BBC Scotland vs BBC network

Why are Burnistoun, Limmy’s Show and Gary: Tank Commander not being shown on network BBC? Here’s why….

You want to make a comedy show.

Say you go Channel Four, and you talk to the Head of Comedy, or perhaps their commissioning editor. You pitch your idea. Maybe it’s a script. Maybe you made a taster tape. Maybe they saw you do stand-up and want to make you a star. Whatever. They love you. You then work with them to develop the project further, maybe they’ll give you some cash to help along the way, and eventually the Head of Comedy signs off on the final concept. Then the hard work of actually making the show begins.

Go to the BBC and it is slightly more complicated. Thanks to the size of the organisation and the number of channels, there are a few more people to deal with. You’ll pitch to an Executive Editor, who will love your idea/script/performance/face and they in turn will try to convince their boss, the Controller, Comedy, that you are worthy of the corporation’s uniquely funded funds. If that happens, and why wouldn’t it, the Controller, Comedy then has to get the go-ahead from the Controller of the Channel you all think your show should be on. That’s called the Two Tick System. Tickey Tick and off you go.


Now then….Scotland.

Someone in the dim and distant past decided that the many regions of our fair land should have a little part of the BBC that is especially for them. This might be a local radio station. Or a regional news bulletin. Or in the case of BBC Scotland, a whole separate structure, complete with it’s own budget, making television and radio for a Scottish audience and only a Scottish audience. On the radio side there’s a complete channel, BBC Radio Scotland, broadcasting music, chat, news, sport, drama and comedy every day from, and to, Scotland. While on the TV side, though there’s no independent channel, there are slots on national BBC1 and BBC2 that BBC Scotland can fill with their own programming. This is called opt-out programming. So, for example, currently on Monday nights, following the news and weather, BBC1 network watches A Question of Sport. But BBC1 Scotland opts out and Scottish folks get Burnistoun.

And BBC Scotland has one commissioning editor. One. They have no boss, no second ticker. They are the only one you have to persuade of your comic genius. If they like you, and there is the money, and there’s available opt-out slots in the schedule, they have the sole power to make your dreams come true.

Which is lovely. Purely from a comedy point of view, there is a great deal of freedom involved with working with BBC Scotland. The downside involves smaller budgets. Much smaller budgets. But hey ho, swings and roundabouts and all that.

But can a successful show move from BBC Scotland to BBC network?

Technically, yes. It has happened before. BBC network offer to pay for the show, rather than BBC Scotland, and the show is broadcast to the entire BBC audience. So the show becomes the same as every other on the BBC network.


The BBC has no process to facilitate this. There is no clear route. It is no one’s job to see this happens.

Until recently, the job of the BBC Scotland commissioner was simply making Scottish shows for a Scottish audience. A few months ago, a change in this post now means that they must keep an eye on providing shows for the network too. Hurrah. Future shows have a chance. Let’s hope it doesn’t destroy that lovely creative freedom.

Also, it is not the job of the Executive Editor, Comedy (Nations and Regions). They take new ideas to the Controller, Comedy, whose job it is to make comedy for the network. But shows on BBC Scotland have nothing to do with either of these people. If they were brand new ideas, looking to go straight to the network, bypassing BBC Scotland, that would be a different matter. However, if a show has already been made and broadcast, then it is actually “an acquisition”, and not technically within these commissioners’ remit. And both network commissioners already have a massive slate of their own fresh, new, sparkly ideas that they have worked up to wow the Channel Controllers with. The BBC Scotland shows have already been on the BBC somewhere, and were someone else’s projects, and are not part of these network commissioners’ job.

So there you have it. As fucking maddening as it is…..It’s not racism. It’s not anti-Scottish. It’s not that the shows aren’t good enough. It’s not even that the BBC isn’t trying to get regional shows on the network. Commissioners are pushing hard as we speak, wandering outside their job descriptions.

It comes down to the delightfully idiosyncratic structure of an organisation the size of the BBC. And human nature. Pisser eh?

Unfortunately it means some shows don’t get the audiences, and budgets, they deserve. And audiences don’t get the shows they really should. However, it does mean more comedy on the BBC iPlayer.

(I’ve tried to be as accurate, and fair, as I can. Which explains the dullness. And the truthful bits are only true for independent companies. If you work with BBC in-house, then, well….I dunno how that works. They seem to have different rules. Very different rules. I might rant about that one day)

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3 Responses to BBC Scotland vs BBC network

  1. Pingback: New Year Honours: Astronaut Piers Sellers becomes OBE | Buy Pro Flight Simulator

  2. britishvicar says:

    You should submit an audio version of this article to @poddelusion!

  3. Pingback: Great TV you’ve never seen: 32 Short films about Brian Limond* « MostlyFilm

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