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Creative Access hits the streets of Weatherfield for Northern Masterclass

Last night saw our Creative Access interns and alumni based in Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester head to Media City, Salford for an inspirational evening on the set of ITV’s iconic Coronation Street.

We kicked of with a wander through the legendary streets of Weatherfield and a quick chat with some cast members including Steve McDonald (played by Simon Gregson) – plus an obligatory group photo outside the Rovers Return!

We were then headed to our venue for the discussion – the Speed Daal (the Pakistani street food restaurant owned by Zeedan Nazir and run by Sophie Webster on Victoria Street) – and were joined by our two inspirational speakers;, Tom McLennan, Director of Entertainment, ITV North and Tommy Nagra, Director of Content, BBC

Tom spoke about his role – with responsibility of a slate of over 800 hours of entertainment produced each year in the region including Countdown, University Challenge and You’ve Been Framed – and about his career path saying:

“I didn’t go to University. I started as a Runner’s Runner, which was so low down I wasn’t even allowed to make the coffee.”

But his career soon progressed and he joined ITV in 2000, and can take credit for bringing both Judge Rinder and Jeremy Kyle to our TV screens.

He spoke how tough the Jeremy Kyle show is to cast but that it does work to take risks – testament to the fact that the Show has been going since 2005, ran for two series in the US and is approaching its 3000th episode here in the UK. He cautioned that that 90% of TV shows don’t go to a second series, so “you’ve got to stand outside the pack – which is why someone like Jeremy Kyle works so well.”

When asked about the best part of his job, Tom said: “The highest point for me is when I’ve launched a new show and at 9.36am the next day the ratings come in. If they’re good it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Tom puts his success in large part down to hard graft, but warned “It’s all consuming; it takes up your life”.

Tommy then talked about his varied career, starting as a researcher in the 1990s on Good Morning with Anne and Nick; becoming Channel Executive at BBC Two; a stint at Maverick; time in the USA with National Geographic, six months in Jerusalem for Channel 4; and then back to the BBC in 2009 to head up their Religion and Ethics team. He said:

“ I never saw anyone who looked like me at work, but I loved TV. I was really ambitious and was prepared to work hard. If you’re only doing 6-12 week contracts you have to keep proving yourself. The freelance world keeps you on your toes.”

He also shared his golden rule – to only stay in a job for three years; “The first year you work out what you’re doing, the second year you do it well and by the third you’re bored so need to look for a new challenge.” Both panellists claimed you can move within a department and that there are ample opportunities to find new opportunities within an organisation without moving.

Like Tom, Tommy has also discovered new talent during his career, including Anita Rani and Sanjeev Bhaskar. He suggested that it’s no coincidence that both of these two are Asian and therefore he has an affinity with them; reminding the audience of the importance of a diverse workforce. He said:

“Real diversity is about thought and experience and bringing this to your work; don’t try to fit in. You need to understand your audiences which is why I think things like Creative Access are so important.”

The audience asked both Tom and Tommy about their views on TV production in the North of England. Tom said “Linear TV is alive and well and becoming more regional (though mainly based in Manchester, Leeds and London). But it’s hard to find good talent; so this is a good time to be here – all the channels want productions outside London and we’re getting busier and busier.”

With huge thanks to our speakers and our wonderful hosts at ITV Studios and Coronation Street for a fantastic evening. It’s definitely thriving up North!