WGGB’s Bernie Corbett steps down

As the longest serving General Secretary of the Writers' Guild, Corbett's tenacity has meant that writers have been protected in the digital age, against a backdrop of austerity and arts cuts
Bernie Corbett

Bernie Corbett, General Secretary of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, has stepped down after more than 15 years at the helm of the organisation. He is the longest-serving leader of WGGB since it was formed in 1959.

Ellie Peers, Assistant General Secretary of WGGB, has been appointed as Acting General Secretary. The formal and legal process of electing and appointing a new permanent General Secretary will take place later this year. Corbett will remain with WGGB in the position of Finance and Business Manager during a transitional period.

WGGB Chair Gail Renard said: “The Writers’ Guild will always be grateful to Bernie Corbett for the mountains – and they were mountains – he’s moved. Bernie steps down leaving the union in a strong position both nationally and internationally. With characteristic generosity, he’s staying on to help WGGB advance to the next stage.

“Ellie Peers now becomes Acting General Secretary, which means the union will continue to be in the very best of hands. Ellie, as ever, will keep our members’ futures and rights top of the agenda.”

Bernie Corbett came to the WGGB in 2000 with a background in journalism and trade unionism. He started as a reporter on local newspapers in Sussex, and became Chief Sub-Editor of The Guardian, Chief Features Sub-Editor of The Independent, editor of the National Union of Journalists’ magazine The Journalist, and a negotiator and organiser for the NUJ.

He took the WGGB post when the internet was in its infancy and terms like video-on-demand and download-to-own were yet to be coined. His tenacity ensured that writers were protected in the digital age and led to the landmark Writers Digital Payments, which he was a leading light in establishing. The arrangement means writers are paid royalties when their work is shown on BBC iPlayer and ITV Player.

The scheme, launched last year, has already seen over £1 million paid out to TV writers. Corbett said “There was a huge risk that writers would simply not be paid for online use of their work. This is happening in other countries and I was determined it would not happen in the UK.”

Corbett’s ability to stay on top of the rapidly changing digital landscape has meant the writers’ union has stayed ahead of the game. When BBC3 moved to an online-only service, the deal was already in the bag – writers would not only be paid the minimum rates as laid out in WGGB’s BBC agreement, but at least another 65% on top of that to cover online availability of their work and mandatory late-night scheduling.

Much of Corbett’s tenure as General Secretary has taken place against the background of a financial crisis and austerity programme which has seen wage freezes and cuts to arts funding. Despite this he has negotiated annual rates rises for writers in theatre, TV and radio.

Ellie Peers
Ellie Peers has been appointed as Acting General Secretary of WGGB

Ellie Peers (pictured left) takes on the role of Acting General Secretary as a TUC-trained organiser with over 16 years’ experience – including organising for the public sector union UNISON and the industry-based union Unite.

During her three years as Assistant General Secretary of WGGB she has led negotiations for theatre writers (including a 6% fee rise for UK Theatre writers), and carried out a successful overhaul of the union’s membership systems.

Her strong campaigning background has seen her represent the union on campaigns including Creating Without Conflict (against bullying and harassment in the creative industries) and supporting equality and diversity in the arts, culture and entertainment world.

The changes will take place with effect from Tuesday 3 May 2016. Bernie Corbett will still continue to deal with members’ pension enquiries and his email remains the same: corbett@writersguild.org.uk

If members have any queries about the changes they can email admin@writersguild.org.uk or ring the office on 020 7833 0777.

Photo of Bernie Corbett by Ellie Peers, photo of Ellie Peers by Sarah Woodley