Yorkshire’s thriving media industry is going from strength to strength, reports NADIA JEFFERSON-BROWN

YORKSHIRE'S media landscape is changing. The region is now highly regarded as a place of production, a destination for drama crews, and a backdrop for big budget films. And it's not just down to the production of ITV hit Victoria at the Church Fenton studios near York. The much-anticipated move of Channel 4 to Leeds has fuelled hopes of further skills training, jobs and investment opportunities for Yorkshire's media industry.

The number of success stories rooted in Yorkshire is growing at a pace, with Peaky Blinders, Gentleman Jack, Downton Abbey, as well as Victoria all proven hits.

Channel 4 arrived in Leeds in October and is set to move into new headquarters in the refurbished Majestic building which will be home to a news hub, a managing director, Nations & Regions department, programme commissioners, the new Digital Creative Unit and support staff. Channel 4 News will also regularly be co-anchored from the new Leeds studio.

Ed Braman is a senior lecturer in film and television production and programme leader of the BA in business of the creative industries at the University of York. "There's no question the industry is on the rise based on the level of production growth in Yorkshire," he said.

"This area has grown more quickly and more substantially than any other part of the country, including the south east. It is not just down to Church Fenton and Victoria. It is also the growth of the regional TV companies, for example, and increasing activity around interactive media and other forms of creative work."

Building on the studios' success, there are plans to develop a creative hub at Church Fenton to further support film and TV production, media, tech and digital businesses. Once fully operational, the Create Yorkshire development and studios could support about 1,800 permanent jobs in the region.

“The arrival of Channel 4 is going to be a major stimulus," added Ed. "A significant amount of their business will move to the north. The real question is how much production will follow. Because, historically, Channel 4 has commissioned across the entire country, the move to Leeds will have some impact but it won't change the map completely. It will sponsor and develop a certain amount of creative activity in Yorkshire and Humber, otherwise, why bother to move? Commissioning out of Leeds will create new studio space and jobs. They are anticipating that there will be a growth in regional production because Channel 4 will be looking to commission more outside London and change its regional strategy, so there will be huge opportunity for new jobs. There will be new training going on at all grades and a lot of training stimulus going into the creative industries.”

He said, of all the regionally creative economies, Yorkshire had been the fastest growing in recent years, and that growth had been consistent.

Figures, based on data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), show that between 2009 and 2015, Yorkshire’s film and TV Industries generated an annual turnover of £424 million across 590 creative businesses.

This was an increase of 247 per cent against the UK average of 118 per cent, with Gross Value Added (GVA) increasing 242 per cent in comparison to a UK average growth of 120 per cent.

Ed praised Screen Yorkshire for its role in boosting the region's creative work.

Sally Joynson, chief executive at Screen Yorkshire, said one of the most significant drivers of this growth was the agency’s Yorkshire Content Fund (YCF). Backed by the European Regional Development Fund, the YCF has secured more than £157 million of new business to the region through its investment activities, bringing in 45 to 50 productions.

“Yorkshire is seen as a significant place for production; significant in terms of producing films here, in terms of its growth, its profile and the Channel 4 move has only added to that," said Sally.

"That production and activity has been growing for several years now and a lot of that growth is off the back of Screen Yorkshire activities and the Yorkshire Content Fund. It allows us to part-finance film and television. That has been a really important factor, particularly in drama, and it's drama where you get these big international sales; they are high profile and big budget.”

Reflecting on the launch of the YCF in 2012, Sally said: “The first production we did in that period was a new drama for BBC2. They sent us the script; we loved it. It was one of the most brilliant things we had seen. It was Peaky Blinders. We set the bar with Peaky Blinders. Since then we have had Dad's Army, Ackley Bridge through to Official Secrets and Hope Gap.

“The fund has been a big driver. Added to that our work with the universities and Beyond Bronte, you can see the work that Screen Yorkshire is delivering has been having a massive impact on this sector in this region. It is a very exciting time.”

She added: "Productions like Downton Abbey and Gentleman Jack have been really important in raising the profile of production in Yorkshire and the reputation of Yorkshire and demonstrates that Yorkshire is a very serious place to do production business.”

Both Downton Abbey, the movie, and Gentleman Jack were filmed in Yorkshire with support from Screen Yorkshire’s Film Office. Locations for Downton Abbey include Harewood House, North Yorkshire Moors Railway including Pickering Railway Station, Wentworth Woodhouse, Little Germany in Bradford, Harewood House and Dalton Mills in Keighley.

Several York locations were used for Gentleman Jack, which was created, written and directed by Sally Wainwright, including Precentor Court, Duncombe Place, Grays Court Hotel, Minster Yard and Deangate, along with Sutton Park in Sutton on the Forest, Newby Hall near Ripon and Bramham Park.

“Last year we were heavily involved in the bid for Channel 4,” said Sally. “That involved 12 months of really detailed activities with partners. Channel 4 is moving to Leeds which is a fantastic outcome, a real vote of confidence in the region and Yorkshire. We already have new companies setting up in Yorkshire. There's every indication that Channel 4 will move to more production in Yorkshire and across the north.”

She said she hoped Channel 4’s arrival would enable them to further build on its growth. “This is a sector that brings real economic benefit to the region. With a significant drama series we are talking about millions of pounds.”

Screen Yorkshire is also celebrating the success of two feature films, backed by the YCF and filmed in the region, which were selected to screen at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Family drama Hope Gap, directed by British screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator, Shadowlands), stars Bill Nighy, Annette Bening and Josh O’Connor, and was shot for five weeks across the UK, including Leeds and Doncaster.

Gavin Hood’s true-life story Official Secrets stars Keira Knightley as journalist Katharine Gun, who leaked a top-secret National Security Agency memo, putting her life and career on the line and changing the course of modern history. It was filmed primarily in Yorkshire at locations including: Leeds City Centre, Chapel Allerton, Roundhay, Boston Spa, Otley Police Station, Bradford City Hall, Shipley, Keighley and Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster and the Northern Film & TV Studios.

Sally said: "We also have the new filming of All Creatures Great and Small. There couldn't be anything more Yorkshire than that production."