Poliakoff slams "Kafkaesque" BBC committees

Tuesday, November 10 2009, 12:20 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

Stephen Poliakoff has slammed the BBC's "Kafkaesque committees" and claimed that the corporation is now diminishing creativity to the detriment of viewers.

Despite producing various programmes for the corporation, the BAFTA award-winning writer and director told the Radio Times that content makers are now being given "strange lectures about how to make factually based drama".

He further said that a series of recent viewer deception scandals have caused the BBC to overreact to the "ludicrous opposite extreme".

Following a well-publicised misrepresentation of the Queen in a 2007 programme trailer, the BBC introduced its Safeguarding Trust scheme to apply to all BBC staff and third-party content producers.

In response, Poliakoff said that a "crisis of confidence" in television standards caused by the scandals has been most acutely felt in drama output.

"The Safeguarding Trust policy that was instigated to help to restore the BBC's reputation has resulted in writers and producers having to receive strange lectures about how to make factually based drama," he said.

"It's difficult enough writing drama without being given suggestions and rules devised by Kafkaesque committees, and what's more it's completely unnecessary. I've always felt audiences are far more intelligent than they're given credit for, and are quite capable of realising that when real events are compressed for drama, certain liberties have to be taken."

The writer revealed his doubts over whether BBC drama The Lost Prince would get made today due to the poetic licence he had to take with many of its historical facts.

"There was virtually nothing in the public domain about Prince John, youngest child of George V and Queen Mary, and I had to make many educated guesses to reclaim his life from obscurity. Since this was a drama about the Queen's uncle, I felt I ought to explain to a senior figure at the BBC what I'd had to invent. He was uninterested and batted away my notes as if accuracy were irrelevant," he remarked.

"Now the world has gone to the ludicrous opposite extreme, where the BBC is concerned they may be accused of deceiving the audience if liberties with history are taken. There is no such thing as a single, correct version of history, and if dramatists are honestly trying to achieve a deeper poetic truth about their subject, that should be the guiding light."

Last month, the BBC Trust pledged to introduce tougher guidelines on the use of swear words and the depiction of violence in the BBC's radio, TV and online content.

However, the corporation has been accused of overreacting to cases of potential offense, including a recent rebuke of Mock The Week panellist Frankie Boyle for his comments about swimmer Rebecca Adlington.

Poliakoff warned of a danger that television will gradually "regress into a much safer world" when audiences may not actually want it to.

"The amount of sex and bad language on TV has been debated for decades, but I never feel we hear the true view of the majority of the audience," he said.

"One current idea, that a spooky Orwellian panel is to be selected from the general public and allowed to set standards, is to me deeply offensive."

As the writer's latest project Glorious 39 will be released at the cinema rather than on TV, Poliakoff expressed his relief at not having to "face the Safeguarding Trust brigade".