BBC sets sights on cultural high ground

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THE BBC will withdraw from making entertainment programmes of the type provided by commercial rivals in order to concentrate on more worthy and cultural projects, according to a leaked draft of its charter review document published yesterday by the television industry magazine Broadcast.

The BBC, which planned to release the document after the Government's Green Paper on the corporation is published next month, confirmed the leak was accurate. It shows that the BBC's chairman, Marmaduke Hussey, and the director-general designate, John Birt, are intent on a radical change to its output. Areas to be abandoned are 'derivative formula' comedy and entertainment formats such as 'simple and unchallenging game shows' and entertainment programming 'which belittles or humiliates performers or the public'. This is seen as a clear reference to such ITV shows as Beadle's About, Blind Date and Wheel of Fortune, and may threaten the continuance on BBC of Jim Davidson's Big Break snooker gameshow and Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game. It also sees no future for radio programmes based on non-stop Top 40 music - a clear reference to Radio 1.

It plans to restore the BBC's pre-eminence in drama, making it 'the National Theatre of the airwaves', ensure a planned output of classic plays and adaptations of the works of great literary figures, from Shakespeare, Shaw and Chaucer to Greene. It wants to carve out a role as an innovator in comedy and light entertainment, with more comedy drama series lasting 50 minutes or more.

The corporation plans to develop 'unusual and challenging quiz programming which tests audiences' imagination and creativity', while reducing the amount of radio drama and programmes for children, which, the report says, miss their target audience. Instead, the BBC should develop radio entertainment for children.

It aims to keep current affairs and documentaries at peak time on BBC 1 and give religion a prominent place in the schedule.

In national radio, the BBC will assign the highest priority to those networks that are distinctive and unlikely to be matched by the private sector. Radio 4, with its ageing middle-class profile, should speak to a wider range of people, and Radio 3 should be more accessible and appealing to classical music listeners.

It says BBC 1 should be the main national channel, delivering distinctive programmes, with accessible, quality arts programmes in peak times, major documentaries about British life, history and culture, and large-scale programmes to mark major national events and anniversaries.

BBC 2 should be the more innovative experimental channel, and should set out to challenge and surprise people. It should carry a wide range of educational programmes and stimulate British culture by commissioning new writers, composers, performers and programme makers.

The 38-page report, due to be finalised this month, could provide ammunition for those who fear the BBC will endanger its hold on the affections of the public, move too upmarket, and lose the popular base for the universal licence fee.