The now four-month bursary will be awarded to train an aspiring comedy writer or duo to develop their skills at the BBC and via virtual industry placements.
The opportunity, offered by BBC Comedy in partnership with the BBC Comedy Association (BCA), is designed to find writers with a fresh, unique point of view and the potential to help shape the future of comedy, whether within the BBC or elsewhere in the industry. It aims to make a positive intervention to address an under-representation of BAME professionals in comedy production across all broadcasting.
On a practical level, the bursary gives up-and-coming talent the chance to make comedy writing their main focus for four months, whilst immersed in comedy production. It will provide a unique opportunity to gain experience in the programme-making world, with access to top tier production professionals. They will hone their skills while gaining experience on a range of BBC comedies across radio, TV and online, on panel shows, shorts, sitcoms or comedy entertainment shows. The programme will offer the writer the support they need to take the next step in their career.
The first Felix Dexter Bursary was launched in 2017 after Paul Whitehouse, Trustee of the Felix Dexter Foundation, and Shane Allen, Director of BBC Comedy Commissioning, agreed that supporting and encouraging writers from an ethnic minority background would be a fitting tribute to the late comedy actor and writer, who featured in iconic BBC comedies including The Fast Show and The Real McCoy.
In the first year bursaries were awarded to Northern writers Leah Chillery and Jonny Wright, whose placements took them behind the scenes on a range of shows – from BBC Three’s Famalam and This Country to BBC One’s Mrs Brown’s Boys and Radio 4’s Newsjack. The second year participants were Nathan Roberts and Phoebe Roy. Since completing the bursary Nathan made his Edinburgh Fringe Festival debut and has been signed up to a prestigious talent agency and continues to write, and Phoebe, who already had representation, continues to write for BBC shows – most recently supplying jokes on Mock The Week.
Last year’s recipient was stand-up comedian Athena Kugblenu. who has said that the dedicated time to work on her pilot with the assistance from BBC comedy commissioning and invaluable introductions to contacts across the industry have helped to develop her craft to the professional standard that has allowed her to work on a whole range of shows, post bursary.
Sarah Asante, BBC Commissioning Editor for Comedy says: “I’m very excited that we’re going for a fourth time. As I said last year, every cohort so far has exceeded expectation so the sky is the limit for what can happen in the coming year.
“We have gathered so much industry support and buy-in; I feel like a proud aunt when industry movers and shakers let me know they’ve had a great meeting with or booked one of our bursary writers for a gig. It’s a real testament to their hard work and the cachet we can offer them via the access they gain on this course.”
Paul Whitehouse says: “I’m really glad that this BBC bursary is launching again in Felix Dexter’s name. Felix was a force of nature. His comedy was wholehearted, sublime and unpredictable. That such a brilliant figure should be remembered and honoured like this, by encouraging talent from the BAME community, is a fitting tribute to him.”
Kate Daughton, Head of Comedy, BBC says: “The bursary has proved incredibly successful over the past couple of years nurturing the careers of budding BAME writers. It’s wonderful to be running it in Felix’s name, a much loved inspiration to all emerging comedy writers.”