When The South Bank Show was axed in 2009, it seemed like the final swing of the wrecking ball into ITV as a home for the arts, and further evidence that high culture in general was not welcome on television.
And yet the very opposite has turned out to been the case. The South Bank Show has found a retirement home at Sky Arts, a channel that has recently tripled its budget, and BBC2 and BBC4 have upped their coverage, with Andrew Graham-Dixon probably collecting more air miles these days than David Attenborough. Yes, I am envious. And last year, ITV1 even nipped back to the arts scene with a new series of authored films called Perspectives, starring (and I use the word advisedly) the likes of Ian McKellen on L S Lowry, Andrew Lloyd Webber on the Pre-Raphaelites and Hugh Laurie on New Orleans jazz. And while high-flying culture vultures may look down on this populist fusion of art and celebrity, I thought the films worked rather well, and that ITV had found a demotic niche that wasn't as slavishly coupled as its more highbrow rivals to the endless round of exhibition openings, West End previews and book launches. Indeed, while the BBC and Channel 4 are currently falling over each other to promote Damien Hirst's upcoming Tate Modern retrospective, Perspectives brought us David Suchet – the People I Have Shot, a film about a forgotten Fleet Street press photographer, James Jarché.
Jarché worked from before the First World War – famously capturing a top-hatted Winston Churchill at the Sidney Street Siege of 1911 – through the Second World War (recording the Libya and Burma campaigns), snapping kings and queens, coal miners and acrobats, prime ministers, Hollywood legends and even the first photograph of Edward VIII dining with a mystery woman who turned out to be you-know-who (in today's paparazzi culture such a scoop would fetch well over £1 million, we were told). But just as important from the perspective of Perspectives is the fact that Jarché was the grandfather of actor David Suchet – and had indeed given Suchet his trusty camera, a Leica M3 – thus cueing a highly personal film in which Suchet tried his hand as a press photographer.
The pre-digital technology failed Suchet as he covered a British Army training exercise – the nearest his insurers were going to allow him to a war zone – while shots of David Cameron on the staircase of Downing Street impressed the picture editor of The Sunday Times less than they probably delighted Cameron's PR people. But it's the personal stuff that is the USP of Perspectives – Suchet choking up when curators likened his grandfather's work to Cartier-Bresson and Bill Brandt. You don't get that with Andrew Graham-Dixon or Alastair Sooke, but then you probably wouldn't want to.
Returning to David Cameron, our current PM has less than a fortnight to live before he is assassinated on live TV by a vampire called Mr Snow. At least he has if the final episode of the fourth series of Being Human is to be believed. Cameron wasn't mentioned by name, but in the likely event that he is still our leader on 7 April, then that is when Mr Snow (played by Mark Gatiss with the now standard suavely sardonic menace – more Moriarty than Mycroft, you could say) will strike.
Gatiss's involvement seems fitting, since Toby Whithouse's drama has grown its own vast Doctor Who-sized mythology out of its humbler, and in many ways more satisfying, origins as a sort of left-field flat-share sitcom. I won't reveal too much more because Being Human has an impressively large online audience on BBC iPlayer – suffice to say that I was reassured that vampires still shrink from crucifixes. When Richard Dawkins has finished debunking Christian symbolism for the living, perhaps he should have a word with the undead.
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