Farewell BBC Backstage

Mashed hacks

I can’t talk about leaving the BBC without mentioning the end of another era…

In another part of the BBC at roughly the same time I left, a fantastic project that I had the honour of working on, BBC Backstage, was sadly wound down after 5 years.

Backstage at Bristol Web Developers conf

If you haven’t come across BBC Backstage before, it was catalyst for the BBC (and consequently a model that inspired many other orgs and institutions) to open up its data to the world in many forms. This freedom of data and APIs kicked off much innovation and encouraged developers to discuss, share and make mischief in a very positive manner and with a community driven by a mailing list, geek events, projects, plus the wonderful sharing of fantastic talent, enthusiasm and creativity. The Backstage online area had a blog which has now been moth-balled, but is still available (though sadly a server migration lost accreditation to my 20+ posts), BBC feeds and API areas, it had the Wild West servers: a playground for creativity and innovative projects, plus an area to list project news. The Wild West servers were a place to develop many exciting ‘skunkworks’ projects that wouldn’t usually have a home to develop.

Backstage posse

It’s true to say that with anything new and innovative there were both ups and downs as the project leapt forward and tested all kinds of boundaries. I’ve seen a few heated threads on the mailing list, but challenging discussion always provokes more than one viewpoint. I always found the debates, however heated full of passion, interesting points and I learnt huge amounts from the combined views and knowledge of the community, plus some of BBC’s best thinkers. For me the highs were the power of the community, events like Mashed and projects such as RDTV – these outweighed anything that didn’t go exactly to plan and I consider Backstage a great success. I was terribly sad when the BBC powers that be decided that Backstage’s work was done.


Some key people involved in the start-up and running of Backstage were Ben Metcalf, James Boardwell, Tom Loosemore, Matt Cashmore and Ian Forrester. I could write reams on some of my adventures at Backstage, but handily my colleague, Ian Forrester, commissioned Suw Charman Anderson to compile an ebook capturing some of the history and stories from this fantastic era of creativity ‘Hacking the BBC, a Backstage retrospective’ and it’s available as a PDF to download for free.

Yipeeee, my hard copy of ‘Hacking the BBC – a Backstage retrospective’ has arrived!
Hacking the BBC - a Backstage retrospective

Maker Faire UK, Newcastle
Also, Jemima Kiss of the Guardian wrote a very good in-depth article on BBC Backstage, plus there are several blog posts from my former colleagues, Ian Forrester, Adrian Woolard, Ben Metcalf and Martin Belam charting the history of Backstage from different perspectives and eras.

I sincerely hope the spirit of Backstage carries on, I know I’ve made many, many, fantastic friends during my time working on Backstage and have learnt so much, including the maxim “seek forgiveness, not permission” – sometimes it really is the only way to innovate and get stuff done – even if you do get told off sometimes (quite a lot) 😉

Yay, that's my number!

R&DTV Tim O'Reilly tweet