Tony Garnett

Saying goodbye to Barry Hines

We buried Barry Hines’ body and shared memories of the man. His funeral shook me, ambushing me in that way only funerals can.

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BBC Whitepaper

Response to the BBC White Paper

Sighs of relief. Think BBC White Paper could have been worse? Read behind the PR and be very afraid.

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So the penny has finally dropped, eh? Get with the programme, Dave Prentis! Privatisation of the NHS by stealth started with Blair.

Market fundamentalism is an extreme religion. True believers cannot be reasoned with. Their ambition is to save society through extending their belief in the market into every detail of our lives. The market is not just a useful human device. It is the fundamental good.

Cathy Come Home – 50 years on

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home. Cathy Come Home let everybody off the hook. It didn’t put the boot in where it should have done. Earlier this year I wrote a piece for the PCS Union explaining why I believe this.

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Remembering Barry Hines

This is what I read at Barry Hines’ funeral. I suppose each of us has a different Barry in our heads, in our memories.

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Ballykissangel

Off-Cut: Ballykissangel

Financial insecurity is the predicament of every small production company. I needed a banker show, which would pay the house nut for some years. That’s the elusive gold everyone is looking for.

Ballykissangel was the answer. It was aimed at the 8pm Sunday BBC1 slot. I knew that a hit there would be the answer to our financial problems, at least for a while. It’s so important to the BBC that it would also earn goodwill.

Kieron’s idea was a classic fish out of water format, light, warm and comedic, set in a charming world. A young English priest is transferred from an inner city parish to a small community in rural Ireland, Ballykissangel. Plenty of room for romance which cannot be consummated, which linked nicely into the rules of another genre: a love story is not about love, it’s about the impediments to love, or otherwise there’s no drama. Clearly Kieron knew his stuff. I read him. He could write. I met him and liked him. I said yes. She recruited an A list Irish crew, which was important, because Ireland was like Dallas. It had good people, but not the depth of London or Los Angeles. Get in at the top and they’re world class. Miss out, and you’re in trouble.

Setting up Ballykissangel was the first time I was seriously pissed off by the involvement of Sixth Floor executives in creative matters. They were not content with becoming buyers, the sole dictators of what could be made. They were all suddenly experts on screenplays, directors and casting. Some magic must have happened to them when they slept, the Drama Fairy Godmother must have cast her spell, because all these people from Current Affairs, or Daytime or Light Entertainment became drama experts overnight, the night following their appointment to the Sixth Floor. An incredible transformation. Plus, they all wanted to help, to share this new expertise.

So I was told we had to change the title. I said that was what it was called. Ask the writer. End of discussion. There were then numerous ideas for the role of the English priest, the leading character, usually fashionable stars or aspiring stars, all inappropriate. The BBC was so taken with its new marketing ideas, brought in by experts from Proctor and Gamble or wherever, that time and again I had to rebuff the suggestion of so and so, “Who is about to leave East Enders. He’s enormously popular and we want to keep him. Wouldn’t he be perfect for x?”

” No, he wouldn’t. He would be a disaster. He can’t act”.

It all became tiresome and time wasting. I growled at them and they retreated, muttering. But younger and newer producers gave in, to the detriment of their shows. Of course, when their shows bombed, they were blamed. I said at the time that in Hollywood you are messed around but at least you got a swimming pool. In London now you just got messed around.

We decided on Stephen Tompkinson, who I’d seen in the same show as Neil Pearson, Drop the Dead Donkey. The executives were firmly against him, saying he was unproven and unknown. I insisted, saying I thought he was right: he was talented, had comedy timing and was a warm, sympathetic everyman, who the audience would love and root for. If the series worked, he would be a star in three weeks. If it failed, so what?

In the end, they all backed off, not before I lost my temper. I’d taken a short holiday in France, but it was interrupted each day by numerous phone calls, with me wasting energy making this silliness back off. I may as well have stayed at home. Why can’t these amateurs leave it to those who know, who do it professionally? Their interference increases the chances of failure, which they are striving to avoid. Buy it or don’t buy it, but if you do, get out of the way and let me make it. It’s what I do.

The shoot went smoothly and the material had warmth and innocence. The Irish crack sent me back to London the worse for wear each week, but encouraged. In the event, the series was a huge hit from the first episode. I’ve never been able to predict audiences. This one grew and grew. Avoca, where we filmed, became a pilgrimage for fans as far away as Australia, so much so that filming external scenes became difficult. The crowds got in the way.

The success of Ballykissangel was marred by the death of Joy Lale. I had just told her she would be the producer the following year. She was thrilled by this vote of confidence. For months we had all begged her to learn how to drive, so she took lessons and passed her test, buying a new car. She lived with her husband some miles from Avoca, in a house rented for the shoot. They were narrow, winding country lanes. She and a van crashed head on.

I took the next plane back and found her in a Dublin hospital lying inert, surrounded by medical apparatus, her husband and family keeping vigil by her side. At first I was optimistic she would pull through, but after a while the medics shook their heads.

The funerals of those you love are sad, but Joy’s was very difficult. I saw the devastated face of her husband. They had been very much in love and happy together. I saw her bemused family, who had been close to her. This was an exceptional young woman, full of life and energy, embarking on what I knew would be a fine producing career, now dead, her life unlived and her promise unfulfilled. I thought I had lost a daughter, but my loss was nothing compared with what her husband and her family must have felt.

I had learned the lesson of Between The Lines, so I bailed out after two seasons, before my boredom drove me to tinker with its success. If it works, don’t fix it, they say. With me, if it works, leave it alone by leaving it to others. It ran and ran, stabilising the company and allowing me to experiment and bring on some young hopefuls.

TG

The Day the Music Died is the memoir of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett. For the first time, Tony shares exclusive details from his childhood in working-class and war torn Birmingham. He takes readers behind the scenes of a selection of his more famous productions, offering secrets and anecdotes. Some moving and some amusing. Now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Freelancers Fair BECTU 2016

BECTU Freelancers’ Fair 2016: Political Drama

Asked at BECTU how to get political drama made. With painful difficulty was my reply.

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Beware a Tory with his “hurt” face on

Other workers are correct to be wary of the ever reasonable Hunt. Beware a Tory with his “hurt” face on.

Just stand back from the details. The Junior Doctors’ fight is a small step. Instead, think strategically. They do.

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Villa Winning!?!

Crisis at Villa Park!!
Trashing of tradition. Fans in severe distress.
Who is to blame?

This emotionally disorientating behaviour began with the appointment of Steve Bruce as manager, though collusion right up to the boardroom is suspected.

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Sir Arnold Wesker

Arnold Wesker, Jim Allen and Perdition

The controversy over accusations of anti-semitism in political parties coincides with the death of Arnold Wesker. There is a connection.

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BBC Attachments

Off-Cut: Attachments

As the internet gained momentum I made plans to work on it, thinking everyone would be as excited as I was. The only way to learn to do it, is to do it.

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Nurturing creativity in filmmaking

Management was one of the biggest con tricks of the Twentieth Century. It was a useless and exploitative artefact, turning a simple job into a “profession”, with its own jargon and meaningless qualifications.

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“Two steps forward, one step back”: Vladimir Ilyich Hunt goes into enemy territory, The Guardian, and becomes Nye Bevan.

But never believe what they say. Watch what they do.

Gives us “the NHS is safe in our hands” riff. This from the people who are starving it; who promised before the election no top down restructuring, then when elected tore it apart, opening it up to more profit hungry Americans; who pretend concern as GP practices shut down and staff shortages stretch overstretched hospitals;

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Socialism without the free artist becomes Stalinism

I’ve been a trade unionist all my working life. I have always believed that in unity is strength. But for me economism, the trade unionism of not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day, is not enough. I’ve always been on the side of revolution, by which I mean a qualitative shift in the power relations of society, so that workers control capital.

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The Spongers

‘The BBC Made Me’

The BBC did not make me. It influenced me.

Some executives gave me opportunities, for which I remain grateful.  Others tried to muzzle me, stop me from working. In any case, which BBC do you mean? I’ve known at least three.

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Tony Garnett - The Day The Music Died

The Day The Music Died

Some memories are stuck in aspic, vivid and unchanging, and I play them like tracks on an album. My memoir, The Day The Music Died, is officially in your hands now.

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Tory sale of council houses and Labour’s PFI. A connection? Sure!

Show they’re just two wings of same party. But they don’t want you to know that.

Callaghan’s Labour government in the ‘70s favourably discussed plans for the sale of council houses but lost to Thatcher before it became settled policy; the Tories thought through the wizard idea of the Private Finance Initiative. A no brainer. Build new hospitals and keep the debt off the government books.

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Tony Blair

Blair, Milburn and Hattersley: a modern morality

Blair, the man who stole the Labour Party and delivered it to Thatcherism, is now in a different frame of mind. A Land Tax, no less. A tax proposed a century ago by the Liberals, taken up later by Labour, and defeated by the land owning Tories in the Lords. It is indeed a no brainer.

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Junior doctors are the new miners of 1984

Ominous noises from the Tories. They see the doctors as the miners in 84-85. So, a high stakes fight to the death. Whose death will it be?

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