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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File photo dated 11/3/2014 of signage for the main entrance and emergency department at a hospital  

Weekend opt-out is stumbling block as BMA and NHS negotiate new consultant and junior doctor contracts

Charlie Cooper
The alleged meeting between George Osborne and Rupert Murdoch is said to have taken place in Downing Street in late June (Getty)  

Rupert Murdoch's private meeting with George Osborne: The mogul always likes to back a winner

James Cusick James Cusick
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh