Hitting a century: the benefits of a high volume returner

Inside the Ambulance has transformed Brown Bob and given us confidence to spread our wings, says Jacqueline Hewer

Truth be told: when we first received a commission from UKTV to produce Inside the Ambulance in 2016, it was only in our wildest dreams that we would reach the 100-episode milestone.

Being able to deliver this amount of high-volume lower cost programming – 10 series in just under four years – has been an extraordinary experience, and we are all incredibly proud of what we have achieved.

The show continues to go from strength to strength. It’s the longest running original production on UKTV’s W channel and has been watched by more than 15 million people since its launch.

But now, more than ever, Inside the Ambulance shines a poignant light on the dedicated people who work tirelessly on the frontline to help save lives – day after day, whether we’re in the midst of a pandemic or not.

As our nation rightly pours out its gratitude for the NHS, it’s fantastic that our 100th episode, which airs tonight, showcases the everyday heroism of the West Midlands Ambulance Service.

When you reach any sort of milestone, you inevitably start to go into reflection mode. And recently we’ve been analysing exactly what Inside the Ambulance has meant to the evolution of Brown Bob Productions as a business.

Let’s rewind a couple of years to when Brown Bob was a relatively new UK independent production company.

Having a high-rating returnable series in our armoury was game-changing. It gave us the underlying stability to allow us to think bigger and move faster. With a consistent revenue stream ticking over, Inside the Ambulance became our company’s underbelly and subsequently enabled us to heavily invest in our development team – a difficult feat for any small company because of how much you have to put in upfront with no guarantee of a return.

“Having a high-rating returnable series in our armoury was game-changing. It gave us the underlying stability to allow us to think bigger and move faster”

Its early success allowed us to expand and concentrate on other areas of our business too. When you know you’ve got a long-running project with international distribution already attached, you acquire a kind of professional confidence: whether that’s walking into a room to meet a commissioner, sitting on event panels or in conversations with people and organisations about new access.

It also gives commissioners confidence in your abilities, and we were able to quickly move into different directions with different iterations of the brand, such as Inside the Operating Theatre.

There are other – albeit less quantifiable – benefits to having a returnable series in your roster too. Take recruitment. With UKTV tending to commission two series of Inside the Ambulance at the same time, our team would need to be about 60-strong across location and the edit.

It’s given us a fantastic pool of people who return to work on series after series, and have branched out into our other projects too – both rig shows and more traditional series like The Architecture The Railways Built, which is currently airing on Yesterday.

Consequentlywe are able to recruit with confidence and speed from our returning teams, and we also have amazing people knocking on our door wanting to be part of the production. Doing a good job on a series like Inside the Ambulance leads to consistent work and career promotion – so important in the freelance industry.

The show has undeniably helped us to cement our reputation as one of the UK’s leading producers in the fixed-rig genre.

Over the last five years, evolving and adapting the way we can use technology on our various access documentaries has become an ever-changing mission, with many of our skills learned directly from our experience on this series.

We started out with a rig of 10 GoPro cameras, before moving on to 30 for Inside the Vets and then a colossal 60 for Inside the Operating Theatre. We’ve grown with the times and we now approach every new production with a completely different mindset – now, nothing feels impossible to rig.

Importantly, the series also taught us a lot about building access relationships and about the art of standing back. Understanding the pressures of the professional environment you are filming in – whether that’s a hospital, an ambulance or a busy vets – requires a patience and perseverance that only comes with experience. Inside the Ambulance has certainly allowed us to hone our craft.

As we move on series 11 and 12, we’d like to thank UKTV for putting their faith in us from day one, and being there every step of the way as we’ve built a successful brand.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the trust and co-operation of all the ambulance crews we’ve filmed with over the past ten series. They’re on the frontline in challenging circumstances every day – and on top of this, we ask them to wear a harness holding two cameras AND keep smiling.

So thank you, and here’s to another 100 episodes.

Jacqueline Hewer is co-founder and chief executive of Brown Bob Productions