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In contrast to the Tanya Byron debate described in the last posting, an earlier session at the BBC Children’s Festival had interviewed father and son Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, creators of E4’s hit comedy drama series Skins, and winners of the 2009 Bafta TV Audience Award. Interesting to note that Skins was the only show on a digital channel to win a TV BAFTA, and beat among others in the category The X Factor, the Apprentice and Coronation Street. Jamie pitched the idea for the series to his dad, who was already a well established script writer, when he was just 15. Skins is a programme about 16-18 year olds in Bristol, with a story line that includes graphic accounts of drug taking, drinking and sex, but that also looks at the ‘storm and stress’ of the teenage years with humour and close observation. Bryan and Jamie admit that many of the original story lines and characters in the series were based on them and their own father – son relationship. It is a programme that often incites controversy, with accusations of it having a ‘dark side’ and indeed the moving scene from the second series where Chris dies was shown to a noticeably silent audience at the Festival. In response to very good and close questioning by Lizo Mzimba (former CBBC Newsround presenter and now BBC News Entertainment Correspondent), Elsley said he believed that teenagers do have many of the experiences that are shown in the series, ‘Friends do die, horrible things do happen to teenagers, and how they cope with that is really interesting. We wanted to introduce that element into the show to give it some realism.’ Teenagers I’ve spoken to feel that the series reflects an element of their lives (they are likely to know someone who has become pregnant, someone who has got lost with drugs, someone who has lots of sex), but are keen to point out that it does not reflect all teenagers’ lives. It was noticeable just how articulate both Bryan and Jamie are, and I particularly like Bryan’s insightful understanding of the lives of young people. He spoke for instance of just how important friends are to teenagers, and the influence they have on each other’s lives. Studies on resilience have shown that adolescents who have a strong peer support system are likely to cope better with difficult family circumstances such as parents with substance abuse or divorce and separation (Dunn, 2004; Gore & Eckenrode, 1996). In many ways Bryan Elsley reflects Tanya Byron’s view of the importance of putting young people at the centre of the message. For the new series actors were recruited from open auditions held in Bristol and London, and young people are encouraged to write for the series in a sort of Skins University of Writing; Elsley admits it takes around 2 years to become a fully fledged writer, with the average age being 17. It is interesting to note the way Skins was first promoted to its target audience, with a buzz around the new programme created on MySpace (see for more details of this campaign). Congratulations Bryan, Jamie and colleagues on winning the BAFTA.

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