Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, yesterday urged the BBC and other broadcasters to re-run more classic programmes, in an unlikely defence of the repeat as a core element of public service broadcasting.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Ms Jowell said that, far from relying too much on past triumphs to win ratings, channels were not pillaging their archives enough.
Her words will be seen as a warning to broadcasters not to use too many cheap foreign imports and entertainment shows. Earlier this year, she criticised channels for running too much reality TV.
Ms Jowell tempered her comments with a veiled warning to "lazy" channels whose idea of classic repeats is endless re-runs of series such as Only Fools and Horses. Instead they should broadcast vintage landmark dramas such as Ken Loach's film Cathy Come Home, or the groundbreaking documentary series The Ascent of Man, she said.
"It's fashionable to knock the number of repeats on television and blame the laziness of the broadcasters," Ms Jowell said. "But I believe there's a real public service in keeping these memories alive. There's real value in re-showing dramas as powerful as Cathy Come Home and documentaries as enlightening as The Ascent of Man. So: 'Jowell calls for repeats'? Well, in a way I do, actually: not lazy scheduling and not TV on the cheap, but I'd applaud the mining of the archive for golden nuggets of the past."
On the issue of regulation of the BBC - a much-debated subject because of the David Kelly affair and Downing Street's row with the corporation - Ms Jowell said: "However wide-ranging, however radical, there's one thing I am certain of: that at the end of the process the independence of the BBC from the Government will remain."
Her call for more repeats contrasted with the view of Tony Ball, chief executive of BSkyB, who argued in his MacTaggart Lecture on Friday that the BBC should be forced to sell its past successes to other broadcasters. He said revenue from the sale of these shows should be used to finance more public service programming.
* Melvyn Bragg is to examine the highs and lows of half a century of ITV in a new series, it was announced today. The series, with the working title A Very British Invention, is written and presented by The South Bank Show host and will be screened late next year as a prelude to the network's 50th anniversary in 2005Reuse content