BBC Four Biopics: Lessons in Trashy Respectability

Andrews, Hannah (2016) BBC Four Biopics: Lessons in Trashy Respectability. Journal of British Cinema and Television, 13 (3). pp. 409-429. ISSN 1743-4521

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Between its launch in March 2002 and 2013, BBC4, the BBC’s niche arts and culture digital channel, broadcast a cycle of biographical dramas, largely about the unhappy personal lives of British cultural and political icons of the twentieth century. Alongside stylish continental European drama imports, world cinema and documentary programmes, biopics became a key marker of the BBC4 brand and its dominant home-grown dramatic output. In scholarly work on television biopics to date, the genre has been seen as akin to tabloid newspapers, conceived as a trashy cultural form that reduces the importance and seriousness of biographical narrative. However, in recent years biographical drama has been used by upmarket television brands like HBO, Showtime or, indeed, the BBC as a mark of distinction and respectability. This article analyses this dynamic in relation to BBC biopics, exploring how a specific dramatic genre is used to reinforce the brand image of a niche digital channel. It focuses not only on the benefits of such material for attracting both within and beyond the channel’s intended demographic, but also on certain of the ethical and legal challenges intrinsic to a genre that exploits the personal stories of real people.

Keywords:BBC, BBC Four, Biographical Television Drama, Television Drama, Docudrama
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P301 Television studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Film)
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ID Code:47784
Deposited On:01 Feb 2022 12:06

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