SHOWCASE: BBC Showcase 2002 - A record crowd gathered in Brighton for the 21st annual event to sell BBC shows to overseas buyers Anna Clarke reports

The BBC is the only UK broadcaster to stage an annual sales forum for overseas programme buyers, which it does through its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. This year's BBC Showcase, which ran from 24-27 February, was the biggest in the event's 21-year history and drew a record 460 delegates to Brighton.

BBC Showcase is designed as a combination of hard sell during the day when delegates can choose from 1,500 hours of broadcasting to watch in individual booths at the Brighton Centre, and soft sell during the evening when the delegates get to go to dinner dances themed around specific programmes in The Grand's Empress Suite and get the chance to meet TV stars.

"It's a vitally important event for us,

says BBC Worldwide general event manager Elaine Gordon. "We're aiming for £40m in sales and also to get investment and co-production partners on board at an early stage. While they're in Brighton we have them to ourselves with no other distractions,

she adds.

Top of the list of programmes to sell were the Queen's Golden Jubilee concerts from Buckingham Palace, new children's show Ace Lightning and Sahara, the latest travel programme from Michael Palin about his trek across the African desert.

Production of the event was split between the BBC, which produced the daytime showcase, and Wild Lemon, which was behind the themed evening events. "People like the quiet during the day so they can view programmes in peace, rather than be dragged from one event to another," says Gordon.

In the evenings the selling continued under the guise of glossy entertainment.

It was the first time Wild Lemon had worked for the BBC and it only found out it had won the pitch three weeks before the opening night. "We knew one of the themes would be centred on Africa but another changed from CBBC to Ace Lightning,

says Wild Lemon director Nigel Woods.

Lunch and dinner were held in the Empress Suite every day so timing was tight. "We had from 2.30pm to 6.30pm to clear the room and theme it for the evening. For simplicity we kept the back wall above the stage bare and used it for lighting and video displays; the double doors facing it were used to make dramatic entrances,

says Woods.

The first event on the Sunday evening was kept low-key as most people were expected to be tired from travelling. It was themed as a Viennese Ball to make the most of the BBC's opera and classical music heritage and the 46 tables were decorated in plush red velvet, tassels and gold.

Balustrades lined the stage where opera star Lesley Garrett performed.

For the Monday night, Wild Lemon took the African continent as its inspiration.

All waiting staff wore fezzes and pencilled-on moustaches and 470 African pots called tagines were hired. Each table was decorated with a centrepiece of rocks. The lighting along the main wall showed an African sky from sunrise to sunset and on the stage stood two 'statues' of African tribesmen.

The evening featured speeches by Greg Dyke (the first director-general of the BBC to attend the event) and Palin, followed by a promotional video for Sahara. After this the 'statues' came to life when drummers launched into a heavy beat, and bellydancers sashayed across the room.

A kasbah was created in the conservatory at the side of the room where guests could sit on cushions, smoke hookahs and have tattoos painted on them.

The third and last evening was centred on kids' TV show Ace Lightning and featured a space age theme. This included a pyrotechnic display that rose from the stage over the heads of the guests to the double doors where 50 waiters entered carrying sparkling 'bombs' for dessert.

The disco finale featured more pyrotechnics and as the buyers began to head off into the night, BBC Worldwide and Wild Lemon were left celebrating the end of an event that will see BBC shows watched all over the world.

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