Speaking at the Edinburgh Festival, BBC2 controller Patrick Holland described the corporation’s proactive approach to diversity and encouraging diverse crews. “We’ve got to stop looking at hiring people as being risky,” he said.

Holland cited a recent intercession on a new series where the BBC asked the production company to swap a well-known programme-maker for a diverse team. “Why get x to make it when it’s an extraordinary opportunity to bring in diverse film-makers?” asked Holland.

Holland previewed a clip from upcoming series The Forgotten Empire – “powerful and timely” –  presented by historian and broadcaster David Olusoga, who delivered this year’s MacTaggart lecture. The four-parter is being made by Olusoga’s label Uplands TV.

Holland revealed three new commissions, including a new four-parter for Workerbee and Green Door Productions where Idris Elba is giving up six months of time to make Idris Elba’s Fight School, an experimental school in London with seven carefully selected recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds.

With sport docs having risen up the broadcast agenda, BBC 2 has its own take on the Premiere League, The Premiership: A Whole New Ball Game (w/t), a four parter from Story Films in association with Studio 99 on the League’s decade-long history.

21st Century Women is an upcoming two parter from BBC Studios. The series will bring together Kirsty Wark and a cast of five women with strong and differing opinions to explore the issues facing women in 2020.

Talking about how Covid has affected the zeitgeist, Holland described “people craving the familiar to feel special. They want the stuff you might have overlooked, it suddenly has a real vividness …There’s a real slowing down.”

Speaking together with Holland were Clare Sillery, BBC head of Documentary Commissioning and Jack Bootle, head of  Commissioning for Science and Natural History.  As a response to the ‘slowing down’ Bootle pointed to recently announced Mindful Escapes on BBC 4 which taps into the BBC’s Natural History archive, overlaying images with mindfulness exercises narrated by mindfulness guru Andy Puddicombe.  Also amateur jewellery competition All that Glitters, hosted by Katherine Ryan.

With Covid having caused set backs across so many shows, Bootle described how  Springwatch, which performed strongly this year, was “a rare example of a format enhanced by lockdown rather than hobbled…starting to be a bit tired and moth-eaten round the edges, but had to reinvent.” Autumn watch will run across two weeks, instead of one, at the end of October.

Bootle outlined three things that he says don’t get pitched enough: narrative box sets – real life stories with thrills and cliff hangers that have a science, medicine or engineering take at their heart; big names that unlock stories in an accessible way (such as Chris Packham or Freddie Flintoff); and high end access for medicine, infrastructure or engineering.


Pippa Considine

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