Televisual reports from yesterday’s BBC factual launch where acting BBC director of Factual, Arts and Classical Music, Fiona Campbell, led the presentation of a slate of newly announced shows and sneak peaks from upcoming titles.

Upcoming productions include two major natural history titles. As well as relaunching Frozen Planet after an 11-year hiatus, the BBC Studios Natural History Unit is filming epic six-parter, Kingdom, a co-production with BBC America that follows four animal families. The series breaks out of the closed episode tradition in the genre, to present a multi-arced series, says Jack Bootle, head of Commissioning for Science and Natural History.

Shot in Zambia across four years, (with a tx of 2025), Kingdom marks the longest time that a BBC Natural History Unit production has embedded in a location. It has allowed the team to create a more sustainable infrastructure, both using and training local crew.

40 years on from the death of Terrence Higgins from an AIDS-related illness, Jack Bootle announced The AIDS Tapes, from Wall to Wall. Based on audio archive from the British Library, the production uses lip synch with actors animating the recorded voices of a group of men, some of whom died in the AIDS crisis.

Clare Sillery, head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion has  ordered Trouble at Top Shop, a two-parter from Voltage TV, which reveals the rise and fall of the iconic fashion store as told by the women who built its success.

The Garden is behind a feature documentary to mark the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War that will hear directly from those who fought in the conflict.

The award-winning team behind Keo Films’ Once Upon a Time in Iraq is shooting Once Upon a Time in Belfast (w/t) with director James Bluemel. The four-parter will tell the human stories of the conflict in Northern Ireland using a similar mix of testimony and archive. It’s a co-commission between BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Two, co-produced by Keo and Walk on Air Films.

A further series of 72 Films Rise of the Nazis, looking at Hitler’s last days and Blast! Films drug series High are also in the pipeline.

Catherine Catton, Head of Commissioning, Factual Entertainment and Popular Factual announced Scarlett’ Driving School for BBC One, from Frieda TV. Filmed in Teesside, the 10-parter is a co-commission with BBC England, featuring Scarlett Moffatt.

Catton said that she was on the look-out for ideas with a bit more “mischief”, to build on the escapism of titles that scored highly in lockdown. She pointed to BBC 3 title The Unbreakables as a good example of the tone she’s looking for.

Ade Adepitan, Steve Backshall, Liz Bonnin, Gordon Buchanan, Chris Packham and Ella al-Shamahi were also announced as presenters of ambitious environmental series, Our Changing Planet.


Further Programme Details

Falklands: The Frontline Story (working title), The Garden

Marking the fortieth anniversary of the Falklands War, this new 90-minute film, from the producers of the award-winning Gun No. 6, traces dramatic and deeply personal stories of the war and its long echo, through ten of the British soldiers who fought it on the frontline. Many have never shared these memories before.

The film will let these men take control of their story, give dignity to their experience and reveal the human truth behind the headlines. Falklands: The Frontline Story, w/t (1×90) for BBC Two and iPlayer was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion. It is produced by The Garden, part of ITV Studios, where the Executive Producer is Zac Beattie. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Hamish Fergusson.


Trouble at Top Shop, Voltage TV

For nearly forty years Topshop’s iconic London flagship store dominated Oxford Circus, loved by women of all ages, from all backgrounds, including the likes of Kate Moss and Beyoncé.

This new documentary series tells the story of an iconic high street brand, its rise to global dominance and its fall from the dizzy heights of success.

Launched in the 1960s in the basement of a dowdy department store in Sheffield  this youth brand struggled to find its place and by the 80s was known as Flopshop.

But a change in fortune was on its way. It turned out they a secret weapon had joined their ranks – Jane Shepherdson. She rose from lowly distributor,  to head buyer to brand director. She built a team of visionary women. Their collective mission was to inspire and innovate and transform the brand into a multibillion-pound company.

When Sir Phillip Green bought Arcadia in 2002, Topshop went on to become a global phenomenon, opening stores across the world and its profits soared. In 2006 he was knighted for services to retail and feted as King of the High Street. But within ten years, his empire was crumbling. The hierarchies and corporate culture that had dominated since the 1990s, were being challenged both from within the boardroom and from outside.

This new series reveals the stories of those who adapted and thrived and those who failed to recognise and embrace the changes they needed to survive.

Trouble at Top Shop, a 2×60’ for BBC Two and iPlayer was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History and Religion and is being made by Voltage TV Productions. The Executive Producers are Jo Abel and Sanjay Singhal and the Director is Kate Scholefield. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Emma Loach.


Once Upon a Time in Belfast (working title), Keo Films and Walk on Air Films

Led by director James Bluemel, the team behind the multi-award winning documentary series ‘Once Upon a Time in Iraq’ returns with a new four part series telling the human stories of the people, communities and families caught up in the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland.

Through first-person testimony, the series will bring a fresh perspective on the Troubles, throwing light on the reality of lives lived in places where the past still casts a long shadow.

Mixing archive footage and personal testimonies from all sides of the conflict, untold stories emerge from the decades of war that tore apart communities living cheek-by-jowl, and still threatens the fragile peace more than two decades on.

Eddie Doyle, Head of Content Commissioning, BBC Northern Ireland says: “This is an important co-commission and will provide a new perspective on the events and legacies of The Troubles. It’s a challenging subject and one that continues to affect everyday life for many people in Northern Ireland. This series will capture some of their stories and the human cost of conflict. And it will be a powerful addition to other BBC programming in this area.”

Once Upon a Time in Belfast (4×60) was commissioned by Clare Sillery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, History & Religion and Eddie Doyle, Head of Content Commissioning, BBC Northern Ireland. The four part series is a co-commission between BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Two, and will be co-produced by Keo Films and Walk on Air Films. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Hamish Fergusson, the Executive Producers are Will Anderson and Andrew Palmer and the Series Producers are Vicky Mitchell and Rachel Hooper.


Kingdom, BBC Studios Natural History Unit

One of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by BBC Studios Natural History Unit, Kingdom is a dramatic 6×60’ series for BBC One and iPlayer – filmed in one spectacular location over four years. It chronicles the real-life sagas of four African animal families, all vying for dominance in a remote and fertile river valley in Zambia: one of the most stunning landscapes on Earth.

With more time in the field than any previous NHU production, never has a BBC landmark followed a group of characters so intensely over such a long period or spent so much time embedded in a single habitat. The audience will witness for the first time how the lives and fates of our four groups – leopards, hyenas, wild dogs and lions – are inextricably linked as they battle for supremacy over the valley, and wrestle for power within their own family units. These gripping real-life storylines, spread across five hours of television, will be more dramatic than any work of fiction. As well as the intense power struggles between these top predators, we’ll see how a colourful supporting cast, from huge elephant herds to the dung beetles beneath them, impact our central characters in surprising and diverse ways.

Working in close partnership with scientists, whose research stretches back over 20 years, we can reveal our characters’ true-life stories with scrupulous accuracy. Records of ancient rivalries, internal battles for hierarchy and status, and epic shifts in seasons will allow our filming to uncover secrets of these animals’ lives that have never been seen before. These discoveries – and how they may lead to further protecting these vulnerable species – will be showcased in a sixth episode, dedicated to science and conservation. What does the future hold for our cast of creatures, and for the conservation of wildlife across the African continent?

The NHU will also be working closely with locally-based talent – both employing already established local crew and developing the next generation of Zambian wildlife filmmakers to chronicle this truly cinematic saga.

Kingdom, a 6×60’ series for BBC One and iPlayer, is made by BBC Studios Natural History Unit, co-produced by BBC America. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History. The Executive Producer is Mike Gunton, the Series Editor is Simon Blakeney and the Series Producer is Felicity Lanchester. It will tx in 2025.


THE AIDS Tapes, Wall to Wall

40 years ago a mysterious disease first appeared in Britain’s gay community. As the deadly virus ravaged young lovers and friends, the stigma of the ‘gay plague’ incited a backlash of ignorance and fear across the country.

At a time when few gay men felt they could talk openly, the stories of many of those first affected by the AIDS crisis have been lost. However, a small group of historians set out to record interviews with those living at the heart of the unfolding epidemic, and these tapes were archived at the British Library.

The AIDS Tapes will bring these original recordings to a broadcast audience for the first time – and will be broadcast to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Terry Higgins, one of the very first people to die of an AIDS related illness in the UK.

Actors lip syncing the original voices capture the men, their vibrancy, hopes and fears, as they were at the time, in the 1980s and 1990s. They are supported by interviews with the activists, doctors, nurses and survivors who were there by their sides.

Working with key experts and organisations including the Terrence Higgins Trust, this series will retell an unfolding scientific and medical detective story, exploring how doctors worked to discover the virus, how it was transmitted, how it could be prevented, and ultimately how it could be treated.

The AIDS Tapes is produced by Wall to Wall West, in partnership with The Open University, for BBC Two and iPlayer. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning Science and Natural History. The Executive Producer is Leanne Klein, Series Producer Morgana Pugh and Series Director Mark Henderson.


Our Changing Planet, BBC Studios Natural History Unit

Set to launch this April, BBC One and iPlayer’s ambitous series Our Changing Planet has confirmed a line-up of presenters: Ade Adepitan, Steve Backshall, Liz Bonnin, Gordon Buchanan, Chris Packham and Ella al-Shamahi.

For seven years, the acclaimed filmmakers of BBC Studios Natural History Unit have been closely documenting six key habitats around the world: California, Iceland, the Maldives, Kenya, Cambodia and Brazil. And over seven years, BBC viewers will watch as these habitats – and the species living in them – undergo extraordinary change.

These locations are bellwethers for the health of our planet. As pressure on the natural world increases, what happens here will happen elsewhere. As the series goes on, we will witness rapidly unfolding ecological change and observe surprising new animal behaviours as species adapt to their shifting environments.

But this is also a story of hope. In each habitat, we will meet incredible conservationists who are working to turn the tide, preserve ecosystems and save species from extinction.

The series will launch in April 2022 as part of the BBC’s centenary celebrations and return every year for the following six years – making it the longest environmental project ever commissioned for television.

The next few years will see enormous change around the globe. The world’s population is set to increase by almost one billion, one million species could face extinction and our seas are on course to rise by up to 20cm, flooding land where 147 million people currently live. Our Changing Planet will be the definitive document of a critical moment for life on earth.

Our Changing Planet, a 2×60’ series for BBC One and iPlayer, is made by BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, co-produced by PBS. It was commissioned Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History and the Executive Producer is Rosemary Edwards. International distribution will be handled by BBC Studios.


Scarlett’s Driving School, Frieda TV

Hold on to your L-plates and standby for joy, laughter and tears as Scarlett Moffatt – who has failed her driving test 13 times – opens the doors to her exclusive driving school.

Across the country, learner drivers have been missing out on driving lessons with professional instructors during the pandemic. Instead, the teaching duties have fallen to those closest to them, their unfortunate family members, spouses and closest friends. It’s testing loved ones’ relationships just as much as the learner’s driving skills.

But help is here as Scarlett Moffatt welcomes Brits who are struggling to pass their test to her unique five-day driving school in Teesside.

Each learner driver and their amateur teacher (their long suffering family member or friend) will be given some much-needed help from some of the UK’s top professional driving instructors.

After an intensive crash course, can the duos work together to pass their test after just five days at the school?

Aisling O’Connor, Head of TV Commissioning for BBC England, says: “Scarlett is the perfect person for BBC England to work with, as we do our job of reflecting the people and places that matter to our audiences up and down the country.

Scarlett’s Driving School (10×30’) is a BBC Factual and BBC England co-commission and is being made for BBC One and iPlayer by Frieda.TV.

It was commissioned by Catherine Catton, Head of Commissioning for Factual Entertainment and Popular Factual, and Aisling O’Connor, Head of TV Commissioning BBC England. The Executive Producer is Jon Lloyd and the BBC Commissioning Editors are Nasfim Haque and Tony Parker.

Pippa Considine

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