Bectu: staff paying ‘heavy price’ for BBC’s out-of-London drive
Twenty-three full-time Holby City staff have had their roles placed under consultation as unions criticise the decision to cancel BBC1’s 23-year-old medical drama.
Broadcast understands a further 16 regular cast members are among the freelancers also facing loss of work following the cancellation of the Hertfordshire-produced show, as the BBC looks to produce more programmes outside of London.
A total of around 250 freelancers, staff and individuals on fixed-term contracts work on and off-screen on the show, which will end next March.
BBC Studios is to meet with people individually over the coming weeks to understand their needs and see if they can be redeployed onto its other programmes.
The continuing drama, headed up by Kate Oates, is also responsible for Casualty, Doctors and EastEnders.
Broadcasting union Bectu, which represents the majority of behind-the-camera workers, along with actors union Equity, were critical of the decision.
Caroline Hemmington, Bectu’s assistant national secretary for the BBC, said staff are “paying a heavy price for the BBC’s efforts to become less London-centric”.
“This is a devastating blow to the BBC staff working on Holby City, many of whom have provided dedicated service to this popular production for years,” she added.
An Equity statement criticised the timing of the announcement, which comes as “the BBC looks to build alliances within the industry to support the licence fee, support public service broadcasting and support charter renewal”.
“This will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of our members who are shouting loudly to support the BBC,” added the statement. “We do not want this to be the beginning of the end of the much lauded and valued BBC production.”
Writing in Broadcast today, Holby director David Innes Edwards urged the corporation to replace Holby with “another continuing drama with as much heart, natural diversity and longevity, otherwise an awful lot of expertise will go to waste”
The initial announcement about the show’s cancellation was made by Oates on Wednesday, prior to it being announced to the press.
Oates and BBCS’ HR then met staff again for a Q&A later that afternoon and there was a further Q&A yesterday with content director Ralph Lee. BBCS has enacted an open-door policy to speak to staff and freelancers affected.
A spokesman said: “We could not be more grateful to the wonderful team of actors, crew and producers behind this much-loved show, which has always tackled important issues alongside gripping storylines.”
As part of the BBC’s Across the UK plan, the corporation is in early stage development with two new continuing dramas, one to be produced in the north of England and the other from one of the nations.
One senior scripted indie exec suggested the BBC should opt for a youth-skewing show, potentially set in a school, pointing to the success of Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge and BBC1’s former hit Waterloo Road.
The latter has been available as an iPlayer box-set for the past few months and has regularly occupied the platform’s front page.
Over the past year, Holby has picked up a 4% share of 16-24s and 9% share of 25-34s, both behind their respective slot averages.