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Friday Five: Executive Producer at BBC Studios Science Unit, Helen Thomas


Answering the #FridayFive today is Helen Thomas, executive producer at BBC Studios Science Unit. Helen recently worked on Coronavirus: A Horizon Special, presented by Northbank client Dr Hannah Fry.

Tell us a bit about your job?

I’m an Executive Producer in BBC Studios’ Science Unit so I work with  fantastically talented teams who make a huge variety of science programmes for everyone from the BBC to Netflix. My most recent programme was a fast turnaround for BBC2 called Coronavirus: A Horizon Special  which we made from commission to transmission in 3 weeks. It was a pretty tough schedule, but felt like an important programme to get right and deliver fast.

What are the key ingredients for success?   

It’s all about the five senses – not touch, smell taste etc this time (although let’s not knock them) but a sense of humour, irony, optimism, realism and adventure in pretty much equal measure works for me.

Describe a normal day?   

Aaah, remember normal??? Ignoring the present reality of Zoom, Zoom, Zoom… often in the office brainstorming with bright, curious, exciting teams (joy); often on location sometimes with huge OB teams getting ridiculously ambitious shows live on air (joy); often in cutting rooms analysing and constructing complex content to make it accessible and inspiring (joy).  Ah yes, normal….

For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?

After my Physics degree I became a sound recordist in BBC Bristol where I worked on everything from live radio shows to TV OBs to dramas such as Casualty.  I was very lucky to experience so many different types of programme making early on. I then moved to London and into Production as an Assistant Producer and now enjoy making all kinds of Science Programmes from Landmarks to Stargazing Live. To keep me on my toes I love to mix science with other genres such as music on Holst: The Planets and with fact-ent formats for Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?

What are you reading, watching and listening to now?

Reading around the ideas I’m developing – and so much news… Other than that it’s all escapism: have just finished Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky (loved it) and I’ve been rediscovering Chris Brookmyre – gripping – some of his earlier work is still so topical.

Listening to rock music as ever – it’s my constant soundtrack (it’s OK, I’m used to that reaction…).

Watching highlights: Lots of ballet on YouTube; Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix; Car S.O.S. on More4;  Gogglebox on Channel 4;  University Challenge and Killing Eve on the BBC – and on Friday at 9pm on BBC2 I’ll be watching the Horizon about Hubble – celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Space Telescope that truly revealed the beauty of the universe.


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