I think the unifying strand in the programmes I´ve worked on and overseen during my television career is that without being earnest, or pompous, they are aimed at improving life a little bit and helping us to understand ourselves. I started out as an arts producer at the BBC and it was there that I devised Bookworm, a popular books programme, and the Nations Favourite Poems series, which led to the first anthology of poems I edited. The BBC was where I started the shows Looking Good and Home Front and these shows were a new format for the time, presenter led, reality TV shows which showed real people learning how to improve their homes or their look with the help of experts. These were educational and entertaining programmes which made you think, yes, I could do that. I wanted viewers to become involved and empowered and feel as though these shows reflected their own lives.
Since I moved to TalkBack I have concentrated even more on exploring how people can take charge of their lives. Grand Designs (which follows people trying to build their own homes), Property Ladder (how people make money through property investment) and House Doctor are all very successful shows I think because they reflect the way in which our houses reflect ourselves, our dreams and aspirations as well as our failures. Yes, the participants in the last two programmes are trying to make more money through their homes but they are also learning how to present their houses, how to ´sell a dream´ – isn´t this what the British love affair with property is all about? While Grand Designs explores building the dream, literally from the ground up. With shows like Ýour Money or Your Life, and Life Laundry, the production teams took on the very modern concern with self-help and applied it in practical ways, from learning to budget to ´clearing out the clutter´.
I think this emphasis on self-improvement will continue in television today not only with shows dedicated to learning about improving your personal hygiene or your sex life but even your emotional life. We´ve tackled houses and clothes, outer expressions of our personalities, now we are homing in on what really matters, our inner lives. My poetry anthologies and programmes are all about this, as they are really about exploring not just the intellectual impact of poems, but why they resonate with us in the way they do, reflecting our moments of humour, frustration, joy or pain. As well as a continuing emphasis on our inner lives, I predict a surge in Tightwad TV, or TV that rejects consumerism and tries to answer at our real needs. For example, I´m working on a show called Live Your Life for Half the Price for the BBC which helps label addicts learn how to get in control of their spending habits. Why spend 500 pounds on a handbag if you can have the same thing for 50 pounds? What makes us feel we have to spend more in order to feel good about ourselves?
Finally, my latest TV series, Essential Poems (to fall in love with), Essential Byron, Essential Poems for Britain and Essential Poems for Christmas, all for BBC2, have given me a chance to indulge my own passion for poetry and I hope inspire some viewers to feel the same! We have had the opportunity to work with wonderful actors who bring these poems to life, often forcing me to reassess my own understanding or opinion about a poem, and showing how much poetry is a living and vital thing. Essential Byron explored the life and work of one of the first ´celebrities´ of literature, the Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain of his time, while Essential Poems for Britain looked at how our images of our country have changed in the twenty-first century. Essential Poems (to fall in love with) revisited the first of my best selling anthology series with wonderful readings and new poems which you can now see and hear on DVD, VHS or Audiobook.