Edinburgh TV Festival supported by Screen Scotland


James Graham


Award-winning and critically celebrated British playwright and dramatist, James Graham, is to deliver the flagship address of this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival brought to you by Screen Scotland – The James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture.

Lauded as one of the most incisive and prolific voices of his generation, Graham has risen to prominence for his critically acclaimed and hugely popular stage, television and film work. Documenting the life, times and politics of the modern era, he has a deft touch for tackling the big issues with heart and humour, profiling all walks of life from the political elite through to the working classes of the Red Wall.

Responsible for some of the most seminal dramas in popular culture of recent years, Graham’s work includes the BAFTA and RTS winning Sherwood, starring David Morrissey and Lesley Manville, set against the backdrop of his hometown of Ashfield in Nottinghamshire which returns to BBC later this year; The Way, a collaboration with Michael Sheen and Adam Curtis, which aired earlier this year on the BBC; and the hugely popular BAFTA winning Quiz starring Matthew Macfadyen and Michael Sheen. Recent stage work includes Olivier award-winning Dear England starring Joseph Fiennes which debuted at the National Theatre and transferred to the West End earlier this year and is currently being adapted into a TV series for BBC; his new musical Tammy Faye (written with Elton John (original music) and Jake Shears (lyrics), which is soon to debut on Broadway following a hugely successful run in the UK; and his recent stage adaptation of Alan Bleasdale’s ground-breaking TV drama Boys from the Blackstuff, and original play Punch at the Nottingham Playhouse, based on a true story, both of which have garnered five star reviews.

Graham is also regarded as the UK’s most prominent and celebrated political dramatist, having penned numerous pieces including the EMMY and BAFTA nominated Brexit: An Uncivil War starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings; RTS winning Coalition starring Bertie Carvel as Nick Clegg at the moment he made his pivotal decision regarding the coalition government in 2010; the play Best of Enemies, starring David Harewood and Zachary Quinto about the political debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr; and his breakout play, This House about life in the UK’s House of Commons of a 1970s hung parliament.

In the lecture Graham will be exploring the role and responsibility of television drama in shaping the political agenda and illuminating social injustices.

With a growing discourse around the continual decline of working-class voices in the industry, and with a second series of his critically acclaimed hit Sherwood to air on the BBC later this year, Graham will also look at the importance of maintaining a mission towards representation that more confidently includes social class and regionality, both on TV screens and, as importantly, walking the corridors of power.

Staying true to his political roots, and as the UK comes out the other side of a General Election, he will also interrogate and celebrate the role of arts and drama, and the future of public service broadcasters, in the new cultural landscape. 

Graham said: “I am genuinely honoured to be invited to deliver the MacTaggart lecture this year of all years, following a potentially landmark election. In these difficult and divided times, culture and the arts have never been more important; TV moments can still bring a nation together through shared viewing experiences whether it’s in a drama that brings our collective attention to unbelievable injustices or a sporting performance that unites us in celebration (or disappointment!). I’m aware that delivering this lecture is a real moment, as well as an opportunity, to consider the future direction for the creative industries. I’m keen to look at the wider role that drama, storytelling and culture can play in politics, society, and in particular those left-behind communities.

Rowan Woods, Creative Director of the Festival, and Harjeet Chhokar, this year’s Advisory Chair, added: “From Quiz to Brexit: The Uncivil War, Sherwood to Coalition, James Graham is a fearless contemporary chronicler of British history, institutions and power structures. A firm believer in the power of television in shaping the political agenda and illuminating social injustice, as well being committed to representation that confidently includes social class and regionality, we couldn’t think of anyone better to speak to where we find ourselves culturally, socially and politically in 2024. Between The Way, Boys From the Blackstuff, Punch, Dear England, the return of Sherwood and the Broadway transfer of Tammy Faye, James Graham is having a truly stellar year, and we have no doubt that he’ll deliver a powerful and timely lecture that will be remembered for years to come.”

Graham follows a long line of renowned speakers in this most prestigious of agenda-setting keynote spots within the broadcasting industry. Previous lecturers include Michaela Coel, Dorothy Byrne, Ted Turner, Armando Iannucci, Rupert Murdoch, Dennis Potter, Jon Snow, Elisabeth Murdoch, David Olusoga, Jack Thorne, Emily Maitlis and Louis Theroux.

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