Programme for change – Rose d’Or awards
Veteran scriptwriter Ronald Wolfe reports from the 46th Rose d'Or awards ceremony and finds that it's not all just about making quality television
Yes, there were the black limos, fabulously dressed stars, red carpets, flashing cameras, cheering crowds. Hosted by comedian Tim Vine, this year's ceremony certainly didn't disappoint. But as Georges Luks, CEO of the Rose d'Or festival, explained in his opening speech, behind the glitter and the glamour there is a more serious theme.
The Rose d'Or has become the United Nations of TV entertainment and this year, more than ever, it is time to think about television's social responsibility. Harry Belafonte, Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF, the United Nations Childrens' Fund, unveiled the project of a global fundraising partnership with Celador, producer of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Chris Tarrant, host of the British version, described it as the world's all-time most successful TV show, now aired in more than 100 countries worldwide.
In the UK, celebrity versions of the format have raised more than £2.5 million for charitable causes. This has been achieved, Tarrant explained, by celebrities' willingness to "put their intelligence and ego on the line". He appealed to Celador's broadcast partners to commit themselves to a cause that aims, in partnership with UNICEF, to foster a world of "healthy children with enough room for childhood, who can read and write".
Appropriately, this year's winner of the Rose d'Or Charity Award, Sir Bob Geldof, arrived in Lucerne on the same day that Tony Blair was re-elected as prime minister.
On the other side of the proceedings, British television was well represented, walking away with 11 of the 18 awards. Little Britain achieved the rare feat of winning two Golden Roses - one for the Best Comedy and one each for the show's creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas for Best Male Comedy Performance. The show was produced by BBC's Geoff Posner. Aspiring writers should be reminded that the show started life as a highly successful series on BBC Radio 4.
The bigger UK independent companies featured well. Zoe Wanamaker - co-star of My Family - won the award for best female sitcom performance. The winning episode shown at Lucerne was the Christmas special, brilliantly written by Andrea Solomons, Ian Brown and James Hendrie. The best Male Sitcom Award went to Peter Kay for his performance in Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere.
Nighty Night, produced by Baby Cow Productions for the BBC, was the winner in the sitcom category. Written by and starring Julia Davis, this is a dark, unusual comedy series about unhinged hairdresser Jill and her very unhealthy obsession with Don the doctor.
In the Best Performance category, Pippa Haywood picked up the Rose d'Or Award for Best Female Comedy Performance for her appearances in Green Wing. It may seem rather unusual to get an award for comedy performance in a medical series but Green Wing is part surreal soap, part comedy-drama and largely set - despite a bizarre lack of medical content - in a hospital.
The winner of the Rose d'Or for a game show was Test the Nation - The Great British Test. Made by Dutch producers Eyeworks BV/Talent TV, it is presented by Anne Robinson and Phillip Schofield and reveals how much citizens know about their own country and, of course, who knows more - men or women, bed and breakfast landladies, truckers, tour guides or accountants?
The Rose d'Or for best reality show went to Supernanny, made by Ricochet South Productions for Channel 4. The idea behind the series is simple but extremely well done. Wouldn't life as a working parent by so much easier if someone was at hand all day to advise and guide us through the hell that can be parenting? Jo Frost does just that. With 16 years of professional nannying experience behind her and an extensive list of happy children and even happier parents on her CV, she really is a modern-day Mary Poppins, complete with good old-fashioned discipline.
In the music category, the Rose d'Or was won by BBC Classical Music TV for Flashmob - The Opera. This was a whole new experience, live from Paddington Station, with the BBC Concert Orchestra - a love triangle, featuring arias and choruses from popular operas, with music by Bizet, Mozart, Puccini, Rossini and Verdi.
Channel 4 was another Rose d'Or winner with The Cost of Living, made by DV8 Films, with a storyline about David and Eddie, street performers struggling to get by in a seaside town. The Cost of Living follows them as they work, argue, fail at romance and fall out with old friends.
It might seem a little old-fashioned - and the star Bruce Forsyth has certainly been around for quite a while - but Strictly Come Dancing well deserved its Rose d'Or Award. Again, it is a simple idea - a live ballroom dancing competition in which eight celebrities are paired with eight professional dancers to compete in a knockout event. Simple, yes, but a huge success for BBC Entertainment.
While it is great to get an award, Roberta Durrant, a producer at Penguin Films, South Africa, was delighted that her programme, About Us, a comedy sketch show, had been nominated and was also one of the ten most-watched videos viewed in the video kiosks.
Durrant is no newcomer to the competition, she produced Madam and Eve, a sitcom which won a Rose d'Or Award three years ago.
She explained some of the thinking behind About Us. "South Africa is a cosmopolitan melting pot of diverse cultures and 11 official languages. It is a country where people are learning to laugh with each other and at themselves. About Us takes a humorous look at situations experienced by every South African - at home, at work, at play. It's about life, it's about love, it's About Us."
I noticed that Durrant and Thomas Hall, her head of development, spent every available moment in the video kiosks. I asked her what they were looking for. "In South Africa, one is working so much in isolation," she answered. "The thing we really get out of the Rose d'Or gathering is inspiration. It is important for us to see what is happening, how programmes are being made, the styles, the trends.
"Good programmes travel and content by and large is universal. Of course, there are problems in adapting - our budgets are much, much lower and our maximum audience is about 4 million, so there has to be a willingness to do business with South Africa under these conditions."
Durrant is one of the major producers in South Africa. Recently, impressed by its success in Portugal, Belgium, Norway and Sweden, she bought the script and format rights of that old-time favourite The Rag Trade, co-written by Ronald Chesney and yours truly. The series was translated into Afrikaans and cast with local actors. It has been a great success and has transmitted 100 episodes.
In a highlight of the week, ITV and Monty Python were inaugurated into the Rose d'Or Hall of Fame in the ice cave atop Mount Titlis, more than 10,000 ft high.
Nigel Pickard accepted the honour on behalf of ITV, while Terry Jones appeared on behalf of the Pythons. In his speech of acceptance, Jones explained why he was alone.
"Terry Gilliam is in the middle of editing two feature films and he is not allowed out to play until he's finished. Since Eric Idle's incredible success with Spamalot, he is now so rich and famous he's not allowed to leave his house without armed guards. Michael Palin didn't want to come. He says he's got nothing against the Rose d'Or, it's just that since he did the Himalayas he finds the Alps a bit too small and there aren't enough yaks. He says it is a well-known fact that ice-caves are one of the most yakless environments on earth. And John Cleese sent a note to say he's really, really sorry he can't be with us all but he died very recently. John says he passed away peacefully in his sleep but he hopes to be well enough next year to come and haunt the Rose d'Or Hall of Fame."
Many of the conference sessions at the festival this year were devoted to the ever-increasing and important international business of the format industry. This subject played a huge role in this year's Rose d'Or gathering, and among the award winners were several in the format categories. FRAPA (The Format Recognition and Protection Association) awarded three prizes - for a game show, Test the Nation; reality format, The Apprentice and scripted format, Ladykracher (Brainpool, Germany). For the paper format the winner was Day Care Dilemma (Sweden).
What exactly is a format? It is defined as "a programme or a programming concept with distinct elements that can be exported and licensed to production companies or broadcasters outside the country of origin" for local adaptation. It covers many genres, including game shows, dating, entertainment, home improvement, makeover and magazine programmes, reality, variety as well as scripted shows.
In his closing remarks at the end of the festival, Luks said: "Although the Rose d'Or Awards Ceremony is all about glamour and showbiz, it has a serious mission."
A case in point was the festival's inaugural Social Awareness Award, which this year honoured programming that highlights the issues surrounding HIV and Aids.
"I am sure that in the years ahead we will see many projects that combine great entertainment with a humanitarian component," said Luks.
The BBC's Phil Harding had no qualms about saying that public broadcasters should do their best to make the world a better place.
"Public broadcasters have a great many privileges," he said. "They receive money from the public and with that guaranteed income comes responsibilities to society at large."