BBC First brings out the stars

27 March, 2014 by Don Groves

Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Radcliffe, David Tennant, Emma Thompson, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan and Jennifer Saunders are among the stars whose shows will screen on BBC First, the premium drama and comedy channel which launches on Foxtel in August.

The BBC Worldwide-owned channel will be part of Foxtel’s drama and lifestyle tier and will screen shows at least 12 months before they are available to terrestrial broadcasters.


BBCWW programmes that aired on the ABC, including New Tricks and Call the Midwife, will migrate to BBC First in 2015. The notable exception is Doctor Who for which the ABC has a life-of-series deal.

At a launch held at the Hall of Industries in Sydney on Wednesday night, BBCWW director of TV Natalie Edgar said as many shows as possible will be fast tracked to BBC First after their UK premieres.

The initial line-up will include The Musketeers; The Politician’s Husband (the tale of the shifting balance of power in a political marriage, with David Tennant and Emily Watson); Burton and Taylor (which stars Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West); Peaky Blinders (a gangster family saga set in post-WW1 Birmingham, starring Cillian Murphy); A Young Doctor’s Notebook ( a comedy/drama about a young doctor who works in a small, backwards Russian village, starring Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe); and two Alan Partridge mockumentaries starring Steve Coogan, Welcome to the Places of My Life and On Open Books with Martin Bryce.

The channel will also carry single dramas and short series that may not have otherwise been screened in Oz, such as Playhouse Presents, a series of drama shorts featuring Emma Thompson, Brenda Blethyn, Stephen Fry, Richard E Grant and Sheila Hancock.

“The BBC has always been pioneering and the launch of BBC First in Australia continues in this spirit, offering something unique to the market,” said Jon Penn, BBCWW MD for Australia/New Zealand.

“British drama and comedy has a world-renowned reputation for being clever, complex and immensely enjoyable, attracting top talent on and off the screen. For the first time in Australia, all the very best new British dramas and comedies will be available in one place, giving viewers the opportunity to indulge and immerse themselves in world class creativity.”

Penn told IF there will be a marketing "blitz" across traditional and social media in May, June and July, noting, "It will be a big spend between ourselves and Foxtel."  Programmes will screen ad-free but there will be ads between shows, pitched to advertisers at the "premium end of the market," he said. 

Production starts next month in Sydney on Jimmy McGovern’s Banished, BBC First’s first local production, co-commissioned with BBC2.

Co-produced by McGovern and producing partner Sita Williams' RSJ Films and Australia’s See-Saw Films, the seven-part drama charts the lives, loves, relationships and battle for survival in penal colony Sydney, starring David Wenham, Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Ryan Corr.

The series is fully funded by BBC2, BBCWW's central investment pool in return for international distribution rights and BBC First, qualifying for the 10% drama spend required by pay channels. 

Seeking an Australian co-producer, Williams approached executives at BBCWW who introduced her to a number of film and TV production companies and she chose See-Saw. 

Among other shows coming to BBC First are Quirke, which has Gabriel Byrne as a consultant pathologist in a Dublin city morgue in the 1950s; The Game, a spy thriller set in the Cold War starring Brian Cox; series 2 of Ricky Gervais’ Derek; and Dead Boss, a comedy about a woman falsely imprisoned for murdering her boss, starring Jennifer Saunders and Sharon Horgan.

BBCWW is discussing with Foxtel the potential for launching the two other new channels planned for global roll-out, male-skewed BBC Brit and factual service BBC Earth.