Life after the black polo-neck

A year ago this week, on 21 June 1995, The Late Show finally departed from our screens. After more than 1,000 editions, six years of strutting its stuff, and a host of brainy presenters, the wolf had howled its last, leaving half a million viewers without their regular cultural fix. No more Sarah Dunant, no more Tracey MacLeod, no more carefree cantering through apparently unrelated fields, no more bust-ups between Keats and Dylan, no more double bills with Newsnight. Michael Jackson, the programme's former editor and now Controller of BBC2, was philosophical. "I am very proud of The Late Show's achievements," he said. "But nothing lasts for ever." Twelve months on, Ariadne Birnberg looks for solace in the current crop of arts programmes

THE SOUTH BANK SHOW

Age: A mature and well-coiffed 18 years old.

Frequency: Sunday nights, 26 weeks a year.

Ratings: Averages 2m. Hit a ceiling of 5.5m with a crowd-pleasing profile of Dawn French.

Formula: ITV's flagship arts show. Hour-long promo, sorry, portrait of the artist and his/her work, pioneered and steered by Melvyn Bragg on a kaleidoscope of subjects, from Sting to Vermeer, Coronation Street to Howard Hodgkin. In 18 years, you name it and the South Bank Show has probably done it.

Promo? According to some churlish critics, the SBS has gone soft on its subjects of late. The word "hagiography" has been mentioned. A recent edition on Dame Barbara Cartland was particularly fluffy.

According to Melvyn: Not so. Making the arts accessible is a democratic aspiration. Wacky camera angles and chiaroscuro lighting are not the only way to make a point. There are, after all, "a hundred ways to skin a cat".

Anything that makes you want to kick the set in? Irritatingly catchy jazzed-up Paganini theme tune.

The bottom line - is it any good? All told, it's still a flagship - maybe flagging, but not yet sunk.

WITHOUT WALLS (RIP)

Age: It would have been six.

Frequency: Wednesday nights, two seasons of about eight weeks each a year (until last month).

Ratings: An average of 2m.

Formula: Two half-hour pieces within a one-hour slot. Scope for diatribe and hero-worship accommodated by "J'Accuse" and "J'Adore" formats. One notable edition featured Camille Paglia delivering a blistering semiotic analysis of the iconography pertaining to Princess Diana. Another, decidedly less sprightly edition featured Vivienne Westwood, looking uncannily like Margaret Thatcher in all but dress, waltzing unsteadily through her personal history of fashion. Iconoclastic, provocative and innovative are all words once associated with Without Walls.

Isn't there a retrospective air about this? Yes indeed. Without Walls and Douglas the armadillo are, sadly, no more.

Sadly? Not for some. "Thinks it's on the ball, whilst being out of touch," according to the Independent's John Lyttle, who recently appeared on Jaci Stephen's one-fingered salute to the "New Lads".

The bottom line - was it any good? That's a contentious question. But that, surely, was its (selling) point.

BIG MOUTH

Age: Born this March, kicking and screaming.

Frequency: Tuesday nights, for a nine-week run. Future development by no means certain.

Ratings: Exactly.

Formula: Loud, lippy and opinionated cultural review, incorporating studio interviews (brief), record reviews (rapid) and TV "essays" (more like one-liners) delivered by a host of expanding violets on topics such as John Major's "verbal pratfalls" and the cred attached to Irish descent in America. Cultural deconstruction on speed.

Sounds like a vehicle for: Yep, Tony Parsons, held by some to be a breath of fresh air in a moribundly middle-class industry, and by others to be a breath of fresh air approximately once every six months, if that, and haven't we all heard enough of him anyway? Joined by Miranda Sawyer, fellow verbal junkie, on record reviews.

What the blurb says: "Big Mouth is the next generation of cultural review programmes."

What the critics say: God help us.

Opening sequence: Andy Warhol meets Keith Haring meets the Tango ad.

The bottom line? All mouth no teeth.

THE WORKS

The what? OK, so it's only just started. A tender two months old.

Frequency: Prime-time Tuesday evenings - an early bird as far as arts programmes go. First series in the bag. We wait with baited breath ...

Ratings: Averaging 1m.

What's it all about then? Well, it's got a beginning, a middle and an end, and has a very flexible remit.

A riddle? No. A story. The concept behind the Beeb's latest arts documentary series is all about spinning a good yarn. "No single theme links all the films in the series," says Mike Poole, series editor, "except for the fact that they take real pleasure in storytelling."

What kind of stories? An eclectic mix, from Ben Woolley's film on Walt Disney's soon-to-be-realised dream of a perfect city ("Celebration"), to psychoanalyst Darian Leader's take on Francis Bacon ("In the Name of the Father").

But does it work? The critical consensus says yes. "On the pulse of what's going on," according to Lucy Ellmann, the IoS's TV critic.

For example? The FBI's most wanted man was actually caught while a scheduled programme on the Unabomber was being completed.

The bottom line: Very promising.

OMNIBUS

Age: A venerable, statesmanlike 25. The grandaddy of the genre.

Frequency: In its current incarnation, Monday nights, two seasons (of variable length) a year.

Ratings: Level-pegging with The South Bank Show, cheek to the Omnibus jowl. Waxed to more than 5m for Peter Cook, waned to 1m for Jean Renoir.

Formula: Definitely not "man on the Clapham...", despite being an anagram of "bus in mo". Omnibus presents the Big Names Of The Arts World, often timed to accompany much-hyped exhibitions of their work. Recent profiles of Eve Arnold and Degas are cases in point. Iconoclastic, irreverent, provocative and opinionated are all words not associated with Omnibus.

Little known facts: 1) The series editor is Nigel Williams, of Wimbledon Poisoner fame; 2) Once, in the programme's early history, Omnibus was presented by Barry Norman. And why not?

What even the young critics say: Due respect.

The bottom line - is it any good? Difficult to summarise 25 years of output in a single sentence. However, traditional, solidly well-made arts documentary series, might do.

LATE REVIEW

Age: About two and a half. Originally part of The Late Show, now an independent young thing.

Frequency: Thursday nights, a gruelling schedule of 35 shows a year.

Ratings: Half a million. Who says "public service" means popular?

Formula: Sparky, round-table debate on the arts highlights of the week, intended to cut across the high/low divide. "A more conversational, more accessible, more middle-brow version of the Late Show," according to series editor Mike Poole (again).

Agreed? Not by all. Still held by certain critics to be an unedifyingly smug bout of metropolitan ego-wrestling.

Egos involved: Mark Lawson is the cuddly chair. Critics can be classified as the stalwarts (Tony Parsons, Tom Paulin, Allison Pearson - memorably described as the show's Holy Trinity), the increasingly frequent (John Carey, Kate Kellaway, Jim White, Germaine Greer and Suzanne Moore - ouch) and the left-field occasionals (Darcus Howe, Paul Gambaccini).

Curious unsisterly fact: Female critics apparently do not like appearing with other female critics. So much for solidarity.

Last word goes to: Invariably Mark Lawson. !

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate