Edinburgh TV Festival: BBC2 controller Patrick Holland said that ‘complexity’ is a key component in the shows he looks to commission for the channel.

Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Holland was joined on stage by key commissioners for BBC2: head of specialist factual and natural history Tom McDonald; head of documentary commissioning Clare Sillery; entertainment commissioning editor Pinki Chambers; and comedy commissioning editor Alex Moody.

Holland said: “BBC2 is a place that embraces complexity, celebrates authorship, finds extraordinary voices and also has a sense of mischief and curiosity.”

Tom McDonald showed a clip of upcoming BBC2 documentary series One Bomb, made by Wall to Wall, which looks at the specific impact of single bombs dropped during the Blitz – both on the location where they fell and on wider society.

He said it was an attempt to tell a familiar story, and to make the Blitz feel real, bloody, dangerous and contemporary again – without being told from the point of view of a presenter ‘from on high’. The first episode goes on to look at the responsibility of the state for the people who were most affected by the bombs – indirectly leading to the creation of the NHS.

Holland said the bombs changed streets and social systems. “That complexity was something that attracted me when it was first pitched to me.”

Sillery, meanwhile, showed a clip of new series Gifted, made by Blast! Films, which is being made over three years. It follows academically gifted 12 to 13 year olds who are on free school meals. Sillery described it as a series about social mobility, but rather than being an authored piece it was told in the kids’ voices and explores what is happening through the children.

She said she looked for three things in docs for BBC2.  Timeliness, she said is critical – films have to about what is happening now. They also have to have scale. “The other thing is ambition, and on BBC2 that means being unafraid of complexity”, and not ironing out difficult parts of the story but trying to tackle it to show what is really happening in the world.

Holland said that rather than describing stories, BBC2 was attempting to take viewers inside the story and to see it through the lens of the emotional.

Sillery also said she was looking for ‘light constructs’ like The Real Marigold Hotel which have a ‘question at their heart”. 

Holland also talked up the importance of comedy and entertainment, citing shows such as The Mash Report and Motherland as well as voices like Frankie Boyle.

“It’s about making the channel engaging, and plugging channel into what is happening in the world, but doing so with lightness of touch.”

Speaking of Frankie Boyle, he said: “We need those voices that challenge us, that take on the big stories, and shake us up out of what we are thinking.”

BBC2 unveils slate of new titles at Edinburgh

Tim Dams

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