Top ten takeaways from this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival

Entertainment

The Edinburgh TV Festival attracts some of the biggest players in the world of TV – the media moguls who decide what we’re going to be watching on our tellies over the coming year.

After two years away, the 2022 event – which explored the theme: Can TV Change The World? – didn’t disappoint.

As the BBC and Channel 4 struggle for survival, streaming giants go head-to-head in a battle for subscribers and younger audiences turn away from traditional TV viewing in their droves, it’s certainly a challenging landscape for those making TV right now.

Here are the 10 biggest take aways from this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival.

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Brian Cox: ‘Now I swear all the time!’

Brian Cox on swearing

He’s worked on more than 200 films and TV shows in his half-century career, but for many he’ll always be Logan Roy – head of the Waystar Royco family empire and father-from-hell in Sky Atlantic drama Succession.

Speaking about his screen work – which has taken him from Dundee to Hollywood – the 76-year-old star joked that HBO (the TV company behind the hit show) had “Gestapo members” in the audience ready to jump out if he dropped any spoilers.

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However, he did reveal to Sky News that unlike his colleague Kieran Culkin (who plays Roman Roy) he thinks the show is going “according to plan”. He also said the character of Logan has had “a terrible effect on him”, adding, “now I swear all the time”.

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Maitlis on impartiality and that monologue

Emily Maitlis on ‘Tory cronyism’

She’s interviewed presidents, prime ministers, royalty and Hollywood stars, and this year Emily Maitlis gave the headline speech at the festival, the MacTaggart lecture.

She took the opportunity to hit out at the BBC – her former employer – claiming its board has been infiltrated by a Conservative Party agent and former Downing Street spin doctor whom she claims is now an “arbiter of BBC impartiality”. The BBC have called the claim “totally incorrect”.

Referring to “Tory cronyism at the heart of the BBC”, she spoke about her own perceived impartiality while working for the broadcaster.

She finished her speech with a joke, apologising to audience members who had come expecting to see a speech about Prince Andrew, a reference to her headline grabbing exclusive with the Duke of York in 2019.

Armando Iannucci says he's 'angrier than he's ever been''. Pic: Edinburgh TV Festival
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Armando Iannucci says he’s ‘angrier than he’s ever been”. Pic: Edinburgh TV Festival

Armando Iannucci on being angry at TV

Scottish writer and director Armando Iannucci expressed his anger at both the TV and the government, seven years after he gave the flagship MacTaggart lecture himself.

The Veep and Thick Of It Creator told the audience of industry insiders he is “angrier than ever” at the direction of UK politics and broadcasting.

Criticising the potential privatisation of Channel 4, he also called out criticism of “wokeism”, claiming the government was weaponising the term, and praised colour-blind casting, saying it was “liberating” to have full access to “100 per cent of the acting community”.

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‘I knew at 16 it was going to be hard’

Rose Ayling-Ellis on Doctor Who and deaf representation

The first deaf person to compete in – and then win Strictly Come Dancing – and now the first deaf person to deliver the Alternative MacTaggart speech.

Rose Ayling-Ellis has been a trail blazer in the fight to recognise British Sign Language (BSL) as an official language (it was achieved in April this year) and gaining equal recognition and representation for the deaf community.

She used her speech to expose prejudice she has faced in her career so far, including lack of understanding from certain directors, script writers and editors, barriers in getting an agent and a place on casting website Spotlight and her ongoing fight to see deaf culture and BSL respected on set.

She also told Sky News she thought the role of companion to Doctor Who would be a “great job” but admitted she didn’t know where rumours she might be next in line for the gig had come from.

If she were to become part of the sci-fi drama, she would be the first companion with a disability to appear in the show.

David Harewood  says Britain has a black casting problem. Pic: Edinburgh TV Festival
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David Harewood says Britain has a black casting problem. Pic: Edinburgh TV Festival

David Harewood on lack of work for black British actors

The Hollywood star told Sky News that when he got the role of CIA counterterrorism director David Estes in Homeland he was down to his last £80.

He hit out at what he called a “dearth of work” for actors of colour, sharing his own personal proof of the level of the problem: “In all six minutes of my showreel, there was not one English speaking part. I was playing Africans, playing Americans, but I never play a Brit and that’s frustrating. The roles just weren’t there for me and they’re still not.”

That situation provoked him to take action: “It’s one of the reasons I’ve started my own production company, to develop dramas for myself and for more black and brown actors and to spread the love around a little bit.

“We do want to see more diverse stories, and I think now is as good a time as ever.”

EMBARGIED TO 0001 FRIDAY DECEMBER 17 File photo dated 21/2020 of BBC Broadcasting House in London. The BBC were on track to save £1 billion this year due to cuts in content and scope of services, a National Audit Office report found. The Corporation has reduced the amount of broadcast television it offers licence fee payers and the volume of repeats shown across the BBC's three main television channels has increased, the NAO revealed. Issue date: Friday December 17, 2021.
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The BBC has cut costs following a licence fee freeze

The future of BBC and Channel 4

This year the future of public service broadcasting (PSB) has dominated the agenda.

Creative leader and former BBC chief creative officer Pat Younge told Sky News “the main challenges British broadcasters face at the moment in terms of the BBC and Channel 4 is the government”.

Speaking in a session at the festival, he said we are dealing with a “post-truth, post-evidence government who are just tearing up the rule book”, adding, “we need to find new ways to engage with the beast that we’re confronted with”.

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However, speaking in a later session, BBC chairman Richard Sharp told the festival he “will deal with government interference”, insisting “they value the BBC”.

Despite the looming threat of privatisation, Channel 4 won channel of year at the festival awards, showing its disruptive and innovative approach to TV is hitting the mark regardless of government naysayers.

The Repair Shop transformed a pocket watch for Dame Judi. PIc: Edinburgh TV Festival
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The Repair Shop transformed a watch for Dame Judi. PIc: Edinburgh TV Festival

Judi Dench gets emotional

Dame Judi Dench shed a tear after her late husband’s pocket watch was repaired and engraved with his initials by The Repair Shop team.

In a live session, the 87-year-old told furniture restorer and programme host Jay Blades the transformation was “sublime” as she held it to her ear to listen to it ticking again after many years of silence.

She said her late husband, actor Michael Williams, had “treasured” the timepiece before he died from lung cancer in 2001 at the age of 65, after they had been married for just under 30 years.

Fans listen to a panel introducing the Prime Video streaming series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power at Comic-Con International in San Diego, California, U.S., July 22, 2022. REUTERS/Bing Guan
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The long awaited The Lord of the Rings TV adaptation

Lord Of The Rings and His Dark Materials

In an age of prequels (hot on the heels of Sky’s House Of The Dragon launch last week) we learnt a little bit more about the eagerly anticipated Lord of The Rings TV adaptation.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is set thousands of years before the events of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books.

The first and second episodes are set for release on Amazon Prime on 2 September, then new episodes every week.

Another fantasy drama – the BBC’s His Dark Materials – also strutted its stuff at the festival.

Audiences were shown unseen and exclusive clips and behind the scenes footage from the third and final part of the trilogy, and the cast and creative team revealed how they rose to the challenge of creating Philip Pullman’s many worlds for TV audiences.

Coleen Rooney, wife of Derby County manager Wayne Rooney, leaves the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Britain, May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Coleen Rooney leaving the Royal Courts of Justice this summer

Documentaries take centre stage

There was lots of buzz around documentaries at the festival.

In the worst kept secret of the week, Disney + announced they had struck a deal with Coleen Rooney to tell the story of the highly publicised Wagatha Christie libel trial through her eyes, in the form of a three-part documentary (Rebekah Vardy lost her defamation case against Rooney last month).

Netflix announced a documentary series on Robbie Williams, directed by the man behind the hit Bros film After The Screaming Stops?, Joe Pearlman. They shared the trailer which featured a naked Williams lounging on a sofa.

Vic Reeves - aka Jim Moir - is a keen painter and birdwatcher. Pic: Prince’s Master Crafters/Sky Arts
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Vic Reeves is a keen painter and birdwatcher. Pic: Sky Arts

We learned that comedian Vic Reeves – aka Jim Moir – will be joining Sky Arts (along with his wife Nancy) to combine two of his biggest passions in life – painting and bird watching. Painting Birds With Jim And Nancy Moir promises to tackle everything from grouse to goshawks and bitterns to bearded tits.

ITV launched its new ITV-X app in a bid to become a big player in the streaming world – announcing a raft of factual shows including documentary on disgraced presenter Rolf Harris.

Meanwhile, Sky won best documentary at the festival TV awards for The Return: Life After ISIS, directed and produced by Alba Sotorra. The film follows British-born Shamima Begum and US-born Hoda Muthana as they leave Islamic State and attempt to return to their countries.

Philomena Cunk star Diane Morgan received a lifetime achievement award
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Diane Morgan received a lifetime achievement award

And Philomena Cunk gets a lifetime achievement award…

Well, not Philomena Cunk exactly, but the creative genius behind the parody television presenter, Diane Morgan.

The actress received a lifetime achievement award in recognition of her extensive body of work, ranging from Ricky Gervais’ After Life to Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe.

The live awards were held on stage at the festival and hosted by stand-up comedian Sophie Duker.

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