BBC drama steps into the 20th century with £189m line-up

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The BBC is to ditch bonnets for seamed stockings, shifting its drama output towards "contemporary classics" of the 20th rather than 19th century.

The BBC is to ditch bonnets for seamed stockings, shifting its drama output towards "contemporary classics" of the 20th rather than 19th century.

Adaptations of works by Kingsley Amis and Nancy Mitford will replace Jane Austen and Charles Dickens as the channel attempts to redefine itself as a drama powerhouse.

Peter Salmon, controller of BBC1, yesterday unveiled the channel's autumn schedule, the most expensive so far with a budget of some £189m. An extra £10m has been pumped into the drama budget alone.

Take a Girl Like You, Amis's bestselling novel about a 1950s young schoolteacher and her unscrupulous suitors, has been adapted for the screen by Andrew Davies, the scriptwriter responsible for such BBC "bodice-ripper" hits as Pride and Prejudice and Wives and Daughters. It stars the newcomer Sienna Guillory in the leading role, opposite Rupert Graves and Hugh Bonneville.

Nancy Mitford's semi-autobiographical Love In A Cold Climate, about the lives and loves of three girls from the aristocracy, has an adaptation of equal pedigree. The series, set in England just before the Second World War, was written by the novelist Deborah Moggach and will star Alan Bates, Elizabeth Dermot Walsh, Sheila Gish and Celia Imrie.

The cast list of The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, a series about a reunion of female members of a 1940s swing band, includes some of Britain's best-loved mature actresses, including Judi Dench, Billie Whitelaw, June Whitfield and Joan Sims, as well as Olympia Dukakis, Leslie Caron and the jazz singer Cleo Laine.

Mr Salmon said the new investment in drama meant the channel could "begin to bridge the huge investment gap" between the BBC1 and its rivals.

Earlier this year, the BBC's director of television, Mark Thompson, suggested the corporation's two leading channels could become genre-based. But Mr Salmon denied BBC1 was to be entertainment-based and BBC2 would become a documentary channel. He admitted, however, there "might not be as many" BBC1 factual programmes "because something's got to give".

BBC1 chiefs have recruited Fred Barron, whose creative credits include huge US hits such as Seinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show, to work on a comedy series called My Family, starring Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker. It is the BBC's attempt to emulate the "team of writers" approach of American comedy.

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