David Lister: BBC4 should watch its back

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The Independent Online

I've never known a time when the BBC had so few friends in the main political parties. Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary and Jeremy Hunt, his Conservative shadow, seem to be vying with each other to be the more antagonistic to the corporation.

Mind you, there are times when the BBC can drive anyone crazy. Does it, for example, really need to waste valuable air time by plugging itself so relentlessly? Last Monday's Radio 5 phone-in was devoted to talking about Strictly Come Dancing, a BBC programme. There is a wider world out there.

But much as the BBC can annoy, and as much as it conspires to dig its own grave with enormous salaries, dumbing down, unnecessary commercial competitiveness, etc, there are moments when its opponents go too far. And there are moments when those interested in the arts should worry about what the politicians are saying about the BBC.

The attack on the corporation by Jeremy Hunt was particularly important as most people would say that the Tories are likely to be the next government. And it particularly worried me, for Mr Hunt seemed to call for the abolition of BBC4.

He said at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Convention: "I think for some of the new channels, BBC3 and BBC4, they have very small audiences but still cost a lot of money. The case needs to be made for this kind of thing."

Now, if Mr Hunt had called for "the abolition of most of the arts coverage on the BBC" or said "the case needs to be made for arts on television", he would have been rightly vilified. But that effectively is what he is doing.

BBC4 constitutes the bulk of the BBC's arts output. I wish it didn't. I wish, actually, that it had never been set up. I wish that, as the late Dennis Potter once said, you could just come unexpectedly on an uplifting and enlightening cultural programme on one of the main channels as used to be the case before the predictably ghettoising effect of themed channels. I wish that BBC1 and BBC2 were deluged by arts coverage. But apart from one or two intermittent strands such as The Culture Show and Imagine, it simply isn't the case. BBC4 is the corporation's home of the arts.

Next week, for example, there is a prime-time programme, The Art of Dying, which looks at art's relationship with death. If BBC4 were abolished, would this series find a natural prime-time home on BBC1 or BBC2? Add to that the regular classical concerts, arts documentaries, world cinema... Well, I don't need to plug any more BBC programmes. It does that well enough and often enough itself. But the point is clear. Get rid of BBC4 and you get rid of a plentiful supply of arts programmes. It's a channel where the BBC really does match its remit to educate, inform and entertain.

It would have been more responsible of Mr Hunt to say that BBC4 should be abolished and that the arts programmes it broadcasts must be accommodated within BBC1 and BBC2, and that as Culture Secretary in a new government he will make it his responsibility to see that that happens.

Will you do that, Mr Hunt? If you don't, you will be hastening the abolition of this key arts channel, with no care for how its output will be replicated. And that will make you the most philistine Culture Secretary that the country has ever had.

Accidentally caught in the web

The premiere of Sally Potter's new film Rage in London on Thursday night proved a diverting affair. The movie, a satire on the fashion industry delivered through a series of monologues, is a fairly minor work, though with excellent performances from Jude Law as a cross dresser and Lily Cole as a scared and anxious model.

The film is the first to be sent free to mobile phones and the web as well as cinemas. And it is the first to have an interactive premiere, with a Q and A afterwards with the stars, some of whom answered on screen from America via Skype. But, experiments can go wrong. Jude Law, who was not answering a question at the time, was suddenly pictured intensely picking at his nails; Lily Cole spoke, but the picture of her was of an unspeaking, vacant face. Perhaps she was still in character.

Sally Potter, was asked why she was sending the film directly to mobile phones. It was, she said, a way of bypassing the "cultural gatekeepers". And who were they? "Well, critics are very powerful. They can stop a film being distributed." Ah, that old one. Behind every new technology development is a very old gripe.

When Van nearly got violent

I wrote recently about some of the great mis-heard song lyrics, and how I had always thought that Jimi Hendrix was an early campaigner for gay rights, singing "Scuse me while I kiss this guy", whereas in fact he had been a conventional hippie singing "Scuse me while I kiss the sky". There's no question that sometimes a mis-heard lyric can be an improvement on the original.

A reader, Dave Bond from Liverpool, has emailed me with a mis-hearing of his own, which might well be an improvement on the original. I also rather like it, as it shows the potential hazards when a singer with a Belfast accent is involved. Van Morrison, below, in his classic song "Brown-Eyed Girl", sings of "going down the old mine with a transistor radio". Dave believed for years that this was "gunning down the old man with a transistor radio." I prefer Dave's version. It's much more in keeping with revolutionary spirit of the time.