Leeds-born television talent 'desperate' to return home after Channel 4 announcement

Wise Owl Films creative director Mark Robinson, centre, with staff. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Wise Owl Films creative director Mark Robinson, centre, with staff. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Talented professionals are "desperate" to return home to work in Leeds as the city's reputation for television soars, according to a production company boss.

Mark Robinson, creative director of Wise Owl Films based at Prime Studios in Kirkstall Road, believes that screen industry employees are realising that they no longer need to rely on opportunities over the Pennines or in the capital as the effect of Channel 4 coming to Yorkshire spreads.

Mark Robinson. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Mark Robinson. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

-> Channel 4 kicks off recruitment drive for move to Leeds - here are the jobs on offer

Mr Robinson, 52, started his company after 28 years with ITV Studios, the last ten as creative director of its first label, Shiver, which he founded, making factual programmes such as Elton John: The Nation's Favourite Song, Tales from the Coast with Robson Green and The Miners' Strike and Me.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "What's been interesting since Channel 4's announcement is, I get CVs every week from people wanting to come home to work in Leeds.

"That's what's really exciting. And we want to create that work for them to come and work in their home city.

"A lot of them are in London, some of them are in Glasgow. Maybe they're at a stage in their life where they want to settle down, they've got kids or whatever it is but there's been a feeling before that to work in television you're better off in London or Glasgow, or even Manchester.

"I've been really lucky, I've spent my life working in Leeds and Newcastle.

"But I know there's been lots of people who've had to move down south really to work in TV - we want to attract them back."

-> National Film and Television School to open new hub in Leeds

He added: "People are desperate to come back to Leeds to make TV shows. But also we've universities here turning out great graduates that'll want a career in the TV industry. I think maybe a year, two years, five years ago would have had to have gone to Manchester or London or Glasgow for a career in TV. Now they can do it in Leeds. That's a massive difference."

Mr Robinson grew up in Ireland Wood and, when he left ITV after nearly three decades, decided to call his company Wise Owl because he wanted it to have a connection with the city.

His grandfather was one of the builders who placed golden owl sculptures in the city centre, he said.

Mr Robinson started his career as a journalist, working in his early 20s with the Darlington & Stockton Times and Northern Echo.

Through his role as an entertainment reporter, he landed a job as a researcher at Tyne Tees Television.

He worked his way through the departments and eventually became a newsreader.

"Which I was very bad at," he said, "and realised pretty quickly that I was better off behind the camera as a producer".

So he started to make documentaries, and moved to Yorkshire Television in the early 1990s where he worked on the current affairs show, 3D.

He formed Shiver in 2007, going on to executive produce Bafta-nominated documentaries such as The Miners' Strike and Me.

It took Mr Robinson "the best part of 10 years" to persuade Sir David Jason to take part in the My Life on Screen documentary, he said.

A team of three set up Wise Owl - it now has a staff of about 20 - on November 5 last year and got their first commission within weeks.

Their documentary about the Tyne and Wear Metro will appear on ITV in the coming months, and two other commissions are in the pipeline, said Mr Robinson.

"One's a travelogue fronted by a national treasure and the other one's a music history series fronted by a famous British rock star," he said.

Speaking about the industry, he said: "It never sort of fails to fascinate you that you can be sitting in Leeds making a programme that somebody on the other side of the world is going to enjoy. The shows that we made here like Tales from Northumberland with Robson Green or Tales from the Coast with Robson Green - they'd show that in New Zealand and Australia where there's lots of ex-pat Brits and knew who Robson was.

"So you're literally making shows that have been seen by people on the other side of the world and that's a really strange feeling but it feels like a real privilege, as well, to be able to do that."

The decision by Channel 4 to open a national headquarters in Leeds felt like a "real moment in history," he said.

"I just felt that being from Leeds, when that decision came through from Channel 4, we feel it's our time now in Leeds. It's our turn to shine. To prove to the world what we can do in Leeds.

"Because for a long time we've been in the shadow of Manchester and Salford in the north. And we've seen a brain drain or a talent drain across the Pennines [where there is the MediaCityUK complex]. And I think it's in our hands now to build up production in Leeds and to create a real production force this side of the Pennines. I think that's really important."