Media: We Felt Cold and Confused. Then We Discovered Simon Schama ; BBC 2's Boss, Jane Root, Has Lost Some of Her Best-Known Shows. and She's Never Been Happier, She Tells David Lister

Article excerpt

The controller of BBC 2 is undergoing quite a mood swing. For a moment, one wonders if Greg Dyke was referring to her personally when he said during the summer that BBC 2 seemed unsure of its identity. At first, Jane Root seems extraordinarily bouncy, ebullient and excited at the direction her channel is taking. Then, suddenly, she is crestfallen.

She is happy, paradoxically, because BBC 1 has taken some of her strongest shows, including The Royle Family, Have I Got News for You and an evening edition of The Weakest Link. It gives her space to bring some more of her own commissions. Indeed, she has become part of the management panel that made those decisions. Merton and Hislop were not wrenched from her, she stresses. She donated them.

Then, suddenly, she is crestfallen. In the middle of what she believes is her finest hour since taking over BBC 2 in 1998, a Sunday paper prints extracts from a confidential memo she wrote to her top executives, in which she appears to be a fiercer critic of her own output than any of the media commentators. She wrote in the memo that the channel could appear "cold", "confused" and "Calvinist", adding, "Enjoyable things made glum or dull are a speciality of ours." She said it was not attracting enough star names, and it needed to lessen its obsession with the avant-garde and appeal more to Middle England, with programmes about food and the countryside.

And, ensuring its eventual publication like nothing else could, she urged the recipients of the memo that it should not appear in the press.

The leaked memo has not done her any favours. But she stresses that the story at the weekend failed to mention that the memo was written nearly six months ago, when the nature of BBC 3 and BBC 4 were being discussed, since which time the increasingly favoured Root has received pounds 25m of new money for programme-making from Greg Dyke, and the move of the nine o'clock news has changed the game plan for both BBC 1 and BBC 2.

"I wrote that in the summer", she says. "It was a first-response document to the repositioning of the channels. It is not a negative document. I was saying we had to think big, to think prime-time in almost everything we do. I was questioning whether the ratio of experiment to didactic was right. Yes, I said we needed more charismatic performers a la Paxman. And I thought business and arts programmes could be better company. I see it as my job to be provocative with people who are spending millions of pounds.

"I'm obsessed with owning the genres. I'm saying, `Look, guys, these are fantastic things; let's spend as much money as we can and make them as original as we can.' " The genres to which she refers are programmes about food, gardening, art, classical music, religion, business, the countryside. It is in stressing the last that she also stresses how much she now wants BBC 2 to move away from its Hampstead reputation and appeal to Middle England. She wants the channel to be more mainstream, and yes, she did use the phrase "make it more Telegraph-friendly".

She explains: "I was quite interested post the One Man and His Dog row that we had really got it wrong on the countryside. We were making countryside programmes for people who live in Notting Hill, and not for people in the countryside."

But alongside the extra pounds 25m and the changes to the schedules caused by the moving of the news, there is something else that has happened since Root wrote that memo, which has changed her, changed BBC 2 and may, thankfully, have a subtle change on television from now on. …