Shakespeare and Dali headline BBC4 launch

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The Independent Online

The BBC's new culture channel will open with a high-class line-up of arts and drama that will include a specially filmed version of Peter Brook's production of Hamlet.

Details of BBC4, which goes on air on 2 March, confirm early indications that the digital channel will radically expand coverage of the arts.

Even before Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, approved BBC4 last September, the BBC had begun to stockpile programmes to be able to fulfil its remit as a culture channel.

And the decision to record one of Shakespeare's best-loved plays with one of the world's most acclaimed directors will be intended as a clear signal of the scope of its ambitions.

Future highlights include Simon Callow's performance as Charles Dickens in a play by Peter Ackroyd, and Ewen Bremner, star of Trainspotting, playing the artist Salvador Dali in a drama that stars Stephen Fry and Vic Reeves.

The full range of BBC4's plans will not be unveiled until its official launch next month. The channel will replace the existing BBC Knowledge and will be free to anyone able to receive the digital signal.