Tom Conti calls for better TV drama

HAMPSTEAD actor Tom Conti has called for BBC bosses to follow the lead of their US counterparts and make better quality television dramas. The Shirley Valentine star, who was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his role in Reuben, Reuben, was

Tan Parsons

HAMPSTEAD actor Tom Conti has called for BBC bosses to follow the lead of their US counterparts and make better quality television dramas.

The Shirley Valentine star, who was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his role in Reuben, Reuben, was dismayed that the final instalment of Frederic Raphael's Glittering Prizes trilogy was only due to be aired on the radio.

The first series, in which Mr Conti played the lead role, was broadcast on television in 1976 to critical acclaim but he says that today programming chiefs still regard British television audiences as too stupid to appreciate good drama.


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He said: "I like all sorts of American shows - the Sopranos, West Wing, The Wire, Mad Men - there's a whole string of terrific drama.

"Of course there is a great deal of money in America - West Wing costs about �4million per episode.

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"But it's the quality of the writing - they weren't trying to get an audience, they were trying to make something splendid. That's what we used to do in this country."

He blames Baron John Birt, who was director-general of the BBC from 1992 to 2000, for the state of television drama in Britain. He says he made the corporation centre around money, although concedes that attitudes are gradually starting to turn.

"I think it's fair to say it's changing," he said. "They have had that attitude but there's a lot of talk now about returning to quality programming. I hope the same is happening here now as happened in the US years ago. Eventually the people who work in the industry there said 'For God's sake let's make something we want to watch'.

"We are not there yet, but there's a move towards a change. And ITV will follow suit."

He says the BBC is still afflicted by a terror of presenting anything as 'posh' and a reluctance to show people who speak properly.

"What we are doing when you say you can't have anything posh is that you are saying is 'don't hope for anything - don't aspire to anything', and that's a deadly way to think," he continued.

"I don't mean everybody should talk posh but they should talk in a manner that's comprehensible.

"We have to hope there are people in the BBC buildings now who actually do want to make better stuff and hopefully stuff that they want to watch.

"The skill is about scripts - it doesn't necessarily have to be about murders. You can make a drama about a man who makes coat hangers and if the script is well written people will enjoy watching it."

On the lack of British success at the Oscars on Sunday night, he feels the results were fair.

He says The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow's film about bomb disposal soldiers, was a worthy winner of the best picture category, and more deserving than the blockbuster Avatar made by her former husband James Cameron.

"Avatar was an extraordinary movie but I think The Hurt Locker has more areas of quality in it generally. It was beautifully made.

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