BBC Upfront for existing staff

 by Martin Belam, 28 May 2004

So this week I spent three days being re-baptised by the BBC. As part of Greg's "Making It Happen" initiative within the BBC, it became apparent that staff felt they hadn't been sufficiently inducted into the organisation. The outcome was the "Upfront" scheme. Every new joiner (apparently including Michael Grade) at the BBC gets to spend one of their first weeks in a four day residential induction programme in London or Glasgow, which covers TV, Radio and Online. All new staff are required to attend, whether they are the proverbial receptionist or senior management.

I got to meet a wide variety of people including someone working in the 'Former Yugoslav' section of BBC Monitoring at Caversham, technical operators from the BBC London studios, a receptionist at BBC Radio Sheffield, a couple of disgruntled people from the soon-to-be-sold BBC Technology Ltd, and a whole slew of people from BBC Radio Lancashire.

One day is a practical tri-media day, where you get to "make" little bits of the BBC's varied output. You get to make a little web page about yourself (not, perhaps, strictly necessary in my case). You get to make some television as a team, shooting a five minute consumer affairs programme. I got to helm the Collage machine for generating graphics & captions on screen, to control the studio lights, and to nominally be in charge of the exposure and colour balance of the cameras, although wisely I mostly left that to the professional looking after me.

My favourite bit though was where I got to be the "producer" of a radio show. As part of the exercise we had to aim the show at a particular audience selected by the producer. Inspired by the recent BBCi Pets TV channel, I decided that our show would be aimed fairly and squarely at Britain's population of domesticated canines - BBC Dog Radio was on the air.

We dispensed with the travel news, replacing it with bulletins on which parks in London were particularly congested, and where roller-bladers could be located and chased. Meanwhile the weather concentrated on whether there would be a requirement for little tartan doggie jumpers or a need to keep ones paws dry when on long walks.

Our main "guest" talked about their campaign to get more natural body-shapes included in Crufts, lest canines were driven to odd eating disorders in an attempt to achieve four-legged perfection. And our News exclusive was the discovery of photos depicting terrible torture of dogs in Iraq by the armed forces making them wear those silly neck-collars - every dogs worst nightmare. My colleagues Athena, Diana, Nita and Tony coped admirably with my attempts to weld this into a coherent show - particularly Tony who is a genuine Radio Producer in real life.

We also got the opportunity for a Q&A session with ExCo members, Alan Yentob and the very warm and engaging Pat Loughrey, who heads up the BBC's Nations & Regions department. The questions ranged from the very broad - "If you were betting men, where do you think the BBC will be at the end of the Charter Review process?" - to the very specific - "Pat, can I have some new software for my PC's in BBC Radio Lancashire?".

On the last day we got to do some work on creativity and generating then pitching programme ideas. The group I worked with included Gavin, and we ended up being the winning pitch with an idea for Radio 4 daytime factual programming. The onus is now on us to refine the idea to the point where it can become an actual pitch.

But the best thing for me about these kind of events is that it reminds me that the web site I work for appears to employ a lot of brilliant people doing these things called radio and television...


I think I was born to be a radio producer. Barking snappy instructions down talkback to the presenter. And you don't have to wrap up your requests in politespeak cos time is of the essence!

Mind you on the other hand having a director bark instructions down your headphones in a TV studio is rather intimidating :)

Rather you than me! Out of interest, how come you think it's disciminating to say 'click here' on a website because some people might be blind, but it's not discriminating to send staff on residential courses? Although in this case I'm glad of the fact that I can't possibly go on one of these. Interesting that new staff are 'forced' to go on it. I can't be the only single mum in the BBC, can I? Or do they not employ single mums because they can't go on an Upfront courses?

I miss having somewhere to rant about these things myself. Thanks for the space on your site!

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