Tony Hall, the BBC Director General, today threw an arm around the arts establishment by offering new positions to grandees from the Tate gallery and the National Theatre in an attempt to safeguard the broadcaster’s reputation for producing high quality cultural programmes.
Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, was announced by Lord Hall as the head of a group of creative leaders at the BBC, which will also include Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of London’s influential Royal Court Theatre. Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, is simultaneously being appointed to the BBC’s Executive Board.
Lord Hall also called for closer ties between the BBC and leading British artists from sculptor Antony Gormley to choreographer Akram Khan, as the broadcaster faces growing pressure over its future income. MPs are considering plans to introduce amendment to the Deregulation Bill which would decriminalise non-payment of the TV licence fee, a measure which the BBC estimates could cost it £200 million a year in lost revenue.
As the director general prepares the ground for discussions on the BBC’s funding model in its next Royal Charter, he is working to ensure that the Arts establishment becomes a cheerleader for its cultural output.
Drawing on personal contacts which he built as a successful period as Director of the Royal Opera House and as Chair of the Cultural Olympiad which accompanied London 2012, Lord Hall’s initiative was intended to strengthen the BBC’s position as a champion of the arts in the face of competition from broadcasting rivals, notably BSkyB.
“We are going to break down the walls between us and all the wonderful institutions and artists that make Britain a world leader,” he promised. “This is vital if we are to succeed in bringing audiences closer to artists and their work.”
Today’s event, at the Radio Theatre in the BBC’s New Broadcasting House headquarters, had the feeling of the “upfront” events which commercial broadcasters stage to win business from advertisers. In this case, the broadcaster was reaching out to arts grandees and artists. Addressing a high profile audience that included the actors Tom Hollander, Gemma Arterton and Lenny Henry, the dancer Darcey Bussell and the musician Jarvis Cocker, he described the BBC as “the biggest and the best arts broadcaster in the world” and pledged: “Today we are announcing the biggest push we have made in the arts for a generation.”
Promising that the BBC’s iPlayer would become “the showcase for all we can do together”, the director general admitted: “I know that we haven’t always been able to deliver the support online that many of you want and I am determined to put this right.”
Future BBC arts content includes a new events-based strand called “BBC ARTS at…” which is intended to improve coverage of major events including Glyndebourne and the Edinburgh Festivals. The Hay book festival is to be given the kind of multimedia treatment previously devoted to the music revelries at Glastonbury. The One Show, BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans and a string of presenters from BBC Radio 6 Music, including Cerys Matthews and Mark Radcliffe, will all head to Hay.
Other programme highlights include an Imagine special with author Philip Roth, a series from Melvyn Bragg on radical writers and a history of the classical voice – The Golden Age of Singing – presented by Sir Antonio Pappano, who worked with Hall as music director of the Royal Opera House.
BBC executive Jonty Claypole was named Director of Arts, with Radio 2 Controller Bob Shennan taking the additional role of BBC Director of Music.
In a project for 2016, when its current Royal Charter expires, the BBC will partner with the Royal Shakespeare Company and schools to “introduce Shakespeare’s work to a new generation”, making 470 BBC Shakespeare productions available to teachers.
Emphasising the BBC’s public service role, Lord Hall said: “I worry, as all of us do, that the arts could become slowly marginalised unless we do more to reach out to children and young people and most importantly to inspire them.”
In a final rallying cry, he appealed to arts leaders to help him find a modern equivalent to Civilization, the 1969 BBC cultural series that inspired him as a teenager in Merseyside. “Just think of what we can do together now,” he said.
What's on at BBC ARTS at…
- The Duchess of Malfi: the first performance from the Jacobean theatre, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Starring Gemma Arterton, it will be shown on BBC4.
- A Knight at the Barbican, an evening dedicated to the work of conductor Sir Simon Rattle, on BBC4.
- BBC ARTS Online will feature violinist Nicola Benedetti and composer James MacMillan on the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s tour of India.
- Imagine, the flagship BBC Arts show, will screen a two-part special on author Philip Roth.
- The Shakespeare Project 2016 will include Henry IV in two parts, executive produced by Sam Mendes.
- The Secret Life of Books, presented by Simon Russell Beale, will explore the original folios, notes and letters connected with six classic works, including King Lear and Great Expectations.
- The Face of Britain will be a five-part series on portraiture in association with the National Portrait Gallery and presented by Simon Schama.
- The Golden Age of Singing – the story of the classical voice over the past 500 years, hosted by Sir Antonio Pappano, the Music Director of the Royal Opera House.