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Tim Jones and James Cross: What next for the outgoing BBC Creative chiefs?

Jones and Cross, courtesy Tim and James

It’s been a week now since news broke that BBC Creative’s top team, creative directors Tim Jones and James Cross, were leaving the corporation to set up independently after five successful years in the post.

So Prolific North took the opportunity to pull up a laptop and a cup of tea, and sit down with one half of the self-proclaimed “Richie and Fonzie” duo known professionally as simply Tim and James, and find out what happens next.

One of the first questions to arise when the news broke on social media was whether the pair would be continuing their creative journey in Manchester. London clearly presents an undeniable draw for creatives looking for their next challenge, despite the massive steps that the North has made in this field, particularly since the large-scale arrival of the BBC in Manchester in 2011 and Channel 4 in Leeds a decade later. Also, Cross’ career in particular has had a distinctly international flavour, with stints in Berlin and Prague. Could itchy feet be on the agenda? Not at all, according to Jones.

“We’re still in the throes of finalising details, but we will very much be in Manchester. There was never really a question that we wouldn’t be,” Jones assures me. “We’ve spent most of our careers working in agencies outside of London, so when it came to setting up on our own the idea of not being outside the M25 was never one that really came up. We’ve seen the creative talent that is there outside London. The industry can be very London-focused and blinkered by that, but we’ve always seen that first hand. Of course we’ll continue to work with talent in London, with production companies in London, with creatives in London, but being in Manchester has always been sort of a lifesaver for us.”

Jones adds that if one good thing has come out of the pandemic, it’s the solid proof that you don’t really need to be anywhere specific to work efficiently: “Where you are now doesn’t matter. We’ve seen that we can tap into talent across the country, across the globe,” he says. “We’ve been creating remotely in different countries, wherever the talent lies, and the same with client matters as well. We’re proud to be setting up in Manchester, but we will be defined by our work. We don’t want to compete with Manchester agencies, we want to compete with everyone, and you can do that. So that’s the plan.”

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Jones and Cross won’t be straying too far from MediaCityUK

We know Jones and Cross won’t be leaving Manchester, but what will they be doing?

What Jones can tell us so far is that they’ll be setting up a brand new creative agency going by the name of Meanwhile – the name taps further into the pair’s desire to do things a little “differently” he notes.

The agency will have not two, but three founders – Jones, Cross, and a mystery third party, a current agency MD who will remain a mystery for now as “not all of his clients know yet.”

There’s nothing to report on potential clients as yet, though Jones concedes that since the news broke last week his phone has been ringing. In finest strategy mode, he adds that any information he does have, he’ll be keeping close to his chest for now: “There should be something more concrete in a month or so, but selfishly we want to keep the interest up and give us something else to talk about just before we launch,” he laughs. “We’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline, but it’d be nice to announce that as a going concern when we announce the agency proper.”

Until then, the pair remain BBC employees. Are Jones’ memories fond ones?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has plenty of fond memories of his stint by the Ship Canal. The small matter of a BAFTA win for BBC Creative’s work on the titles for BBC Sport’s Tokyo Olympics coverage, for example. Or making the seven-metre tapestry created for the 2018 World Cup animated trailer, which was displayed in Manchester’s National Football Museum and in the Tsaritsyno Museum, Moscow.

The FIFA World Cup 2018 tapestry

It’s a slightly more prosaic achievement that he eventually settles on however: “I’m incredibly proud of the idents we’ve done for BBC One because they’re sort of the dream job,” he reveals. “They’ll be on there for years, not weeks, and you rarely get that opportunity in this industry – to create something that lasts so long.”

There’s a tangible fondness in Jones’ words when he discusses his five years at the Beeb, which seems to beg one final question. He’s risen to the very top of his profession, in a senior role at one of the world’s most famous and respected organisations, and he’s clearly enjoyed his time there. So why on earth is he leaving?

“That question is one that I’m sure James and I will be asking ourselves on October 1, on the very first day we leave,” he deadpans. “In all seriousness, though, this is something James and I have talked about for about 10 years and I think it’s an itch that has to be scratched. We do leave with a heavy heart, and there’s no sense of leaving under a cloud or being unhappy because we love it here. If we don’t do it though, I think we’ll always regret not doing it, and the stars just aligned with this guy that we’re setting up with, a couple of other things that fell into place, and it just means that now’s the time.”

Ever the pragmatist, Jones has one more theory as to why now is the right time to make the move: “We couldn’t really ask for a better platform to launch from than being here, and the work we’ve been able to do here,” he says. “Hopefully everything really has just aligned at the right time.”

We’ll be watching the launch and beyond to find out.


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