HIS job is to deliver a vision of the future.
Peter Salmon is the first Director of BBC North, based at MediaCity in Salford Quays.
In his first interview since his appointment was announced this week, he told me: “We’ve done good things in Manchester.
“Now we can do truly great things here.”
I spoke to Burnley-born Peter yesterday, shortly after he visited the rapidly developing site where he and 2,400 BBC staff will be based by 2012.
You can read the online version of today’s MEN news story here.
But I thought those interested in the issues might like to read more of what he said.
As well as seeing a wider selection of the excellent MEN photos taken by my colleague Chris Gleave.
Having just got the job, this wasn’t the time for Peter to give an in-depth interview about his future plans.
But in a ten minute chat he outlined a snapshot of his current thoughts.
Along with the moment he came over all Peter Kay.
With his personal roots and TV track record in Manchester and the north west, he seemed an obvious candidate for the new role.
Also having been involved in steering the Out Of London plans before he – temporarily – left the BBC for The Television Corporation in 2005.
Even so, I asked him why he wanted the job.
“It’s the biggest thing that the media are planning, the biggest venture, the biggest idea, the biggest site that is on the radar for the next 10 years,” he replied.
“It’s a massive idea, as well as a massive physical venture. And it could really change the way we make programmes and the way we interact with audiences in a way that I think it’s difficult to do in some other places, with the current set up.
“But there is a chance for us to start again in the north of England. That’s wonderful.”
What were his latest impressions from visiting the site that morning?
“I’ve only looked at it from across the water, from The Lowry and the Imperial War Museum in the past and this was my first chance to wander around some of the completed spaces.
“I thought it was pretty awesome. You think to yourself, ‘OK, now creatively and editorially, we’ve got to live up to this investment, to this infrastructure, to these buildings.’
“The BBC is going for this big time in the north of England and it’s only when you wander around and you see the thousand builders and the glass brought in from Belgium and the people who work all night on the enterprise, and the rest of it, that you think to yourself, ‘We’ve got a lot to live up to.’
“We’ve got to deliver, this has got to be great. It’s got to be worth all of this. And that’s my job. My job is to make sure now that the people and the ideas now live up to the investment the BBC has made in this incredible new venture.”
There is already speculation that the new job could be a stepping stone to eventually taking over as Director General of the BBC.
But, for the moment, Peter has made a decision that will now be on the minds of many BBC employees in London and the south east – to move to Salford. Was it an easy decision?
“It was an easy one to make a decision to come and lead the whole Salford BBC North venture because it is genuinely extraordinary.
“Uprooting people, moving just at the moment, relocating people that you care about and all the rest of it is complicated. And I think everybody who’s contemplating a move, and, obviously, some won’t make it and others will – each of those is going to be going through their own individual, personal issues right now and I understand where they’re at.
“It is a complicated thing to do and everybody’s different. You have elderly relatives or you have property issues or you’ve got kids in school or you’ve got partners that work, it just makes it complex and it means that those people are in a different place.
“But they’re some of the people I’m now going to be working with, so we’re in the same boat and I’m going to be working with them to make sure the people that want to go, need to understand just how exciting and ambitious this idea is. And I think that will probably make a difference.”
Will he be keeping a home in or around London?
“I’ve no idea yet what I’m going to do. You speak to me on my first day in the job and I’ve no idea what my own arrangements are, other than this is where I’m going to be based. I’m looking forward to that.”
Obviously some current BBC employees in London attached to the five departments moving to Salford will decide they can’t make the transfer. But that, I suggested, created new opportunities for others.
“It does. It’s swings and roundabouts. I understand that. It’s much better that we come to a point with people who really can relish that and also people who, sadly, can’t, and just reflect on that. And then move on and just crack on with filling these buildings with the most talented people the BBC can possibly recruit.”
Peter will join the BBC Executive Board in 2010 and report directly to Director General Mark Thompson. What does that say to cynics who maintain the final say, when it comes to the crunch on big issues involving Salford and the North, will still rest with the BBC in London?
“BBC North is part of the BBC. We’re stronger by being a part of the bigger BBC network, whether that’s BBC Scotland, the BBC in Bristol or the BBC in London. We’re stronger when we pull together and BBC North is a mix of all that’s best about the BBC, whether it’s Comedy North or radio drama or sport. What’s brilliant about it is – this is the united colours of the BBC in one place. And as a consequence, you’ve got to work with people in other places and that’s where the best things and the most interesting things get done editorially, anyway.
“There’s a very clear signal about this, which is – I’m directly responsible for a number of key services, they report to the Director of BBC North, and some other services are shared between me and some other great colleagues elsewhere, including London. And you know what, I’m fine by that. I think a mixed economy is best because – I know it sounds silly – you get help from other people, you get ideas from other people, you get collaboration and co-operation. You get people wanting to add more. If you close the doors and you bolt them and you lock them, it means that you haven’t got the partners and the support. So I want the pipelines to run both ways.
“In the same way, I want the BBC in the North to be full of other partnerships too. I’m really keen that the independent television sector think this is great for them. I’m really keen that we get great facilities houses up here and great craft skills. I’m really keen that training and learning is a major part of what we do. I do think that the partnerships we can strike up in novel and innovative ways is going to be the key to whether this is old style BBC or new style BBC.”
The official release on his appointment says Peter will start his new job in mid-2009?
“I’m starting straight away, actually, to be fair. It’s just that I can’t do it full time. I’m kind of part-time on this job and part-time running the BBC’s in-house production operation. But to some extent, that’s OK because part of my current job anyway involves the north. A lot of my programme makers are based here in Manchester, already – drama, comedy, religion etc. Some of my troops are already here on the ground and in some ways it might be helpful, just for a while anyway, to bring some of that together, given that I’m wearing both hats.”
What will be his first aims and tasks?
“My number one goal is about people. It’s about great people with great attitudes in a great place. It’s very clear, that’s really all I’m going to be doing for the first period, is making sure that great people come to Salford and work for BBC North, because buildings are wonderful but it’s the people inside them that bring them alive and make them vibrant.”
Minutes before this interview, Peter had spoken to staff at the BBC’s current Manchester HQ in Oxford Road.
“I stood on the stage like Peter Kay. I felt like Geraldine without the wig. I stood there and it was like The Wheeltappers and Shunters or something. I could see some people were just having a sandwich and were thinking, ‘Who’s that bloke in a blue jumper?’ And other people were thinking, ‘Ooh, I think that’s the new boss.’
“It’s wholly positive here. As you hope it would be. It’s the BBC, we’ve done good things in Manchester. Now we can do truly great things here.”
Peter is a former director of programmes at ITV Granada in Manchester, and worked on shows from Coronation Street to Cold Feet via The Royle Family – produced by Granada for the BBC. There has been speculation that Granada will leave its present Quay Street site and move to a new location in or near MediaCity in Salford – but no official decision has been announced. I presumed that, like many previous BBC executives, he would welcome that?
“The bigger the critical mass of creative people in Manchester, the more of us who can collaborate and co-operate and share and offer people great careers right across the place, the better. I love the Granada brand, I’ve loved a lot of their programmes for years, it’s an organisation I’ve always rated, so I really hope they can be part of the enterprise that we build as well.”
Peter’s many and different roles in broadcasting have included the job of Director of BBC Sport – one of the departments moving to Salford. Had he been able to hang on to his season ticket at Burnley while living in the south?
“No, I haven’t. But I’m looking forward to the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-finals in January and hopefully our putting out our fourth London side and getting to Wembley. So bring on the Spurs.”
Surely, I suggested, Match Of The Day’s transfer to Salford has been timed to co-incide with Burnley’s eventual promotion to the Premiership?
“Now you’re getting ahead even of me, and I’m passionate about them,” he replied.
Finally, I asked Peter again for his personal thoughts as he stood on the site that morning.
“I felt very proud and I felt very passionate. It made me feel even more passionate about the project. I thought, ‘Wow – fancy being picked to do all this? It’s a privilege.’ And also what a responsibility. But I hope the one thing I bring to it is a passion for it, and it made me feel even more passionate about making this just world-beating.”
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