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Ivory Tower: The UK’s premier university media relations agency pitch some programme ideas

Somewhere in Great Portland Street…

BBC Commissioner: So good that you could come over, and isn’t it great that we can meet in person again?

Juniper: Just the six of us at the moment.

BBC Commissioner: Yes, this is Diane Robertson, head of scheduling, and in keeping with our charter renewal programme, for any meeting to commission new content we have someone present form the Department of Culture Media and Sport.

McCall: And Flags.

Commissioner: Sorry?

McCall: I thought that was their new name, the department of culture, media, sport and flags.

Juniper: Just his little joke, Rupert. You’ve met the other half of Juniper-McCall, this is Oliver, and this is our degree apprentice Janet. Janet, this is Rupert Fortesque-Browne, head of programme commissioning at the BBC.

Fortesque-Browne: An apprentice? How marvellous, if I had my time again that’s what I’d do. None of that useless academic stuff, learn something useful that’s what I say.

Janet: What did you do, out of interest?

Fortesque-Browne: I went to Merton College.

Janet: In Wimbledon?

Fortesque-Browne: No, Merton College Oxford, I did PPE.

Janet: And that didn’t help you become head of commissioning at the BBC?

Juniper: No time for small talk, lots to discuss.

Fortesque-Browne: Yes, quite and this is Barry. He’s from the DCMS.

Barry: Ignore me, I’m just taking notes.

Robertson: We’re very excited to see what you’ve come up with.

Fortesque-Browne: Yes, a lot of the creative agencies in London wouldn’t touch the brief. So, we had a chat with the DfE and your name came up.

Juniper: It’s a bit of an unusual brief.

Robertson: It’s all part of our charter renewal framework.

Fortesque-Browne: It ticks a lot of boxes for us. Universities are never out of the news these days. They are so zietgeisty. So, we thought it a good idea to commission some programmes based on higher education.

Robertson: While also promoting the best of British values.

Barry: That’s very important.

McCall: I thought you were just taking notes.

Barry: I’ve noted your name, Mr McCall.

Fortesque-Browne: Yes, under our new director general, all new programmes should appeal to the heart felt values and legitimate concerns of the British people.

Janet: Told you we should have gone to Netflix.

Juniper: Thank you, Janet. We are delighted by the opportunity to pitch some programme ideas.

Robertson: Excellent, so, in your own time, let’s hear what you’ve got.

McCall: Well, in the spirit of the government’s priorities for education, and the BBC’s preference for re-makes, we offer you a new version of the Sidney Poitier and Lulu classic, To Sir With Love.

Fortesque-Browne: Only, it’s set in a university? That was the brief.

McCall: Absolutely, the story is transferred from an East End secondary school to a Russell Group university. A gritty tale of social mobility and racial tolerance, in which an inspirational lecturer helps his students reach their full potential.

Robertson: Sounds great but let me just explore the race thing a little. As you know, because the government did a big report on it, there is no racism in Britain anymore. We’d be keen to make that clear.

Juniper: That’s good to know. I can assure you that there is no structural racism in universities.

Janet: Really?

Juniper: Absolutely Janet, are you not listening to what the nice people from the BBC are saying?

Janet: But less that 1 per cent of vice-chancellors are from BAME backgrounds.

Robertson: That’s racist.

Janet: It certainly is.

Robertson: Yes, we don’t say BAME anymore, it’s part of our charter renewal framework.

Janet: Eh?

Fortesque-Browne: I think we might struggle to cast this one, to be honest. Moving on, what else do you have?

McCall: Sticking with the BBC’s preference for re-makes, we give you a new soap for young people, Grange Hill University.

Juniper: Since Grange Hill went off the air, there have been changes to legislation and now it has evolved from a north London secondary into a provider of higher education, and Mrs McCluskey has become vice-chancellor.

Robertson: It’s more likely that Grange Hill would now be part of an academy chain and Mrs McCluskey would be a super head.

Juniper: And paid even more than a vice-chancellor.

Fortesque-Browne: To be honest, I’m not sure if we want to promote the idea of more people going to university. We are more interested in the meaty stories that are making headlines. Have you got anything else?

McCall: Watchdog!

Robertson: The old consumer affairs programme?

McCall: Yes, but now it’s about consumers being ripped off by unscrupulous universities: tuition fees, rental refunds, grade inflation…

Fortesque-Browne: That’s more like it. What does the Office for Students think? Aren’t they the watchdog for higher education?

Juniper: Maybe, we’ll need to think about the name.

Robertson: Do you have anything else?

McCall: A six-episode flat-share sitcom called, Snowflakes.

Juniper: Think, The Young Ones meets Citizen Smith meets Fleabag.

Robertson: Sounds a bit like Fresh Meat.

Juniper: Yes, it would be totally original.

Robertson: No, I mean it sounds like the show Fresh Meat that already exists.

Fortesque-Browne: Do you have anything else? I think we might be nearly out of time.

McCall: Prevent!

Robertson: Sorry?

McCall: A fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows staff from the Home Office countering extremism on university campuses.

Fortesque-Browne: Go on…

McCall: We see them visiting libraries to remove restricted books. We see them visiting halls of residence to inspect posters on the walls in dorms. We see them visiting the vice-chancellor’s office to check issued guidelines are up to date.

Robertson: No, anything else?

McCall: Musical Statues!

Fortesque-Browne: What’s that about?

McCall: Each episode visits a university campus with a contested statue. Rather than remove the statue we bring in a pop star to write a song about it to retain and explain.

Robertson: What pop star would do that?

McCall: We’ve approached Roger Daltrey, Van Morrison, and Noel Gallagher.

Fortesque-Browne: Ok, I think we are done here.

Janet: Can I make a suggestion?

Fortesque-Browne: Please do, it can’t be any worse than anything we’ve heard so far.

Janet: You are interested in remakes?

Fortesque-Browne: Of course, it’s the BBC.

Janet: You are interested in reaching family audiences?

Robertson: That would be ideal.

Janet: You want to tap into the universities stories zeitgeist?

Fortesque-Browne: That was the brief.

Janet: You want to take sides in the culture war?

Robertson: It’s part of our charter renewal framework.

Janet: From Supervet to All Creature Great and Small, everyone loves a show with animals, right?

Robertson: Absolutely.

Janet: I give you, Champion: The Free Speech Wonder Horse.

McCall: “Like a streak of lightning flashing cross the sky. Like the swiftest arrow whizzin’ from a bow. Like a mighty cannonball he seems to fly. You’ll hear about him on every campus you go. The time will come when everyone will know the name of Free speech Champion the wonder horse. Free speech Champion the wonder horse”.

Janet: Pop, I think Champ is trying to tell us something?

Juniper: What’s that Champ? There’s a group of woke students trying to no-platform a Holocaust denier?

Janet: Ride to the rescue Champ, I’ll report it to the Office for Students.

McCall: Champion the free speech wonder horse!

Fortesque-Browne: In 30 years at the BBC, I have never heard such complete and utter…

Barry: [coughs]

Fortesque-Browne: Really?

Barry: [nods]

Robertson: Our charter renewal framework commits us to promoting free speech.

Fortesque-Browne: And flags.

Robertson: And pictures of the Queen. Might there be some union jacks and pictures of the Queen in Champs’ stable?

McCall: There could be, don’t see why not. It will be set on a farm in Surrey rather than a ranch in California.

Fortesque-Browne: Let’s commission a pilot episode, see what it looks like. Who’s going to write it?

Janet: Now that my online classes are finished, I’m free for the next few months.

Robertson: New writing talent as well. I’ll set the wheels in motion for a press release.

Fortesque-Browne: Remember to mention the apprentice thing.

Juniper: So, is it a maybe for Musical Statues?

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared with friends like an unlawful government contract for communications advice during a pandemic. Want to pre-order the DVD of Champion: The Free Speech Wonder Horse? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com