Ben Stephenson, the outgoing controller of drama commissioning at the BBC, has said the licence fee needs to be increased, or the broadcaster will be forced to slash its drama output. In his farewell interview with the Radio Times, Stephenson, who helped bring shows such as ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’ to British screens, described the BBC as being at a "tipping point” thanks to the licence fee cap.

SherlockBen Stephenson was responsible for bringing ‘Sherlock’ to British TV screens.

Currently the licence fee paid by British television owners is capped at 2010's price of £145.50 until 31 March 2017, but thanks to inflation Stephenson says the cap is effectively a cut to the BBC's budget. "It really can't keep cutting... And the truth is the market isn't going to fill the gap," he told the Radio Times.

"There will be less drama and fewer jobs. It doesn't make sense on an economic level. We do need to increase the licence fee,” Stephenson continued. “Someone invented the TV but it was the BBC that invented British television. You can’t just pull the rug from under that and think that nothing is going to change. And the BBC will be the poorer for it.”

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Stephenson’s comments come at a troubling time for the broadcaster, with the Conservatives winning last week’s general election. Prime Minister David Cameron has since appointed John Whittingdale as the new culture secretary, a man who previously described the licence fee as 'worse than poll tax'.

Last month, chancellor George Osbourne stated in an interview with the Radio Times that he though BBC dramas should enjoy longer runs, like big budget American shows such as ‘Game of Thrones’. “Where are the BBC dramas that run for eight or nine years? I don’t think we run with our successes enough,” Osbourne told the mag.

But Stephenson disagrees, citing the Beeb’s limited budget as one reason why we don’t get 13 episodes of ‘Sherlock’ a year. “The truth is the British system is the British system and the US has the US system,” Stephenson explained.

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“Both are brilliant, but financially we are not a country that can make 24-part runs. I believe it would be foolhardy. If you do 24 episodes of one thing you can’t do others…If we did 13 episodes of Sherlock a year it would swallow most of our budget and it would be worse at 13 episodes.”

“And Benedict Cumberbatch wouldn’t do it. We wouldn’t do it. It isn’t what Britain is,” he added. “We will do ‘Sherlock’ as long as the talent want to do it. It’s such a compliment that Benedict and Martin Freeman want to do it. They don’t need to do it. They love the roles.”