BBC banks on Monet and the millennium

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The Independent Online
BBC1 MADE a claim for the moral high ground yesterday with a pounds 125m winter schedule designed to prove that populism and preaching can mix.

In a spirited reproof to ITV bosses for moving News at Ten, the BBC1 controller, Peter Salmon, announced his determination to retain everything from soaps to science on the corporation's main channel.

The ratings wars will be fought by what he termed the BBC's "home-grown" stars of Nick Berry, Michelle Collins and Michael French - who became household names with EastEnders - in a portfolio of contemporary dramas.

But he cited a new self-help campaign, Fighting Fat, Fighting Fit, aimed at getting the UK back into shape, as evidence of what the BBC should be all about. "This is the BBC using a unique range of resources and networks to inspire Britain to a healthier future," he said.

Among highlights announced yesterday were a short series of films and a special Omnibus programme on the artist Monet. "I haven't seen ITV's winter schedule, but I don't suppose there's a lot of time given to Impressionist painters," Mr Salmon said.

And he went on to trail a range of programmes including Rewind, a millennium project in which children tell the stories of the century, and Supernatural, a new series from the BBC's Natural History Unit.

He contrasted the approach with that of ITV where, he said, moving News at Ten to 6.30pm was a "pretty good symbol" of the difference between the two networks. It was the BBC's "responsibility to preserve diversity at peak times," he said. "If you look at our mix, our mix is miles more diverse. We do science and religion every week at peak times. They don't do anything like that."

The "mix" includes an offshoot of the Saturday drama, Casualty, to be called Holby City, and Bravo Two Zero, an account based on Andy McNab's book on the SAS, starring Sean Bean.

Martin Kemp, the former Spandau Ballet pop star, joins the cast of EastEnders while, in a classic costume drama, Richard E Grant portrays the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The children's consumer programme, Short Change, moves to BBC1 from BBC2 and Caroline Aherne is to star in her own new sitcom.

At the launch of the winter season of programmes yesterday, Berry, star of ITV's Heartbeat, said he was going "back to where I began", rejoining the BBC for two years to develop a range of programmes. He has recently been filming Harbour Lights, a drama based on a harbourmaster.

"You don't have to sell washing machines with the BBC," he said, conceding that he had also made enough money now to do what he wanted.

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