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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Offering stuff to the BBC

When I say 'stuff' I mean work, although I'm sure they'd be receptive to a nice cake.

Yes - the kids are downstairs smoking and watching porn so I thought I'd put my writer hat on for a minute. The BBC R4 offers round is over until mid autumn when it all starts up again. I've offered some stuff; not cakes, although the more I think about it, the more it seems that tucking a nice ginger cake among my ideas might be more likely to result in a commission.

This is how it works. Twice a year, as a writer, you're supposed to be bursting with ideas, which you send to your producer. He or she sends them to the top brass at R4 who either say no, or you get to do more work on them. It's worth knowing that about 80% of R4's output is produced by the in-house producers, so sleep with one of them first. If none of them fancy you, you'll have to send your ideas to out house producer, (which sounds like an out house toilet - sort of cold, abandoned, rickety and at the bottom of the garden). These outhouse producers (or Independents as they prefer to be called) produce the remaining 20%. Yeah - really bad odds. Although so far I've had all my luck with Independents and bugger all with the in house ones.

Then you expand your idea to about two pages, send it to your producer again who sticks it on the R4 computer and you wait for about two months. They used to send out letters to producers which must have been like receiving exam results twice a year. Now they just post the results online. It's hilarious when everybody gets online at the same time and the system crashes. Not. Your precious offer will either be rejected, shortlisted, or offered a conditional commission.

So far for R4 I've written a play, Beryl du Jour TX in 2004, and two Woman's Hour Dramas, the first called Cooking for Michael Collins, about the real life cook, spy and gunrunner to Collins in 2006 and the second, 43 Years in the Third Form, about girls comics, in 2007. I've also had shedloads of stuff rejected, and it never gets any easier.

Sometimes I have this fantasy that every single Independent goes on strike and refuses to offer R4 diddlysquat. That's the trouble with being in a position where there's always more product than you need. Occasionally furious writers send stinky letters to high up members of the BBC, accusing them of arrogance, short-sightedness, arrogance, high-handed behaviour. And in many cases they may be right. The trouble is, their letters just boil down to: How dare you reject my idea you bastards, albeit written with longer words and considerably more literary illusion.

So in few months time, having offered three ideas, I'll either be smiling smugly, or ranting and accusing R4 of being arrogant, high handed bastards who wouldn't know a good idea etc etc.

Ah! I hear scratching at my study door. Either the kids or the kittens need feeding. Boo.


podpilot said...

Great post, Jane, and I am glad I have discovered your blog.

I thought writers new to the BBC had to submit through 'writersroom'? Perhaps things change (and you deal with producers, in-house and out) once you have had work accepted?

Jane said...

Hi Podpilot (interesting name!)

You can submit through writersroom of course. But with the bbc as in life, personal contact is always better. The best thing to do is listen to R4, and when you hear a programme you genuinely like, get the producer's name, write to him or her (you can easily find out contact details on the internet) and write to them with your idea. Producers need ideas, so don't be shy! I'd suggest listening to some afternoon plays as if you're totally new to radio writing, as the bbc do try to commission new writers for that slot.

Best of luck!

podpilot said...

Thank you, Jane, this is very helpful advice. 'Podpilot' is one of those names that you have to invent when someone has taken your favourite gmail address!