The television industry remains too white, too middle class and too male, according to the first female producer of Have I Got News for You.
Kicking off Leeds Trinity’s Journalism and Media Week, Rebecca Papworth, managing director of CanCan Productions and executive producer at Steph’s Packed Lunch expressed her concern for the TV industry’s lack of diversity.
She said: “Sometimes I don’t think the TV industry has changed enough. There are a lot more conversations to be had. It is a battle. It is a constant push.”
Rebecca said she grew up in Bradford and Halifax in a working-class background.
“Opportunities were just not obvious, but I was focused on succeeding, and I just loved television.”
Rebecca revealed the reality of the hard work required when getting your foot in the door.
Off the back of work experience at Bradford Festival TV Rebecca pulled together her own VHS showreel, wrapped it in pink faux fur and sent it out to every name she could find in the Guardian Media.
“Once I got in, I fought for my place,” she said, after explaining she accepted a £4,000 pay cut and suffered a commute of an hour and a half every day.
“It was brutal but if you get the opportunity of a lifetime, you go for it, or die trying.”
After a successful 25 years in the television industry, Rebecca said she reached a point where she finally felt she could make a change in the industry.
“I had got to a point in my career where I felt such a frustration with diversity, but I got to a place where I could do something about it.”
Producing Have I Got News for You as the first female in that role, Rebecca said she had a proactive attitude in making the show more inclusive, by encouraging more female comedians to be involved.
“I came with an agenda, and I pushed for women and diversity. I won’t pretend I haven’t had my #MeToo moments.
“Women can tend to be pushed into more administrative roles, and being an editorial person becomes rarer and rarer.
“Ending up in a room as the only working-class northern woman, it can be tough, it can be hostile. Particularly as comedy is a very male environment. But then on the upside you probably stand out a bit more, because you are different. It’s not a disadvantage, you just have to insist.”
Rebecca said she felt proud that Steph’s Packed Lunch is based in Leeds over more established areas in TV production like Manchester or London and said the future of TV in Leeds is bright.
She said: “Traditionally there has been more TV made in Manchester. But I think the fact Leeds has Channel 4 here now and Screen Yorkshire is important. The combination of that plus all the universities and colleges supporting the industry mean it can only grow.”