BBC puts emphasis on facts: Yentob says ratings not top priority for autumn television programmes

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The Independent Online
THE BBC's pounds 165m autumn season, announced yesterday, puts more factual programmes than ever before on prime-time television. The Controller of BBC 1, Alan Yentob, made it clear that pandering to the ratings would not be his prime consideration.

In an equally brave gesture, Joanna Lumley appears without make-up and looking haggard enough to put Patsy of Absolutely Fabulous on valium. For Girl Friday she lives on a desert island with nothing more than a basic survival kit. The programme, in diary form, shows Ms Lumley finding her own food and water after a crash course in military-style training.

Highlights include:

Dawn French as a vicar in a comedy series scripted by Richard Curtis, writer of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. Ms French said yesterday: 'We're hoping that like Christianity this series will bring joy to millions, and unlike Christianity it won't start lots of needless wars.'

A world exclusive documentary in which BBC cameras follow Alexander Solzhenitsyn back to Russia after 20 years' exile.

A dramatisation of Richmal Crompton's Just William stories with the young actor Oliver Rokison making his television debut.

A new comedy, The Wimbledon Poisoner, starring Robert Lindsay and Alison Steadman.

A Breed of Heroes, a film by Charles Wood, writer of Tumbledown. It is the story of a young officer's experiences in Belfast in the 1970s.

Tears Before Bedtime, a dark romantic comedy serial about the disruption caused by nannies to domestic life in Hampstead.

A notable addition to the schedules is The Bookworm, the first weekly magazine programme about popular books put on by the BBC for well over a decade. Celebrities such as John Mortimer and Edwina Currie, as well as many ordinary adults and children, talk about what they read and why. Enthusiasms range from the Brontes to the Rupert Bear Society.

Among the many other factual programmes are Wildlife on One, and a strong Omnibus season with an interview with Doris Lessing and the first on-camera interview with the photographer Henri Cartier- Bresson.

The season is pounds 10m cheaper than last year's as a result of cost-cutting.

Mr Yentob commented yesterday: 'The season is strong on stars, stories and surprises. The range is very interesting. There are not many detective shows per se. At a time when ITV is concerned with its shareholders and advertisers, the BBC has a commitment to all its licence payers.

'The ratings is not the most important thing. Our schedule this summer has looked refreshed and energetic. And I haven't had a single complaint about repeats.'

He paid particular tribute to the World Cup coverage, for which the BBC had 14 million viewers and the ITV 5 million. He also praised the D-Day programmes.