Bafta watching US writers’ strikes closely, says boss on TV awards red carpet

The chief executive of Bafta has said the organisation is watching the writers’ strikes in the US “closely”, ahead of an awards ceremony honouring the best of British television.

Jane Millichip, who took over the role from Amanda Berry, said she is unsure whether the strikes will have a knock-on effect on programmes in the future.

Speaking on the red carpet for the Bafta TV awards at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, she told the PA news agency: “As an arts charity we don’t have a position, we hope it is resolved soon and fairly and it has not affected this year’s awards because we’re celebrating the wonderful shows from 2022.

Ben Elton
Ben Elton said he supported the striking writers (PA)

“But whether it does have a knock-on effect for development and production in the future, we’re not yet sure.

“We’re watching it closely, we have 11,000 members across the world largely in the UK and US and a lot of those are creatives and practitioners, so in that respect it is something we are observing.”

The writers’ strike – the first in 15 years – began this month after 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America stopped working when their contract expired.

The union is seeking higher minimum pay, more writers per show and less exclusivity on single projects, among other demands – all conditions it says have been diminished during the content boom of the streaming era.

Comedian and screenwriter Ben Elton, who won recognition for his work on popular sitcoms Blackadder and The Young Ones, said he supports the striking writers.

The 64-year-old told PA on the red carpet: “I think it is really important that artists do go out collectively to protect their rights in the face of seismic changes in the industry.

“I think it’s incredible that the American union is able to exercise such rights, I wish we had the same power over here.

“Obviously things are changing and there is going to have to be negotiations, but basically on principle I extremely support the idea of any group of workers trying to protect their hard-won rights as technology makes it easier to exploit them.”

Elton, 64, has collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Queen in West End musicals, and also wrote sitcoms including The Thin Blue Line and Upstart Crow starring David Mitchell.

Meanwhile, Bafta TV-nominated star of The Responder, Martin Freeman, and writer Tony Schumacher also spoke about the US writers’ strikes.

Actor Freeman, who is up for best actor for his role in the BBC series, said he is keeping a “close eye” on the strikes and what it will mean for actors in the industry.

He said: “My work isn’t being affected by that but we are keeping an eye on it for what it will mean. I’m up for fairer pay and it’s a well unionised job in America so when they go on strike it actually means something, which is not the case for everyone. Fair play.”

The Responder, based on the experiences of officer-turned-writer Schumacher, follows Sherlock actor Freeman across six night shifts in Liverpool as an urgent response officer.

Schumacher, who said he was “so chuffed” for his TV series to be Bafta-nominated, told PA: “Full support for the writers strikes – it’s such an important thing and it’s something that needs resolving and I just hope we can get some solutions pretty quickly.”

Freeman confirmed he will appear in a second series of The Responder while Schumacher said he is currently writing episode four and has “punched the air a few times” bringing it together.

Bafta TV-nominated actor Taron Egerton also said he “stands in solidarity” with the US writers’ strikes.

The 33-year-old is nominated for best actor at the awards on Sunday for his transformation into prisoner Jimmy Keene for the psychological thriller Black Bird on Apple+ TV.

It follows Egerton’s character who is serving 10 years in a minimum security prison, enter a maximum security prison for the criminally insane with a mission to befriend a suspected serial killer in exchange for freedom.

On the strikes, he told PA: “Is it Amanda Seyfried who said ‘people have got to be compensated for their work’ – there’s not much more to it.

“I hope it comes to a fair conclusion quickly so we can all work, but I absolutely stand in solidarity with the writers.”

This Is Going To Hurt writer Adam Kay, whose show is nominated for a raft of prizes, addressed the strikes by healthcare workers on the red carpet.

The former doctor, 42, told PA there is no “plan B” if NHS staff are not paid adequately for their work.

“There’s a crisis in recruitment and retention of staff and I say that points one to five in getting to grips with our current crisis is keeping the staff, and pay is obviously part of it,” he said.

“I simply don’t understand what the Government thinks plan B is if they don’t pay people adequately, because they will just leave, they are already leaving. And I don’t know what happens if more people leave. So that’s up there. It’s pay, it’s conditions, and it’s wellbeing and it’s welfare.”

Asked if he thinks there will be a resolution, he added: “There has to be. I know most about the doctors’ situation, what the doctors are asking for is the same pay in real-terms they had when I was working as a doctor 15 years ago. It’s not a pay rise. It’s just being able to pay for the same bags of rice and cans of beans as I was able to.”

They were among the first celebrities to arrive on the red carpet, including Academy Award winner Gary Oldman who said his Bafta TV-nominated role in new espionage series Slow Horses was “simple”.

Oldman spoke about his role on the Apple TV+ spy thriller adapted from award-winning writer Mick Herron’s 2010 novel about a team of British intelligence agents who work in a dumping ground department of MI5.

Actor Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman, right, was among the celebrities on the red carpet (Yui Mok/PA)

“This is simple, no prosthetics, they just greased up my hair and pushed me out,” he told PA.

Oldman added that he had met someone who claimed they worked for MI6 after the series aired and talked to him about his experiences.

The chair of Bafta Krishnendu Majumdar also appeared alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race star Michelle Visage and radio DJ Clara Amfo, who were broadcasting live from the red carpet on Bafta’s YouTube channel.

Comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan are set to kick off the ceremony, which honours the best of British television and will be broadcast on BBC One and iPlayer on Sunday at 7pm.