THE local premiere on Wednesday night was something special – with every inch of the excitement and talent that the Baftas and Golden Globes bring.
Nearly 250 people packed every seat in the venue to get a first look of a TV show’s brand new series. Beverly Hills or London’s Leicester Square it may not be, but arguably a more stunning landscape, and certainly more forthright in view.
This is Square Chapel in Halifax, and for me there couldn’t have been a more fitting venue. A captivated crowd was watching the local premiere of the BBC’s Last Tango in Halifax: home-grown TV made in Yorkshire, by Yorkshire people, in a great arts centre that champions Yorkshire talent.
More than 7,000 people applied for tickets to the free event, a testament not only to creator and writer Sally Wainwright’s brilliant work but also to the quantum leap that Yorkshire’s film and TV industry has taken in the last few years.
The region is being showcased on TVs, laptops and mobiles as never before – putting it on the map for global producers, holiday-makers and job hunters alike.
The benefits of this kind of exposure are clear. Last year, 13 per cent of people cited Poldark as a reason for visiting Cornwall and a record number of tourists visited Birmingham on the back of Peaky Blinders.
At the BBC we want Yorkshire to be a crucible for great media content: on TV, radio, on social media and online.
BBC One’s Gentleman Jack was watched by more than five million people each week, and has sparked a tourism boom to West Yorkshire – particularly among the LGBT community. Ali & Ava, a movie shot in Bradford and sponsored partly by the BBC, recently finished filming and at the other end of the region Dracula has thrown Whitby into the limelight.
Almost every part of Yorkshire can claim some slice of the media pie. Leeds will benefit from Channel 4 moving some of its staff northwards, Hull is the backdrop for The Personal History of David Copperfield and Saltaire will feature in the Netflix drama The English Game. Huddersfield’s own Jodie Whittaker is taking Yorkshire to planets astronauts can only dream of visiting.
Meanwhile The Yorkshire Post reaches some 250,000 people every day and BBC’s Look North is watched by around two million people in Yorkshire each week. In short, our media industry is thriving.
Screen Yorkshire this week announced that 27 high-end TV productions and 14 feature films were filmed in the region in 2019, creating more than 1,500 days of work for local crews. They put the budgets for these types of shows at between £10m and £20m each. That’s a huge amount of money being ploughed into our local economy, and that’s before we even begin to look at the money it drags in through tourism.
Calderdale Council told us they had to extend the opening hours of Shibden Hall, the ancestral home of Gentleman Jack’s Anne Lister, because of the influx of tourists. In August 2018, 2,579 people visited the 15th century building, in the same month a year later 14,419 came.
The TV and film industry is on the rise nationally as well, with spend in the UK reaching £3.6bn last year, the highest on record. Yorkshire has done a fantastic job of grabbing as much of that as possible.
It’s brilliant to see Yorkshire – a place I call home and a region I’m so proud to advocate for – getting the recognition and investment it deserves. With a skilled workforce, strong business leaders and countless potential filming locations, I can only see this trend continuing.
The BBC is making sure that we’re not only producing programmes in every part of the UK but also employing people in those areas too. In January the head of the BBC, Tony Hall, announced that at least two thirds of all BBC jobs would be based outside of London by 2027. Already half our jobs are away from the capital, up from a third just a few years ago. Many are based in our 39 fantastic local radio stations.
The BBC already has around 500 staff in Yorkshire. Another 4,000 are based in Salford. We also know that for every £1 the BBC spends it generates £2 for the UK economy and it’s vital that we spread that around.
We also know that 91 per cent of the adult population use the BBC every week and we need to make sure every single one of them is reflected in the content we make.
As Andrew Vine wrote in The Yorkshire Post on Tuesday, the BBC is “part of the national fabric, a force for good”.
But there are other ways to invest too. That’s why we’re teaming up with Screen Yorkshire’s Beyond Brontës project to help youngsters from diverse backgrounds get jobs in the media. As someone who comes from a single parent, working-class BAME background, I know how important projects like this can be.
We’re championing more regional TV and radio than ever before, because it’s more important to do so than ever before. And that’s why, for me, having 250 fans pile into an arts centre in West Yorkshire for the local premiere of the Last Tango in Halifax will always be more exciting than any glitzy awards ceremony.
Rozina Breen is Head of BBC North.