A VETERAN actress has claimed some television producers underestimate ethnic audiences, believing that they cannot understand certain storylines. Priyanga Burford, whose credits include The Thick Of It and Babylon, believes TV executives must reflect modern- day Britain in their programmes in order to create “more interesting stories”.
Her comments follow remarks by actor Adrian Lester who, at a meeting by diversity campaign group Act for Change in London last week, called the lack of diversity “embarrassing”.
He suggested that if the industry did not change to reflect the cultural diversity of the UK, then it must be publicly shamed into doing so.
“I really like the idea of it being called normalising, rather than diversity,” Burford told Eastern Eye. “It’s about making TV, theatre and film look like the real world. People have lots of different types of friends and there are lots of different types of relationships.
“If you are a TV exec and you live in Manchester, Salford or Sheffield and you look out of your office window and then look at the programmes you are making, if they don’t look anything like the view of the people out the window, what on earth are you doing?”
Burford has featured in TV shows UKIP: The First 100 Days, London Spy and No Offence. Her love of theatre was sparked by a chance visit to watch Hamlet during a college trip, she said.
“I had snuck on the English A-Level trip because I got on really well with the English teacher. I didn’t really know any Shakespeare, but I thought I’d go. I initially thought ‘three and half hours?’ but I was completely enthralled. I was sitting on the edge of seat crying, and thought, ‘this is what I want to do with my life’.
“The play starred Ian Charleson and I later learned what a great actor he was. It was one of his last roles before he died.” Burford believes Asians are loo king for their imagination to be stimulated in stories that include them.
“There is an assumption that people won’t be able to handle the idea of this, that or the other. And of course they can, because we are all living in it everyday. I think people are a lot more reasonable, open and imaginative, actually. People want to have their imagination stimulated, they are starving for it.”
The mother of two, who has been in the industry for 16 years, takes her children to see plays.
“One of my sons is part of a youth theatre and he loves it. I think it’s good for children. It’s good for their confidence, their literacy and all sorts of things. Burford also teaches city workers and scientists how to pitch ideas to investors.
“When you are going to give a talk or deliver a report, people tend to retain information much better if it’s given to them in a narrative way, rather than a lecture, which is a bit dry. We naturally key into characters and narratives. People find it easier to retain, and engage with it much more effectively,” she said.
Burford is starring in The Effect this week at Sheffield Theatres. She plays Dr James in a play about strangers who are brought together during a pharmaceutical drug trial. The Effect will run from Thursday (25) until July 18.