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Why I decided to quit the BBC; Peter Grant finds out what's next for TV's Mal Young.

Byline: Peter Grant

TV boss Mal Young is switched on about the challenges that lie ahead in 2005. He has left the BBC and is about to become an international independent producer with a remit to make drama in the UK, Europe and US, with show biz supremo Simon Fuller's company, 19TV.

19TV is behind Pop Idol and American Idol and has offices all over the world - places where Mal will now be working in his new role as director of drama.

Mal, 46, is bursting with ideas but, he stresses, the last seven years at the Beeb have been fantastic - personally and professionally.

He says: ``It's been the most rewarding, exciting and fun time of my life.

``When Simon approached me about working together I didn't think twice. I had no real desire to leave the BBC - I was happy there, but we all need to move on and stretch ourselves.

``In Simon I've found someone who, like me, wants to create what we call `talk-about telly' for big, mainstream audiences.

``When I first moved to London eight years ago, after a long time playing around with on-screen lesbians and laying patios at Brookside, I was described by one national newspaper as ``the kind of Scouser with a chip on both shoulders''.

``Whatever their intent, I took this as a great compliment - at least I was balanced. ''

It was actually seven years ago that Mal became big in the Beeb and was firmly established as one of the most powerful people in television when he became head of drama series.

He was at the helm of East Enders through its highs and lows. And he believes its popularity will return as it prepares for its anniversary year despite the fact that before his departure as executive producer East Enders had, at one point, slumped to around five million viewers.

``I am now in my 20th year in television and East Enders will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, '' he says.

``Such dips are very normal in soaps. East Enders is no different. I learned a lot at Brookside which stood me in good stead at Walford - you simply don't panic.

``Phil Redmond didn't panic, he just got on with it. We all did.

``I knew that East Enders would win the Christmas ratings battle though. Soaps tend to get a media battering in some sort of bizarre rot a system.

``This year it happened to be East Enders. Next it will be Corrie - it's a cyclical form of soap bashing.

``I was never worried. In fact, before I left the BBC some critic said we'll leave you alone now and move on to another soap. ''

But Mal has always had a lot of other projects on the go to keep his mind busy.

There was Holby City, Waking The Dead, Judge John Deed, Doctors and The Scarlet Pimpernel - just a few of his award-winning programmes starring big-name actors such as Martin Shaw and Richard E. Grant.

Last week saw the return of Down to Earth with Ricky Tomlinson and Mal's last big commission was the new Dr Who starring Christopher Eccleston.

Despite such a legacy, his one big disappointment, he reveals, was that his police series Merseybeat was not re-commissioned for series five.

He had invested a lot in it, making it harder and grittier using local talent to maximum effect.

``I had re-located it all to Liverpool - lock, stock and barrel and I was very optimistic about it. Sadly, it wasn't to be. ''

Now Mal is hoping to further the television career of the north west yet again - with a new 19 TV office.

``Simon and I hope to start up a 19 TV north west office with the BBC moving a lot of programme-making to Manchester, '' he says.

``It's ripe to tap into the talent of Liverpool and the north west again which is something I have always felt strongly about. ''

That's not to say Mal doesn't enjoy his more star-studded moments, though.

``Recently I was in a hotel room in New York looking at the Emmy I had won for Waking The Dead. I thought `how cool is that'.

``I value all the awards I have received, especially those from the viewers. I look back with great affection at the ECHO Arts and Entertainment Awards which stand alongside my RTS and BAFTA awards and that Emmy.

``I was also honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Soap Awards.

``For me it's great going back home and receiving them in your home town. I enjoy taking my mum to them. In fact, I love taking her to TV dos, such as the final of Strictly Come Dancing, and she went on a guided tour around Albert Square. ''

Mal, who starts his new job with Simon Fuller on January 17, was responsible for 500 hours of popular television while at the BBC.

He was Head of Drama Series from 1997 to 2000 and then Controller of Continuing Drama until his departure in December 2004.

Born in Huyton, his TV career started in Liverpool as a humble props runner on Brookside.

Later Mal helped create some of the best story lines including the controversial Beth Jordache case.

He left as executive producer in 1996 before taking up a role with Pearson Television over-seeing The Bill and Family Affairs.

Says Mal: ``Brookside broke the mould and opened the doors for the way we all watch drama on television to this day. Phil Redmond should be so proud of Mersey TV's achievements. ''

An expert on the soap genre, Mal says he was surprised when the British Broadcasting Corporation offered him such a high-profile role.

``I never thought it was the kind of place that would give me a job. For a start I had `an accent' and had spent most of my time 200 miles north in Liverpool.

``I accepted the job when they said they wanted ME to try to change the BBC, rather than the BBC change me. ''

But back in December 1997 he quickly realised that his remit didn't seem like it was going to be much fun: ``I found myself in a BBC with morale going through the floor, '' he says.

``But we filled our time up creating new shows and encouraging writers, script editors, producers and directors to come on the journey with us.

``As I start a new chapter I leave with a great pride in having been part of an exciting, successful and turbulent time at the BBC. ''

For all his successes there has been some sadness.

Mal's inspirational dad, Chas, died last year.

``Dad would not have wanted me to leave the BBC - he would have regarded it as a job for life.

``My big regret is that he wasn't here to see me get the Emmy. He would have been so proud. ''

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 4, 2005
Words:1148
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