BBC Drama Controller Piers Wenger has announced four brand new BBC dramas from first time television writers, furthering the BBC’s commitment to developing and backing new talent. Last year, five of the top ten new dramas across all broadcasters came from the BBC, and six out of the ten most popular dramas for 16-34 year olds were BBC.
“The popularity of BBC drama speaks for itself – with audiences willing to go on the wildest of adventures provided that stories feel robust emotionally, unexpected and apposite,” said Piers Wenger.
“I am often asked how, in the era of co-production, the BBC can argue that its programmes are unique when so many of them are co-produced. But ideas don’t start off co-produced. Rather, they are born out of numerous creative conversations between writers, producers and commissioning editors, with the aim of making something which is bold, original and unique. That often means going against the market with the ideas you are backing, but it’s a testimony to those grass-roots conversations that once ideas become scripts, there is a feeding frenzy for them internationally.
“Development is time consuming, rooted in trust and financially risky. That is why commercial broadcasters and SVODs don’t develop in the same way that we do, but also why that without the BBC, the drama market would be less vigorous. We are the primary incubator of story-telling talent in the UK. In a sector which is so heavily commercialised – I truly believe that there is nowhere else in the world where you can be as creatively free as you can be at the BBC.
“We are continuing our commitment to producing the best British drama there is, with four new drama commissions – each a first in its own right. Sometimes being first isn’t about being first with an idea, it’s about being first to an idea. These four brilliant and varied pieces are written by someone who is new to television writing, and it might sound risky, but backing new talent is normal and natural to us.
“The Responder is a new BBC Two drama by first time television writer Tony Schumacher, and draws from his own experiences as an urgent response officer over six night shifts on the beat in Liverpool. It’s a raw, anarchic and funny portrait of a corner of Britain rarely seen on screen, through the eyes of a law enforcement officer who is struggling with his mental health. Martin Freeman has committed to star which shows just how good the scripts really are.
“Nicôle Lecky has written a brilliant six part series Superhoe which is based on her Royal Court play and for which she not only writes but also plays the central role (and sings!), it has been commissioned for BBC Three.
“Award-winning film writer Shola Amoo has adapted Kit De Waal’s brilliant and utterly affecting novel My Name Is Leon about two half-brothers who are separated after they are taken into foster care. Shola has adapted the novel as a single film for BBC One and it will be directed by Kibwe Tavares.
“Finally, Alice Seabright will write and direct Chloe, a six part series for BBC One about a young woman who starts leading a double life to uncover the truth behind the death of her estranged best friend.
“Finding new talent, developing then making their ideas, sits right at the centre of what we do. We have all seen the incredible career trajectory that British talent can have internationally after just one or two writing gigs. It is sad but also inspiring when this happens – not because we ever want to lose talent to a bigger pay cheque, but it is important to us to be able to show the part we played in bringing these brilliant minds in to public view.”
My Name Is Leon (BBC One)
My Name Is Leon is an adaptation of award-winning author Kit de Waal’s novel, adapted by Shola Amoo writing his first screenplay for television, and directed by Kibwe Tavares. It will be produced by Douglas Road Productions for BBC One.
This special one-off film is set in 1980s Britain and tells the uplifting and incredibly moving story of nine year old Leon, a mixed-race boy whose desire is to keep his family together, as his single-parent mother suffers a devastating breakdown.
Separated from his blonde and blue-eyed baby brother, Leon remains full of energy and hopefulness, in spite of the hardships he encounters. Told through Leon’s eyes, we follow his journey and witness the start of a touching relationship between him and his foster career Maureen. With his favorite action figure Sergeant Smith by his side, Leon’s quest to be reunited with his sibling takes him on an adventure of self-discovery and discovery of family, in its various guises.
Set against the backdrop of 1980s race riots, this painful and inspiring tale balances gritty realism with charm and gentle humour, as it explores issues of identity and belonging.
Shola Amoo commented: “I’m very excited to be a part of this ground-breaking project for the BBC. It was a real honour and privilege to adapt Kit De Waal’s touching and thought-provoking book for the screen and I can’t wait to share it with the world.”
Director Kibwe Tavares added: “While making my first short film about the Brixton riots and police brutality, I found out a lot about myself and started confronting questions around race and identity that I’d maybe shied away from before. Leon was pushed much more violently into this journey at a much younger age… I feel lucky and excited to work with Kit and Shola in telling Leon’s story. It’s an important one.”
Sir Lenny Henry CBE, Douglas Road Productions, said: “I was halfway through recording the audiobook for My Name Is Leon when I realised I was in love. Kit de Waal’s peerless narrative had me entranced from the beginning and didn’t let me go until the final sentence. Shola’s adaptation does the story great justice and our intention is for the film to similarly captivate.”
Novelist Kit de Waal was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother and Caribbean father. She worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law before achieving an MA in Creative Writing.
My Name Is Leon (1×90’) is adapted by Shola Amoo (The Last Tree) and will be directed by Kibwe Tavares (Noughts + Crosses). It is a Douglas Road Productions (a fully owned subsidiary of Endemol Shine Group UK) drama for BBC One. It has been commissioned by Piers Wenger, Controller of Drama, and Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content. It will be executive produced by Lenny Henry and Angela Ferreira for Douglas Road Productions alongside Gub Neal and Edward Barlow, with Mona Qureshi for the BBC. Carol Harding (Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle, Agatha And The Curse Of Ishtar) will produce.
Chloe (BBC One)
BBC One and BBC Drama have commissioned a six-part drama titled Chloe from creator and writer Alice Seabright: her first original TV series commission. Most recently, Alice directed episodes of Sex Education Season 2. Chloe will be produced by Mam Tor Productions.
Chloe is an assertive, audacious thriller exploring obsession, identity, grief, and truth.
Becky thinks Chloe has the perfect life. Years after Chloe abandoned her when they were teenagers, Becky still obsessively watches Chloe’s life through her picture-perfect social media. But when Chloe dies suddenly, Becky’s need to find out how and why leads her to assume a new identity and infiltrate the enviable lives of Chloe’s closest friends. Who was Chloe? What happened to her? And why does Becky think Chloe was trying to send her a message before she died? Through her alter-ego Sasha, Becky becomes a powerful, transgressive heroine, trapped in a dangerous web of lies, only some of which are her own.
Alice Seabright said: “Becky is obsessed with Chloe, and I’m obsessed with both of them. I’m so excited to tell their story. I’m also obsessed with the amazing Tally Garner and Morven Reid at Mam Tor, and would definitely assume a new identity to infiltrate their lives. Thankfully for everyone, I get to make a TV show with them instead. Thank you to Ben Irving, Piers Wenger and the excellent people at the BBC – I couldn’t ask for a more brilliant team to go on this adventure with.”
Tally Garner, Executive Producer at Mam Tor Productions, added: “I am absolutely thrilled that Mam Tor’s first production is with the fiercely talented writer and director Alice Seabright. In Becky she has created a heroine for our time and I am so excited that she will be appearing on BBC One. I am incredibly grateful to Piers Wenger, Ben Irving and Manda Levin for all their support in bringing Alice’s fabulous and formidable creation to the screen.”
Chloe (6×60’) has been commissioned by Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama and Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content. It is created, written and directed by Alice Seabright; and executive produced by Tally Garner for Mam Tor Productions and Ben Irving for the BBC.
The Responder (BBC Two)
The Responder is a brand new crime drama from ex-police officer Tony Schumacher, and his first original series for television. The series is drawn from Tony’s real life experiences and holds a mirror up to the emotional, often heartbreaking extremes of modern day policing as it follows Chris, played by Martin Freeman, tackling a series of six night shifts on the beat in Liverpool as an urgent response officer.
In it we see the extremes of life on the front line of British policing – both wildly funny and painfully tragic. Responder is its own unique take on the cop show: a straight from the heart slice of police life which shows its characters, both victims and perpetrators as real, extraordinary people. It’s as much about life on the streets of Liverpool as it is about the police – and in Chris we have the perfect crisis-stricken, morally compromised, unconventional cop character to follow through this chaotic world.
Whilst trying to save his marriage and keep his head above water as a police officer, Chris is forced to take on a new rookie partner Rachel. The antagonism between them immediately threatens to make their new partnership unworkable and both soon discover that survival in this high pressure, relentless night time world, will depend on them either helping or destroying each other.
Each episode also follows self-contained police stories full of complex and vulnerable characters from Liverpool’s underbelly, and holds a mirror up to the punishing reality of officers working on the front line.
Tony Schumacher said: “If you had told me six years ago that I would be working with the BBC, a company of the calibre of Dancing Ledge, and an actor with the talent of Martin Freeman, I would have thrown you out of my taxi for being drunk. And yet here I am, surrounded and supported by all these great people, and able to launch this story on one of the greatest TV channels in the world. It turns out that dreams can come true after all.”
Martin Freeman added: “Tony Schumacher’s script for The Responder resonated with me immediately. It felt like nothing that I’d read or seen. Great to work with Laurence and Chris at Dancing Ledge again and finding a home at the BBC has been a wonderful start to the journey.”
Laurence Bowen, Dancing Ledge Productions CEO, said: “Tony is one of the most talented new writers we’ve ever worked with. His ability to distill trauma, empathy, poetry and humour into every character he creates is extraordinary. And then the fact he’s worked as a policeman for fifteen years so can harness all that personal experience too brings a real truth and depth to his voice. Writers like him are the reason drama producers want to produce.”
The Responder (6×60’) has been commissioned by Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, and Patrick Holland, Controller of BBC Two. It is written by Tony Schumacher and produced by Dancing Ledge Productions for BBC Two. Laurence Bowen and Chris Carey will executive produce for Dancing Ledge Productions and Mona Qureshi for BBC Two. Fremantle are distributing.
Superhoe (BBC Three)
BBC Three and BBC Drama have commissioned Nicôle Lecky’s first original six-part drama Superhoe, produced by Bonafide Films.
Based on Nicôle Lecky’s one woman Royal Court show, Superhoe follows 24-year-old Sasha Clayton (Lecky) who dreams of being a singer and rapper, but spends most of her time in her bedroom smoking weed and stalking her ex-boyfriend on Instagram. When she is kicked out of her family home, Sasha is forced to fend for herself by sofa surfing and eventually moves in with the enigmatic party-girl Carly. Carly introduces her to a glamorous world of social media influencing and partying, and what seems like an easy way to make money through cam work and sex work. But as the gap between her online presence and real life continues to grow, Sasha finds herself struggling to escape a world that is more complex and darker than she could have imagined.
Nicôle Lecky said: “I’m overwhelmed and absolutely chuffed to be bringing Superhoe to the BBC. I wrote Superhoe after I stumbled upon a website with the sole purpose to shame women on social media who claimed to be models or singers, but were secretly working as escorts. Through research I came across thousands of similar young women and was drawn to the complexities between empowerment and victimization. Social media has truly changed the game for my generation, and after speaking to many young sex workers – Sasha Clayton was created. I’m excited to bring Sasha, her wicked sense of humour and music to the BBC, with the support of the brilliant team at Bonafide Films”
Margery Bone, Bonafide Films CEO and Executive Producer, added: “From the moment we read Nicôle’s play and heard her unique vision for a music based drama for screen, we were so excited about this exuberant and funny young woman’s story and what it reveals about social media’s impact on sex work today. We are delighted to be working with BBC on this fantastic show.”
Told in part through the songs that Sasha creates, Superhoe is bold in its unique storytelling that remains full of humour and charm. It is fearless in its portrayal of a fierce working class girl and her struggle to navigate the world today, from the housing crisis to social media to sex work.
Superhoe (6×45’) has been commissioned by Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, and Fiona Campbell, Controller of BBC Three. It is written by and stars Nicôle Lecky. The series is executive produced by Nicôle Lecky, Margery Bone for Bonafide Films and Lucy Richer and Ayela Butt for the BBC.