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News > History & Politics > Working on BBC2 Royal History's Biggest Fibs

Working on BBC2 Royal History's Biggest Fibs

Seb Banwell (FH 13-18) tells us about his experience

Seb Banwell (FH 13-18) tells us about his experience working on a BBC2 programme in line with his university degree, as a History researcher.

‘Royal History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: The Russian Revolution’ – aired on Friday, 20th November, 9PM on BBC2. 

In line with my university degree, I was a History researcher and assistant to the award-winning director and producer, Andrew Thompson.

It was pretty remarkable to be working each day on film location research, in-depth historical fact checking, script editing, as well as making a real contribution when engaging with producers and the director. It was a proper privilege.

Spot me in the end credits if you watch it on iPlayer!

Working for the BBC was a really fun and fairly baffling experience. As such a revered institution, one that in many ways we are so familiar with, it was amazing to see behind the curtain, even if over zoom. I worked for BBC Studios, who to the best of my knowledge are the production company as opposed to the broadcaster. They are actually one of the most successful television creators in the world, having turned over a record £1.4bn in sales for 2019/20.

The team I worked alongside is based in Glasgow. In terms of my day-to-day experience, there were essentially three of us who spoke regularly over zoom; myself, director Andrew and producer Fances.

The show starred celebrity historian and Historic Royal Palaces head curator, Lucy Worsley, but her position was only in front of camera. My role was to assist in every task that was History-related.

I must say I was incredibly surprised by the responsibility and free-reign I was given. I provided extensive summaries of events for the director, outlined some of the historiographical debates, searching out possible plots and narratives, scouted filming locations, trawled journals for niche references and interviewed (reasonably) famous historians.

I also got to help write and edit the main script. As you would expect, the challenge was trying to string together a television piece that was cohesive, historically accurate but also good viewing. I had to find material that could be explored and dramatised in line with our commission but also ensure that they were dramatised accurately; to reign in the director’s poetic license as it were. One quite entertaining period was spent tracking down the actual farm that inspired Orwell’s Animal Farm.

As a result of COVID-19, the documentary was actually filmed entirely in the UK which was a remarkable feat. Strangely enough, many people didn’t realise. I was also meant to help with filming for a few of weeks but sadly that was impossible for COVID reasons.

For anyone who fancies a similar experience, my advice would be to fire a message through to anyone you can. From my very limited experience, people in television always need help as the final cut is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of research and content!

Seb Banwell (FH 13-18)


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