Bragg attacks BBC1 chief for lack of arts programmes

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The Independent Online

Melvyn Bragg, the broadcaster and regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, has turned on the corporation for its failure to show arts programmes on BBC1.

Launching the 25th series of ITV's South Bank Show, Lord Bragg called for the BBC to re-think its policy of banishing arts to BBC2.

Responding to criticism that The South Bank Show featured too many populist subjects, such as Dolly Parton, Lord Bragg pointed to recent interviews with artists such as the Yugoslav film director Emir Kusturica and the tenor Ian Bostridge, and future projects with the film director Pedro Almodovar and the artist Rachel Whiteread. The BBC would never profile such people, Lord Bragg said.

He challenged Lorraine Heggessey, the controller of BBC1, who this week celebrates a year in the job, and the BBC's head of drama, entertainment and children's programmes, Alan Yentob, who was previously an arts producer, to address the problem.

"I would say to Lorraine – it's not too difficult to pile on editions of EastEnders, why don't you make a real name for yourself by being the person who brings back the arts documentaries? Even more puzzling is the creative consul and conscience of the BBC, Alan Yentob, who years ago produced brilliant editions of [the arts programme] Arena. Where is he now when BBC1 need him?"

Lord Bragg, who joined the BBC as a trainee 40 years ago, claimed it had shown just one arts programme on BBC1 since January. "What BBC1 is not doing with arts programmes is a total dereliction of its public duty," he said. "This is its major channel, for its largest tranche of viewers. Surely it can do better than that?"

It was not good enough to leave arts to BBC2 or to the proposed digital channel BBC4 which Tessa Jowell, the Culture and Media Secretary, is expected to sanction today. "The BBC should lead by example and the standard bearer, whether they like it or not, is BBC1, and it is failing badly."

A spokeswoman for BBC1 said they did not recognise Lord Bragg's view of the channel. Arts programmes would be be shown in prime time this autumn with a focus on children, "the arts lovers of the future." Scheduled programmes included a series on Impressionist painters presented by Rolf Harris and Omnibus specials on the Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, the Paddington bear creator, Michael Bond, and Jamie Bell, star of Billy Elliot.

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