Director Of ‘Mr Bates Vs The Post Office’ Says Smash ITV Drama Should Not Be A “Unicorn” As He Urges “Mechanism” For Broadcasters To Tell Campaigning Stories

The director of Mr Bates vs the Post Office has urged the creation of a “mechanism” for British broadcasters to continue to tell campaigning stories as he communicates a desire for his smash ITV drama not to become a “unicorn.”

Since Mr Bates aired in January, James Strong said he has been contacted by “loads and loads of people asking for help, from small stories to [scandals about] corporate structures.”

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“I think it’s about setting up a mechanism so that all these issues can be represented,” he told the Creative Cities Convention. “[People affected] can go to a broadcaster and say, ‘We’ve got this idea, can we make a drama?’.”

The BAFTA nominee, whose past credits include Vigil and Doctor Who, said Mr Bates “shouldn’t be a unicorn” and urged British broadcasters to support “factual stories.”

Mr Bates has become ITV’s most-watched show since Downton Abbey and, even though the devastating post office scandal had been covered in the media for years, it generated front page headlines for weeks and has initiated real change in terms of compensation for victims.

Unlike many past scandals represented in TV shows, Strong said the post office is set apart by the fact it is a “live issue” rather than being “retrospective” or a “postmortem.”

He praised the “good step” taken by ITV on an upcoming drama about another live scandal, the contaminated blood affair, which Deadline revealed was fast-tracked several weeks ago and is being penned by Peter Moffat.

He described funding for local shows such as Mr Bates as “incredibly perilous” but countered that its success and sale to other countries including the U.S. shows there is “commercial value to these productions.”

Presenting the session at Creative Cities, BBC Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark said the ITV drama had driven 400 people to come forward and yet they felt they couldn’t in the past after hearing a podcast or reading frequent coverage in the press. “Maybe it was a lack of confidence, or [a feeling of] shame,” she added.

Reflecting on the creation of ITV Studios/Little Gem’s hit, which took years to get from idea to screen, Strong said it was difficult having to exclude certain people’s stories from the final edit in order to allow the show to be as impactful as possible.

“It was important to have enough people to tell the story but not so many that we didn’t have time,” he added. “We removed a couple of characters but we had to. My job was to say, ‘What is the best drama because the best drama will do the best for the sub-postmasters’. In the end it was the right decision.”

Strong was speaking at Creative Cities in Bristol alongside the likes of the cast of The Outlaws and the heads of Netflix UK and Channel 4.

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