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Interview with Phil Skill

30 April 2013

phil skillPhil Skill, Head of Planning at Stroud District Council, and one of the stars of the BBC2 series The Planners speaks about his experience of appearing on the programme.

Q: Did anything surprise you?

A: Yes, the size of the film crew. I expected a large crew but the producer, director and cameraman were one person and the researcher held the microphone. This meant that the crew was actually very inconspicuous and wasn't a distraction.

Q: How much time did it take?

A: For three months it was quite intense. The crew touched base every day to see whether anything of interest had come up and we saw a great deal of them at first. Then for another few months the crew would pop by to carry out catch ups and filling in.

Q: Were you pleased with the filming and the final programme?

A: Very pleased with both. The crew were a delight to work with. It was a little unnerving to start off with as we didn't have editorial control, but we quickly realised that they weren't trying to sensationalise things. But it was nonetheless a relief to see the final version and realise that everything the BBC said about it being fair and balanced was true. The important thing is that the programme was entertainment not a training video. Understandably, the five minute explanations of appellants' rights were cut from the programme, but nevertheless I think it was a very fair portrayal of the job.

Q: What was the reaction of your family and friends?

A: I think my son and daughter are still dining out on the fact that their dad was on TV! It was good for the family to get an idea of what I do for a living and some of the stresses of the job. They now understand why I'm occasionally a bit grumpy at the weekend.

Q: And the public and developers?

A: Both seemed pleased – I think the programme showed their points of view fairly too. I do from time to time get stopped in the supermarket and asked for pre-app advice which never happened before. Professionally it has acted as a bit of an ice breaker. People I've never met before use my first name; and a few developers have asked jokingly for my autograph. I also now get a few requests to appear on BBC Radio Gloucestershire. But on the whole things haven't changed much: I haven't (yet) received any invites from the Women's Institute or the after dinner speaking circuit!

Q: Did your colleagues suddenly start wearing new suits and sporting flash haircuts when the TV crew was around?

A: I confess we did have a bit of an office tidy up before the filming started. But a number of junior colleagues were reticent about appearing on TV, so no new suits or haircuts.

Q: Some people on Twitter commented that Heads of Planning seemed to be doing a lot of site visits?

A: Part of this was to do with junior colleagues not wanting to be on TV. But in the case of Stroud, all the cases featured went to committee and I was responsible for those reports, so had to know the cases well. What the programme didn't show was that very often colleagues were behind the camera crew.

Q: Would you do it again?

A: Yes, absolutely, we have already been asked and have agreed in principle. But of course the BBC may wish to choose another Local Planning Authority to focus on.

You can follow Phil on Twitter @phill_skill