The commissioner that fully opened the window of 'Operatunity'

Jan Younghusband continues her quest to popularise arts as entertainment on Channel 4

The winners of
Operatunity, Channel 4's unlikely hit talent show for aspiring opera singers, now have recording contracts. Many of the stars of its follow-up,
Musicality, have become professional performers in the West End. So, having established herself as something of a talent-spotter in the world of music, Jan Younghusband, Channel 4's commissioning editor for arts, is now turning her attention to theatre and ballet.

The winners of Operatunity, Channel 4's unlikely hit talent show for aspiring opera singers, now have recording contracts. Many of the stars of its follow-up, Musicality, have become professional performers in the West End. So, having established herself as something of a talent-spotter in the world of music, Jan Younghusband, Channel 4's commissioning editor for arts, is now turning her attention to theatre and ballet.

In a series provisionally entitled The Play's the Thing, the channel will search for a new playwright, and commission a new play to run for several months in a West End theatre. And another series, Ballet-Hoo, will follow a group of young people in Birmingham in a two-year project with the Birmingham Royal Ballet to create a performance of Romeo and Juliet. Younghusband would love it if they found a real-life Billy Elliot, capable of winning a place at the Royal Ballet School.

"I see my role very much as an impresario," she says, with a confidence much boosted by the success of Operatunity and Musicality, which were widely predicted to be disasters.

" The Play's the Thing will combine everything Channel 4 is about: commissioning new work; encouraging new talent; inspiring an interest in the subject. By the end of the series, you will know how to put on a play. I want to put forward the enthusiasm of the theatre and the incredible family of people who are deeply committed to it, but also the jeopardy of the business."

Having worked in theatre and opera alongside directors including Peter Hall and Richard Eyre for 15 years before moving into television, it matters to Younghusband that her programmes prove positive for the arts. She is thrilled, for example, that the musical Chicago boosted its takings by £60,000 a week after featuring in Musicality.

"I don't just want to make arts programmes that speak on television, but arts programmes that speak in the community where they belong," she says. "So we're not replacing the real thing - quite the opposite. We're saying, 'This is the theatre and you need to go to it; it's a wonderful thing'."

After a rough patch, she thinks the arts on television are booming. "There was a big panic when BBC4 opened - that this was the beginning of the arts being marginalised and being put into a box in the corner. No doubt about it, things have moved off BBC1 and BBC2, but I think that's changing [again], which is a good thing. All of us need healthy competition. There's still a corner to fight with the arts on television. But I think if you make really great programmes, they can play in the main schedule alongside everything else and people will watch them."

She claims it is the response of the viewers that is fuelling her ambitions, and points out that even programmes with comparatively small audiences can be seen as successful compared with how many people might see a performance live.

Channel 4's film of the John Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer was seen by around 600,000 viewers, but that is "a three-year run in the West End". It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and is still being screened around the world, yet had received perhaps a maximum 20 performances in opera houses. "Now I can't imagine how many people have seen it," Younghusband says.

New projects in the pipeline include working with the director of Klinghoffer, Penny Woolcock, who wants to stage the book of Exodus in Margate, casting members of the Kent resort's immigrant population and seeking input from artists, including Tracey Emin, the town's most famous daughter. Younghusband has co-commissioned a piece about Colonel Gaddafi with the English National Opera, and a new opera for television from the composer Judith Weir. She is planning a series on bad architecture, which will end with the most hated building being demolished, and a series of late-night slots of more shocking material.

Asked how much she has to spend on all this, Younghusband, who has worked at Channel 4 since 1999, looks genuinely at a loss. The amount has been rising year on year, but she now commissions the good ideas as she finds them, she says. Eventually, Younghusband says her budget is probably £6m or £7m this year.

That's to say, enough financial clout for this television impresario to leave a lasting impression in theatreland and the arts.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
News
Rainbow List
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Life and Style
Gap announced its same-store sales were down 6 per cent in August, and 3 per cent in September
fashionAlexander Fury explains where Gap is going wrong
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
Sport
football
News
politics
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker