mayow directs a new film with Christine McGuinness, The Secret World of Autistic Women and Girls (w/t), which follows on from her and Paddy’s brave film last year and Christine’s discovery of her own diagnosis of autism.
I want our content to connect with viewers right across the country – the three new series we’re announcing today bring unique access to stories from Wales, Scotland and the North of England and I’m really pleased to be working with colleagues in the Nations on these compelling and timely new documentaries.”
Family 23 is an intimate family drama set against the backdrop of a global scientific struggle. This feature documentary tells the story of the Jennings family, an ordinary family from the Midlands, who found themselves in the middle of one of the biggest breakthroughs in the identification and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease; the first family in the world to be diagnosed with hereditary Alzheimer’s.
Despite widespread belief that Alzheimer’s had no familial link, throughout the 1980’s Carol Jennings lobbied doctors, urging them to explore her hunch that her father and his four siblings’ diagnoses with the condition were linked. Years later, after discovering a team at University College London (UCL) studying the disease, Carol’s fears were confirmed; a gene for early-onset dementia was discovered within her family. This meant that Carol had a 50:50 chance of inheriting the condition, and if she did, her two young children, John and Emily, would face the same risk. Carol chose not to test for the disease but as she entered her fifties, things began to unravel.
The research into Carol’s family kicked off the biggest research project ever undertaken into familial Alzheimer’s. After numerous setbacks, this year, UCL is embarking on a new wave of pioneering medical trials in the hope of finding a treatment or a cure.
Using archive footage, diaries, and home movies the film tells the story of Carol’s legacy and follows the dilemmas her children now face. Carol has lived with Alzheimer’s for over ten years and now, in their thirties, John and Emily are confronted with the same difficult question their mother faced years previously: have they inherited the faulty gene?
Family 23, (1×90) for (BBC Two and) iPlayer is being made by Expectation. It was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion. The Executive Producers are Colin Barr and Arthur Carey; and the Director is Niamh Kennedy. The Commissioning Editor is Emma Loach.
Christine McGuinness: The Secret World of Autistic Women and Girls (w/t)
This new film follows the well-received BBC One documentary, Paddy and Christine McGuinness: Our Family and Autism, which first aired in December 2021. The hour-long documentary will uncover the untold story of how autism in women and girls has been ignored and misunderstood by science and society – often seen as something mostly affecting men – raising new and shocking questions around the effects of gender bias in diagnoses and support.
Christine will discover this, and more, as she goes on a heartfelt journey in search of practical answers for the thousands of other women like herself in the UK, who are spending years living undiagnosed or masking their symptoms, to the detriment of their mental health and wellbeing.
Christine McGuinness said: “My diagnosis is a positive thing and a big relief. But it’s just the devastation I feel for myself as a child. I’m heartbroken for that Christine.”
Christine McGuinness: The Secret World of Autistic Women and Girls (w/t) 1×60 for BBC One and iPlayer was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Documentary Commissioning and is being made by Optomen where the Executive Producers are Nick Hornby and Tina Flintoff and the Producer/ Director is Imogen Wynell-Mayow. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Emma Loach.
Saved – Inside AA
Saved – Inside AA (w/t) brings unprecedented access to Alcoholics Anonymous, which is marking its 75th anniversary in the UK in 2022. This film explores the origins of the organisation, its religious foundations and what still brings so many people through its doors. At a time when AA meeting attendance and calls to the helpline have increased by 35%, the documentary will join members inside a meeting for the very first time. Anonymity is at the heart of AA and to protect the identities of members inside the fellowship, a range of techniques, including cutting edge technology, will be used.
The film will explore the organisation’s roots in the fervent pre-war Christianity of the USA, its establishment here in post-war Britain and how evoking a Higher Power continues to work in today’s more secular society. It will examine what makes “the rooms” so powerful, and how simply sharing your story at meetings plays such a crucial role in sobriety. The documentary will ask how it feels to discover the most precious gift of all is sobriety, and how it feels to be saved?
Saved – Inside AA (w/t) 1×60 for BBC Two and iPlayer was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History & Religion. It is being made by Daisybeck Studios where the Director is Jemma Gander and the Exec Producer is Pamela Gordon. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Daisy Scalchi.
Body on the Beach
How did Annie Börjesson die? BBC Three and BBC Scotland have co-commissioned Rogan Scotland to make a 4×30’ series to try to find the answer to this mystery. The series will look at the death of a young Swedish woman, Annie Börjesson, whose body was found on Prestwick beach in South West Scotland in 2005.
Immediately labelled as suicide by authorities, numerous question marks now exist over that verdict. Investigating the mysterious circumstances leading up to and following her death, the series will open up this cold case, piecing together information in the public domain and turning up new evidence.
Body on the Beach (4×30) was commissioned for BBC Three and BBC Scotland by Fiona Campbell, Controller, BBC Three, Clare Sillery, Head of Documentaries, History and Religion and Louise Thornton, Head of Commissioning, BBC Scotland. The series is directed for Rogan Scotland by Liam McCardle and executive produced by Mark Hedgecoe. Emma Loach is commissioning editor for BBC Three and David Harron for BBC Scotland.
There are things that happen in the world that cannot be explained. However, much we understand about science and the workings of the universe, some experiences have no rational explanation: phenomena that cannot be categorised, events that defy all logic.
One of these chilling, strange incidents unfolded in north Wales over several years from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. It is a case that has fascinated everyone who encounters it; a mystery that refuses to unravel.
Paranormal (w/t) is a stylish new BBC documentary series that follows a present day investigation into this case. The series follows on the shoulder of Radio 1 DJ Sian Eleri, who was born and raised in north Wales, as she unpicks the threads of the story. Along the way, Sian will encounter experts and eye-witnesses – from exorcists to psychologists, scientists to paranormal researchers – who offer a range of explanations for what happened.
At a time when there is a growing fascination with the paranormal, particularly among young people in Britain today, the series is a timely exploration of the broader truths behind these strange phenomena.
Paranormal (4 x 30) is a co-commission for BBC Three and BBC Wales. It was commissioned by Fiona Campbell, Controller BBC Three and Clare Sillery, Head of Documentaries, History & Religion and Nick Andrews, Head of Commissioning for BBC Cymru Wales. It is being made by Twenty Twenty where the Director of Programmes is Ruth Kelly, the Series Director is Rory Jackson and Hugo Pettitt is the Series Producer. The BBC Commissioning Editors are Max Gogarty and Sian Harris.
Detectives: Hunting an Organised Crime Group (w/t)
This acclaimed series, The Detectives returns for a fourth series this time focusing on a specialist police unit in Rochdale and their multi-layered battle to bring down one of Greater Manchester’s most notorious Organised Crime Groups (OCG).
Told across three episodes and made over three years with a truly unprecedented depth of access, this compelling and shocking series follows the police operation as it gathers pace and grows in scale to encompass multiple cases, including drug supply, abduction, money laundering, attempted murder and the grooming of children as drug dealers.
The Detectives: Hunting an Organised Crime Group (3×60) was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Documentaries, History & Religion for BBC Two and iPlayer. It is being made by Minnow Films and the BBC Commissioning Editor is Hamish Fergusson.
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