Iannucci leads protests against plans to cut BBC4's budget


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The Independent Online

Armando Iannucci has led calls for the reversal of plans to limit the output of BBC4, which many viewers regard as the BBC's home of arts and culture.

The channel's Controller Richard Klein will be told to rein in his ambitions and reduce spending on original drama and comedy as part of efficiency savings under consideration at the BBC. A petition opposing any cuts was last night on the verge of overhauling the 62,874 signatures gathered by last year's successful campaign to save the radio network BBC 6 Music.

Iannucci, writer of the hit BBC4 satire The Thick of It, said: "It's weird that comedy and drama seem to be most under threat given that is the stuff that seems to have defined BBC4." He praised such shows as Getting On and Lead Balloon.

"The channel has encouraged programme makers to think beyond traditional formats and take a risk with the understanding that there probably is a higher risk of you failing. Out of that you get stuff that not only transfers to BBC1 but influences how dramas and comedies are made. It strikes me as very counter-productive to home in on drama and comedy," he said. Iannucci said the channel's relatively low budget had helped shape the fast "shooting style" and "improvisation" that made The Thick of It so distinctive. He said that instead of making the cuts the BBC should do more to generate income from its output through overseas subscriptions and limited online advertising.

Under pressure to introduce savings, the BBC is demanding that the young channel – which celebrates its 10th anniversary next March – has a more clearly defined remit. Klein will be told to abandon the ambitious seasons on wide-ranging subjects, which have become one of its trademarks.

Klein recently announced Art Nouveau, a three-part series on late 19th century European art. He has also commissioned a season on the decorative arts. The channel has previously had seasons on such topics as "Germany", "Japan" and "Justice".

Such projects are likely to become a thing of the past following the BBC's imminent Delivering Quality First (DQF) initiative, which is required to produce 20 per cent savings in the BBC's budget. Klein will also be asked to scale back his interest in original drama, another of BBC4's strong suits.

The controller and his predecessors, Janice Hadlow and Rory Keating, have established a strong reputation for drama on the channel, a strategy which began with The Alan Clark Diaries in 2003 and evolved into distinctive and acclaimed biopics on such figures as Kenneth Williams, Fanny Craddock and Gracie Fields.

As part of the DQF proposals, the BBC is planning to concentrate its drama output on BBC1 and BBC2. BBC4 will be expected to save money by scheduling more archive material.

Dimbleby stalls on contract

David Dimbleby has yet to sign his new BBC contract, despite hosting the first in a new series of Question Time, filmed last night in London. The veteran presenter is understood to be unhappy that production of the show has been moved to Glasgow, and that he will not be involved in presenting the London Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. He will continue to present Question Time on a show-by-show business and is not expected to walk out on the BBC. "This is the usual DD game playing," said one colleague.

Ian Burrell