David Lister: We expect more culture from the BBC, not just digital trickery

The Week in Arts

Related Topics

Here, Mr Paxman, is your very own starter for 10. When did the BBC last put on a play by Anton Chekhov? No answer. I'll offer it to the other team. Which I did this week. The team that runs BBC Arts. And they couldn't tell me either.

I decided to go to meet the BBC Arts people, because arts on the BBC is too little talked about and written about. Most discussion of the BBC concerns the licence fee or which channels to axe or Jonathan Ross's salary. It's too easily forgotten that it is also the largest provider of culture in the country. The new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, clearly forgot this as his first major speech on the arts didn't mention the BBC.

Yet the BBC broadcasts 1,700 hours of arts programming a year, and runs what sometimes feels like almost as many orchestras and takes what feels like almost as many people to Glastonbury. But the 1,700 hours do make it the pivot of the nation's culture. New programmes announced this week look interesting, not least a series on Renaissance paintings which will use digital photography to give TV viewers access to intricacies of technique and details normally only seen by conservation experts.

And I'm particularly intrigued by a new way of presenting the Proms, which will become evident in a few weeks' time. Musicians, rather than conductors, will be at the fore, with individual orchestra members talking about the works and how their playing will affect it, and then becoming a visual focus.

But if the BBC is to boast about its 1,700 hours, and if it is the nation's biggest provider of culture, then it also has to address what it does not provide in all those hours. As my earlier quiz question, with its blank response from those in charge, demonstrates, classic drama has not had a place on our screens for years, possibly decades. For a public service broadcaster, that is a disgrace.

But it's not the only omission. And if the new BBC mantra is that it delivers 1,700 hours of arts programming a year, then as well as praise for when it gets it right, it deserves closer scrutiny of what it does not deliver. Though it boasts a new season celebrating the novel, the BBC does not have on television one regular show dedicated to books. Sky Arts does, and it's rather good. The BBC sprinkles books items around various shows, but does not consider literature worthy of its own weekly programme. "We're open to conversations about this," the arts team told me, and it's a phrase I must learn to use myself when I don't intend taking any action.

It's difficult, says the arts team, because a novelist talking about a book is well suited to radio but makes poor television. And it is in rationales like that one that you can see the difference between TV people and normal people. Most of us non-TV human beings actually enjoy intellectual stimulation and aren't obsessed with production techniques. What's so terrible about a talking head that the very idea makes TV people break out in a cold sweat?

Carry on the Jackson family tradition

Michael Jackson was murdered, claimed his sister and fellow singer LaToya this week, a year after the star's death. She added that there was a money-making conspiracy behind the alleged murder, as the conspirators knew that Michael's death would provoke sales of his back catalogue.

She said: "He was murdered for his catalogue and they knew that, and they knew Michael was worth so much more dead than alive." She left it unclear who these conspirators might be. But it's a rather unsisterly assumption that Michael had no more big-selling music in him, and that his planned tour was not going to make huge sums of money. Still, LaToya has at least helped the pop lexicon. With the death of Michael, the phrase Wacko Jacko seemed to disappear. Now, with a different member of the family, it's back.

Strike before the iron gets hot

The arts haven't yet been defined as a "frontline service" and you can bet they never will be, so they remain largely unprotected in the cutting season. Be in no doubt that the 25 per cent cut to the Culture Department budget in the autumn, coming on top of Arts Council cuts already announced, will leave a very different cultural landscape.

I imagine that some of the chief casualties will be planned extensions or redevelopments to key buildings like Tate Modern, the British Museum and the National Theatre. Sir Nicholas Hytner, head of the National Theatre, wrote a stirring article in the London Evening Standard about how the £70m redevelopment he has planned will give the capital a stunning building, with new terraces for the public overlooking the Thames, educational facilities, etc.

There isn't a cultural term for such an article, but in football parlance we used to call it "getting your retaliation in first".


React Now

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Reach Volunteering: Volunteer Trustee with Healthcare expertise

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Queen Elizabeth delivers the Queen's Speech next to Prince Phillip during the State Opening of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster in London  

A Queen's Speech which exposed this government for what it really is — Thatcherism with the lid on

James Bloodworth
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa corruption arrests: A syndicate so removed from reality that it may yet destroy the thing it loves

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf