Former BBC World Service drama head Gordon House has lamented the broadcaster’s decision to axe the 14 plays it broadcasts annually, claiming they provide a global showcase of the UK’s writing and acting talent. The plays form the majority of the station’s regular drama output and Mr House, who worked as the station’s head of drama until 2000, described the World Service’s decision to axe the plays from 2011 as “very sad”. He claimed actors and writers would lose a valuable source of employment as a result.
“I don’t think drama should be exempt from all the financial pressure the BBC is under and I am more sympathetic to the cutbacks they have had to make to Radio 4’s Friday Play. That is very upsetting, but everybody has to take a hit. However, to cut a whole genre is very sad indeed,” he said.
Mr House, now a prolific radio drama producer, said the BBC had a “duty to the artistic community” and added: “My worry is, if you take away the whole of the drama output of the World Service, than that is another area where writers and actors will no longer be able to compete for work.” The World Service has broadcast drama for 75 years, with output formerly including the soap Westway and a weekly drama slot, totalling more than 50 hours a year.
In 2008, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain complained about plans to reduce output to just 14 plays a year, and claimed that a decline in output since 2005 had resulted in a loss of 100 hours of commissions for writers and more than 600 days’ work for actors. In May, The Stage revealed that the future of drama on the World Service was in jeopardy, and staff were informed last month that the network would not be broadcasting its 14 plays a year from April, 2011. It said that the bi-annual International Playwright Competition would continue to run.
A spokesman blamed the “increasingly difficult financial climate at home and abroad”, which had already seen it cut £10.9 million from the £272 million settlement agreed in 2007. “These are tough decisions, taken carefully and with great thought,” he said.
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