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C4: a real case of Surprise, Surprise

C4: a real case of Surprise, Surprise

🕔02.Nov 2018

This week’s news on the outcome of Channel Four’s search for a new National HQ was, of course, disappointing writes Kevin Johnson in the first of a 2-part special feature. 

It was actually a double surprise – in the result and the reaction.

It is important to say that Birmingham ran a very good campaign. Many of us have witnessed or indeed been part of Birmingham campaigns that did not connect with home audiences or failed to understand the most important factors in the bid process.

Get Closer and the #WMGeneration campaign certainly brought the sector along with the politicians and officials leading the bid.

Location, Location, Location: Leeds wins Ch4 commission

Undoubtedly, there will be post postmortems and navel gazing. We do that spectacularly well in this city.

Surely, all those involved in the bid and campaign should be proud of what they contributed. As the politicians and many others said immediately after the decision, we should build on what the campaign achieved.

Was Birmingham really “snubbed” or “rebuffed” as some media reports would have us believe?

Or, did Leeds just have a proposition which better suited Channel 4?

You win some, you lose some.

It’s possible that the reasons Channel 4 gave for selecting Leeds have a basis in fact, not least in accessing and engaging all parts of the North and the state of independent production base in Yorkshire and beyond.

It is difficult to argue that this is the latest example in a long line of seeing the West Midlands missing out on high profile prizes.

When we failed to secure what became the Millennium Dome, European Capital of Culture and the National Stadium, there was a strong feeling that London would not as much pour water on our region if it was burning down.

But recent successes – HS2 and other transport investments, Commonwealth Games and UK City of Culture – must surely prove that we are doing something right and some decision makers have noticed.

Leeds – a great city with impressive leadership – might just deserve this particular prize as much, maybe a fraction more, than Birmingham. Good luck to them.

Given the energy devoted to this campaign by the Mayor and how he has directly identified with recent successes, it was inevitable that he would come in for criticism.

If you are positioned as a winning asset for a region and then fail to deliver the final leg of a major bid hat-trick, you must at least expect some acerbic comments.

Birmingham city council leader Ian Ward took to Twitter:

24 hours later, he attempted to press the point a little harder but didn’t really help his cause as one Conservative councillor was quick to point out.

Meanwhile, past and possibly future Labour Mayoral candidates – in the shape of Sion Simon and Liam Byrne – were also quick to demand answers from the Conservative Mayor.

Justified or otherwise, Mr Street should try and brush off the brickbats with humility and charm.

Birmingham Chamber chief Paul Faulkner issued an appeal to “all our public servants and those who play a role in our regional civic lives” in a 5-part thread on Twitter this morning, culminating in this message:

But the tone of the Mayor’s response on Wednesday afternoon was this week’s other big surprise.

Disappointment was to be expected. Whether you are a fan of the Mayor or not, the energy he had invested was obvious to see.

But did the outcome really deserve his bewilderment or even “anger.”

Maybe, the quiet (not so quiet in some cases) confidence of some involved in the bid left them flatfooted when the result came in.

That it was Leeds, rather than Manchester, added to the shock although some bid insiders thought Leeds was the real competition right from the start.

The Mayor and his team believed they had good relationships with Channel 4 bosses. In their review, they might need to consider just how strong those relationships were and how reliable was their intelligence.

Mr Street pushed back BBC’s Nick Owen about rumours Channel 4 had issues with finding the right location in Birmingham. That response was something of a surprise as Chamberlain Files had heard much the same story from well-placed sources about the difficulties of finding the right building near to the new Curzon Street HS2 station.

He also seemed to be on the wrong foot when it came to the importance of having a strong independent production sector as part of the bid picture. Again, well placed insiders had pointed to the issue presented by the city’s small indie community and a holed out broadcasting sector.

This campaign brought the creative industries together in a way which has not been seen in this city and region for some time. That is certainly a platform to build upon.

The spirit of #WMGeneration could never cover up the severe reductions in investment in culture and creative industries support and continuing issues with skills. Manchester and now Leeds have benefited from having long terms plans and a clear approach.

It was timely, then, that the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) launched its consultation on the Creative Industries Sector Plan as part of the Local Industrial Strategy this week.

It points to ‘Next Generation’ content creation as a key strength and the opportunities presented by the ‘Golden Age’ of high end drama production.

It is likely that major initiatives such as Steven Knight’s ‘Mercian’ studio complex and developing a creative industries sector plan that goes beyond some fine words from politicians will be more important than convincing 200 workers to transfer from their main HQ in London to a second ‘HQ’ in a provincial city.

C4 disappointment must lead to focus on skills and local investment

Cilla Black, host of Surprise Surprise back in the day, was fond of bringing people back together.

That is what this campaign managed to do. This is a moment for dignity in congratulating Leeds, wishing Channel 4 well and moving on to bigger things.

We would do well to ignore the cheap shots, but stop short of deflecting reasonable questions and learning from the experience.

City and Mayoral pride may have been dented this week, but ‘Angry Andy’ was not a good look.

It is said that we find out more in defeat than victory. Let’s see if that is the case for Mayor Street – and more importantly for the region’s creative industries sector.

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