Season of BBC 2 drama signals move upmarket: Autumn programme offers return to traditional strengths

REGULAR live poetry and even live novel-reading will feature in an impressively eclectic and strikingly upmarket autumn season for BBC 2.

Allied to a strong line-up of drama and factual programmes, the first season, announced yesterday, of the new BBC 2 controller Michael Jackson appears to return to traditional strengths after accusations the corporation was moving downmarket.

The pounds 70m BBC 2 season, much of which is the legacy of Alan Yentob, now controller of BBC 1, has one of the strongest classical drama line ups for some time with Maggie Smith in Suddenly Last Summer, Fiona Shaw re-creating her stage role as Hedda Gabler directed by Deborah Warner, Bob Hoskins in The Changeling and Michael Gambon in The Entertainer.

Richard Wilson, star of One Foot In The Grave, appears with Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Cranham in The Vision Thing, the first television drama by the Independent's Mark Lawson, about a Conservative Prime Minister in an election campaign who believes God is talking to him.

There is also a cameo appearance this autumn from the Prime Minister in the Bookmark series. Mr Major declares: 'I love books. I'm apt to pick up a book whenever I see one. I must have hundreds of books at home I haven't read . . . I've picked it up, I like the look of it and the feel of it, the subject matter, just looking at the flysheets.'

Among the factual programmes are an eight-part series on genetics, Cracking The Code, examining the human stories behind genetic breakthroughs; and a history of black sportsmen and women and their motivations.

While Mr Jackson inherited much of the season, some of the projects are his. Among these are themed evenings including a Clinton night, with several programmes looking at the administration on the anniversary of his election, a Kennedy night on the 30th anniversary of the assassination and a week-long series of programmes relating to Margaret Thatcher to tie in with BBC 1's series on the Thatcher years. Mr Jackson also shares a childhood obsession with a national audience, running every single episode of Captain Scarlet.

More unusual innovations include Poems On The Box - a week of poems dispersed through the schedules and individual poets offering their interpretations of the world news in five minute programmes shown after Newsnight - and A Booker At Bedtime, nightly readings of the novel that wins the Booker Prize.

But there are also omissions in the BBC 2 schedule. There is very little live opera. Only one live performance - from the Kirov in Russia - is planned.

The music season will include the UK premiere of Terezin, a documentary about the Prague ghetto in which painters, playwrights and musicians were held during the Second World War.

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