I received an email this morning from my friend and mentor, Toby Finlay, whose sublime artistry over the written word is matched only by his kindness and generosity in inspiring and supporting writers such as myself. Needless to say, it is always with the greatest pleasure and amusement to find Toby lurking about your inbox because you can always depend on his mischievous wit and wisdom to brighten even the most tedious of days. Indeed, for those who haven’t had the privilege of such an email, although you will have almost certainly encountered his shenanigans on twitter, think Captain Homer Jackson in one of his particularly poetic moods.
However, today’s correspondence took an altogether more melancholy turn. Before I heard the sad news elsewhere, Toby wanted to let me know that Ripper Street had been cancelled. Toby has written four episodes for the series and has had a significant role in developing several others. Along with series creator and lead writer, Richard Warlow, Toby is arguably one of the most significant players in the second – and tragically final – journey that has made us fall in love with Reid, Drake, Jackson, Susan, Rose and the rest of the gang all over again. The reason I mention this, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I belabour the point, is that Toby should have had more pressing matters to attend to but he took the time to be the first one to inform me. I think I mentioned his kindness and generosity.
In addition to the sudden and depressing realisation that we will never get to fully explore the lives of our favourite Whitechapel residents and learn of their collective future and fate, today’s news paints an altogether more unsettling portrait of the television industry and indeed the cultural appetite of its audience as a whole. Before we discuss this further, I want to take issue with the British Broadcasting Corporation themselves and the following quotes are extracts from the BBC’s own website which explicitly state their mission, vision and values:
To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.
To be the most creative organisation in the world.
Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.
Audiences are at the heart of everything we do.
We take pride in delivering quality and value for money.
Creativity is the lifeblood of our organisation.
We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best.
We are one BBC: great things happen when we work together.
I would argue that the BBC are not only failing as an organisation in their endeavour to uphold the admirable objective to “inform, educate and entertain” but also guilty of not really understanding their licence fee paying public or at least not acknowledging the hopes and dreams of its audience in terms of what we expect from prime time entertainment.
We want to be challenged with adult dramas that deal with stimulating plots and provocative themes and issues. Ripper Street not only manages – or should I say managed? – these things on a weekly basis, but given its social and historical context, also most certainly adheres to the BBC’s remit to “inform, educate and entertain”.
Furthermore, the BBC’s website also states its six public purposes which include “stimulating creativity and cultural excellence”. Despite producing many quality dramas over the years, and I do acknowledge the BBC’s rich cultural heritage – not only in television but also radio, I find it most difficult to relate today’s decision to cancel Ripper Street to any of their aforementioned aims and objectives. Indeed, in my humble opinion, the BBC is becoming increasingly indistinguishable from its more commercial and unsavoury rivals.
In order to justify the licence fee, the BBC needs to stand out from its other terrestrial television competitors rather than emulate them in their planning and commissioning of their much heralded promotion of “Original British Drama” or is this only applicable to those that are written by either Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss or indeed both? Yes, and since I’ve mentioned these two gentlemen who seem to enjoy the artistic freedom to pursue any personal indulgence or obsession, what an excessive extravagance to promote Doctor Who and Sherlock so heavily when the BBC clearly did not apply the same enthusiasm or passion in their advertising for Ripper Street.
Additionally, the BBC’s decision to axe Ripper Street also highlights the cultural bankruptcy of the commissioning panels and powers that be, an epidemic that is spreading throughout our television schedules at an alarming rate and embracing the mind numbing and increasing trends and appetites for reality television.
We have been refining the art of storytelling as a human race since we were cavemen. Stories that have made us laugh and stories that have made us cry. These stories have transcended the spoken word and prospered throughout literature, theatre, film and television. If reality TV continues to plague our screens and our popular culture, I fear what will happen to our art – what is says about its artists and about their audience. Indeed, what will become of the next generation of actors, writers and directors?
So as sad as today’s news is, this isn’t just about Ripper Street, it’s about the many half-witted dullards who make up the high viewing figures for reality trash and encourage the television industry to create more of the same.
After hearing today’s sad news from Toby, I decided almost immediately to start an online petition. By the time I finished work someone had already beaten me to it. Good! I’m glad, I not only hope you sign both my petition at the bottom of this page but also theirs and that you might even create one of your own. Indeed, I hope everyone who reads this will not just take a stand against the cancellation of Ripper Street but also make your frustration known that we demand that the BBC invest in quality drama and its artists.
Tell them that we demand a third series, or at the very least, an opportunity for the writers, directors and actors to complete the legacy of Ripper Street and bring closure to our beloved characters by way of a one-off special.
Ironically, one of the BBC’s stated values reads as follows “We are one BBC: great things happen when we work together”. There may be some truth in that!
The are more stories to be told.
More tears to shed and more laughs to share.
We demand to see them on BBC1.
Damian Michael Barcroft