David Lister: ITV will be a poorer place without him

Share
Related Topics

The first
South Bank Show had Paul McCartney, plain Mr then, talking about his new song "Mull of Kintyre". Yes, it was a long time ago. But since that first airing in 1978 it has been ITV's flagship arts programme, and there were times when the BBC was in the cultural doldrums and before Sky Arts was conceived, when Melvyn Bragg's baby was the cultural flagship for television generally.

Bragg as intellectual, cultural commentator and analyst has few equals. As an interviewer, though, he can lack rigour, and was coy about asking guests about their personal life, even if, as in the case of William Golding's depression, it informed his work. But that's a minor quibble.

Over more than 30 years his guest list has been extraordinary and deliberately eclectic – Laurence Olivier being magnetic, George Michael lighting up a spliff, Philip Larkin getting drunk, Francis Bacon likewise, Rudolf Nureyev flying into a rage and stripping off. Yes, the arts could be explosive and fun and informative all at the same time on this show, and often were.

Those saying yesterday that Bragg was the first to treat opera and pop with equal seriousness and the first to make populist arts programmes, have short memories. Back in the Sixties and early Seventies the BBC was doing just that. But the end of The South Bank Show is a loss to the nation's cultural landscape, a loss for television and a devastating loss for ITV. For decades it has been ITV's cultural fig leaf, its only arts programme amid a plethora of reality shows, game shows and largely downmarket dramas.

Will ITV care? Probably not. Its late-night scheduling of the show in recent years has not indicated any real affection for it from the network's executives. It's significant that ITV has already announced that it has no plans to continue The South Bank Show when Bragg retires next year, just as it is significant that Bragg did not announce his retirement out of the blue. He announced it after discussing the future of the show and yet more cost-cutting measures with ITV.

ITV still has an arts department, but its statement yesterday that it would seek further commissions for arts programming is unconvincing. Without The South Bank Show it makes very little noise.

Meanwhile, let's salute Melvyn Bragg. In an increasingly difficult climate, with little apparent support from network bosses, he has kept a thought-provoking arts brand on ITV.

In that first programme in 1978, Paul McCartney tried to compose a quick song around the presenter's name, but concluded it would have been easier if he had been called Melvyn Rigby. Pity. He deserves some sort of tribute.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all