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The making of the BBC’s Lincoln lip dub

When BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s lip dub video was released this week the general reaction around the industry was one of amazement.

Amazement that that something so visually stunning and epic could be organised by a relatively small radio station and a little surprise that a station social media video was actually rather good. Even the critically entertaining “shit social media in radio” community liked it.

You can understand the surprise; the recent Harlem Shuffle meme taught us how enthusiastic radio stations can misjudge the moment and, like an uncoached presenter’s link, fail to get out at the top of the interest curve. We also know how production standards sometimes plummet the moment a radio producer gets their hands on a video camera.

Not so here. This was done properly and it shows. BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s editor Charlie Partridge acted as executive producer so earlier today I asked him how the project came about:

 I’ve always wanted to be an executive producer for the BBC, it sounds very dramatic doesn’t it, and powerful. Essentially the genesis of this thing was that one of the guys here saw the Grand Rapids Lip Dub video and thought ‘Wow that’s fantastic’, he played it to me and said “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that here?” so I set about trying to make it happen.

Charlie Partridge

Charlie Partridge, executive producer

Where did you start?

A local radio station couldn’t really take on something like that without a bit of help, and so I was lucky to have worked with a lady called Rosemary Richards who has her own company, Rosa Productions, and they specialise in outdoor arts events. They did Gravity Fields in Grantham which is where I first met her, and she’s just the girl who can’t say “no” basically

So I was the executive producer but Rosemary did all the heavy lifting basically and got her team in. Performance director Jeremy Jones put the thing together, and because we’re all used to working with volunteers we were able to get into communities in Lincolnshire and say “Hey, do you want to be part of this?”

It looks epic – how many people were involved?

Yeah, 43 community groups, 500 people.

So how did you find them all?

We started talking about it on the radio and said “Hey, why don’t you want to come along and join in?” and we got a few people like that, but also to be honest you’ve got to be proactive and get out there and email and talk to community groups and say “This is what we’re doing, how would you like to get involved?”. A lot of personal approaches is the only way.

Is Radio Lincolnshire really the only organisation that could do this?

Where is Lincoln?

Where is Lincoln? It’s here.

I think, blowing our own trumpet, we are community based. We always have been and so we’ve got great contacts in the community, and people expect us to galvanise a community in one way or the other.

I think it was a great fit actually, I mean I know when we first announced ‘hey we’re a radio station and we’re going to do this mime’, it’s shades of Archie Andrews, but once people understood, yes it’s a mime, yes you are lip dubbing, you’re miming along to a pop music song, but it’s the dancing, it’s the taking part, it’s all those things; it’s the celebration, it’s the community spirit that actually matters then you know that they think it’s great and it’s going to really reflect well on Lincoln and Lincolnshire and that’s what people wanted to do, and they wanted to do it with us.

There’s a huge pride in the city here and that was very evident in everything we did.

And it surely it reflects on the whole BBC?

Of course. We are the BBC in Lincoln. We’re a small part of the organisation but for our listeners we are the BBC. They will comment about EastEnders or David Attenborough to us because we represent the whole BBC in this area and we do have a unique connection with the audience which is the licence payer.

So what message does this event send to them about the BBC?

The 500 people that took part in this event had an experience of the BBC that they will never have had before and maybe will never have again, but to me it’s very important that BBC local radio is a catalyst for events like this. It shows that the BBC is happy to take a bit of a risk and try something a bit different, and it shows that I think we are a very creative bunch of people.

I remember from my time at Radio Linconshire that it really is the BBC on your doorstep. You’re based in the middle of a shopping parade.

That’s right. We’re in the old Radion Cinema which closed in 1959, it became a supermarket and then the BBC took it over. But yes we’ve got a dry cleaners on one side of our entrance and a hairdressers on the other side so you do have this connection – people will berate you or talk to you or congratulate you as you walk down the road in Lincoln.

Filming in Lincoln

Filming in Lincoln

What were the main challenges of filming there? That hill can’t have helped.

Yes, well it’s called Steep Hill, capital ‘S’, capital ‘H’, it is a very steep hill that takes people by surprise because people think Lincolnshire’s all flat. Well, yes it is, but not in this bit. So the filming challenges were huge but because I was working with pros they knew how we were going to film up Steep Hill.

We used a John Deere Gator, a four wheel drive truck, on which a steady-cam guy sat. They put a rig on there so it was all very safe and the director sat with the steady-cam man on the back of the Gator and filmed as they went.

The guy who drove the Gator is a film driver who’d worked on Skyfall and was off to do EastEnders as soon as he finished with us so we were working with really professional people and I think that’s a message that people in local radio need to get: if you’re going to try something like this then don’t spoil the ship for a ha’pworth of tar. All the participants were volunteers, all the radio staff were volunteers, but for the actual filming we used professionals. In fact the driver Steve said this was far more fun than working on Skyfall!

How long did the shoot take?

We did three takes on the Saturday morning, at half past six, half past seven and half past eight. We only had the roads closed until nine and we knew that the life of the city was starting around us, people wanted deliveries, and although all the local businesses were very supportive there was a point when we thought let’s open the roads and let people get on with their lives. The one that’s actually up on YouTube is take two we filmed at half past seven in the morning before the shadows got too harsh.

What reaction did you get from the other local media like the Lincolnshire Echo and Lincs FM?

The Lincolnshire Echo was very cooperative, really behind it right from the start. We were inviting their people to come in and join in if they wanted to. We have a really friendly relationship with Lincs FM, and we’re rivals but we all know each other; Lincoln is a small place and Sean Dunderdale was threatening that he was going to put Lincs FM branding all the way up Steep Hill!

As someone who knows many the characters involved, what’s your favourite bit of the video?

I love the steam punks who are just brilliant, they are members of the Lincoln Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, and they just went for it, and you know; we were saying to them “Oh what are you going to wear?” “How are you going to dress up?” and they said “Oh I think we might get a sort of steam punk thing going” and I thought ‘Yeah that’s going to look good’ and you go from them to the little children coming out of Goodies sweet shop, the kids from the Minster School, and then there’s this transition into the guy who owns the Modern Classics cafe who looks very much like Paul Weller, and the Mods on their Vespas all clicking their fingers in time, and that’s just a lovely transition.

Henry Ruddock and the BBC's Melvyn Prior

Henry Ruddock and the BBC’s Melvyn Prior

There’s a brilliant shot when the dancers are outside Carluccio’s and Ruddocks, Henry Ruddock who’s standing outside in his green Freeman of Lincoln coat gown and he’s got all his staff there and they’re all dancing and then the policeman just happened to be there – that’s his beat. He’s joining in, he’s dancing in completely the wrong way, but it doesn’t matter.

And the end is great of course, the choristers on top of the cathedral, that is a wonderful moment.

…and only then is there a cut in the film.

Yes there’s one.. because we think it’s important to show a bit of Lincoln and we wanted to finish on the letters, and we wanted the choir singing 200 feet up but short of a helicopter or short of spending £20,000 on a crane rig we had to cut. So it’s a lip dub right up to the very end when all the miming is going on but when we cut to the choir and they start to sing that is them singing.

Can you tell me how much it cost?

The BBC staff did it mostly in their own time because they wanted to be part of it. We paid Rosa Productions to do all their stuff with a tiny bit of money from the BBC North Creative Fund who liked the ambition and like how a radio station could dare to take on something like this, but in television terms it was nothing.

What have you learnt from all this?

I’ve learnt an enormous lot. I’ve learnt never to underestimate what the people of Lincoln will do, because I think it’s amazing. Although I knew obviously about social media – it’s part of my job, but the sheer power of social media and the power of Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and the way in which people share things is extraordinary, so yeah that’s been an interesting sort of underlining of what I already knew, but you actually feel the power of it. You can see how many people have started liking us on Facebook and the number of people who are following us on Twitter, it’s a huge jump.

What does this project contribute to your station in marketing terms?

Well we wanted to try to create a means of re-appraisal if you like, I know that was one of your things when you were working with us, BBC local radio does have an image and we’re very happy that we’ve got an older audience and they’re people who are really engaged in their community. But every so often you’ve got to do something else which says “Hey, look, look we do other stuff, we have fun and actually we’re part of this really big organisation that can enable us to do all this as well” and to do that was extraordinary really, and yes the buzz around the station, a buzz amongst the staff, the buzz amongst our listeners has been extraordinary, and people really felt they were part of something different and unique and they were proud of it, and that will have, I think, long term consequences for us.

Flame-throwing Radio Lincolnshire

Flame-throwing Radio Lincolnshire

Doesn’t it also show how the line between marketing and content has evaporated?

Too right. Too right. I wouldn’t decry turning up with the publicity trailer with some people in T shirts and handing out leaflets because sometimes that’s all you can do, but I think the audience is far more savvy these days and if you can look for something different then that’s the way forward, you’ve got to employ creative people who will come up with great ideas. I don’t know what the next idea is but I’m in the market for it.

And we know Peter Salmon [director, BBC North] has watched the film and enjoyed it.

He emailed me yesterday to say he’d seen it again and he just wanted to say how good it was, and I thought that’s 16 minutes of your time Peter, that’s pretty good going!

Charlie Partridge was speaking to Steve Martin who worked at Radio Lincolnshire in 1990. Today Steve specialises in African media markets for the BBC as a business development manager in broadcast, mobile and digital. He also runs the Earshot Creative blog and podcast with Jonathan Jacob.
Interview transcribed by Simon Gabriel Butt at Good to Go Transcription. Photographs copyright BBC and used with permission. BBC Lincolnshire on Media UK.

One Comment

  1. And now for 2014? It was great and Thank You .