Simone Pennant is driven by a powerful purpose — to help the lot of others from diverse backgrounds wanting to get into the media. She’s the Founder/Director at The TV Collective, which promotes diversity in this creative industry. The Collective celebrates its ten years soon, and has presently amassed 19,000 Twitter followers.
She’s amongst friends. If you’ve navigated your way through a career in the media, or are just starting out, and are not a face-value blue print for inclusion, there’s a high probability you’ve encountered added barriers to the traditional ones a media career throws up — given its competitive nature.
You might have tried one initiative after another to break that ceiling.
I know my colleagues and I tried in the 1990s with an outfit supported by Channel 4’s Jon Snow and the Freedom Forum where we staged conferences for industry figures and provided bursaries.
Simone, reaching ten years of continuous campaigning has demonstrated form, with the inevitable hurdles to surmount that brings.
We met through proxy, a mutual friend, Simon Albury (top picture), who in conversation would mention her name. Twitter became the broker, and after a couple of missed dates we were meeting in the forum of the University of Westminster.
We chewed the fat over that usual first introduction, attempting to find the purpose, if not outcome, of what might be. Several ideas flew, training and mentoring, narrative discourses telling stories in immersive ways e.g. mobile, and a concept of artistic realism. The latter re-imagined from the framing of Simon Frederick’s brilliant artistic doc Black is the New Black.
If you’ve not seen it. Simply, it’s personal storytelling from achievers aesthetically positioned in a photographic studio. More profoundly as Simon would say in interview, it was about:
.. being British. It was about two sets of people being in a relationship the ones in front of the camera talking to their audience, being in a relationship with that audience, and saying to them look, this is me talking to you because basically there are some things I have on my chest that I want to get off my chest, and I would like you to listen to. You may not understand what I’m saying, You may not like what I’m saying but please just listen and that’s what the series was about.
It had legs, long ones, but with TV you’re bound by air time. Fortunately, Simon’s work will soon be in the National Portrait Gallery.
Universities harbour one of the biggest secrets in plain site. They have professional studios, highly skilled individuals in students and staff and that je ne sais quoi.
At our first sitting we delineated artistic realism. Six months later, in the forum of Harrow Campus, amongst the Voice 2015 finalist Emmanuel Nwamadi performing The Sweetest Taboo (performed here on BBC’s The Voice 2015 ) and Glenthorne High School dancing a vibrant contemporary piece, a team delivered a dream realised as a show.
The TVC Leaders’ List profiled almost sixty extraordinary people, black, Asian or from ethnic minority backgrounds in a series of portraits, a super compositional selfie, behind-the-scenes photos and cinema projected interviews in a gallery setting, and then a book. How did we do it? That in a moment.
Discussions about diversity are much needed, such as this one at ITN. Academics, learned professionals, and conscious parties are the pre-requisite to drive the transitive logic and policy about why it’s required and
the debilitating consequences of its continuing absence. Google Simone Pennant and you’ll see her with shield and sword.
Alongside this approach too is a need to find fresh directions to give the discussion a different momentum. Simone and I agree about this as much as you might. In her video interview Judi Lee Headman AMP (centre in the above photo) talks about the circularity of the diversity discussions. It metamorphosis, but more or less stays the same and over the years has been built into a veritable industry.
Each decade introduces a new term, a renewed focus and aphorisms that resonate large e.g. hideously white, but perhaps yield no substantive affects. In the 1990s I co-presented Black London on BBC GLR , and the interviews we conducted then with institutions and the charge by the then CRE often bears a remarkable resemblance to greater proportional equality today.
Simone and I shared that vision to do something new. We have an in-joke apparently when I looked at her and nonchalently, apparently said, so you’re getting 100 talent. I’ll leave her to tell you the punch line when you meet her.
How we did it
From our first meeting we afforded each other the respect to engage and not make assumptions. We listened to each other and made our views known in a way that was agreeable — even on the odd occasion when we came at problems from different directions. You’ll hear it when we’re talking apologising for talking over each other when we get animated. On a daily basis updates, ideas were being shared between the team.
We’ve been transparent with one another about motives and purposes with the project. Simone has a higher purposes for the leaders’ list, which I share, but she’ll be steering hers. Our trajectories have been been put on the table. Amongst the project’s wide potentials, it provides a substrate to frame new loci for discussions.
Division of labour
We have common skills and markedly different ones. That’s recognised and so trust each other to be autonomous at our tasks. David Freeman, my colleague, recounts how he thought he was doing a three hour task photographing a few people before he booked holiday to undertake the four day shoot spread over nearly a month. Gerald, also a seasoned pro, who did the behind the scenes, had forged material for an amazing MA project — a natural in. Wayne came by way of his cousin, and his presence crowned the ensemble six. Mallick, enthusiastic, and curious — a teenager — has a head start of all of us. He was the runner and diffuser.
Labour of Love
The collaboration with the university meant expenses that would arise form a production were not deep impediments. Everybody donated their time (working at times when they were on leave, or taking hols (busman holidays)), whilst holding down their day jobs and family time. A big thanks here to Dr Paul Dwyer and Sheila Birungi from the newly created Enterprise Centre and Aviva Leeman and Dr Michael Maziere — curator of Gallery West. Of course a big thanks to the talent and those that showed up to the show or supported it from a distance e.g. catering and house removals. And finally, the Dean Kerstin Mey.
Belief in the project’s value
As any labour of love, there are inevitable pressures that can impact priorities. We never stopped believing what we could do. David Freeman, Wayne and Gerald were tireless in the pursuits of creative technological ideas, but collaborative and selfless in sharing for feedback. That singular composition by David, I hope wears just as well as the famous A Great Day in Harlem.
Gerald too provided a pivot capturing a much needed narrative behind the scenes and bringing in Wayne to the party. Wayne’s professionalism in taking charge and directing options, was the stuff any publisher would die for.
Notwithstanding her many skills Simone worked the seams of a producer finding ways to make things happen. The list has been nurtured through her social network —exemplified at her network dinner.
Working with the university, she had to entertain some of its unfamiliar structures and workflows between academia and its stakeholders.
For me, like Simone, it was about ensuring the project’s coordination, keeping external designated contacts in the loop, keeping abreast with stakeholders like the gallery curators, whilst cracking away at the videos — and yes the day job teaching et al was a priority.
The exhibition ends tomorrow, but frankly the TVC Leaders’ List has only just begun its life. To that je ne sais quoi then.
In hindsight, it’s an idea girded by its simplicity, though like the Swan syndrome ( elegant on top, webbing furiously below) that’s easy to say now.
It’s framed by that: ‘something that hasn’t been done, is waiting to be done’ ethos. In an era where digital has integrated networks, disparate or otherwise, if there ever was a new role for universities, this was it — bridging social issues and pedagogy.
Combining the rectitude of academic enterprise with entrepreneurial projects. Mykaell Riley’s Bass project — currently one of the biggest funding exercises by the AHRC — looking at Reggae’s influence in the UK is also an an example. Last year we completed this film in four days using mobile phones and drones.
For the TVC Leader’s List, now it’s here, it’s time it took on Guillaume Apollinaire’s form
Come to the edge,” he said. “We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded. “Come to the edge,” he said. “We can’t, We will fall!” they responded. “Come to the edge,” he said. And so they came. And he pushed them. And they flew.”
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is co-producer of the TVCLeaders’ List. He leads the digital and interactive storytelling LAB at the University of Westminster, which promotes impact projects. He publishes at www.viewmagazine.tv