I am in a former factory in North London which has been converted into the set for a new ITV Studio’s production. ‘Mr Selfridge‘ will chart the life and times of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the larger than life entrepreneur from Chicago who transformed shopping and turned retail into an art form.
The visit, arranged by ITV, is part of a programme of work I have been doing to learn about the UK television industry. It’s all possible due to an organisation here at Westminster, called the Industry and Parliament Trust, which develops and improves the relationship between Parliamentarians and industries of all kinds.
One of their most popular activities is the Fellowship Scheme in which you spend 18 days learning in depth about an industry, sector or company. It’s a big commitment, both for the Parliamentarian and for the organisations involved, but really worthwhile.
My Fellowship in UK television has led me to a much better understanding of how it works as an industry, how each of the organisations operates and how they relate to each other to create a sector which is regarded as one of the best in the world. UK television doesn’t just provide us with our entertainment, it’s a major job creator, generates exports and helps to keep us influential in ways and in places where more traditional methods can’t.
As television is a highly regulated area, it’s essential that there are Members in both Houses who really understand how it works. Even a fun visit such the one I undertook today improves my understanding of some key issues – how much effort and skill it takes to produce high-end costume drama and why it is so expensive. Why it is important to remain competitive as a place to make programmes in an increasingly globalised industry. The potential significance of the tax breaks for high quality TV drama announced by the Chancellor in the last budget. How important it is for UK companies to make programmes which can appeal to export markets, generating income for investing in what we will be seeing on our screens.
‘Mr Selfridge’ has already been pre-sold to the US, Australia, Israel and Sweden. And ITV Studio’s ‘Titanic’, broadcast on ITV1 earlier this year, has been sold to over 100 territories worldwide. The ladies in the crinolines may not know it, but they are playing their part in the economic success of the UK, as well as giving us some damn good telly!