“Television needs more understanding, flexible employers!” says Peter Bazalgette, with characteristic gusto. “If you want great people to work for you when they’re bringing up kids then it can be easily done, but employers need to be understanding and flexible, and that needs to be a part of company culture.” It’s a shift that needs to come from within, not be legislated for, Baz thinks. “The media is what it is – flexibility is less a matter of law, and more about the culture – you can’t establish a culture with a law.” So the choice to be flexible employers is very much in our hands, and within our capabilities, writes Amy Walker.
I’ve known Peter Bazalgette since 1996 when he gave me my first job in TV as his assistant at Bazal, and then Endemol. Baz, like many influential TV execs, has been a staunchly reassuring supporter of Media Parents since its inception. He has seen the need for and the benefits of, cultural change in TV. Being a parent to two children didn’t affect his media career, but his wife Hilary gave up her career as a sollicitor to bring up their family. The Bazalgette children haven’t followed their parents’ career paths though, “I don’t get this thing about following in your parents’ footsteps – my father was in the City and I never wanted to do that. Children who follow their parents never find their own feet.”
Like or not the way he’s influenced television, Peter Bazalgette’s career has been flexible in its variety, as the biog below demonstrates, and now he’s branching out again with a book about Egon Ronay, the late gastronome. “I met him when I was producing Food and Drink… we went for a fairly unimpressive lunch on Park Lane somewhere and I commissioned him to do a series of films for us… He was a human dynamo, a duellist by nature, always fighting a cause” recalls Baz. They became friends: “The Sunday Times described him as ‘a small Hungarian with a hairstyle like a budgerigar’”, he laughs. “Twelve of us who knew the old devil [amongst them Michael Winner and Nick Ross] contributed essays about his life… There is brilliant early 20th century testimony on what it was like to grow up in Hungary before the war, the story of his secret marriage to a Catholic heiress, life as a Jew under the Nazi occupation of Germany – more than a lifetime lived before he came to the UK at 31 and started again over here.”
Whilst Baz may never have needed to start again, he has always moved on from what went before, and acknowledges that there is always something to learn. “Learning how to publish has been an education for an old fart like me, ‘Egon Ronay – The Man Who Taught Britain How to Eat’ has taken eight months to publish.”
I ask him what his greatest achievement has been and am gently ticked off for pushing him to be self-regarding. “Making facts as entertaining as possible,” he says grudgingly, “Changing Rooms is my favourite programme of all of them – it was revolutionary in its content and form, and became a hit in the US where it’s still on. It was only on here for six years but was getting 12 million viewers in its peak – extraordinary”.
So what of the future? “The next big thing for television – and it is a revolution – is connected TV. Nearly every TV set currently being sold can be connected to the net. Anything else that you’re consuming online through your computer will soon be consumed through your TV set, and what will that mean for established channels and the business of TV? My greatest concern is that there should still be business models that continue to put money into premium content, which we currently fund through advertisements, the BBC licence fee or subscription models. Looking ahead ten years we may lose these.”
Technological developments over the next few years — advances that promise an exciting and challenging time for TV companies — need to be accompanied by a parallel shift in the attitudes of executives to their staff. Skilled media professionals with a wealth of experience are leaving TV because of the difficulties of balancing work and family life. The TV industry needs to make sure this valuable resource and variety is not lost. After all, companies are going to need all the help they can get as the digital revolution increases competition within the sector. Thankfully diversity has always been good for survival.
Baz is taking part in a BAFTA debate ‘My BBC in Ten Years’ Time’ to discuss this issue further. The event takes place at BAFTA this evening, Monday 21st November, so if your name’s not on the list for tonight’s Media Parents CV Tear-Up, use this link to book a ticket:
Peter Bazalgette is a media consultant and digital media investor. He is Chairman of MirriAd and a non-executive director of Base79, Nutopia, YouGov and DCMS. He advises two of Sony’s UK television divisions and is also a member of BBH’s Advisory Board.
From 2004-2007 Peter was Chief Creative Officer of Endemol. He has personally devised several internationally successful TV formats, such as Ready Steady Cook, Changing Rooms and Ground Force – he also brought Big Brother to the UK. Peter’s book about the business of TV formats, Billion Dollar Game, was published in 2005 and he is a former board member of Channel 4.
He also serves as Deputy Chairman of the English National Opera, President of the Royal Television Society and is a Trustee of Debate Mate. Peter studied at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge and graduated from Cambridge University.