David Lister: Sky Arts is showing how to do culture on television – can the BBC please take note?

The Week in Arts


It is not exactly fashionable to recommend praise for James Murdoch, as the hacking problems of News International continue, but with the announcement this week by Sky Arts of a big budget increase, new programming, apps and the rest, he at least deserves a favourable mention.

Mr Murdoch was a champion of Sky Arts in its early days and continued to bless it with increased funding and a higher profile. Perhaps even the most reviled figures are more complex than we like to think. In the breast of Murdoch junior there beats a passion for the arts.

Part of Sky Arts' increased profile is a giant leap up the Electronic Programme Guide, or EPG, which makes both of its channels more visible to people idly flicking through to see what's on. For most of us, the EPG does not have a huge place in our lives or daily conversation, but to television people, it's the holy grail. And this rise up the EPG is further proof that the arts have a surprisingly high priority in the Murdoch empire.

I'm more interested in the fact that there will be a large number of new plays commissioned, including a tantalising one featuring Emma Thompson as the Queen in a re-creation of the night in 1982 when she found an intruder in her Buckingham Palace bedroom. There will continue to be operas every week, a regular books programme, tours round art exhibition openings, broadcasts from leading pop festivals and much more. Building upon these regular treats is actually more important than the solid, if less imaginative, hirings of Michael Parkinson and Melvyn Bragg. And these initiatives show what is lacking in arts coverage on the main terrestrial channels.

Channel 4 is beginning to show signs of renewed cultural life under its arts controller Tabitha Jackson. I particularly like its late-night 10-minute slot Random Acts, which features new, unknown performers. That's more of what's needed in TV arts than Michael Parkinson. ITV remains culturally dormant. But it is the BBC from which we expect the most, and to which Sky Arts offers the biggest challenge. Strands such as Alan Yentob's Imagine are always high class, but only vaguely regular. BBC4 has much that is unmissable, even if its presence has meant a diminution of arts programming on BBC1 and 2. (And I still look in vain for classic drama. When was the last Ibsen play on any TV channel, I wonder?)

Sky Arts has thrown down a challenge to the BBC and Channel 4 this week. If it responds by enhancing its arts programming and budgets, then Sky will have done all viewers a favour. The universally received terrestrial channels should be taking more of a lead.

How useful is the term 'bourgeoisie'?

Congratulations to my former colleague Will Self, the celebrated novelist, psycho-geographer and journalist, on being appointed professor of contemporary thought at Brunel University. He will undoubtedly make waves. Will said about his appointment, and the large British Asian community in the area: "Take the last few weeks and all of this Dickens brouhaha. The bourgeoisie got themselves into an awful pother – 'Why was he so great and we're so crap – where is the contemporary Dickens?' Maybe the contemporary Dickens is going to be a British Asian."

The bourgeoisie? That's not a word I have heard in a while, let alone as an insult. I'm not convinced that one has to be a member of the bourgeoisie to get into a pother about Dickens. In fact, I suggest the subject of the new professor of contemporary thought's first lecture should be why the use of the term "bourgeoisie" should be banished from contemporary thought.

Bring back the old James Corden

I enjoyed the music at the Brits. From where I was sitting at the 02, Blur looked terrific. Adele looked highly impressive and Rihanna looked Rihanna, which is more than sufficient. What I couldn't quite come to terms with was the presenter. What happened to the old James Corden, the funny, irreverent and unpredictable one? Why didn't he bring a single joke with him? And how could he have so crassly cut off Adele's acceptance speech?

Corden wasted no time after the ceremony in blaming the producers for ordering him through his earpiece to interrupt the star. That's passing the buck, rather. They are TV producers, not God. Ignore them. Or say no.

d.lister@independent.co.uk // twitter.com/davidlister1

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