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Terry Jervis on using his platform to get our stories told

IN DISCUSSION: Terry Jervis, right, with BBC radio presenter Ed Adoo

IN THE UK today, there are not many people who you can describe as black media moguls.

But Terry Jervis is certainly one of them. He has been hailed as one of the UK’s most innovative media executives and entrepreneurs.

From humble beginnings in Hackney, east London, Jervis has gone on to conquer the world of music, comedy, children’s shows, and documentary television.

Jervis worked at the BBC for 15 years. He was one of the youngest executives to run his own department at the corporation where he was behind the iconic TV series The Real McCoy.

During his time at the BBC, he also produced record-breaking live international broadcast television events including the BBC’s Millennium Day broadcast, viewed by more than 2.5bn people worldwide.

After leaving the BBC, he went on to establish Jervis Entertainment Media (JEM). Through this new production company, his success continued.

In 2003, JEM produced an exclusive and critically acclaimed documentary , Raising Tennis Aces – The Williams Story, about professional tennis players Serena and Venus Williams, and their relationship with their father.

He has also worked with many other high-profile musicians including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Elton John.

Among his innovative entrepreneurial partnerships was a licence agreement signed in 2009 with Marvel International (comic books, animation, films) to support JEM’s H.E.R.O. Factor social engagement programme, using characters such as Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, to name just a few, to help create comics and integrated media which help address social issues and teach values to young people.


STORYTELLING: Jervis’s new graphic novel Spirit of the Pharaoh

I was fortunate enough to get to speak to the talented media exec recently and learn about a career that has had such a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people.

And given the current debate about the lack of diversity in the UK media industry, Jervis’s success is even more noteworthy.

Chief executive of Ofcom Sharon White recently criticised British broadcasters for what she described as a “woeful” lack of diversity among their staff and specifically singled out the BBC for failing to lead the way on this issue.

Established stars such as Lenny Henry and Idris Elba have also been vocal on the issue. It’s an issue that Jervis has been long been active on.

He says: “You talk about diversity. There was a time when even the BBC was hard-pressed to play black music. You’ve got to remember this. Those were my challenges.

“When I ran my own department, you’d have to go on training schemes. But no black people were coming through.

“So I used to do it. I used to take parts of my budget and train them myself out of my own pocket.

“If you want change, you’ve got to make change happen. It was never about fame, it was never about money, it was about a sense of purpose.

IMPERATIVE

“Every second, minute and hour I had, it was about using that platform responsibly and so there was an imperative for me to get our stories told.

“In fact, when I wake up in the morning, I think, ‘What can I do today to make people shine, make the world a better place and tell stories that nobody wants to tell?’.” Jervis continues: “There are organisations like the Cultural Diversity Network. How long has it been around in media? Well over 15 years.

“What difference has it made? Yes there’s more on screen presence – a lot more in adverts. But don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors.

“Where does the decision-making lie to make those stories?”

There is no doubt that Jervis has opened the doors for talent to shine, regardless of ethnicity or background.

And he continues to find ways to open doors for emerging media talent, marking him out as a trendsetter who has helped to enforce radical changes to make the media industry more representative of the UK as it is today.

Jervis has embarked on a new project, one that highlights his desire to bring a more diverse range of stories to audiences.

Spirit of the Pharaoh is a graphic novel that charts an adventure in ancient Egypt, a story that bursts into life with tombs, villains and heroes, a quest for eternal life and an underlying plot of hope against all odds.

Inspired by an original 1995 animated film of the same name, Spirit of the Pharaoh was co-produced by Jervis and the BBC.

Spirit of the Pharaoh is currently being turned into a feature-length movie. The success of films such as Black Panther have clearly demonstrated that Spirit of the Pharaoh could find a sizeable audience.

However, there are still film and media industry executives who are unwilling to give financial backing to stories with more diverse characters.

It’s something that Jervis is passionate about.

“Of course, the whole thing is about numbers, about audiences, targets – but I’ve broken them all,” he says.

“So no one can tell me we [black people] can’t hit the targets.”

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