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Head of Specialist Factual, Reef Television : Inspire Me

By Manpreet Dhesi, on 26 August 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Ben Weston, Head of Specialist Factual, Reef Television,  talks to us about how he got this role and shares some tips for UCL students who want to get into the sector.

How did you get your job?  After graduating with a BA in Music from Oxford University I tried but failed to get into television.  I was trying the route that everyone tried in those days – the BBC Production Training Scheme – but it was the most highly subscribed way to enter the business.  I ended up working in a PR agency for two years and then in arts administration for three years before getting onto Granada Television’s management training scheme aged 26 and relocating to Manchester.  I’ve worked in TV ever since.

How did you decide what you wanted to do?  I knew from my teens that television was something that really excited me.  I also knew that music was my biggest passion, so the dream job would be something that involved both.  But it took me many years to actually get to that point – by the age of 30 I was finally producing music on television and radio.  Better late than never!

How relevant is your degree to your job?  I don’t think any degrees are specifically that relevant to a successful career in television, but it’s still good to have a degree in something.  I’m a bit old-fashioned on this, so I’d also add that in my view a degree in a ‘real’ subject is more worthwhile than a degree in Media Studies.  The most important thing to work in the creative side of television is a sense of curiosity, and I think that’s better nurtured by the more traditional degree subjects such as English, Languages or Law.

What are your main work activities?  My job is fundamentally about coming up with great TV programme ideas, selling them to broadcasters and then overseeing their production and delivery.  Any one of those activities may be taking place on multiple projects at any one time so there’s a lot of juggling.

How do you use your degree in your job?  My degree in Music (insofar as I remember what I learnt!) is useful when I’m making programmes about music, but that’s not always the case.  I’ve made programmes about everything from nightclubs through to gardening and stately homes.  I think your degree becomes decreasingly relevant in your work as you begin to build on it with real work and life experience.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?  The long slog of pitching new ideas and the torrent of rejections one gets before winning a commission.  And the fickle nature of our industry which is riven with politics!

Career highlights/best moments?  I produced a film for BBC Two 10 years ago about the role music played in Auschwitz.  Making that film was without doubt one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life (let alone my career).  The film went on to win a hat-trick of a BAFTA, an Emmy and a Royal Television Society Award, so that has to go down as an abiding highlight.

Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?  To be running a creative and profitable organisation, making memorable output, staffed by happy productive people.  I think Reef Television can tick most of those boxes actually!

To find out more about careers within Television, visit Careers Tagged.

– Helen West, Careers Consultant, UCL Careers

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