EXCLUSIVE: Jimmy Mulville, the BAFTA-winning British producer who was a ferocious opponent of the BBC’s decision to sideline BBC Three, has applauded the broadcaster for its volte-face over the youth network.
The Hat Trick Productions boss teamed up with Avalon co-executive chairman Jon Thoday in 2015 to launch an audacious and sometimes fractious bid to buy BBC Three after the BBC said it was slashing the network’s budget and moving it online. Their campaign ultimately failed and the BBC switched off BBC Three’s linear television channel in 2016.
Four years on, and the corporation has performed a screeching u-turn. In its annual plan published today, the BBC said it is doubling BBC Three’s budget from somewhere in the range of £30-40M to £60-80M ($74M-$98) — effectively reversing the funding cut it made in 2016.
The BBC also confirmed it is considering plans to restore BBC Three to television, saying it would be “wrong not to back a service that is doing better than anyone could have ever conceived.” It is not clear what the timetable is for the decision, and any plan to reinstate BBC Three would require regulatory approval from Ofcom.
Mulville said the change of heart was “fantastic” news. “We all make decisions and then decide it wasn’t the right decision. If you have the moral courage to reverse the decision, you reverse the decision,” he told Deadline. “More than that, the idea that they are going to increase investment into this kind of programming is very good news for all of us.”
Central to the BBC’s thinking is that the youth network is in fine fettle. BBC Three has produced a string of hits since it moved online, with the jewel in the crown being the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning comedy Fleabag, which has propelled creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge to global stardom and landed her an overall deal with Amazon.
Its other success stories include This Country, which is being remade by Fox, and more recently Normal People. The Hulu co-production has racked up 38M views since launching last month and helped BBC Three to its best-ever week since it moved online in 2016.
Mulville said the network had overcome the odds to become a hits machine. “It has continued to prove that it is pumping out some really great shows. Any business backs a part of the business that is working well, and they’re backing it,” he said. The Have I Got News For You and Episodes producer added: “I’m just so grateful that the BBC is considering restoring BBC Three because it really is a huge addition to the portfolio — and it’s clearly reaching out to its audience.”