With a string of UK commissions and global format Million Dollar Intern, Outline is enjoying a purple patch.
Directors Laura Mansfield, Helen Veale, Bridget Boseley
Chairman Chris Pye
Key shows Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food; Health Freaks; Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival; Great British Garden Revival; Million Dollar Intern
Previous shows Great British Food Revival; Emergency With Angela Griffin; Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance
“You can never be complacent in this industry,” says Outline Productions managing director Laura Mansfield. From someone running one of the UK’s most established production companies, it is an authoritative statement.
But even with this in mind, it would be churlish to suggest that 14-year-old Outline is currently experiencing anything other than a purple patch. Mansfield, co-founder Helen Veale and head of popular factual and features Bridget Boseley have in the past year diversified the indie’s customer base and made inroads internationally.
The growth is so tangible that we sit in what used to be one corner of Outline’s boardroom. The cosy space was carved out when the boardroom was “chopped into three” to accommodate edit suites and a payroll that expanded to a record 90 people earlier this year.
The evidence is on screen too. For the first time in the company’s history, two of its shows went head to head in primetime last month, as Channel 4 pitted home-remedy format Health Freaks up against BBC2’s Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food.
Meanwhile, BBC Worldwide’s Million Dollar Intern, a 10 x 48-minute fact ent format, airs around the world.
The upturn in fortunes can be pinned to the trio defining their individual roles more clearly and refocusing Outline’s development on the terrestrial broadcasters. Unlike some indies, where there are obvious creative and commercial figureheads, Mansfield, Veale and Boseley’s skillsets overlap, but in a structured way.
Mansfield takes a more strategic overview of the company’s work and direction of travel, while Veale oversees development and tends to lead pitches.
Boseley’s focus is on delivery of content to the broadcasters. “At heart, everyone here is creative, but clearly we can’t all do the same job, so we decided to look at our roles and try to divide them up,” Boseley says.
Alongside the clearer delineation of roles, Outline’s development slate is focused on winning business in peak slots on the UK’s five biggest channels.
The thinking behind this is simple, Mansfield explains: “We want as many people as possible to watch our shows. We’re incredibly proud of them.”
The indie already had established relationships with Sky 1 in the shape of Fat Families and two series of Emergency With Angela Griffin. It has also produced many shows for C4, including Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance and Go Greek For A Week.
But Outline did not need to look far to expand its terrestrial slate. In 2010, it was commissioned to make Great British Food Revival for BBC2, giving some of the UK’s top chefs the chance to promote under-threat UK produce.
The show has opened doors for Outline, helping it broaden its presenting talent relationships with names such as Michel Roux Jr, Ainsley Harriot and Clarissa Dickson Wright. One that has stuck is with Tom Kerridge, who contributed to the third series of the show.
“A tender was put out by BBC2 for a new male chef and we knew we would be up against the big boys and girls of food. Tom had done a great show for us, so we put him on tape and got onto the shortlist,” Boseley recalls.
BBC2 eventually commissioned Proper Pub Food, in which the twotime Michelin-starred chef reveals how to cook the best pub food using recipes from his pub restaurant, The Hand & Flowers in Marlow.
The six-part series served up an above average 2.3 million (8.9%) viewers and Boseley says there will be more from Kerridge on BBC2, starting with his own take on Christmas dinner later this year.
Great British Food Revival has also given rise to Turkish Delights with Allegra McEvedy and James Martin’s United Cakes Of America for UKTV’s Good Food.
Boseley says that Outline works hard to develop ideas with talent and gets them on board before pitching a show. “We always approach them, talk with them about the idea and get some buy-in,” she says.
Alongside the talent story, Outline has spun out …Revival into a bigger format franchise, starting with BBC1’s Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival, the indie’s first foray into wildlife programming.
The format gave TV nature experts the platform to make their case for endangered species and set out what must be done to pull them back from the edge.
The idea was originally pitched to BBC2, but to avoid treading on the toes of existing brands such as Spring Watch, the channel passed. However, former BBC daytime director Liam Keelan and daytime commissioner Lindsay Bradbury championed the programme, giving Outline the opportunity to pitch to ex-BBC1 controller Danny Cohen.
Outline didn’t stop there. Earlier this year, it extended the brand again, this time back on BBC2, in the shape of 10 x 60-minute series Great British Garden Revival, which will aim to re-engage viewers with their gardens. A plethora of gardening talent has been assembled for the series, including Monty Don and Charlie Dimmock.
Some of the Garden Revival episodes are being pulled together in the edit suite opposite Outline’s boardroom, ahead of its 9 December launch.
Mansfield says it will be delivered to the high standards the trio demand. “We’ve built a reputation over 14 years and have always taken a long-term approach. We haven’t done stuff where clients feel like we’ve ripped them off,” she argues.
They are also keenly aware of what an Outline show looks like, hinting at the Reithian values on which the BBC was founded. Mansfield explains: “We combine a sense of purpose and journalistic rigour, but in a format that is highly entertaining and cheeky.”
Veale adds: “Sometimes you think the notion of public service broadcasting is the boring stuff that nobody would want to watch. But if you want to serve the public, you need to encourage them to sit down and watch.”
The cheeky edge runs through the company, where staff are encouraged to have fun in the hope that they will ultimately turn out better work. “From the outset, we wanted to build a work environment that we’d want to spend time in, and that’s not just making sure every one’s got a comfortable chair,” Veale explains. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
This ethos is apparent in the banter between the three of them.
Asked how important Outline’s all-female leadership team is, Veale jokes: “Bridget was a man when she first joined us.”
The other two hoot loudly, before giving the half-serious answer of: “We don’t know any different.”
“There’s nothing a glass of wine won’t settle at the end of the day,” Boseley adds.
Outline expects to grow its £5.4m turnover this year and has entertained takeover approaches, but ultimately, this isn’t what brings them to work every day. “If money was important, we’d have gone into banking,”
Mansfield says. “One of the measures of success is growth and profitability, but the thing that gets us up in the morning is creating great programmes and working with brilliant people.”