Archive for the Coventry Conversations Category

Coventry Conversation: Paul Abbott

Posted in Coventry Conversations with tags , , , on October 7, 2010 by Mick Le Mare

Today I went to Another Coventry Conversation, this weeks conversation was with Paul Abbott, the writer of Shameless. You may notice that a previous post on this blog is also about a Conversation with Paul, this is the second year in a row that he has come in to talk at the University but the theme of this years talk was somewhat different.

Last year Paul talked about his previous work and how it had all been used as a platform to get to where he is today, talking about other programmes he has written such as ‘State of Play’. This year he took a different approach and began to talk in depth about his involvement with the production of Shameless and particularly about the start of Shameless USA. It is extremely interesting to hear Paul talk about the differences and similarities the two shows have, how do you translate a British working class drama into a North American one? He insists that the writers have done a fantastic job and it will be a success but only time will tell – he is rarely wrong about these things but this has to be the most the most adventurous thing he has been involved in yet. We were lucky enough to be shown a small section of Shameless USA and I have to say it did look impressive. Enormous amounts of money have been ploughed into the making of it, as is the American way, and from what I have seen the programme certainly has very high production values.

We also had a short preview of the new British series which provided much hilarity to the audience, the scene we were shown will shock and delight the British public in equal measure when it hits our screens.

Although I can’t profess to being a fan of shameless the more I listen to Paul talk the more he fascinates me, he is very open and honest about his working class roots and the family members all his characters are based on and this makes his journey to success just as fascinating as any story line he writes. I look forward to his visit next year!   


Coventry Conversation: Nick Owen

Posted in Articles, Coventry Conversations with tags , , , , , on October 6, 2010 by Mick Le Mare

Today I attended my first of the New season of Coventry Conversations. For those of you unaware of Coventry Conversations they are a series of guest lectures given at Coventry University, many exciting people come in to talk and pass on thier experiences and knowledge.

This week Nick Owen, the number 1 presenter on Midlands Today came in to talk mainly about his career but also to comment and reflect on the changes that have happened and are going to happen in the television industry.

It was fascinating listening to Mr Owen talk about the peaks of his career. As it was before my time I was unaware before I heard from the man himself that he had hosted the 1988 Olympics for ITV and Italia ’90 for the same channel. It was particularly interesting listening to him talking about the skills needed to perform such a job. During last academic year I was part of a group of students who produced an ‘as live’ television show and have since been fascinated by the adaptability and speed of thought required by presenters of live shows especially. Mr Owen spoke about the need to be affable and relaxed on the outside whilst listening to the endless stream of information from the gallery being fed to him via his earpiece.

On the subject of coming across in the right way to his viewers he talked about the techniques he uses to detach himself from the fact he is talking to millions and millions of people. The one that sticks in the mind is his trick of always imagining he is talking to his friend. A personable and approachable persona is so important to a presenter, people become so familiar with your face, your mannerisms and your on screen personality that you have a responsibility to be consistent. As a presenter you can’t have a grumpy day or appear different to usual, this must be hard.

I really enjoyed Nick Owen’s talk. Later this week Paul Abbot, the writer of Shameless, will be talking about the success of Shameless and about it’s future American debut.

Coventry Conversations -Jana Bennett- Director of BBC Vision

Posted in Coventry Conversations with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2010 by Mick Le Mare

Last friday I attended another Coventry Conversation, this week’s guest was Jana Bennett of the BBC and I was really excited to hear from such an eminent figure in British broadcasting. She is the most powerful woman in the BBC and holds huge responsibility – Jana heads all the BBC TV channels, BBC1 right through to CBeebies.

As I have written before on the blog I am firmly of the belief that the BBC is one of the most important aspects of British life, it still produces the best television, the best radio and runs arguably the best website in the world. For all its problems the BBC is absolutely vital to our society. The BBC archives, the BBC website, the BBC World Service, BBC Sport, BBC Comedy and BBC News are absolutely second to none in terms of quality, intellect and public service.

Unfortunately, unlike most other Coventry Conversations, I was left uninspired and disappointed by Mrs Bennett’s talk. She played a fifteen minute montage of popular BBC programs and spoke blandly about her role, her influences, her rise to the top and the people she has come across along the way, it seemed to be more self indulgent than genuinely informative. It would have been fascinating to hear her take on some of the most interesting debates about the BBC but she seemed to shy away from these. The license fee, BBC wages, BBC 6Music, the BBC website and the continued misunderstanding regarding sports broadcast rights would all have been so appropriate on the day the BBC was headline news for announcing their proposed cutbacks but she addressed none of these properly even when questioned further.

I can’t be left inspired by every conversation but it was a shame because I really was expecting so much more. Maybe that is because the excellent series of Conversations VERY rarely disappoints.

‘Shameless, TV’s Shakespeare’ by Paul Abbott

Posted in Coventry Conversations with tags , on November 15, 2009 by Mick Le Mare

Screen shot 2009-11-15 at 17.49.10

Yesterday I attended another Coventry Conversation, they really are such a great resource for students at Coventry. It is fascinating to listen to such eminent figures in the arts on a weekly basis. Yesterday’s conversation was from Paul Abbott who is a multi award winning writer and script editor. His most well known piece of work is Channel Four’s Shameless but he is also responsible for children’s medical drama Children’s Ward, police drama Touching Evil starring Robson Green, political thriller State of Play and many other projects including producing the second series of Cracker which meant working with Robbie Coltrane. These have all received critical acclaim and been acknowledged with awards or nominations at major ceremonies.

The talk was entitled ‘Shameless, TV’s Shakespeare’ so was predominantly about Channel Four’s flagship drama and it was so interesting to hear about the intricacies of writing for television as well as the influences that inspired such a piece to be created. Most writers will be familiar with the phrase ‘write about what you know’ and Paul Abbott certainly did this, Frank the lead character is based on a mixture of his father and uncle and the lifestyle led by the characters is very similar to the upbringing of the writer, ironically his underprivileged background has given him the inspiration to go on and be a wealthy and extremely successful professional.

One of the most intriguing parts of the talk was about financing high profile productions and how the funding differs from Britain to the USA. For example an American production company will put aside forty million dollars just for a pilot episode of a new sitcom, they will spend a million dollars a day on a film shoot and happily spend sixty million pounds of a film’s budget on advertising. In Britain it is not like that at all, an entire series of sixteen episodes of Shameless will cost channel four eleven million pounds, this is a huge discrepancy and in my opinion British television does not suffer from that at all.

Obviously on both sides of the pond there are huge amounts of money being spent and in some ways, although it is how he has made his money, Mr Abbott resents this because for the first two series that he wrote on his own everything was just as he wanted it. It was his masterpiece, but as more and more money got pumped in Channel Four began to chase ratings and the show became very different. You could really hear the resentment Paul Abbott feels for this, I think it is such a shame that a piece that was originally such a work of art should be dumbed down for the sake of a larger audience, but this is unfortunately the world of mainstream broadcasting. In his own words the series has become ‘cocks and coke’

Mr Abbott has become so successful and so powerful within the scriptwriting world that producers are desperate to hear what he has to say, this has however become almost a curse because whatever he writes is held in the highest regard and is likely to be made. He wants them to buy what they like, not just something he has written and I can understand that. it is an interesting reflection on the lack of risks producers are willing to take.

Next week’s Coventry Conversation will undoubtedly have an entirely different feel. Bex from Big Brother will be coming to talk about the way being such a success on the show has changed her life. It will surely provoke an interesting debate about the world of reality television and celebrity we live in.

Talk from Steve Cropley

Posted in Coventry Conversations on October 6, 2009 by Mick Le Mare


Following on from the Coventry Conversation I attended on Wednesday, which I very much enjoyed, I went to the second in the series on Thursday. The talk was from Steve Cropley who is the editor in chief of Autocar. He has been at Haymarket, who produce Autocar, for around 18 years and during that time has won a number of awards for his work and services to motor journalism. He has been described as one of the five most powerful journalists in the world and is very involved in postgraduate study at Coventry Unversity as a visiting professor. Awards include Feature Writer of the Year and four Headlineauto Awards.

I am not a huge car fan but I am one of the many millions who tune into top gear each week. Steve Cropley’s talk was entitled ‘Looking beyond Top Gear’ and it was interesting to hear views about the phenomenon of Top Gear from someone so heavily involved in motoring journalism. Steve Cropley knows Jeremy Clarkson very well and was very complimentary about a lot of the work that the three presenters of Top Gear do. He also emphatically stated that they really do know their stuff and there is a lot of revision and in depth research involved for the three of them to be able to produce such a show. He believes that whilst it has now become predominantly an entertainment programme it is still high quality motoring journalism and the combination of the two is a winning formula the BBC so they work very hard to maintain originality within it.

Other issues raised during the talk were competitiveness in the world of journalism, the environment and what it takes to make it as a journalist. Whilst I was very impressed by the talk and enjoyed most aspects of it I was disappointed with the answer he gave to the question regarding environment and how motoring is affecting global warming, I feel he blustered slightly and never gave a satisfactory answer which appears to be the standard reaction of most motoring journalists or fans. It is worth having a listen (podcast link posted below, search ‘Steve Cropley Coventry’) to his reaction, I was left feeling dissatisfied with the answer he gave.

A key recurring feature in the talk was the topic of competitiveness within the industry, he stressed many times the importance of hard work, perseverance and professionalism. He gave an example of letters that had been written to him by potential employees asking if he would consider them for work experience and his name had been spelt wrong on the letter, this, he made very clear, was totally unacceptable at all levels of journalism – professionalism is key. I believe him and I think it was sound advice to any aspiring journalist, writer or producer.

If you fancy having a listen please CLICK HERE to be taken to Coventry University’s iTunes web page where you can search for the podcast.

My next post will be a short note about the Coventry Conversation with Jon Gaunt the presenter of Sun Radio, it is really worth a listen! As today I will post the podcast link up with it.

Lecture from Nick Pollard

Posted in Coventry Conversations on October 2, 2009 by Mick Le Mare


On wednesday I attended the start of the Coventry Conversations 2009, which is a series of talks given by important figures from the world of media and communication. The first speaker was Nick Pollard who is the ex director of Sky News. After leaving Sky News he was honoured by a lifetime achievement award at the Royal Television Society Journalism Awards and he has also worked for The BBC, ITN (as executive director of News at Ten) and a number of newspapers in his early career.

The talk was entitled ‘Does TV news have a future?’ and it was fascinating to listen to such an influential figure talk about the ever changing world of broadcast news. In simple terms the answer appears to be yes there is a future for TV news. A number of interesting points were raised however about the way we will continue to view news on screens. An item such as a portable, remotely updated, device that can be viewed on the go or connected to a screen in the home is a likely direction broadcast news will go in according to Mr Pollard. Another area with potential is conventional newspapers with paper thin integrated screens that have live 24 hour feeds.

Although rolling news channels are popular and a growing area of broadcast Nick Pollard also believes that self contained programmes such as the BBC Ten o’clock News and News at Ten will be in demand for many years. The public still want to sit down in the evening and view a pre selected set of articles that gives them a broad knowledge of the day’s events. I happen to find this reassuring, 24 hour news is clearly very good at covering live events and image rich stories but at times of little or no news can be accused of filling time with endless interviews, looping of articles and over analysing. For these reasons self contained news programmes are destined to stay on our televisions but run alongside interactive media hardware such as iPhones, palmtops, laptops and future hand held devices.

Another important issue raised was the licence fee and where its future lies. Nick Pollard believes that if a Conservative government are elected in 2010, which is widely regarded an inevitability, the licence fee would be top sliced. He points to a number of reasons why this would not be a bad thing, he claims the BBC is maybe just too big and would not suffer from focusing its attention on its most important aspects such as BBC1 and BBC2, the BBC website and BBC Radio four, three, two and one. This would improve those services dramatically whilst keeping the licence payer happy with a price reduction. The BBC has also had a lot of criticism for its pay structure, having big name presenters such as Jeremy Clarkson, Jonathan Ross and Chris Moyles paid enormous wages is not endearing them to the public. A pay structure reform and a small reduction in the licence fee (Nick Pollard suggested £15) would, according to Mr Pollard, be no bad thing.

The talk was a fascinating insight into the world of news broadcast by a powerful and influential figure in the industry.