“Dictators first kill the imagination”

kes_1“The senior management at the BBC simply do not understand the creative act. This would be a deficiency in any organisation, but in one for which it is the main raison d’etre, it is crippling. In particular, they do not realise that an artist is childlike, not childish. Good parents will erect boundaries, around personal safety, for instance, but will leave room for the children’s imagination to flourish. The children, with few material resources, will invent elaborate worlds, not knowing from one moment to the next where their actions will lead. No matter if some prove to be cul de sacs. They will start over and go in another direction. This creative absorption needs room and time. The parents should not interfere, preferably not even eavesdrop. The results are magical and satisfying, not least in the healthy growth of the child.

“Anal retentive, anxious parents help and stifle. They know best. They cannot relax and trust. They are prescriptive. Play becomes a duty, imagination becomes second hand, the goal of the children degenerates into guessing what will please the parents and earn praise. It is no fun, but the child has to pretend it is fun, because the parent insists that is what it is. In fact it is a lifeless desert. Spontaneity is dead. But the world is safe from the children’s journey into the unknown. Dictators first kill the imagination. For the people’s good.”

Ouch. This is just a section of legendary producer (Kes, Cathy Come Home, Play For Today, Between The Lines) Tony Garnett’s recent two-fingered assault on BBC drama. Whether you agree with it or not (and BBC drama head Ben Stephenson naturally doesn’t, not to mention a bunch of the BBC’s top writers) it’s a profoundly felt polemic, and an important debate. As the recession bites, and all broadcasters cut back on drama budgets, what do we, as audiences, want to see — and what are we prepared to lose in consequence?

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