'BBC could be a moneymaking global industry' says Armando Iannucci


The BBC should look at the possibility of expanding - but the corporation faces being "damned if they do, damned if they don't", writer and director Armando Iannucci has said.

Last night, Iannucci launched a passionate defence of the BBC at the Edinburgh International Television Festival and said British television needs support amid political attacks.

He warned that tampering with the BBC would be "madness", and that politicians - with no expertise in the area - have got the British television industry "completely wrong".

He also suggested the BBC could take pressure off the licence fee by selling shows more aggressively abroad.

And in an interview this morning in front of an audience at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, he said: "It's absolutely fine to have a debate about the BBC, what works and what doesn't work, and so on. But let's have that debate properly and not make it just about the negatives, but also let's emphasise the positives.

"And then also let's talk not just about the possibility of cutting it back but actually the other possibility of expanding it, expanding it commercially."

He warned that the "uncertainty" of the last few months means "jobs are on the line".

He added: "Why aren't we, as opposed to the whole debate about reining in and cutting budgets and drawing down and shrinking, why aren't we also talking about the possibility of expanding, expanding overseas, actually making ourselves a global industry based in the UK?"

He suggested people could pay ten dollars a month for a subscription that gets them the "very best of British television".

He said: "If there is pressure on the license fee why don't we absolutely hell for leather look at other opportunities to make money?"

Iannucci said he thinks there is a "tremendous reluctance" at the BBC to talk about making money, as if it is "sordid" in some way.

He suggested the review of the royal charter could perhaps change that culture.

The writer said that in preparation for his MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh he asked the BBC to supply him with figures on how much money Strictly Come Dancing and its associated formats make.

"To which the reply was, 'oh yes it makes money' ... terribly reluctant to tell me the figure.

"And I think there's a sort of shyness about it ... because they're in this damned if they do, damned if they don't ... if they make money they're criticised for making money and if they don't they're criticised for not making money," he said.

Iannucci also said there is "tremendous amount of frustration" among people who work at the BBC who feel the anti-BBC argument is being discussed more prominently than the counter argument.

Yesterday, Mr Whittingdale rubbished the idea that the BBC is to be dismantled.

"I've never suggested dismantling the BBC," Mr Whittingdale told the festival crowd.

Mr Whittingdale also said that suggestions that there was an ideological Tory drive to destroy the corporation were "just extraordinary".

The Culture Secretary has sparked concern among some supporters of the corporation after saying that a review of the BBC's royal charter would look at whether the broadcaster should continue to be "all things to all people" or have a more "precisely targeted" mission.

Oscar and Emmy-nominated Iannucci, who directed the cult hit I'm Alan Partridge and political comedies The Thick Of It and Veep, said in his MacTaggart lecture at the festival last night: "Faced with a global audience now, British television needs its champion supporters, it needs its cheerleaders.

"Who will they be? The Government? Not while they consistently talk of reining in our greatest network.

"The broadcasters? Not while most of their energies are dissipated fighting off political attacks on their impartiality or finances."

Iannucci dedicated much of his lecture, called We're All In This Together, to the debate surrounding the BBC, concluding: "Tampering with it is madness."

Iannucci also commented on the panel tasked to look at the future of the BBC and criticised the absence of creatives and viewers.