Industry and Institution
Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) and the BBC
In order for us to study British Television, and the BBC in particular, it is essential
for us to understand what Public Service Broadcasting is and how
this helps to give British television its distinctive style and worldwide reputation.
Public – that’s us. Yes, essentially we “own” the BBC because we pay for it via
the annual TV licence fee.
Public Service – this means exactly that. There is an obligation for British
television to provide a service for, and in the best interests of us – the public.
Broadcasting – the key here is the word ‘broad’. Across all of its channels
British television has a duty to appeal to a wide audience. If we compare
British PSB channels to satellite or cable channels then the difference becomes
obvious. In the early days of Sky there used to be a God Channel – yes, a
channel devoted to programmes about God. I suppose a more contemporary
example might be MUTV – Manchester United’s own channel. Neither of these
two channels has a broad appeal and could be seen as examples of how the
digital age has led to narrowcasting, as opposed to broadcasting.
So, Public Service Broadcasting, by definition, has an obligation to appeal to a
wide audience by providing the public with a mixed diet of programmes. You
could say that it has a duty to please some people all of the time and all of the
people some of the time.
The Royal Charter
Since 1927 Public Service Broadcasters have been granted a licence to
broadcast – known as The Royal Charter. The Royal Charter is the constitutional
basis for the BBC. It sets out the public purposes of the BBC, guarantees its
independence, and outlines the duties of the Trust and the Executive Board. The
current Charter runs until 31 December 2016.
Essentially this sets out a list of rules, or remit, that PSB must adhere to. In its
simplest form PSB must do three things:
If it fails in its obligations then its licence to broadcast may be removed. The
Charter is reviewed every 10 years.
Principles of public service broadcasting:
It aspires to universal availability and appeal
It seeks to cater for substantial minorities as well as the majorities
It should be independent, particularly of political and commercial interests
It encourages competition in good programming rather than competition
Ø It should liberate, rather than restrict programme makers
The BBC and Funding
Every household in Britain that uses a television set or accesses digital television
via a computer must, by law, purchase a television licence. The current cost of a
licence is £145.50 per year. This licence enables everyone to watch all of the
All of the money from the licence fee goes to the BBC.
Commercial television channels – ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 – are also
required to follow the PSB expectations, but their income is raised through
advertising and sponsorship.
If you work it out, the licence fee itself would not enable the BBC to create so
many quality programmes and therefore there has to be some other source of
BBC Worldwide – The BBC sells programmes to television networks all around
DVD sales – walk into any HMV and see how many DVDs and box sets there
are of BBC programmes
Merchandising – from Dr Who pencil cases to Teletubbies toys, the BBC raises
All of the above provide the BBC with an annual budget of £4.8 billion:
£3600 million from licence fees
£222 million from commercial interests
£289 million from government grants
£272 million from worldwide sales; concerts; tickets etc.
Having such a healthy annual income allows the BBC to continue to make quality
programmes – and it is these programmes that help to generate income through
worldwide and commercial sales.
Commercial channels make their money by charging for adverts and
sponsorship. The more viewers – the more they can charge, the cheaper the
show – the greater the profit.
The advertisers want large audiences; the commercial channels want popular
shows that cost relatively little. The result? Reality shows, game shows, talent
shows – popular entertainment but mindless!
The BBC, due to way it is funded, has no obligation to any advertisers but it does
have a duty to satisfy the needs of the public.
Hence the BBC created EastEnders to rival ITV’s Coronation Street, The Voice
to rival The X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent etc.
Unlike the commercial channels, however, the BBC has established itself as the
world’s leading television company by producing quality and fostering a global
reputation fro reliability and trust.
The BBC and Audience
Viewing figures (ratings) will confirm the obvious: BBC1 is the most popular
channel. The remaining three channels help fulfil the PSB remit to cater equally
for different social, cultural, ethnic and other groups in our society. The BBC’s
website provides a snapshot of the target audience for its main channels:
Research the programme content on BBC Three – how is this appealing to the
target 16-30 age group?
Pick 4 shows (apart from Bluestone 42) and note down how they fit into the
target audience – what is appealing about them? Narrative? Characters? Issues?
Example 1 –
Example 2 –
Example 3 –
Bluestone 42 is an eight-part comedy drama about a British bomb disposal
detachment in Afghanistan. It is a series about a bunch of soldiers who
love being soldiers, and the camaraderie, bonds and banter they share,
even though they are risking their lives defusing hidden bombs.
Written by Richard Hurst (Secret Diary Of A Call Girl) and James Cary (Miranda)
in their first original commission, the series has been carefully researched and
informed by serving and former members of the armed forces and military
experts, to take the audience through authentic, compelling, surprising and funny
stories about how heroes pass their time in between saving lives.
The Bluestone 42 cast includes Oliver Chris (Green Wing) as Captain Nick
Medhurst, the wise-cracking expert who heads up the team and Kelly Adams
(Hustle) who plays Mary, the new Padre joining the unit, who also quickly
becomes the object of Nick’s desire. Gary Carr (Death In Paradise) plays Nick’s
eager number two, Corporal Christian Mills and Katie Lyons (Boy A) is Corporal
Lynda Bird, who just wants to be one of the lads. Stephen Wight (The Paradise)
plays the sensible, old-before-his-time, Lance Corporal Simon Lansley, Jamie
Quinn (Taggart) plays Mac, the Private with an encyclopaedic knowledge of filth
and Scott Hoatson (Case Histories) portrays Rocket, a Private who isn’t the
sharpest bayonet in the drawer. The commander of the entire battlegroup is
Lieutenant Colonel Philip Smith, played by Tony Gardner (Fresh Meat), and
helping them all along the way is Faruq, their Afghan interpreter, played by
Keeno Lee Hector (Beaver Falls).
This is not just a show for soldiers and it is not just about the Army: it’s also a
show for anybody who has ever fallen in love, experienced status battles at work
or had a fear of failure. It is packed with the lively workmate banter and
relationship minefields that most people will recognise, even if they don’t face
danger on a daily basis...
Zai Bennett, Controller of BBC Three says: “In the long tradition of armybased comedy dramas, Bluestone 42 is a warm and funny series about a
bunch of mates who happen to be soldiers, making the best of their
circumstances in the only way they know how - through laughter and
camaraderie. Richard and James’ script and Stephen and Michelle’s production
skills really do justice to our armed forces and the incredible job they do.”
BRITISH TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN
The United States led an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to reduce the
power of the Taliban and Al Queda following the September 11th attacks in New
York. British troops were involved in the invasion named Operation Enduring
Freedom in October 2001. The Taliban were driven from power and military
bases were built near major cities across the country. Since then, most recently
under the command of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) British troops
have been helping keep the peace in the country.
From 2011, an exit strategy has been planned for British troops to leave
the country by the end of 2014. There are around 130,000 combat troops in the
international security force who have been helping train Afghan police and army.
To date (December 2013) 447 British soldiers have lost their lives there.
Further information on the war in Afghanistan can be found at:
Comedy – the genre and situation comedy
“Comedy was for centuries the most appropriate genre for representing the lives,
not of the ruling class, of those with extensive power, but of the middle and lower
orders of society, those whose power was limited and local, whose manners,
behaviours and values were considered by their ‘betters’ to be either trivial, or
vulgar, or both.”
Popular Film & Television
Comedy relies on the generation of laughter, often through challenging the
cultural expectations of society, to be extraordinary in its portrayal of events.
Ø The same characters appear in each episode and rarely develop or
Ø Episodes are usually 30 minutes long
Ø The setting is similar in each one
Ø The setting is usually either a work place or a home
Ø Characters often reinforce stereotypes (often of race, class, sexual and
Ø The narrative is situation led (using a comic event, or visual humour or a
Ø Characters often have catchphrases or sayings, repeated once or more in
Ø There are often disruptions to aid the humour but the primary plot is
resolved in each episode
Ø There is a ‘re-familiarising’ of a recurring situation (resolved at the end of
each episode and redefined
Ø So the situation is not allowed to change but is subjected to a recurring
process of de-stabilisation – re-stabilisation in each episode
Philip Drummond refers to ‘synchronizing motifs’ in sitcoms – in other words, a
set of regular occurring bits of business, repeated situations and
catchphrases used in episodes.
Comedy and verisimilitude
The word verisimilitude means the appearance of being true or real.
Comic surprise comes from challenging the values and expectations of the
outside world that the audience may assume from their everyday experience.
There are 2 kinds of verisimilitude according to Tzvetan Todorov:
1. The ‘norms’ embedded in public opinion
2. Respecting the rules of a genre or form (decorum)
Comedy often challenges accepted verisimilitude by stereotyping further the
characters and situations, creating a transgression of norms and typical
Comedy deviates from accepted representations and aesthetics creating comic
surprise using extraordinary events and situations within the verisimilitude or
Sitcoms are often said to be a site of negotiation of cultural change and
“As such the sitcom cannot simply repeat itself but rather its structuring
mechanisms serve as a means of reaffirming norms by placing that which is
‘outside’ or potentially threatening.”
Popular Film and Television Comedy
o Watch the first episode of Bluestone 42:
Make notes on the following key points:
Representations and stereotypes (of individual characters; of place and the army
Sources of humour:
Audience response to Bluestone 42
Read through the reviews below and highlight key points (whether the
critics like the show, their concerns about the subject matter and content
Online review on Amazon:
This review is from: Bluestone 42 [DVD] (DVD)
I am currently serving with the Army and have deployed on operations along with
many friends and family.
I have been watching this weekly on the tv and find it hilarious as it captures a lot
of the humor and banter that goes on. Much of the service way of life is a sense
of humor that many would consider to be in bad taste however this is the way in
which we cope with the extraordinary situations that we have to face on a daily
In response to "Ultimate reviewer" i would suggest his problem is with the
legitimacy of the wars that my generation has fought and not the program itself.
They clearly do not understand the mentality of our wounded (i have friends who
have come back with the odd part missing)they would and do find this series
amusing. The military way is not to sit and complain but to pick yourself up and
make the best of the situation. They also seem to have a problem with the story
being based in Afghan, where else would you set a series about an Army EOD
team than the country with the most IED's and mines in the world!! Do tv and film
companies have to make up countries just to prevent the risk of offending
The show rotates around the banter, which many would consider border line
abuse, amongst the unit. However this is true amongst the real military but it is
actually just the way we are and to be considered affectionate. Unfortunately
female squaddies do fart burp and swear like the rest of us and we love them all
the more for it because many of them when away from ops and on a regimental
function night scrub up brilliantly and shine!
i must quote the aforementioned reviewer "Bluestone is silly, puerile, politically
incorrect, sexist and offensive" my response welcome to the military my friend!! If
you dont like it dont watch it!
I hope the BBC makes a second series as i think it is brilliant the characters
remind me of many people i have served with the banter is amusing and the
situations although funny kinda realistic at times. I will continue to watch the
series on tv and will buy it when it is released as it will make me laugh again and
The TV critics:
Well, would you let Miranda try to defuse a Taliban bomb?
Christopher Stevens reviews last night's TV
Supposing you were asked to devise an antidote to Miranda, BBC1’s slapstick
romcom set in a joke shop, what would you come up with? It might well be
Bluestone 42, a sitcom about a British bomb disposal team deep in Taliban
Instead of Miranda Hart’s yelps of ‘golly-gosh’, it had bucketloads of obscenities.
Red-hot shrapnel instead of whoopee cushions, body armour instead of fancydress outfits.
And when characters fell over suddenly, that wasn’t loveable clumsiness. They’d
been shot in the head.
But Bluestone 42, taking its title from the Afghanistan bomb squad’s codename,
came from the pens of two Miranda co-writers, Richard Hurst and James Cary.
Frontline sitcom is not new. M*A*S*H, the Korean War black comedy set in a
field hospital and starring Alan Alda, ran for 13 years — its final episode in 1983
had 105 million viewers.
In Britain, Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder ended up in the World War I trenches
for his final series, in 1989. But those wars were ancient history; the Afghanistan
conflict is still claiming the lives of British soldiers.
As the Bluestone unit evacuated a combat zone after a firefight last night, one of
the characters — troublemaker Mac, played by Jamie Quinn — started sending
up the CIA braggart who had just got his head blown off. His commander
screamed at him to shut up. ‘Too soon?’ asked Mac, innocently.
And there have been cries of ‘too soon’ at this sitcom. Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a
former colonel in the Sherwood Foresters who saw action in the Balkans, said
that until the fighting ends, an Afghanistan comedy is not ‘in the best of taste’.
Bluestone 42 tries for authenticity. Not many sitcoms have footage of F-15
Eagles and Apache helicopters.
The jargon is convincing — ‘Drills and skills! Crack on!’ barks Captain Nick
Medhurst (Oliver Chris from Green Wing) after ending a firefight by firing a
bazooka at an insurgents’ sniper nest.
One line was worthy of M*A*S*H’s black humour. Worried he is becoming too
battle-hardened, Medhurst admitted: ‘When Col Carter died, I felt nothing — just
some mild irritation at the paperwork. And that wasn’t even that bad in the end.’
Medhurst fancies himself rotten, and he can’t understand why the unit’s peroxideblonde padre, played by Kelly Adams, doesn’t seem eager to be defrocked by
For all the swearing and gunsmoke, this will-they-won’t-they romance is at the
core of the comedy — not so different from Miranda after all.
Despite the danger, the heat and the bullets, the characters looked proud to be
Christopher Stevens, Daily Mail
Tuesday's must-see TV: Bombs and banter with BBC3's Helmland
comedy Bluestone 42, but are the jokes 'too soon'?
Putting all thoughts of whether Bluestone 42 is wildly
inappropriate or not to one side, thank goodness that
it’s actually very funny
Bluestone 42 – BBC3, 10pm
“Too soon?” one character asks in Bluestone 42 after he makes a tasteless quip
about the death of a CIA officer.
That’s the question you might be asking after watching BBC3’s new sitcom about
a bomb disposal team in Helmand Province. After all, it’s usually polite to wait
until a war is actually over before you start making jokes about it.
The Korean War had been done and dusted for more than 20 years before
M*A*S*H waded in.
The same goes for Dad’s Army, while Blackadder Goes Forth waited a good 80
years for the dust from the First World War to settle.
And after the number of documentaries the BBC has made about Afghanistan –
in particular Our War, also on BBC3 – the show’s writers will have been acutely
aware of the potential offence they could cause by making comedy out of conflict.
It seems their main concern was getting all the military details right, rather than
whether they should be making it at all. But, putting all thoughts of whether
Bluestone 42 is wildly inappropriate or not to one side, thank goodness that it’s
actually very funny, with an excellent line in banter.
Oliver Chris is perfectly cast as Captain Nick Medhurst – the officer who fancies
himself a little too much as the dashing war hero, and expects the new female
padre (Hustle’s Kelly Adams) to feel the same.
The big ensemble cast also includes Tony Gardner (Lead Balloon and Fresh
Meat) as the Lt Colonel, Katie Lyons as the blokeish Corporal Bird and a bombseeking robot called Arthur.
Jane Simon, The Mirror
This military comedy set in Afghanistan – and written
by the Miranda team – is funny but it gets nowhere
near the bone
It takes a special sort of show to make a comedy out of a bomb disposal unit in
contemporary Afghanistan; a show that dives into the dark, dank hollows of a
man's heart, then drags its way painfully out, up the ridges of thwarted hope and
bitter laughter. Or else, you could do it Dad's Army-style, using the war mainly for
uniforms and comedic scenarios, making sure the only people who die are idiots
or invisible insurgents in far-off sheds. That's what BBC3's Bluestone 42
(pronounced four-two, if you want to pretend you watched it, and not watch it)
has done: it's very broad and kind, and I was impressed by it. It was confident
and deft, and brooked no squeamishness, no uncertainty about which jokes
you're allowed to make and which you aren't (though there's one running gag, in
which a squaddie mocks a dead American and is persistently told that it's too
soon, that one infers was generated by the writing process.
"A suicide bomb? Would that be funny, if it only got adults?" "Too soon.") It's by
the Miranda writing team, and has that distinctive worldview in which people are
basically nice, and the comedy comes from the degrees of absurdity by which
that niceness is manifested. And, like Miranda, a lot of its watchability comes not
from actual laughs, but from enjoying the company of the nice people. Inevitably,
however, this means that it never gets anywhere near the bone, and has none of
that wincing discomfort that has one, while watching Peep Show or The Thick of
It, literally drawing away from the telly, crying. While on the one hand it feels
unfair to judge all comedy by the best of it, I sometimes think television could
apply some industry standards, and learn from itself, like science.
Some joke structures persistently don't work; they clank along the ground like an
exhaust pipe falling off a van. I'm thinking in particular of the Socratic school of
joke, demonstrated here when phlegmatic and likable Katie Lyons (playing a
soldier called Bird) hefts down the material for this exchange like a scree: "So
you've never named anything?" she asks another soldier. "Nothing except my
cock, which is called Andy McNab." "Why would you name your cock Andy
McNab?" Because of all the action it's seen … because it would survive on nuts
and berries … because it's full of bollocks … I'm paraphrasing but, seriously, it's
only one rung above a knock-knock joke. In short, it could be harder on itself, and
harder on the viewer, and probably a bit harder on the cast, and we would still
like it, and maybe love it.
Zoe Williams, The Guardian
Then look at Bluestone 42 on Twitter, Facebook and the BBC 3 official page –
note down how the audience interacts with the programme and other fans:
o Watch the second episode of Bluestone 42:
Make notes on the following key points:
Representations and stereotypes (of individual characters; of place and the army
Sources of humour:
Applying genre features to Bluestone 42:
Create a spider diagram below using the key sitcom and comedy genre features
from page 8. For each one you identify, make a note of a key scene to expand
Marketing and success:
Go on the BARB website and find the viewing figures for the
show (episodes 1 and 2, first broadcast on March 5 and
March 12, 2013, BBC3).
How does the show’s viewing figures compare with other
BBC 3 shows?
Does it make the channel’s top 10 for the week?
Watch the trailer for the show
Note down how the trailer lures the potential target audience:
Writing in an academic style:
Consider the following question:
How do your three main texts position audiences?
Most texts are constructed in a specific way to position a specific (target)
audience to respond in a particular way.
Think about the BBC Three target 16-30 audience. Note down below 3 ways in
which you think Bluestone 42 does this –
You might want to think about these key terms to help your answer
⇒ mode of address (use of language)
⇒ ideologies and values
⇒ preferred readings
⇒ technical & visual codes
⇒ use of humour
⇒ Verisimilitude (see page 9)
Write up 3 decent sized paragraphs trying to use the above terms and textual
examples to prove your points:
Pick 3 key scenes from either episode we’ve studie and note down
how you would use it in answer, thinking about audience appeal,
genre and representations.