Ben Stephenson

Ben Stephenson is an English television executive. He was appointed in March 2015 as the Head of Television at J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company in the United States.[1] Formerly he was controller of drama at the BBC from September 2008[2] to May 2015.[3]

Ben Stephenson
ResidenceCentral London
Alma materUniversity of Manchester
OccupationTelevision executive
Partner(s)Tom Rob Smith

Early life

Stephenson attended The Hewett School in Norwich before studying at Manchester University, where he gained a first-class degree in drama.[4]


In 1999 Stephenson worked at Granada as a script editor on the television series Heartbeat. He later worked in the same role for London's Burning and Blood Strangers.[2][4] Stephenson worked at Channel 4 for over two years, on shows such as No Angels.

He next moved to Shed Productions, and Tiger Aspect.[2] While at Shed, he served as producer on the military drama Bombshell, commissioned by ITV but never shown in the UK.[5] It was screened in New Zealand in 2006.[6]

Stephenson joined the BBC in 2004 working as Head of Development for Independent Drama, later becoming Head of Development for Fiction. Stephenson then took the roles of Head of Drama Commissioning at the BBC.[2] His hit-rate during 2011 included a boost of £10m a year extra for BBC Two drama over the next three years, described by Stephenson as "a breath of fresh air". Several of 2011's dramas, including The Crimson Petal and the White and single film United, have performed well. The eight-part science fiction drama Outcasts drew disappointing ratings, despite heavy promotion. In 2011 BBC received five of the eight BAFTA drama awards, including two for Sherlock (selected as the best drama series).[7]


In July 2009 Stephenson wrote a blog article for The Guardian newspaper in response to criticisms of the BBC's drama output. He said:

The comment was considered to be a breach of the BBC's Royal Charter, which obliges the organisation to be impartial in its output. Jeremy Hunt, shadow culture secretary at the time, called for Stephenson to make "an immediate retraction and apology", stating "no journalist or editor should be following a political agenda, let alone someone as senior as a controller". Similar concerns were expressed by Peter Whittle and Jonathan Isaby.[9][10]

Critics such as Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail suggested that rather than being idiosyncratic, Stephenson "is part of the status quo, conforming to the Leftist beliefs that predominate in the BBC." Stephenson later denied that he had meant his comment to have a political meaning, likening it to the phrase "left-field".[11][12]

Personal life

Stephenson's partner is the author Tom Rob Smith.[7]


  1. Plunkett (31 March 2015). "BBC drama chief Ben Stephenson joins JJ Abrams' Bad Robot". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  2. Plunkett, John (7 May 2015). "Poldark boss Polly Hill becomes new controller of BBC drama commissioning". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  3. Frost, Vicky (20 July 2009). "Interview with BBC's controller of drama Ben Stephenson". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  4. McLean, Gareth (28 April 2008). "Is drama safe at the BBC?". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  5. Hewitson, Michele (3 May 2006). "Army drama lacks true trash power". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  6. Midgley, Neil (8 April 2009). "Interview: Ben Stephenson on the future of BBC drama". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  7. Stephenson, Ben (16 July 2009). "'If people don't like BBC drama, they should come and speak to me'". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  8. Walker, Kirsty (21 July 2009). "Senior BBC Executive faces Tory anger over 'left of centre' thinking comments". Daily Mail. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  9. Whittle, Peter (20 July 2009). "Drama should be Left of centre, BBC confirms. So why pay the licence fee?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  10. Swaine, Jon (21 July 2009). "BBC executive says corporation should foster 'left-of-centre thinking'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  11. Glover, Stephen (23 July 2009). "Our cultural elite rejects middle-class values and censors debate on such vital issues as family breakdown and mass immigration". Daily Mail. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
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