Let's have art on EastEnders

Last week’s announcement by Lord Hall was encouraging, but he needs to go further

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The Independent Online

“I want BBC Arts and BBC Music to sit proudly alongside BBC News.” Unsurprisingly, this statement by Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, caught my eye. It was one of the things he said when he announced the excellent and well-reported initiative to upgrade the BBC’s arts output and spread it across the channels, with the arts to be featuring on such things as The One Show.

Sitting proudly alongside news, though? It’s a good soundbite, but Lord Hall doesn’t really think that or he would have to surrender to the logic of his own words – that being that, alongside a 24-hour news channel, the BBC should have a 24-hour arts channel.

But what’s wrong with a bit of exaggeration in a good cause? The great news is that the BBC will be relaying live performances of outstanding theatre, opera and dance productions as a matter of course. Allow me a brief, wry smile. I have argued for this for years only to be told repeatedly by some of the biggest names in theatre that stage performances don’t translate to the small screen. Well, times change and the heads of the National Theatre and Royal Court are now part of Lord Hall’s special advisory team on the arts.

They will, I hope, also argue that the BBC show some classic drama on its channels. They might find that Ibsen and Chekhov translate to the small screen rather well, too. But we can all have niggles. Lord Hall’s initiative is one that everyone interested in the arts should welcome.

But why not go further? If we are to have the arts right across the BBC, let’s be really radical. Let’s go beyond The One Show. How’s about an episode of EastEnders in which some of the Walford Square residents go on an outing to the theatre, or to see some contemporary dance at Sadler’s Wells, not actually a huge distance away? Why doesn’t Michael McIntyre’s much-watched chat show, which this week had Gary Barlow and Nigella Lawson as guests, put opera and dance stars on future guest lists, plus perhaps a symphony-orchestra conductor. I’m sure those opera, dance and orchestral personalities would also have views interesting enough to merit a seat on Question Time.

Last week’s announcement by Lord Hall was encouraging, but now he needs to go further. Edicts from the director-general could ensure that the arts really do flow across the BBC’s output, in the way I am suggesting. It seems radical, but it’s not revolutionary. BBC producers have long insisted that EastEnders and other soap operas take on social issues to put across the correct messages. Now insist that they also mention the arts, even en passant, to show that they can be part of people’s lives across the social spectrum. And, for goodness’ sake, widen the range of talking heads on chat and panel shows to include people whose raison d’etre is to extend our sensibilities.

Surely the Proms are worth a full-time boss

One person who will not be part of the BBC’s future is Roger Wright, the head of both the Proms and Radio 3. He is leaving to run the Aldeburgh Festival. He will be missed as his stewardship of Radio 3 and the BBC Proms has been exemplary. But I would urge Lord Hall to appoint not one replacement, but two replacements. It seems to me most odd that the person running the biggest classical music festival in the world also runs a hugely important radio station. These are two distinct, time-consuming jobs and should, surely,  go to two people.

The award for too many awards goes to the British TV industry

Congratulations to Broadchurch. The gripping TV crime drama with David Tennant and Olivia Colman has won three prizes at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards. This adds to Broadchurch’s wins or nominations at the Royal Television Society Awards, the Freesat Awards, the TV Choice Awards, the Satellite Awards, the National TV Awards, the South Bank Sky Arts Awards, the Broadcast Awards, the Tric Awards (no, I haven’t heard of that one either) and the Bafta Craft Awards. So congratulations many times over. But wouldn’t it be that much more memorable an achievement if there weren’t such a ludicrous amount of awards handed out by the back-slapping television industry? If there were just one awards ceremony for the best TV of the year, then winning would really mean something.