TV

Rowan Atkinson and Julie Walters among Radio Times Festival line-up

Television is our most popular medium – we need more opportunities to share our small screen fandom, says Radio Times editor Ben Preston, the man behind Britain’s leading TV festival

Line of Duty original cast members Vicky McClure, Martin Compston and Adrian Dunbar

Television. It’s so hot right now. With giants of the film world increasingly moving over to TV, generation YouTube’s biggest names being poached by broadcasters, and diversity of storytelling at an all-time high, it appears that the Golden Age of Television we’ve been talking about for a decade is set to run and run.

Do we need more opportunities to talk about our most popular culture? Ben Preston, editor of the Radio Times, thinks so.

“There are more than 400 book festivals in this country,” says Preston, ahead of this weekend’s annual Radio Times Festival at the BFI Southbank.

“We love reading books, immersing ourselves, then talking about them with other people and finding out what was in the author’s head. As television becomes more rich, complicated and nuanced, people want the opportunity to hear from the talent putting great shows in front of them. That is what the festival is about.

“As viewers, if we’ve invested all these hours watching Line of Duty (pictured above) or The Night Manager or The Crown – these powerful shows – we want to talk about them and learn more.”

With appearances from the biggest names in show-business, the Radio Times Festival, just three years on from its inception, has become the key event in the telly addict’s calendar. From Rowan Atkinson, making a rare public appearance to talk about following in the footsteps of Richard Harris and Michael Gambon as Maigret on ITV, to 12 Years A Slave writer-director John Ridley introducing his new Sky Atlantic drama Guerrilla, via Charlie Brooker on Black Mirror, the creators of Planet Earth II and a celebration of the life and work of Victoria Wood featuring Julie Walters and Maxine Peake – the quality and breadth on offer at the BFI this weekend mirrors the range of small-screen sensations routinely on offer to viewers these days.

But Preston, who was among the names from world of showbiz and media who donned a Big Issue tabard and sold the magazine during 2016’s Vendor Week, says key to continued excellence on screen is competition – and television’s ability to cherry pick the brightest and most innovative young creatives.

“We have Joe Wicks and the Hemsley Sisters coming as well,” he says. “There is a new generation of presenters who started doing it themselves on YouTube and Instagram, found an audience and now have the conventional world of television chasing after them.

“Because there is something very democratic about the new ways people can effectively broadcast themselves. Everyone can go on YouTube and talk about something they are passion about. Do it in an entertaining way, find an audience, and if you do, the TV industry is always looking for excitement and novelty and the next big thing.

“The TV industry is ferociously competitive at the moment. And the only winners are the viewers.”

For tickets, visit: bfi.org.uk/radiotimestvfest

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